Ghosts + the Emergent Curriculum

N is fascinated with Halloween decorations, and with every animatronic witch and 10-foot spider that we see around town she decides that we, too, need to own “that!”. We decorated with some cobwebs, pumpkins, and a 3 foot spider, but apparently that’s not enough! After seeing a ton of ghosts yesterday, followed by lengthy discussions about our spooky friends, with my daughter asking “how could we make a ghost?”, this ghost bonanza emerged. I’m not an early child educator, but I’ve taken an interest in emergent curriculum, which is planning a curriculum based on students’ interests, and the proof that this concept need not be relegated to preschools was in the HOURS of ghost decorating and play that followed.

While N was napping, I cut up some fabric for ghost-making.

The remains of the t-shirt I cut up for the Upcycled Circle Scarfs would become ghost heads.

I laid these out during naptime, and when she woke up she threw them across the room. Really! Anyone else have kids who wake up grumpy from their naps?

Once the dust settled and bellies were filled with snacks, we made our ghosts and hung them from a tree.

And had fun swinging at ’em like a pinata. Pinatas are big around here.

We drew ghosts on the sidewalk.

Then we came inside and made more ghosts out of paper. I pre-cut them into blobby ghost shapes…

…and then N went to town.

The ghost family kept growing and growing. At one point my darling daughter proclaimed, “I’m making our house really spooky!” True that! Then N decided to embellish with stickers, sequins and pencil. After dinner, the ghost-making continued. I was truly floored by her commitment to this project.

What Halloween activities are you up to?

In what ways have you followed an “emerging curriculum” with your kids or students?

Spooky Marble Spider Webs

We spent Saturday afternoon carving pumpkins at a local art studio and almost missed the craft table on our way out the door. And it would have been a BIG miss, because it was such a captivating activity that my daughter wanted to recreate it at home immediately and has asked for marbles and paint multiple times over the past two days. I noticed big kids messing around with this too, so if you have older kids this may be worth a try. We did a similar project back in July, but this here marble painting project was a much bigger hit.

At the art studio. Materials include: white tempera paint, a few marbles, a pie tin, and a piece of black construction paper cut to fit the tin.

This time with thick paint.

It’s a “spider web!” Kind of a stretch to call it a spider web, but if you’re in the Halloween spirit, why not?

After a shopping trip for pie tins and marbles, we got home and set up shop.

And rolled our little hearts out. Each piece took mere seconds to create, and I found myself cutting paper like mad.

Once the novelty wears off, interest usually fades, but not just yet for this gem of an activity. To keep the interest high, we traded black paper for white and messed around with purple paint.

One of these days we’ll get some friends together and make a super-sized marble painting like this!

Have you been painting with marbles too? What do your kids think of this activity?

Happy Halloween!

Printed Upcycled Circle Scarf

I have a stockpile of t-shirts that no longer have a purpose, just waiting to be upcycled into other things. After leafing through Todd Oldham’s Kid Made Modern, I got just the inspiration I needed to pull this activity off. The set-up was a bit involved, but not too crazy. The fabric we used in this project came from a 2nd hand XX-large never-before-worn t-shirt that I picked up for 99 cents. Awesome.

I started by cutting a couple potatoes into diamond

and square shapes.

We chose four colors of paint and spread them thinly on paper plates.

A colorful toddler-selected palette. A trend-setting selection, that’s sure to catch the eye of designers for next season’s fashions.

I cut two bands of fabric from under the arms of the t-shirt, each one about 6″ wide. This is scarf #1, wrapped around a grocery bag so that the paint doesn’t soak onto the backside of the scarf or table.  Let the stamping begin.

Stamping all over.

After experiments with stamping reached their pinnacle, painting on stamps and scarves was underway.

Then the request for fabric markers came in.

And finally, after adding some apple stamps on day 2, it was done!

After N wore this simple no-sew scarf for a bit, I could see that it wants to curl up inside-out, rendering the designs almost invisible. Bummer. So it looks like I may need to add a little stitching and a fabric backing to make it work better. Aesthetics aside, this was a fun activity that made us feel good about repurposing fabric and veggies into art.

Happily shared with The T-Shirt Diaries

Hammering for Preschoolers

Hammering for Preschoolers - an easy introduction to making and tinkering for young children

Hammering for Preschoolers

This is a fun early building activity for toddlers and preschoolers. If you have a child who likes to bang a hammer, this project is for you. It’s economical, contributes to strong hand-eye coordination, and can give you hours of fun.

Hammering for Preschoolers

Our Introduction to this Project

This post includes affiliate links.

My neighbor Liz is an incredible parent and preschool teacher. She introduced us to this early carpintry & building activity this summer, and my daughter has asked me to buy her golf tees on numerous occasions since. We don’t play golf, so I finally got my act together and ordered this set of tees.

And now that we own a bag of 75 golf tees? It’s nice to have a bowl of tees in the yard in case the mood to hammer strikes. Ouch, no pun intended!

Hammering for Preschoolers

A handful of tees and a toy hammer is all it takes. This hammer is part of the Plan Toy Punch and Drop Set and the tees are from Amazon.

Hammering for Preschoolers

Hammering for Toddlers

When my daughter was younger, I would poke some tees into the earth to help her get started, but now she wants to do this step herself. For easier hammering, we like to work with soft or wet dirt.


  • Our favorite Golf Tees were found on Amazon. I like how this pack is multi-colored. Kids love this!
  • Wooden Hammer came from this toy.
  • Montessori Services sells a hammering set, but you can also order a hammer and tees separately.  I would recommend just the tees and hammer.
  • If you don’t have access to dirt or want to make this an indoor activity, a good alternative is to pick up or find a huge chunk of styrofoam.

Hammering and Building Extensions:

  • Older children may enjoy hammering real nails into a tree stump or piece of scrap wood.
  • Pre-hammer holes into a piece of wood. Using a screw driver and large screws, show the child how to screw into the hole left by the nail.  You could also practice screwing holes into a bar of soap.
  • Cut small pieces of sand paper of various grades, and set out some blocks for the child to sand. Discuss the different textures of the papers with words like rough, course, and smooth.

More Building + Tinkering for Kids

Hammering Real Nails

Why is Tinkering Important?

Build Gumdrop Sculptures

Make a Recycled Sculpture

Build a Fort from Milk Jugs

Make a Sugar Cube Sculpture

Contact Paper Suncatcher

Since making Sticky Autumn Collages a couple weeks ago, we’ve been addicted to contact paper. And thank goodness for that because I needed some serious validation for buying seventy-five feet of the stuff!!  Despite the semi-gloomy weather, we could not be stopped from making art with the word “sun” in it…this is a strong activity for even a rainy day. In fact, it’s a good indoor project that may even thrive with a side of hot apple cider and pumpkin bread.

Inspiration: Suncatcher Collage, created by visitors to the Children’s Discovery Museum (San Jose, CA), 2010


  • Clear Contact Paper
  • Painters tape, Paper Tape, or Masking Tape
  • Pre-cut pieces of Tissue Paper

I cut a large piece of clear contact paper and taped it securely to the floor. N didn’t need a lot of encouragement to walk on it because this is just inherently fun and feels weird. Lots of giggles or gasps. I credit MaryAnn Kohl with this idea.

Then we stuck the tissue shapes to the contact paper. The contact paper is super-sticky, so once the tissue is down, it didn’t come back up again. For reals.

N got into this, and especially enjoyed folding and crumpling the tissue before placing it on the sticky paper.

While I finished adding all of the pieces, N took a yoga break. Of course. Then we removed the tape and stuck the contact paper directly to a window. So pretty.

When the Suncatcher was done, I got a request for “Contact Paper and Play Dough.” How could I refuse?

Turns out the play dough doesn’t stick. And then, N wanted to know what would happen if she sat on the contact paper. She came up too. Whew!

Somehow, this all morphed into making play dough snowmen with “many teeny-tiny heads.” I love the stream of conscious that guides children from one moment to another. You never know where you’re going to end up.

Do you have a favorite activities that includes contact paper?

Why Creative Thinking?

What will our childrens’ future look like? The world as we know it is changing so rapidly that it’s almost impossible to know what it will look like in just five years, let alone thirty. I saw the movie Social Network this weekend, and was reminded that Facebook has only been around for about five years. I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember my life before its existence. I vaguely remember getting family updates on all my extended family through my parents or those epic 2-page holiday letters, and now I find myself stopping my mom to say things like, “…and did you know that your best friend is about to become a grandma?” She didn’t. True Story.

And this is why it’s so important to foster creative thinking in today’s youth. It’s not enough to memorize historical facts, ace a multiple choice test, or correctly identify all of the elements in the periodic table. I’m not knocking these tasks, but if we want to our kids to thrive, and *gasp*…compete, in the unknown world of the future, they’ll need a lot more than good memorization and “passing the test” skills because we don’t know exactly what kind of information they’ll need. Sure, we can guess, but what will serve them best are the abilities to think independently, be open to new ideas, be inventive, apply their imaginations, suggest hypotheses, and search for innovative solutions.

Take less than two minutes to watch this adorable video that advocates for creative thinking skills in the classroom.  If you’re a parent or teacher, ask yourself if your school is doing everything it can to support the aforementioned skills.

How is your school or your child’s school fostering creative growth?
What skills do you think are important for today’s children to develop in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world?


Tissue Paper Collage

I have a child who rarely smiles for the camera and doesn’t seem to appreciate a mom who wants to document everything (she’ll thank me when she’s older, right?). When bribed with something along the lines of cupcakes, I may have some luck, but I usually hear comments like “put your phone down!” and “Mommy, no pictures! Make art with me!” Sooo, when I snapped this picture at the end of a recent art moment, I thought to myself, “hey, we must have hit art project gold here!” In hindsight, I think she was wowed by the idea of camouflage (more on that later), but why not start a blog post with a smiling kid, right?

What you will need:

  • White glue and Water
  • Small pieces of tissue paper. I cut mine into little irregular rectangles, but any shape will do. Ours is the “bleeding kind” from Discount School Supply, but if you’re scrounging around for materials for a project you’re doing RIGHT NOW!, see if you have any stashed away with your gift wrapping. Basically, you want really thin paper that will easily soak into the glue. My daughter called this “booger paper,” presumably because we use tissues to wipe noses. So funny.
  • Paper to use as a substrate
  • Thick paintbrush
  • Containers to hold glue and tissue papers

Mix a little bit of water with glue to make a paintable paste. Liquid starch will also do the trick.

Mix the glue and water together. I thought our brushes were clean, but it appears that the glue soaked some purple paint out of the bristles. No worries — we happen to like the color purple, and it added a nice splash of color to the paper 🙂

Paint some of the glue mixture on the paper, and then stick pieces of tissue paper on the glue. Encourage layering. The piece in the foreground is where I demonstrated the process, trying to keep it simple and not too prescriptive.

Selecting pieces of tissue — creative and critical thinking at work!

The project evolved into making “teeny weeny pieces of art.”

And then we opened a factory.

Surprisingly, this is what cracked her up. She glued a piece of white tissue to the paper, which of course disappeared. We talked about camouflage, and how we can’t see white paper when it’s glued to another sheet of white paper because they “match.” With Halloween around the corner, I placed an orange tissue paper on top of one of our pumpkins, to show that this phenomena occurs with colors other than white. And then the laughing started. So, in case you were wondering, camouflage is pretty funny in the mind of this 28 month old!

Spaghetti Art? Fail!

A friend recently told me that as much as she loves my site (thanks, D!), she wasn’t having too much success getting her child on board with our activities. This of course saddened me, but then it occurred to me that not every activity is a success story around here either. Take “Sticky Spaghetti Art,” for example. I borrowed this idea, which involves placing sticky pasta on a sheet of paper, from a play-based activity newsletter that I subscribe to. With a newborn in the house, I’m presently attracted to all things easy, and a simple bowl of pasta fit the bill.

This is what the project looked like when I set it up: two sheets of paper for some side-by-side art making and a bowl of starchy spaghetti.

Despite my prompts, super-cheerful excitement about spaghetti art, and encouragement, N requested a fork and knife in order to cut the noodles into smaller pieces. Okay, that’s cool, we could use some cutting practice. Just let me know when you’re ready to slap some of those noodles down on the blank paper!

Ohhhh, so you’re hungry!  How about some peaches or cheese? No? You want to keep eating? You know, we’re having dinner in about an hour…

You must have really enjoyed that pasta! And now, you’re moving on to glue and rice. Sigh.

I guess I just wanted to clear up any misconceptions that our art projects all turn out the way I have planned. And the “I” in that sentence is key here, because it’s important to remind myself that these projects aren’t for me at all. They’re for my daughter. And if she wants to eat the art materials (paint and glue, not so much), so be it.  Every time a project fails, I learn something new…in this case, introducing food-art right before dinner is probably not the best use of my graduate degree.

What failures have you had (with or without your kids), and what did you learn from them?