Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Notes from “Professor McGonagall’s” Journal: Harry Potter Month 2012

My kids and I are avid Harry Potter fans. J. K. Rowling’s series about a downtrodden orphan who discovers he has magical powers is chock full of things a family can learn about or talk about—Greek myths, botany, astronomy, Latin, friendship, integrity, loneliness, overcoming or succumbing to pride, the hero’s journey, hero and villain archetypes, good vs. evil, how to handle handicaps and prejudices, social justice, politics, setting goals, sports, animal biology, and even knitting!  And that’s just the CONTENT of the books.  There are so many things you could pursue in language arts by just looking at how the  books are structured---grammar, formula, literary style, symbolism as a device in literature--I could keep going!
A couple of years ago, I read the Harry Potter series to my oldest two kids and they fell in love with the series as much as I did. We were feeling a little burnt out in school and decided to shake things up a bit with a Harry Potter Week, wherein we would turn our house into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and incorporate some Harry Potter themed activities into our days. We started small (really small) and renamed our classes and chores:
World History became Muggle Studies
Math became Ancient Runes
Gardening became Herbology
Taking care of pets became Care of Magical Creatures
Cooking became Transfiguration
and so on. 
We decorated the house.  We turned the TV into the Mirror of Erised and hung paper stars from blue yarn in the kitchen to create the ceiling of the Great Hall.  The kids had a few stuffed toy owls, so we perched them on top of the piano and called it The Owlery.  It was fun, and silly, and the kids wanted to do more—after that first Harry Potter Week, we decided that next time, we’d do a Harry Potter Month—full of Harry Potter themed activities and foods and décor!   October seemed to be a good time to do this, what with Halloween and all it’s attendant costuming and decorations.
We haven’t yet managed to make it a full month, because we’re still figuring things out and I’m trying to decide how much Harry Potter we can actually handle and still accomplish schoolwork and the rest of real life, but we’re getting there.  This year was the grandest of Harry Potter Months so far, and we anticipate next year being bigger (and more organized!) and even more fun.
Here’s a sampling of what we did this year (and my thoughts for next year, so I don’t FORGET!)
This year, the kids wanted to dress up. I rifled through the Halloween costume racks at thrift stores in search of things to use as the Hogwarts school uniform. I think my favorite finds were the graduation gown  that Gloria is wearing and the black “crushed velvet” robe that Ellen is wearing.  I had the kids put on white dress shirts and dark pants, and put the “robes” over top.  One of these days, I’ll get ties in the appropriate “house” colors.  Ellen and I originally intended to crochet scarves and hats, but both times we tried that, it just didn’t work out.  I anticipate Harry Potter Month becoming a longstanding tradition—so I’ll probably just break down and buy suitable items rather than make them.

DSC_0006 (2)
We surprised the kids with “official” Hogwarts acceptance letters.  I found a Hogwarts School Crest online and we copied it.  Then, I typed up Harry’s acceptance letter, including his school supply list, and addressed one to each of the kids.  Notice it’s in green ink—just like in the first book!  The letters were then delivered by "owls” made from helium balloons.  (Thank you, Pinterest, for the idea!) I bought the balloons at the local party supply store, and used sharpies to create a Snowy Owl, Barn Owls, and a Great Horned Owl.

I am ridiculously pleased by the Snowy Owl (and the girl holding it!)
I also made House “hour glasses” that we filled with glass “gems” when the kids did something to merit praise or a reward. The idea was to fill the hour glass to the top with the gems and the first student with a filled jar got a prize.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of this project—but we used standard size quart jars for the “hour glasses” and I bought colored glass gems from the craft store—red for Gryffindor House, green for Slytherin, blue for Ravenclaw, and Gold for Hufflepuff.  (Hufflepuff really should have been yellow, or even black—but those were ugly—the gold glass was much more striking.)
Last year, we filled the mason jars with colored candies, but it only provided even more of a sugar overload, considering Halloween was around the corner.  We decided this year to go with something we could use over and over again.  I had the jars on hand already and used craft store coupons coupons to get the colored glass. (Love those Michaels and JoAnn’s 40% off coupons!)  Next year I’ll take pictures.
We made wands this year.  I bought a couple of wooden dowels, cut them to size, and spray painted them brown. I had big plans to decorate them with swirls of hot glue and plastic gemstones the way it's done here, but I couldn’t find my stupid glue gun and decided to just press ahead. The kids didn’t care, and in truth, I was relieved I didn’t have to worry about someone’s wand bling falling off if the glue relaxed or got brittle.
A few weeks ago, I was going through a container of my grandma’s old art magazines and discovered that many of them were wildlife magazines with pictures or paintings of different kinds of owls.  I let the kids cut out the owl pictures and paste them onto poster board—this became our Owlery (where Harry and his friends go to post their letters) and we hung it on the wall upstairs over a weird shaped ledge that was perfect for the kids to line up their toy owls on!

Some of our activities this year included:
Making popcorn as part of a “transfiguration class.”  We made it on the stove after reading the book Popcorn by Tomie de Paola.  There is a killer recipe in the back of the book for stovetop popcorn.  My kids have only experienced the microwave and air popper kind—so, making popcorn on the stove was a blast. Literally.  I was pretty liberal in adding the corn to the sizzling pan—and the popping kernels lifted the lid as they popped and sent popcorn flying everywhere.  It was awesome.  Calvin thought it was so funny he couldn’t stop laughing and jumping around.
Holding a Tri-Wizard Tournament.  In the book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is entered in a competition called the Tri-Wizard Tournament, wherein three wizards/witches are each expected to complete three dangerous tasks.  They are judged on performance (and their success at staying alive!) and the winner receives the Tri-Wizard Cup—a high and historical honor in the “Magical World.”  The tasks include fighting dragons, solving riddles, retrieving lost or stolen items from the depths of an enchanted lake, and navigating a labyrinth full of dangerous creatures.
In our Tri-Wizard Tournament, we made dragons out of air-dry clay, with the intent to paint them once they had cured for a few days. (Unfortunately, the dragons all fell apart, much to the kids’ dismay.  Next year, we’ll have to come up with a better medium—papier mache, maybe?)  I let the kids take turns having a bath in the soaker tub (which we otherwise rarely use), so that was a real treat.  The final task—the labyrinth—was a trip through the corn maze—which we would have normally done at this time of year anyway, but it was fun to add a Harry Potter twist to that tradition.  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter anything more dangerous than shoe-sucking mud.
We spent a couple of evenings outside looking at the stars.  I had every intention of getting hold of a telescope for these nights, but it didn’t happen.  At this point, though, the kids were happy to just get to stay up late with mom and dad, outside.  Earlier in the month, we had gone to a local-ish planetarium and the kids had learned about what constellations are in the sky at this time of the year in our end of the world, so they had fun looking for those.
We made a few Harry Potter-esque treats, too.  I had way more recipes than I had time to try.  I tried a recipe for apple muffins, which I had decided to call Cauldron Cakes, after a confection from the books—but the muffins turned out so badly that we decided not to eat them.  I wanted to make Pumpkin Pasties, which I interpreted to be like an empanada, filled with pumpkin pie filling—but ran out of time.  We substituted Starbucks Pumpkin Scones, which no one seemed to mind!  I have a couple of large stock pots that are wider at the bottom than at the top—one is shaped like almost like a cauldron—I made chili in it one night—and the kids thought it was hilarious.
I had many, many big plans for other activities, but we didn’t get to most of them.  At first, I was feeling frustrated and discouraged that my vision for our Harry Potter month wasn’t coming together exactly as I had hoped—but the kids didn’t even notice. I was basing MY expectations not only on what I’d read in the books, but what I’d seen in the Harry Potter movies.  I wanted to really decorate the place based on what I’d seen in the movies, but I didn’t have the time, and in some cases didn’t have the knowledge of how to do it---so I was frustrated that the place didn’t look (and therefore feel—to me, anyway) more “magical.”  For instance:
In the movie, the sign for the train platform that Harry goes to to take the train to Hogwarts looked like this:

Or at least like this:
I kept meaning to make a sign like one of those, but it was one of those projects that got shunted aside for other things (like laundry) so the kids took over and Calvin made these signs and hung them up:
This was not at all what I had in mind, but Calvin was thrilled at his own handiwork.  Here are the other nearby platform signs he put up.  Notice all destinations are in North America rather than England, where the series takes place:

Seeing Calvin excited about his train platform signs made me realize that I could take a step back and let the kids sort of run the show—they didn’t need everything to be movie-set perfect.  This made me relax a little, because as much fun as Harry Potter Month was, I was starting to stress out about making it “perfect” as I saw it.  I was getting carried away with what my vision for the event was, rather than letting the kids just do their thing.  Once I realized the kids were much happier running on their own imagination than on what I thought they should be doing, things got really fun.
In order for Harry to get to Hogwarts, he had to go to King’s Cross Station in London and walk through a brick wall barrier to the proper train platform to take the train.  The barrier only allowed “magic folk” to pass through—regular people (known as Muggles in the books) couldn’t get through.  We made our own “brick barrier” by hanging a red block-weave shower curtain in the hallway on the way to the garage.  Anytime we needed to take the “train” (our car) to go somewhere, we had to walk through our barrier. 
There were several regular school related things we did that I decided to assign “Harry Potter” names to, so I wouldn’t have to re-invent activities—in our homeschool co-op, we were studying desert ecosystems and made a desert terrarium with cacti and succulent plants.  Prior to doing this activity, I told the kids we were going to have “herbology class.”  They just used their imaginations and started calling the cacti and aloe vera plants by the plant names in the series---Venemous Tentacula, Mandrakes, Gillyweed, etc.  We had a good laugh over it.  They also insisted we purchase a carnivorous plant in honor of the herbology class—I’m such a sucker---I did it.  We are now the proud owners of a baby Pitcher Plant.  I don’t have a terribly green thumb, so we’ll see how it does.  Maybe next year we can try a Venus Fly Trap!
All in all, the kids and I had a lot of fun, and we are already planning for next year.  The kids wanted each day to be entirely devoted to Harry Potter stuff, and while I would LOVE it, that is unrealistic, so I told them perhaps we could do ONE Harry Potter thing a day (some things are merely a matter of re-naming a regular activity, and others will require more planning.)  We ended on a high note this year with the Tri-Wizard Tournament.  And after Halloween, we hit the Halloween clearance at a few stores and picked up some fun things for next year (like a trio of Gargoyles for Hogwarts Castle!)
The kids did some brainstorming for activities for next year.  They are included here:
Harry Potter Month Ideas:
  • Acceptance letters (delivered by helium balloon owls)
  • Decorate “Hogwarts” with the owlery poster and toys, house color crepe paper streamers, hang stars from the kitchen ceiling, candelabra on the kitchen table, train platform signs and shower curtain “brick barrier”
  • Draw Moaning Myrtle on the bathroom mirror with soap (Calvin did it this year, but she was steamed off from of a month of showers before I thought to take a picture!)
  • make book covers for school books---with the proper subject titles on each
  • have a Potions Class (science experiements with goopy stuff)
  • Have a House Sorting Ceremony—get a hat for this!
  • Game of Quidditch! (need multiple brooms and hula hoops and balls!)
  • Make Honeydukes candies: chocolate and peppermint frogs, butterbeer, etc.
  • have a feast in the Great Hall
  • Transfiguration Class (make popcorn or popovers or some other recipe where the initial ingredients radically transform!)
  • Tri-Wizard Tournament (find different stuff to make dragons…) include going swimming and a trip to the corn maze
  • Herbology—make an ivy topiary
  • Care of Magical Creatures Class—go to Boo at the Zoo—a great excuse to wear the Harry Potter school uniform costumes!
  • “Spell”ing---(which is really just studying Latin roots.)
  • Herbology—plant a terrarium
  • Have a dance party
  • Read favorite passages from the books by the fireplace
  • learn to knit or crochet something (can use this as a service project, too!)
  • Read some Greek myths
  • Play chess


  1. YOU are such a fun mom!!!
    Your kids look like they are having an amazing time ~ love the photos.
    And I love the creativity of your kids ~ it is so wonderful to see what they can come up with, and it's an extra bonus when it takes some of the load of your back.
    Keep up the fantastic work ~ you are so inspiring to me. :0)

  2. Just so you know, I think you are AWESOME!!!! You help me bring more fun and spontaneity into my home!

  3. Thanks, Lytle Momma and Simplymom!