Saturday, January 21, 2017

New Nation Crafts: Quilting, Felting and Embroidery

My daughter quilted, felted and embroidered like the Americans of the mid to late 1800's.

Although quilting, felting and embroidery were known in Early American times, they were not the handicrafts which kept most women busy. Opposite to popular belief, most Early American women were kept busy sewing, spinning and knitting as these handicrafts were more essential to their survival. It was only the wealthiest of early Americans who could afford to spend time quilting, embroidering and felting. However, by the mid to late 1800's industrial producers of cloth changed the availability of materials. It was during these later times when American quilting gained popularity.

Since we are a family who loves fiber and fabric based handicrafts, my daughter did all three.


Once industrial produced fabric became available in America, the popularity of quilting increased. Contrary to popular belief, most quilts were created from new fabric. Patchwork is actually the word for cutting out and piecing together different fabrics. Quilting refers to the decorative stitching which holds the patchwork together. Regardless, my daughter spent time working on the quilting/patchwork process.

First she created a design and used a protractor to help her create the pieces for her design.

Next she cut out pieces of fabric.

Then she stitched them together.

Finally she ironed the seams of the stitched pieces. Currently, she is no where near completing the quilt she designed as she is a child who much prefers short-term projects. I'm not sure if she will ever finish this project, but am happy she has a good understanding for the effort involved.


There are several different methods for felting. Fibers from sheep and other animals will shrink and cling together after agitation. This can be accomplished with long sharp needles, or with soap and water. Many of us have accidentally felted wool sweaters in the washing machine and are surprised how dramatically small large sweaters can become. My daughter chose to create a purse by first knitting yarn with very large needles and then shrinking the knitted purse down to size.

 Following a pattern from the book Pursenality Plus, she created her purse.

 Next she squeezed warm soap and water through the purse for several hours until it shrank down to size.

Finally she stuffed her purse with treasures and carries it around town.


Today machines are used to make dynamic embroidery designs like this hedgehog created on my mother's machine. After the 30 minutes or so required to line up the design, program the machine, and place the fabric into a hoop with proper stabilizing papers above and below, the machine only takes about 30 minutes to whip out a finished product.

In the past simple embroidery designs took much longer. My daughter spent about 10 hours working on her embroidery sign for her room.

Like hand knitting a sweater, creating a full sampler must have taken weeks to months. Maybe I should invest in a knitting machine?

To see more American History lessons for kids please visit our archives on our History Page.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Making Falooda with Kids (Indian Food)

We made falooda - a delicious desert.

In between rushing children to gymnastics, boy scouts and piano lessons we learned about falooda while listening to National Public Radio (NPR). Falooda is a layered desert popular in India and neighboring countries. With many variations, the layers consist of ingredients such as vermicelli noodles, gelatin, tapioca, flan and sweet basil seeds. In addition, rose syrup, milk and vanilla ice cream are added to fill in the spaces.

Not knowing what sweet basil seeds were I did some research and found they go by two other names; Sabja seeds and tukmaria. Seeds of the ocimum basil plant, they are praised for health benefits such as relieving constipation and increasing skin health. I found them in the Asian store.

Falooda was easier to make than I anticipated, but I had to begin about 4 hours in advance as both the sweet basil seeds and gelatin require advanced preparation. Wanting to make falooda for five people, I put 5 tbsp in a large bowl with water to soak for about 4 hours. I was amazed by the growth of the seeds and learned that the 5 tbsp was enough for about 10 faloodas.

Next I prepared the gelatin by putting two packets into 1/2 cup of cold water and then adding 1 1/2 cups of boiling water. Once the gelatin was completely dissolved, it was placed into the refrigerator for 4 hours to set.

Once we were ready to put the faloodas together, we boiled vermicelli noodles and then began the layering. One half of the gelatin was placed into the bottom of four tall glasses. Next 1 tbsp of honey was added to each glass. I still don't know what exactly rose syrup is, so we used honey instead.

Next, three large spoonfulls of soaked sabja seeds were added to each glass followed by a fork full of cooked vermacelli noodles.

After the noodles were added the glass was filled with milk and then a scoop of vanilla ice cream was placed on top.

One of the comments I vividly remember from the radio interview on faloodas was that they demand attention to eat. That was incredibly true. Those vermacelli noodles were long and difficult, but fun to consume from a glass.

Once the glasses were empty, we were all full and happy.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ohio River Flatboats

My daughter made a "Flatboats on the Ohio" game.

Beginning in Pennsylvania, the Ohio River flows towards the west across the southern borders of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois before joining with the mighty Mississippi River. In the early 1800's the river was a major route for westward expansion of the pioneers. Because flatboats were difficult to paddle upstream they were typically built in Pennsylvania and disassembled upon reaching their destination. The wood was then reused for building wagons, housing or other purposes.

Like other journeys undertaken by pioneers, a flatboat journey was ripe with hazards. Attacks by Indians were common, and inexperienced navigators could easily get a flatboat stuck in a fallen tree lying in the river. Sometimes accidents could cause a boat to break apart causing expensive delays.
The book Flatboats on the Ohio tells the story of two pioneering families that join together for a journey down the Ohio River in a flatboat.

While learning about American History the series USKids has served as our outline. The series is perfect for elementary students as it is detailed enough to get them interested in history, yet not a bombardment of facts and dates. Each book in the five-book series tells both fiction and non-fiction accounts of American history and provides ideas for projects to accompany the reading. My daughter's Flatboats on the Ohio game idea came from book three in the series USKids: New American Nation.

 The other titles are
USKids: American Indians
USKids: American Colonies
USKids: American Revolution
USKids: Civil War

Creating the game was quite involved as she had to create a map of the Ohio River as well as two sets of game cards. One set involved hazards pioneers may face on their journey and the other set involved progress.

The simple game was easy to play and creating it helped her to remember this time period of history.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Unexploded Cow

We played the game Unexploded Cow at a gaming convention a few weeks ago.

Unexploded Cow just sounds wrong, but that is the actual title of the game. Many games today have a story built into the play. The game Unexploded Cow is set in 1997 when Mad Cow Disease was headline news. The story behind the game is that infected British Cows are being sent off to France to locate unexploded bombs left over from World War II. When a bomb is located, it takes care of two problems at once; destroying a diseased cow and an unexploded bomb at the same time. Hence that act is good, earning the player money.

I have to admit that after reading the story behind the game I was a little bit disturbed, but laughing hysterically. So what does the story have to do with the play of the game? During a turn, players place diseased cows face up in their herd after paying a fee for each cow. Cows are named and some cost more than others. In addition, when they are destroyed, some bring in more money than others. To destroy a cow, players roll the dice at the end of their turn and count from right to left to find the cow to be exploded. In addition to regular cows, there are spy cows which can be placed in other players herds, cards which instruct players to exchange herds with each other and cows that can explode adjacent cows.

In spite of the raunchy theme, players develop critical thinking skills while trying to earn the most money destroying bombs and cows. The game lasts 20-30 minutes and is very entertaining. My 13 year old son loved the game so we purchased it on Amazon after the conference as it wasn't being sold there. It is a quirky game to add to your home game library.

Please visit again next week to learn about another game played at the convention.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Claim It

My husband and son won the game Claim It at a gaming convention.

Claim It is a board game based on the days of the gold rush. Participants try to claim the largest cluster of land by rolling dice and claiming squares on a grid.

Each turn the player rolls three dice. They must select a number tile shown on one of the dice. The other dice numbers must match the numbers shown on a grid. Players mark that square and then roll the dice again to claim another square. They may roll as many times as they wish, but if they have used all of the claim numbers, their turn ends in a bust and they cannot claim any of the squares which they had marked.

Kids playing this game develop skills in statistical reasoning quite quickly by learning that if they roll the dice more than four times they are likely to loose their claim. Younger kids will learn to read a grid and all players will learn to recognize number patterns. Games are a fun way to increase number sense and develop critical thinking and strategy skills.

Luck, greed and strategy all play roles in this game. It is simple to play and fun for kids as young as 8 years old. If you have a chance this game is a fun one to try or to add to your home game library.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Love Letter

Love Letter was voted the game of the year in 2012.

Last week I wrote about how games can help develop critical thinking skills. Over the next few weeks I plan to introduce some games you have probably never heard of.

In the game Love Letter, the players are competing to have their letter read by the princess. The player with the highest ranking official card in their hand at the end of the play is the lucky letter writer. During the game players must choose cards to play which can cause other players to be removed from the round. For example, if they are able to name the official held in another player's hand that player is finished for the round. Other cards enable them to peak at another player's hand or trade hands with another player.

My daughter and I actually discovered this game back in 2012 after attending a game night at our local library. The librarian running the session was a hobby gamer who had just attended a gaming convention. He eagerly taught us Love Letter as well as a few other games he purchased at the convention.

Like all games, winning this game involves discovering a strategy that will enable the player to hold the highest ranking card at the end of play. At a cost of around $10 it makes a fun stocking stuffer and addition to your home game library.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Gaming and Critical Thinking

Playing games is one of the best ways to develop critical thinking skills.

Last week I wrote about attending our first gaming convention. If you've never heard of or been to a gaming convention, I highly recommend it.

At the convention, I was busy playing my skip-counting card game Speed! in the vendor room while my husband and son tried out a variety of new games. Because a gaming convention is filled with people who like to play games, through demonstrating my game, I had the opportunity to see how playing games has enhanced the logic and critical thinking skills of the participants.

Most people have a hobby. For some, their hobby is a musical instrument, for others it's sewing, woodworking, politics, reading, running or camping. There are an unlimited number of hobbies, but I had never thought of playing games as a hobby until I attended a gaming convention.

Hobbies are interesting, because they are a pleasurable pastime for the participant. People tend to fill their free time exploring their hobby as much as possible, and over time become unofficial experts in their field as they continue to increase their knowledge.

Speed! is a relatively easy game to learn, but I was stunned by how much quicker veteran gamers learned to play. Most picked up on all the rules after only about 2 minutes of instruction and were onto strategizing how to win. At one time during the convention a five year old boy and his seven year old sister walked up to my table. They only played one round of Speed!, but before the round was done they were racing at top speed while predicting two to three moves ahead. I could see the five year old boy thinking 'if I play my 9, then my sister will play her 12, but if I play my 3 instead, then she won't have a card to play. Picking up on strategy during the first round of play was unbelievable, but it happened over and over throughout the weekend.

The question was why did the gamers pick it up so fast? Well the obvious answer was that they play games often. By continuously strategizing in different circumstances they have learned to recognize patterns at a rapid rate. In addition, they don't just follow the rules, but predict possible outcomes of various acceptable moves and select their best option. Based on the information available, they try to think several moves ahead when planning their moves.

My husband and son witnessed this same skill while playing games with other gamers. At the conference many game tables were set-up with a person available to teach others the game. Attendees could show up at scheduled times to try out new games. My husband and son tried games with others three times at the convention and lost every time. They said that the other gamers were strategizing at the very beginning of the game while it took them half way through the game to understand the rules. The game hobbiests were just that much quicker.

The skills being developed by playing games; critical thinking, logic, and decision making not to mention math, are applicable in many aspects of life from most careers, jobs and daily routines. There are many games on the market, so start thinking about games like books. Try one and see how it goes. If you like it teach friends and play again. Then try a new game. There are so many to choose from. Have fun!

Please visit Highhill Education again next week as I will begin writing about some of the games my husband and son played.
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