Kid-friendly science with Grandpa

We made a quick trip to Wisconsin last month for my dad’s 60th birthday and one of the highlights was a visit to his lab. Jax was thrilled to help with some experiments and is still talking about them. My dad also gave us some ideas of experiments we can do ourselves with common household staples, so the fun continues!

Animal GalleryLooking at a very large crab on display in the halls of the biology building.


Experiment #1: Dry Ice. What happens to it in water? Is the smokey stuff hot or cold?IMG_5695

Adding warm water made even more vapor.



IMG_5638Watching the stirring machine.

Jax left the lab with his very own flask and a couple of plastic test tubes. Here are some experiments we’ve been able to do right here in our kitchen:

Fizzy Whizzy!: Add vinegar to baking soda and watch what happens.
Which one floats?: Pour olive oil into a flask and then add water. Which liquid is on top? Put the top on, flip it over, and see if it stays that way. This was a huge hit, and got Jax thinking about other liquids to try. He is thinking like a scientist!

This board on Pinterest has many more exciting and elaborate experiments to try, too.


Resources for Preschool French Learning

When I was pregnant and living in Paris, I stocked up on all sorts of books and toys for baby Jax. Now that he is four and a half, and Ben is nearing two, I am finding a gap between these basic board books and the materials I’d like to use for French learning at the preschool level. While I daydream about stuffing suitcases with inexpensive used books and DVD’s during our next trip to Paris, there are, in fact, many media resources available to us here in the States, often without expensive shipping fees and always cheaper than a plane ticket across the Atlantic.

What follows is a list of what I’ve found to be useful and accessible, but please feel free to comment if you have more to add to the list!

I was surprised to find that sells reasonably-priced books entirely in French with free shipping. The selection isn’t very extensive, but it’s not bad for a beginning library. You need to carefully read the descriptions, however, as some books are “bilingual,” meaning that the story is told with French on one side of the page and English on the other. If you want to avoid slipping into English translation, these choices would not be ideal. But certain families may find that this works well (or even better) for them, so do know that they are around! Below are some French versions of familiar favorites (by Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, and company), but also some French characters, like T’choupi, who is the star of a charming little series for preschoolers. T’choupi goes to school, rides a bike, makes a snowman, doesn’t want to share, etc. These are almost all under fifteen dollars (most are priced around ten) and did I mention they ship for free? Pas mal du tout!

Amazon also sells this wonderful imagier published by Usborne. While its title, First Thousand Words in French, is in English, every page is entirely in French, and the illustrations are charmingly detailed scenes with little labeled drawings surrounding them. This was a thoughtful gift from one of my French dissertation advisors and is one of my go-to word books. If you can get your hands on this great ten-dollar book (it seems to be out of stock from time to time), grab it!


And for older ones, or for bedtime, don’t pass over Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic. (psst… it only costs about seven bucks!)


When it comes to magazines, you can periodically check your local international press vendor, as I did for two years on my commute to Manhattan (there is a French section at the news seller in Grand Central), but something much easier and less complicated is to simply subscribe. It seemed like this option would be unreliable, given the fact that magazine subscriptions are usually national affaires and you’d have to pay a lot of extra shipping (and would they actually show up? who knew?). But I am happy to report that I have had great success with the publishing house Milan.

ToupieChanson13-page1-400x510A month ago I subscribed to Toupie Chansons, which is a CD and magazine combination published quarterly. At 114 euros (including international shipping), it is expensive, but this is a high-quality product for kids of all ages and the first issue arrived in a week. Because each edition follows a theme (animals, kings and queens, spring), the dozen or so songs on the CD range from familiar (Sur le Pont d’Avignon) to the more obscure. The accompanying magazine has the lyrics and music for all of the songs, a corresponding coloring activity for each song, and additional activities and learning pages in the back (all about the drumset, for example). A feature I haven’t used as much as I could is the instrumental track which follows each song on the CD. Jax and I sing our own version of the simplest songs, but it’s something I’d like to use more. A word of wisdom, however: be sure you back up these expensive music tracks! I have them all as mp3’s and we use the CD’s in the car. It’s somehow still surprising how scratched they get with use. Also note that, although I subscribed only to Toupie Chansons, I also receive the monthly Toupie magazine, recommended for ages 3-6 years and filled with short stories, poems, stickers, matching and “what’s different?” activities, and more. I am so pleased with these magazines, and feel this was a great investment. We will use and reuse these songs and stories over the years.

Music and Videos
Speaking of music, this may be the easiest form of media (aside from websites) to get your hands on. The albums below are all available as digital downloads or as CD’s with free shipping, and are ones we use in our family and recommend.

And as for video, the Little Pim series is really the only language learning series marketed as such that I’d recommend. They follow the learning philosophy of immersion and repetition, and use real language structures, which are simple but mimic real-life usage.


But there are a lot of free options for French videos, too. We often watch Trotro and Barbapapa cartoons on YouTube (search for “Trotro francais” and “Barbapapa francais”). Netflix has hundreds of classic French films for adults (and teens), but also The Red Balloon, a sweet story that appeals to children as young as three. While not very language-rich, the movie is a French classic with a few words and many beautiful views of 1950s Paris.

Remember that virtually any toy or game can be played with in any language, as long as there is minimal text and the people playing with it are using only the target language. Candy Land can be used to teach colors, dominos to teach numbers, a toy barn with animals to make animal noises, play food for eating, drinking, and cooking vocabulary. But sometimes the goal is simply exposure to text. Or if you, the parent, are also a language learner, sometimes it takes more guidance. For this, I’d recommend the following toys and games, which are ones we use or at least similar to ones we do.

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 1.41.45 PMAnd my personal favorite, a French calendar from Nature et Découvertes. We bought ours at one of their stores in Paris, but it looks like you can order this one online. We have been trying to start our French playgroup with the calendar, to talk about the seasons, numbers, and some minimal vocabulary (“une fleur”…) Plus, this is cute playroom or kids’ room décor.


French is much more than France!
This is so important to remember, especially in North America. We live a half-day’s drive from Montréal, and yet so many of the French materials we have cross the Atlantic. A friend who runs a French immersion school suggests the following:

Éditions Scholastic: the French language branch of the familiar Scholastic publishing house, this one is geared to the Québecois market.
Amazon Canada: search Books, then narrow on the left column by “French Books” and then “Jeunesse.” There are over 20,000 titles!

And don’t forget to search etsy and ebay for French books and other treasures. Where have you been finding all things French these days?


I use affiliate links for The suggestions are my own opinions, however, and all other links are commission-free.

From photo to painting, the cheater’s way

If you have a projector – something that is becoming more common these days, perhaps even on your phone – then you can convert a photo into a painting in an evening. Here is a run-down of what I did to make my dad’s secret Santa present this year:

I chose a photo I thought my dad would like: it’s a shot taken this past summer of him rowing me and Jax during our stay in Door County.

Dad rowing in Door CountyI then emailed the photo to Seth so that he could open the attachment and view the photo on the projector phone. I set up a canvas and lined up the projector’s beam so that what hit the canvas was how I wanted the final image to appear.

Projecting PhotoThen I traced the main shapes. It helps to squint to see the contrast and shapes. It’s not just about objects, but the color variations in the water and trees, too.


IMG_0386Using this pencil sketch as a guide, I colored in the image with oil pastels, using the original photo as a reference point.

Oil PastelsI used a lot of blue.

IMG_0387This is what it looked like after just an hour. Voila!






Blog changes

Hello, old friend!

I’ve finally made some long-overdue changes to the blog: I first started CraftyRachel after quickly coming up with a descriptive title for what I was up to: crafting of various kinds (including stuff for our wedding, and then a baby, and then a dissertation…) But I had always hoped to come up with something a tad less literal. Putting together a bunch of stuff to sell at a friend’s craft show last month finally gave me a deadline and an incentive to make a change and sort of re-brand myself. After a lot of brainstorming, one image kept returning: a color wheel. It’s bright and bold and unending and varying and unified and full of possibility. Since “colorwheel” was not available, I went with the French (roue de couleur), which was. Both the and sites take you to the same root site,

Oil Pastels

I have ornaments and menorahs and kites to talk about. And of course news from the little boys in my life, Jax and Ben. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

~ Rachel

Jax, at age three and three-quarters

Jax likes to reminisce with us about when he was three. “Remember, when I was three? and we went to their house?” or, “Remember, when I was three, and I was crying because I wanted a different water cup? That was so silly.” His fourth birthday isn’t until September, but he’ll proudly tell you that he is no longer three, but three and three-quarters. So sophisticated and mature. Jax in Door County, Wisconsin, July 2, 2012 What follows are some Jax sayings from this sweet age we never want to forget.

Tonight at dinner Jax was blowing bubbles in his milk while Seth and I were talking (or maybe trying to keep Ben in his seat. I can’t remember). After a bit he looked at us with his half-smile smirk and said “I think I should probably be in trouble by now.”

Last week, while Seth was getting Jax dressed in a button-down shirt:
Seth [smiling jokingly]: I won’t do your top button so you don’t look like a nerd.
Jax: What’s a nerd?
Seth: Someone who spends so much time on the computer that they forget how to dress themselves
Jax: Daddy, YOU are a nerd!

Jax loves to be precise about vocabulary:
Me (to Jax): Daddy’s working
Jax: No, he’s BLOGGING

Foreign languages are a big deal around here, and while we listen to French songs and have “French day” (less often than I hope to), Jax has invented his own language, Glurm. It seems to consist of English words with the beginning consonant replaced by “gl.” Thankfully we’ve picked it up pretty quickly.

Other interests of the moment are swimming, painting, and drawing roller coasters. And any activity involving glue. Today he glued buttons and wooden beads onto a piece of cardboard, making them into shapes, such as binoculars. Clay has also been an exciting recent discovery: while Jax’s paintings are still very much about experimenting with the media, his clay creations are pretty complex representations of real things (submarine, lamb, rainbow) or of his imaginary inventions.

Jax is the sweetest big brother, too. Ben does a lot of head bumping and Jax always runs straight for the freezer to get him some ice. Often in the morning Jax will ask for Ben and want to hug him. They play rough, too, and Jax rolls his baby all around the carpet, Ben laughing the whole time. Well, until it gets too rough. Ben wants to do everything his brother does, and we’re proud of them both!

My Handwriting

Two photos today: one as student of Patrick Weil‘s course on the 5th Republic back in 2003:

(I still use these notes to prepare lectures – brought them with me to class just today!)

and one as prof:

Red, erasable editor’s pencil always in hand, I finished grading the essay portion of my students’ midterms last night. This student did a pretty good job answering my broad question about “France face à ‘l’autre'”  (France confronting the “other”) – covering the period of 1900-1958. I used to use a variety of colored pens to grade, always avoiding red as my dad always does, but Seth brought home a bunch of boxes of these pencils when he worked at Fortune, and I was hooked on them, mostly because I can erase and change my comments, which I always second-guess. It’s old school needing the pencil sharpener, but my 3.5-year-old assistant is only too eager to help me complete that task.