I heard about a blog hop sharing “Helpful Homeschool Hints” at manylittleblessings.com . I was so excited to participate after seeing that the theme was “project days“. We have had a lot of really fun, educational project days at our house and always enjoy the break from our schedule to try out a little extra hands on learning. Many of our project days have been inspired by my oldest daughter’s interest in pioneers. After reading the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she decided she wanted to be a pioneer. She loved the clothes they wore and the do-it-yourself life they lived. She wanted to make things from scratch like they did back in Laura’s time. I loved the idea of do-it-yourself too, but after living my life in modern times with all sorts of conveniences at my disposal, I wasn’t quite as adventurous or pioneering as the pioneers were. We improvised a little.
We made candles, but not exactly like they did in pioneer days. Instead of dipping them from hot burning tallow that we obtained from the fat of slaughtered animals, I bought a pack of “emergency” candles from the dollar store, melted them down on the stove with a few old crayon bits to add color and poured it all into cleaned out cardboard containers with the wicks from the original candles in the middle. They turned out pretty cute and my daughter was pleased with the experience of helping peel crayons, carefully putting them into the pot, and then tearing the cardboard apart when the candles were hardened and cooled.
Then I found a “recipe” for soap crayons using bars of soap grated into pieces, moistened slightly, tinted with a few drops of food coloring, and then re-formed into crayon shapes. We all enjoyed this project though it turned out to be much messier than one would have thought considering we were working with soap. The soap crayons ended up crumbling into pieces before we ever got the chance to try them out, but the project was still fun. We also made our own recycled paper from old, used pieces of coloring book pages and printer paper, and our blender. Tim teased me about making soap out of soap, candles out of candles and paper out of paper. I guess I do not get many points for originality. And clearly, I was not cut out to be a pioneer.
Then, we had the opportunity to attend a class to learn to make your own soap. My mom invited us to it and we eagerly awaited the experience of real do-it-yourself soap making, like the pioneers did it. The class was offered by a friend of a friend of my mother’s, a woman who regularly made her own soap from scratch. We would start with lye and ash and end up with real soap. The class was just what my daughter and I always wanted, a chance to try out an old fashioned pioneer “art” for her, and an experienced expert to guide us along the way for me. Making a girls’ day of it, with my mom made it sound all the more fun. We walked into the room and saw tables set up with recipes, scales and assorted little bottles. The little bottles held essential oils used for adding fragrance to the soaps and the recipes had everything from hand soap to laundry soap to shampoo and even some bath fizzies. The teacher began by warning us about the dangers of using lye and then proceeded to arm herself with oven mitts on her hands, scarves around her mouth and nose, and an apron to protect her clothes. She assured us it was all just a safety precaution, that she had never had any sort of incident but always protected herself just in case. She went outside with her pot of lye and a big spoon and we watch from the window as she measured things out and mixed them together. A huge cloud of black smoke rose up as the solution bubbled over the pot and our instructor came running back into the room to avoid noxious fumes. She had measured wrong and ended up adding way too much dangerous lye, burning through a metal pot, dissolving her spoon entirely and scorching the sidewalk, probably permanently. The rest of the day, thankfully was uneventful and we did end up with two successful batches of soap, the laundry and hand soap. The shampoo, which was the batch that went so dangerously wrong, would not have been safe for use on our hair unless we wanted to look like human matches, flaming at the top.
Despite the surprises it was one of our most fun and educational project days. Here are just a few of the many lessons we learned… First, making soap is dangerous and despite Tim’s teasing I think I made the right decision in taking the safe way out at my own house. Second, even in the hands of experienced experts chemistry can have some pretty explosive results. And third, we should all be grateful that though we may have the option to do-it-ourselves, we can also choose to just buy a nice, safe bar of Ivory soap from our neighborhood Wal-Mart.