MacArthur Foundation Awards "Genius Grants"

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Have you ever dreamt of receiving a large sum of cash to pursue your creative dreams? You may have heard that the MacArthur Foundation just named twenty-three very surprised fellows as the recipients of this year’s “genius grant,” an unrestricted award of $500,000 to spend on projects of their choice. There is no application process for the award. Rather, recipients are chosen on the merit of their current work and its potential to further blossom with the time and resources that the grant money will afford them. Because the awards are often given to those who demonstrate high levels of creativity and innovation, I thought I’d share this and a few related  creativity links in honor of this notable event. The winners range from an Installation Artist (Jorge Pardo) to a Computer Security Specialist (Dawn Song). Interestingly, eight (yes, eight!) of the twenty-three winners hail from California!

And I have some questions for you…

What project are you currently working on that you’d like to expand upon if you had more resources? How would you expand up on them? If you were given half a million dollars to develop your next big idea, how would you spend it?

Sticky Autumn Collage

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California has been hit by a heat wave, so staying inside our hot cave of a house is barely an option. Yesterday was full of swimming, a sprinkler run, a trip to the neighbor’s lemonade stand, and hitting a pinata at another neighbor’s house. So cute! Despite the heat, there’s a lot of fall madness in the air — you can’t miss the mountain of gourds and pumpkins piled up at the markets, leaves are turning colors, and my favorite…spiced pumpkin lattes in the coffee shops. Mmmmm…

So, somewhere between the pumpkins and the lemonade stand, we landed on this fall project that involves spending time outside.

We began by pulling out some clear contact paper. I encouraged my daughter to feel its tackiness, and then we discussed the process of collecting leaves and sticking them to the paper. We found an Easter basket and then took a walk around the neighborhood in search of leaves and other flat-ish treasures. This, by the way, is how we landed on the lemonade stand. It pays to get out of the house!

After collecting (and naming!) the leaves, N stuck them on half a sheet of contact paper.

Hey goofball, where did that come from?

She filled in most of the spaces…good for understanding spatial relationships!

And then we smooshed the other half of the contact paper on top of the leaves. This was followed by two more walks around the neighborhood and two more collages. In our books, this activity was a hit.

When we finally came inside, contact collaging continued with magazine cut-outs, post-its, and googley eyes.

Resources

Identification guide for  kids: New England leaves

Nature Detective Leaf Identification Sheet: UK

Leaf Identification Activities

Why do leaves change color?

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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Craft Foam in the Tub

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Here’s a clean creativity-booster that doesn’t involve scrubbing paint out of clothes or scanning the rug for bits of smooshy play dough. It’s also fabulous for folks with limited art-making space. I wish I could claim this idea as my very own, but when I saw this on Filth Wizardry (Leslie over there is so creative), I knew it was something my pocketbook would adore and my daughter would get hours of creative fun from. And now, you should feel free to steal it from me (via Leslie)…immediately…and not feel an ounce of guilt about it.

Start with some foam sheets. I picked these up at JoAnne Fabrics for .69/sheet. Good deal!

Cut the foam into desired shapes. I kept mine pretty simple (rectangles, triangles, circles, half circles, hearts, etc.) so that the process of playing with them could be open-ended.

And then cut some more shapes. Use pinking shears to make shapes with zig-zag or curly edges, or use cookie cutters or a die-cutter to create more elaborate shapes.

Find a suitable container

Let your kids play! Just dip the foam in water and watch it stick to tiles, glass, or porcelain…pretty much anything slick. The first night we played with these, the joy came from getting all of the pieces up on the wall.

The second night we busted these out, it turned into a color sorting game. And then on the third night (nursing baby and supervising bath…sorry no pictures!), we started building symmetrical patterns. I can already see how this activity will grow as my daughters grow. There are endless possibilities for learning shapes, colors, telling stories, and designing monsters or cities…to name a few.

Ideas for guiding discovery:

1. Ask your child to find all of the red (or purple, green, etc.) pieces, and then all the blue pieces…

2. Ask your child to find a circle, square, star, etc.

3. Encourage your child to build a path in one color.

4. Suggest that your child build monsters or animals with the pieces.

5. If you have older children like Lindsey, give them some foam sheets and safety scissors…in the tub…so they can invent the shapes they want as they go.

Slapdash Slide

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While I’ve been on baby duty this past week, my husband has been an incredible pal to our older daughter, and it’s been inspiring to watch them develop their own style of play and invention. We both believe strongly in paying close attention to our child’s interests and then helping her grow beyond her current capabilities, which is how this little activity emerged.

On this snoozy weekend morning, N really wanted to hit the park and run around, but my sleep-deprived husband was still rubbing his eyes and nursing his coffee. A middle ground was found with a few rounds of couch somersaults, and then my DH struck gross-motor toddler gold when remembered the large piece of wood we picked up for my inverted-board-turn-the-breech-baby exercises. Add in a yoga mat for friction and a few pillows for protection, and the slapdash slide was invented.

One of the pillars of our parenting philosophy lies in the idea of the zone of proximal development, a learning theory developed by renowned psychologist and cognitive theorist, Lev Vygotsky, which can be described as the gap between what a learner has mastered and what a learner is capable of doing with help.

In this case, our daughter loves climbing and tumbling. Combine building the slide with some dialogue and a few gentle suggestions, and she was soon diving down the slide head-first, turning her body sideways to scoot down in “the splits”, and walking up and down the slide. These are all things she could do at the park, but with other kids around we ask N to play it safe and have good playground etiquette. The beauty in this activity is that it was all hers, and she could explore and push herself as she desired.

What games and toys have you invented with your kids? In what ways have you guided a child master a skill that was too difficult for him or her to master alone?

Flour and Water

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We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Sponge Stamping

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In the days leading up to the arrival of Baby I, I spent a lot of time in our garage in search of baby clothes, the car seat, and other long forgotten baby paraphernalia– and along the way I found a box of sponges shaped like letters, hearts, and flowers that I’ve been hauling around since my early art teaching days.

Inspired by my find (and, frankly, thrilled that I could finally justify keeping all this junk to my poor husband), I set up a bowl of red and yellow paint, put out some paper, and showed my toddler how to dip the sponges in paint before stamping them on the paper. The project is incredibly simple, and managed to hold my child’s attention for almost, er, ten minutes. In giving her two warm colors I thought it would help her focus on how the sponges work with the paint, but in hindsight, having a few extra colors may have sustained her interest longer. All said, as a first sponge stamping experience I’m pretty pleased with how it all played out.

Stamping N’s and Hearts.

I showed N  how to dip the sponge in the paint and both smear and stamp it on the paper. She opted for stamping. I always do my demonstrations on my own piece of paper to allow her the freedom to create her own work without my influence.

Thick, wet, stamped paint.

I think I picked up these sponges at a dollar store, which might be a good place to forage for something similar. My neighbor Stephanie had us over for sponge stamping, and she used make-up wedges. What’s so great about these is that they’re dense like foam, and hold their shape nicely in the cluthes of little hands.

Homemade Stickers

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After sending our 4 year old friends Josie and Callie some stickers a few months back, they reciprocated by sending us a few sheets of mailing labels to make our own stickers. Brilliant!  Stickers have long been popular around here, they’re fun, and they seem to make their way onto everything from lunch bags to birthday cards. Making stickers from mailing labels is an easy spin on everyday drawing, more imaginative and less expensive than pre-designed stickers, and the perfect activity for kids who like drawing AND stickers. Since receiving our label sticker gift, we’ve stocked up on more sheets of these, and added them to our self-serve paper basket. If you decide to open your own homegrown sticker factory, pretty much any sort of blank office stickers should do the trick.

It was a very cool moment when I realized she could see the perforations of each sticker, and made each rectangle its own element.

N is going through her circle period!

Peeling off and adding stickers to a sheet of paper.

The final product.

I’ve noticed that N has tendency to layer papers and stickers in her art, so I also used this as an opportunity to talk with her about layering. I would say things like, “I see you’re putting that sticker on top of the other ones. You’re making layers. Can you say ‘layers’? Can you say ‘I’m layering the stickers’?”  She gets into this kind of “repeating me” discussion, and it works for us a good way to teach and reinforce new vocabulary words and sayings.

Do your kids love stickers too?

What kind of sticker projects are happening in your home or school?

We interrupt this program…

Back Camera

In case you’re wondering what happened to TinkerLab this week, I’m on an early mini-vacation at the hospital for the arrival of little girl #2!  At 36 weeks, our baby moved into a breech position, and after trying everything under the sun to turn her — External Cephalic Version, spending hours on a slant board, swimming, chiropractic adjustments, long walks, acupuncture, and even moxibustion (check it all out here) — our child remained steadfast in her cozy sideways position.

My incredible OB scheduled a C-Section for tomorrow, September 10, but the baby had her own ideas and we welcomed her into the world on Monday, September 6. Although she’s so far nameless, her big sister has decisively named her “Baby Rainbow.” It’s a compelling name, but I’m pretty sure it won’t pass once it goes to committee.

N sings the first song to her baby sister: Down by the Station, Early in the Morning…

While I’m not sure how life will pan out once I move back home, I expect that TinkerLab will be back in business in no time. Please stay tuned and check back often! And until then, I leave you with these creative thoughts:

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” Alan Alda

If you can, do something today that you’ve never done before. It can be simple or elaborate.

  • If you’ve been afraid to paint with your kids, now’s the time to pick up some paints and set up a painting project.
  • Get your little one/s sewing with some easy and cute handmade sewing cards.
  • Pick up a basket for a “collecting” nature stroll around the neighborhood. See what new and unusual objects you can find.  Print this list of nature/camping scavenger hunt items, this list for a garden scavenger hunt, or grab your GPS and roll your family into the fun of Geocaching.
  • Make a homemade marble run from a cereal box.
  • Brainstorm a list of 30 possibilities for your child’s (or your own) Halloween costume. Push that list to 50 or more. Did you come up with anything really cool?
  • Make a Fortune Teller with or for your kids.

Art Supply Organization

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If your child’s art supplies are anything like ours, they tend to overflow into a state of disorganization pretty quickly.  As a self-proclaimed scatterer, I won’t profess expertise at organization, but in attempting to bring some order to my home I’ve landed on some decent solutions toward wrangling art materials in a small space.  And, in the process, I found some compelling solutions by other creative folks that may appeal to you too. If you’d like to share your own great space-saving, kid-friendly, easy-access solutions, I’d love to hear about them.

First, there are the art staples that live on our art table for easy access. If I notice something is going unused, I’ll replace it, but these mainly remain the same. For now we’re using Markers, Crayons, Dot Makers, Glue (squeezable and stick), Painter’s tape (for taping paper down), and Small Pads of Paper. I found these nifty little metal bins in the dollar section of Target that are small enough that they don’t overwhelm the table. The crayons are mostly ignored, but for some reason I feel the need to keep them around. Maybe it’s time to replace them with some stickers?

Next, I think it’s important to give kids easy access to paper, so they can make art when the fancy strikes. Because our art area in in our living room, the solution I came up with is filling a basket with paper and placing it on one of our low bookshelves. I really like the 80 lb. white sulphite paper from Discount School Supply. Thanks to The Artful Parent for this tip! It’s heavy enough to take wet media and large amounts of glue, but flexible and thin enough that it doesn’t get bulky when you want to store completed projects. N is now in the practice of saying “I want to make art!” and grabs her own paper. Not that I’m especially lazy…well, maybe just a bit…but it’s really nice when kids can help themselves! Adults are more relaxed and kids are more empowered.

And finally, we have storage all over the house for the extra supplies like paints, play dough, stickers, stamps, pipe cleaners, brushes, sponges, rolls of paper, etc. Most of it is stored away in a locked cabinet or high shelf, but it’s nice to have little things handy for on-the-spot art making. So, another area of our living room shelves (a little higher than the paper) is dedicated to little things that I can get to on the fly. And they’re high enough — for now — that my daughter can’t unload them without my assistance.

Other Solutions

Top Row:

  1. Marker/Pen/Pencil holder upcycled from a phonebook. From Makezine.
  2. Keep the tabletop clear with pockets made from kids aprons. From Lowes Creative Ideas.
  3. Preschool-style bins for organizing supplies at kid height. From Day Care Mall.

Bottom Row:

  1. Bookshelf/Art Supply area. Low access for kids and high access for adults. From Jessica Lucia on Flickr.
  2. Art supplies that are easy to see. From Gently Down the Stream on Flickr.
  3. Corkboard, Chalkboard, and Painting station. From Pottery Barn Kids.

And finally, Amberlee at Giver’s Log has written a nice post on organizing kids’ art supplies that’s worth checking out.