Top 10 Posts of 2011

goodbye 2011

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” - Edith Lovejoy Pierce, Poet

So here we are at the end of 2011. Can you believe it? Are you looking forward to a better year, making concrete changes that will improve your life in 2012, hoping for a little more down-time or “me-time?” Whenever a year comes to a close I do a lot of reflecting on where we’ve been and where we’re heading, and I plan to continue on my quest for more organization and clarity in 2012. I always feel better when I can be my most authentic self, and find that this is more possible when my life is cleared of the excess.

We’re planning to ring in the new year tonight with a big family + friends play date, and thanks to the magic of YouTube, my 3 year old is looking forward to watching the big Ball Drop at midnight (it’s only 9 pm PST, thankfully!).

It seems to be a blog tradition to do a “best of…”, so I thought you might like to take a peek at some of the more popular posts of the past year. I’m saving my #1 post for Monday, which means this is really a top 11 list, so be sure to check back after the new year.

Even Toddlers Can Sew

Yes, it’s true. With some simple materials little ones can begin to learn the elements of sewing, and there are additional ideas in the comments of this post.

Salt Dough Ornaments

Not just for the Winter Holidays, salt dough could be used to make all sorts of sculptures year-round.

Flubber-Gak-Slime Exploration

Best sensory project ever! Hours of fun, over multiple days. Great for little ones who won’t put this gooey mess in their mouths.

Vegetable-dyed Easter Eggs

It’s almost Easter and you might want to sock this idea away for Spring. Featured on Craft Gossip.

Easy DIY Light Table

Light tables are wonderful for adding a little magic to your sensory play. We used ours with salt (pictured here) and Water Beads. With a little resourcefulness you can make one without breaking the bank.

Coffee Filter Flowers

Nice little rainy day activity to cheer up your house on a gloomy flower-less day. Or save it for the warmer months as we did, and make flowers inspired by your surroundings.

6 Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

I love this post as it shares some insights into my thinking around raising creative kids. Bonus: There’s a link in the article to three more tools for building a child’s confidence for a total of nine tools!

Jell-o Excavation

Featured in Real Simple Family Magazine, Fall 2011, Ohdeedoh, and Craft Gossip. I still get comments and questions about this project. So much fun, with endless play possibilities.

Creative Challenge #6: Cardboard

If you like to upcycle materials into something fabulous, you’ll want to check out this exciting challenge that brought 20+ creative bloggers together with the collective challenge of making something, with their kids, with cardboard.

Rainbow Play Dough

Whether you want rainbow, blueberry blue, or cinnamon-scented brown play dough, this is the recipe you’ll want to use. It’s never failed my, it’s used by EVERY preschool teacher that I know, and it lasts forever.

Wishing you and yours a creative 2012!

Five New Year’s Resolutions for a Creative New Year

DSC_0320

Creative New Year's resolutionsResolution Ideas for a Creative New Year

Yesterday I shared last year’s creative new year’s resolutions, and I thought it would be fun (and maybe useful) to share some resolution ideas for making this a more creative year. Without further ado, I give you five resolutions, free for the taking, that will make 2012 a year full of creativity.

1. See Real Art

Do you enjoy visiting museums, but find that you rarely find time to go? Looking at real art not only elevates a mood, but it can boost cognitive growth as well! Here are a few ideas to choose from on how to make this a reality:

  • Make a resolution to visit a different museum each month.
  • Become a member at your local art museum, and milk it for all it’s worth. Go to all the openings (there’s usually music and free food — yay, date night is covered and you can share the experience with your loved one!), take the kids (many museums are kid-friendly and offer activities for little ones), and/or visit once a month, on your own, on a quiet weekend morning.
  • Find a listing of public art in your town or city, make or download a map to carry in your bag or car, and take a year-long art tour of your town. Reference the list often, spend a few moments investigating new parts of town, and look a little more closely at those places that you know well.

2. Keep a Sketchbook

Keeping a sketchbook can mean a lot of things, and you can tailor this to fit your personality and goals. On my artist friend Susie’s suggestion, I enrolled in one of the most inspiring classes of my life, Art as Process with Kata Hull at the SMFA (School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). One of my favorite exercises was creating a double-page spread (DPS) in a sketchbook every single day. All this means is that I would open the sketchbook and fill the two pages that were in front of me with anything that came to mind. No pressure to be amazing. By completely this task every day, I eventually become better at articulating my ideas, ideating, and I had tomes of inspiration to look back on at a later date. It’s been a while since I’ve maintained they rhythm of creating these DPS’s, but I still refer to those sketchbooks when I’m searching for a visual idea.

  • If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you could make one nature drawing every day.
  • If you like to collage, try filling a box with inspiring paper scraps that you keep in a space that you like to create in. Find some good paper glue and fill the sketchbook pages with paper creations.
  • Do you need a deadline-based project to motivate you to create? For a small fee, The Sketchbook Project will put your sketchbook in the Brooklyn Art Library, where anyone can read it.
  • You could also using a specialty journal like One Sketch a Day: A Visual Journal

3. Start a Blog

Did you know that blogging can boost your creativity? It helps me organize my thoughts, motivates me to show up almost daily with new ideas and inspiration, and allows me to reflect on my thinking (case in point!). If blogging speaks to you, why not start today (or January 1!)? After blogging for one year, I’ve met countless people who inspire me to think more creatively and tap into ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise conceived. A lot of growth can happen in one year, and it can all start with one post. The key here is to make every attempt to post often. If you want to become a better writer, a more creative parent, or a stronger blogger, you need to make a daily or weekly commitment to it. I love blogging, and would be happy to offer support and words of encouragement to anyone thinking about this as a resolution.

  • You can sign up for a free WordPress or Blogger account and have your first post up today. I’ve happily used both platforms, and currently write on a self-hosted WordPress platform (something to think about if you plan to get serious about blogging).
  • Make a commitment to at least one post per week, every week.
  • If you don’t already have one, invest in a good camera and learn how to use it. This is what I use.

4. Learn How to “x”

What do you want to get better at? Do you want to improve your drawing/painting/sculpting skills? Your resolution could be to:

  • Master one new art form by year’s end
  • Explore four art disciplines (try collage, sewing, glass blowing, or ceramics)
  • Invite friends over for monthly art-making parties. If this last idea speaks to you, you’ll want to read How to Throw Your Own Craft Night (Etsy). With one year to play and learn, you will be on your way to mastering that skill by next December.

5. Take Mystery Trips

This one is personal, makes my family life more creative, and I love it. My husband is one of the most creative people I know, and I credit his parents (and in turn, their good friend Joan) for bringing this golden nugget into our lives. Every month or so we plan mystery trips for each other in our family, which can turn the usual trip to the park into something more adventurous, or something adventurous into something completely over-the-top. On a recent date night I didn’t tell my husband where we were going, which built suspense and tons of anticipation. My plan wasn’t elaborate, and even included a trip to the diviest bar you can imagine, but the adventure made it one of the funnest nights out we’ve had in a while. Apparently Joan started this with her own children who lacked enthusiasm when it was time to go to the museum/zoo/park. But when she said, “we’re going on a mystery trip tomorrow,” her kids couldn’t wait to find out where they were heading.

  • Because anything can be a mystery trip, it doesn’t require any extra work or preparation.
  • Commit to plan one mystery trip each month, 6 per year, etc.
  • Responsibility for planning these trips can fall on various family members, or take this on as your own personal mission for the year

What do you think? How do you plan on making 2012 a Creative Year?

 

The Great 2011 Purge

paper snowflake scraps

This time last year I was reading Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living (Tsh Oxenreider) and made a New Year Resolution to simplify my life and purge unnecessary objects from my home. Before The Great 2011 Purge, art materials lived in all areas of our home and I spent countless hours looking for things and making room for objects that had no permanent place. Does this sound like your life? If so, I can’t recommend Tsh’s book enough.

Digging past my collections, knick-knacks, and countless art materials was exhausting and I knew that if I streamlined my possessions I could be more productive with my time. So I started poking away at corners of my home every week; a shelf of dishes here, a closet there. And it’s helped! I’ve given away unused applianced, weeded out my least favorite books, and I just donated four garbage sized bags of baby clothes to this incredible charity with the unintended consequence of teaching my children the power of helping those in need. I’ve never stuck with a resolution for an entire year, but this one was so successful that it’s seeped into my way-of-life and it’ll be easy to carry it forward into the new year.

paper snowflake scrapsAnd now, guess what? I’m thinking about my 2012 Resolution.

Working for myself has long appealed to me, and over the past year I’ve developed a stronger entrepreneurial mindset that I’d like to nurture! I’m an artist at heart, with no real sense of money and lacking in organizational skills (obviously) , so my resolution for 2012 is to foster my entrepreneurial side. I’m starting 2012 off by working and blogging with this awesome new startup, developing curriculum for this creative children’s museum, reading this bookand devouring this blog.

I think it’s a good start, but to keep it going for the year, my plan is to read inspirational books and magazines like this, streamline my blog to make it more engaging and accesible (a newsletter and revamped archives are in the works), and remain open to opportunities that are a good fit with my my personal and professional goals. Now that I see it all written in front of me, it seems a bit daunting, but I have to remember that a year is a long time and baby steps will get me there. Just like they did last year.

In light of all this, because I’m a mom-to-my-kids first I have to remember that I can only take on so much. In my search for balance between motherhood and personal ambition I’ve had a few meltdown moments that I hope will shine brightly in my mind’s eye as a warning of what can happen if I bite off more than I can chew. These colorful pictures of a happy snowflake-making afternoon are here to remind me that my primary goal is to hold on to my core beliefs as an arts educator and mom who wants to raise her children to be creative souls and independent thinkers.

Have you had a successful resolution that you could share? Have you started thinking about your 2012 resolution?

Be sure to check back soon for my next post on developing a new year’s resolution that will support creativity.

 

Last Minute DIY Gifts To Make With Kids

diy gifts with kids

Okay, so we’re down to the last holiday minute, and if you’re in need of a little something for your lovely neighbors or visiting cousins, this might just do the trick. My 3.5 year old actually helped me make everything here (in various ways), you might already have all or most of the ingredients/materials, and these won’t take you all day to pull together.

diy gifts with kidsDIY Project #1: Activity Bag

My daughter decorated some paper lunch bags with bits of wrapping paper and markers, and we filled them with a couple activities + a tape measure.

Activity One: Make an Ornament. I folded a piece of card stock in half, typed (with this typewriter) “Make and Ornament” on one side (you could also stamp, print, draw this on, etc.) stapled up the sides, and attached an example of the activity to the side with a piece of clear tape.

diy gifts with kidsWe filled the envelope with a small baggie of assorted beads (from a few big bags that we sub-divided) and four pipe cleaners that I prepared with a little bead-stopping loop at one end.

diy gifts with kidsActivity Two: Make a Snowflake

diy gifts with kidsI prepared an envelope the same way, with typing, stapling, and filling. This time we placed a short stack of colorful tissue paper circles and a few pre-made snowflakes in the envelope for inspiration. I didn’t have time to write up directions, but hopefully everyone remembers how to make a snowflake. Most people don’t have circular tissue paper on hand, and a little stack of flattened, round coffee filters or squares of upcycled magazines would also do the trick. I love this tutorial for making snowflakes from squares of newspaper squares, from Maya Made.

diy gifts with kidsDIY Project #2: Sugar Scrub

This is a nice way to spread some pampering cheer that will shine away rough wintery skin, and they couldn’t be easier to assemble. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Glass Jar with tight-fitting lid
  • Sugar
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Essential Oil in your favorite smell
  • Decorative Fabric or Paper
  • Paper Label
  • String or Rubber Band
  • Small wooden spoon (optional)

Collecting my materials was the most time consuming piece of this project. I found the jars and wooden spoons at Daiso, a Japanese dollar store that rocks my world, and the essential oil was from Whole Foods. I used grapeseed oil (Trader Joe’s) because it’s virtually scentless and has a long shelf life, and I included a wooden spoon so that my friends can scoop out their scrub without adding bacteria into the jar. It’s not really necessary, but I think it’s a nice touch.

diy gifts with kids

I wish I was more scientific about this, but I’ll tell you how I made it and hopefully it will make sense. I filled 1/4 of the jar with sugar, added enough grapeseed oil to coat it, and then mixed it well. Then I added sugar to the 1/2 way point, added more oil, and mixed it again. I repeated this until the sugar-oil mixture was about 3/4″ from the top. I added a little more oil so that it floated on top of the sugar, making the whole mixture easy to stir. Once it was nicely blended, I added about 30 drops of grapefruit essential oil. Basically, I added the essential oil, smelled it, and then added more until I was happy with the strength of the smell. I thought about using lavender, which I also had, but the grapefruit smelled so refreshing and it complemented the green fabric.

Lastly, I covered it with a circle of fabric (traced with a bowl), secured it with a rubber band (to hold that heavy spoon on tight), and wrapped a gift tag on with some baker’s twine.

diy gifts with kidsDIY Project #3: Pecan Chocolate Turtles

These are so simple, absolutely delicious, and I made them with both my 1-year old and 3-year old. My one year old exercised some fine motor skills by unwrapping the candies, while my 3 year old placed them on the pretzels. It was assembly-line cooking at its finest! They won’t disappoint you, I promise! I found the recipe on All Recipes, and if 5 stars out of 855+ reviews doesn’t tell you how good these are, I’m not sure what will :)

Ingredients

  • Small Pretzels
  • Rolos (Chocolate-covered caramel candy)
  • Pecan Halves
The recipe can be found here: Pretzel Turtles on All Recipes
When they finally cooled (this part took a while, maybe 2 hours), I wrapped them up in wax paper and sealed them with a sticker.

What are your favorite DIY gift ideas?

 

Pin It

Rolled Paper Snowflakes

chipboard tube snowflake

paper roll snowflake decoration

When I saw this toilet paper tube star garland on Creative Jewish Mom, I knew my 3 year old would enjoy it. We didn’t have any toilet paper rolls on hand, so I improvised with what we had.

chipboard tube snowflakeWe made them from a chipboard box (very sturdy, just like toilet paper/loo rolls) and from construction paper (not so sturdy, but it worked well too).

chipboard tube snowflakeI cut the front off a box of yummy cookies, and then cut that in half.

chipboard tube snowflakeThen I stapled them right up like a toilet paper roll.

chipboard tube snowflakeNext, I cut vertical strips to about 1/2″ from the bottom.

chipboard tube snowflakeSpread them all out to reveal a starburst or snowflake.

chipboard tube snowflakeAnd then added glitter glue to make them a bit fancy.

Before we bought the cookies, we tried this out with construction paper using the same process.

paper roll snowflake decorationAnd we hung them from the ceiling with a couple feet of baker’s twine.

paper roll snowflake decorationThey’re a bit wobbly compared to their chipboard box cousins, but my 3 year old is quite pleased with the results.

Because I’m sure it’s the same for many of you, it’s a busy time at Casa Tinkerlab. I’m half-way through sewing an elf costume (it’s the only thing my 3 year old has asked me for this season!), cookies are cooling in the kitchen, and homemade sugar scrubs are in the works. I plan to slow down on the posts through the end of the year. But do check back because I have a few more ideas in the hopper before the end of 2011.

How are you getting busy on these days of early winter? What are you making?

 


{If you haven’t had a chance to read my interview about setting up a kids art space with the inspiring Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent, take a look today, and leave a comment by 9 pm PST to be entered into the giveaway.}

Microwave Marshmallow Experiment

microwave marshmallow experiment

Have you heard of the microwave marshmallow experiment? It’s really simple and a fun way to explore how the volume of gas expands a marshmallow as it heats up. My kids also enjoy this experiment because it mixes science (+ fun) with a sugary treat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Microwave Marshmallow Experiment Supplies

  • 4 (or more) Marshmallows
  • Paper Towel or Microwave-safe plate
  • Microwave
  • Paper to jot down observations (I’ll share my 3-year old’s observations in italics below)
For this microwave marshmallow experiment, we’ll microwave three marshmallows for different periods of time, and then  compare what happens to the marshmallows as they heat up, and then cool down again. This is an engaging way to involve children in scientific observation and discovery, it raises lots of questions, and doesn’t require a lot of prep or clean-up. Are you with me?

Step One

Microwave one marshmallow for 10 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare it to an uncooked marshmallow and describe how it looks. How does it feel?

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabObservation: It’s small, shorter than the other marshmallow, but fatter. It’s gooey.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Two

Microwave the second marshmallow for 30 seconds and remove it. How does it compare with an uncooked marshmallow? What happens to it as it cools?

Observation: It’s a little bit larger than the other one. It got dry as it cooled.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Touching the second marshmallow.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Cool, a little hole showed up in the middle after it cooled down a bit.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Three

Microwave the third marshmallow for 50 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare to and uncooked marshmallow right away and after it cools. How are they different? How does this marshmallow feel?

Observation: It’s huge and wrinkly and dry. It’s brown. That means it burned. That means it’s good to eat. Crunchy to eat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabYou can see all three marshmallows here. We noticed that the 30 second and 50 second marshmallows got hard and crunchy as they cooled, and N decided to taste them for a flavor comparison.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabThe 50 second marshmallow was brown, crunchy, and caramelized. Have you ever tried astronaut ice cream? It had a similar texture.

The science behind the activity is explained clearly over here at The Exploratorium. In essence, the volume of gas in the marshmallow increases when the temperature increases, and then decreases as it cools down. The Exploratorium suggests not microwaving marshmallows for longer than 2 minutes, less you want a dark, stinky, burnt mess on your hands.

This project was inspired by a book we found at the library: Kitchen Science Experiments: How Does Your Mold Garden Grow?

Have you ever microwaved anything and been surprised by the outcome?

 

Do-it-Yourself Clay Menorah

air dry clay menorah with kids

air dry clay menorah with kidsWe celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our home, so, as some might agree, our children get the best of both worlds! But it can also be a tricky mash-up of cultures, but I guess it makes sense to my kids who know nothing else. The other day we discovered a new-to-us A-mazing teacher supply store, and came home with a 2.5 pound bucket of Crayola Air Dry Clay to make our very own menorahs. It cost just over $5, and I cannot recommend this clay enough. It feels just like the clay you throw pots on, and my kids were enthralled by the texture. So unlike play dough, and it has the potential to make long-lasting objects.

air dry clay menorah with kidsN’s cousin gave her a homemade menorah a couple years ago, so this one is a return gift-in-the-making. We started with a mound of clay, rolled it out with our new rolling pin, scored at a Waldorf school winter festival, and poked a candle into the clay eight times. N placed one of our menorahs on the table as inspiration. Menorahs hold nine candles, eight for the eight nights of Hanukkah, and a ninth called the shamash (meaning “attendant”) that lights the other candles.

air dry clay menorah with toddlerMeanwhile, my 15 month old got into the clay spirit. She’s been copying everything her sister does, and after seeing this magic, I wished I had given her a bigger piece of clay to play with.

air dry clay menorah with kidsTo make room for the shamash, we decided to build a little mound by making a ball of clay, scoring both sides of where it would connect with hatch marks, and then pressing the pieces together.

air dry clay menorah with kidsWe used a little water and a popsicle stick to smooth out the edges. I read that if there are cracks in this clay it can fall apart once dry, so we were sure to smooth all those cracks right out with water.

air dry clay menorah with kidsAnd then N decided to use a wooden stick to poke a pattern of holes all over the menorah.

air dry clay menorah with kidsAnd a hole for the shamash.

air dry clay menorah with kidsBaby Rainbow didn’t want to be left out of the fun, so she got a small pot of water and loved playing with the goopy clay.

Now we have to let the clay dry for 2-3 days before painting it. If you’d like to join us and make an air dry menorah too, you should be able to find Crayola Air Dry Clay at Target, Walmart, Office Depot or on Amazon for $5.99.

So far, I love this product, and I think we’ll make handprint ornaments with it tomorrow!

What are your family’s favorite (new or old) traditions?

Seven Ways to Make a Gingerbread House

gingerbread house from scratch

Seven ways to make a gingerbread house | Tinkerlab

Have you ever made a gingerbread house? 

Last year, my 2-year old and I made super simple graham cracker gingerbread houses. I’m not even sure if you can call them gingerbread houses since they were made from graham crackers. Hmmm.

But making a real, bonafide gingerbread house: this was new territory for me, and I wasn’t prepared for how much trouble I would have with it.

After a few tears were shed and lessons learned, I thought I’d share my experience and a host of others so that you won’t have to go through the growing pains I went through.

pressing the Gingerbread house dough

Use a gingerbread house mold

To make our house, we started with a Gingerbread House Mold similar to this one.  You simply make the dough and then press it right into the mold. Brilliant!

To make it even simpler, we made a batch of gingerbread with the recipe from the Trader Joe’s gingerbread baking mix. So easy.

My kids enjoyed pressing it into the mold and my 3 year old helped pop the cookies out once they cooled. So far, so good!

Gingerbread house candy

 

Candy Toppings for Gingerbread Houses

While the dough was cooling, we went candy shopping! Mmmm. This may have been the funnest part.

Since this was mostly new to me, I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations and they had the BEST ideas (clearly, my fans are professionals).

Gingerbread house

Are you ready for this?

Candy for Gingerbread House Decorating:

  • gumdrops
  • M&M’s
  • marshmallows
  • mini candy canes
  • rainbow nerds
  • dried fruits and nuts
  • life savers
  • ribbon candy,
  • colored frosting
  • gingerbread men/trees to add to scene
  • pretzels for a fence
  • sweet tarts and those candy necklace candies
  • Christmas Captain Crunch with tree shapes
  • star shaped cookies from Trader Joe’s
  • skittles
  • jellybeans
  • cut out fruit strips into shapes
  • gingerbread shaped marshmallows
  • tootsie roll for a chimney, Pretzel squares for windows
  • crystal like sprinkles for a special touch of snow
  • sifted powdered sugar and cotton candy to look like snow
  • Twizzlers
  • red hots and mint
  • swirled red and white mints.

Gingerbread house frosting

I made a batch of royal icing, the same way I made it for our gingerbread cookies, but I added a bit more powdered sugar to thicken it. Traditionally, royal icing is made with egg whites, but because I knew my kids would lick their fingers I opted to go with this meringue powder version instead.

RECIPE FOR ROYAL ICING

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

Gingerbread house kids table

I made individual houses out of graham crackers for our neighborhood friends, and we all worked on the big house as a collaborative project.

Gingerbread house graham crackers

Oh, we ran out of graham crackers, which is why some of the houses have this funky shape. Sigh. Maybe next year I’ll be more prepared!

Thankfully, our friends didn’t let on if they minded. We’re lucky to have such kind neighbors.

Six More Gingerbread House Ideas…

Graham Cracker House on a Milk Carton

This is the recipe my friend made for our toddler play date last year, and it was perfect for little ones. I know my friend had a hard time collecting milk cartons for all the children in our group, but once you gather the milk cartons, they’re easy to assemble. From Martha Stewart.

Gingerbread house with milk carton base

Gingerbread House from Scratch

Mama Smiles shows us how she made her house with a toddler (no small feat!) from scratch!

 Gingerbread House from Graham Crackers

Caked Alaska shows us how to make a beautiful graham cracker house (unlike my ramshackle shanty town houses). And this post from Kelley Moore is also lovely.

gingerbread house from graham crackers

Tiny Gingerbread House Perched on the Rim of a Mug

Oh my goodness! These are most definitely not for making with little kids, but what a show stopper! Couldn’t resist sharing these beauties from Not Martha.

Gingerbread House from a Kit

Or, take the easier route with a store-bought kit. A Spoonful of Sugar Designs shares their Ikea kit. Lovely.

Matzo House

Not exactly gingerbread, but we made these jelly bean matzo houses earlier this year and I couldn’t resist sharing, just to show that with some icing and candy, you can turn just about anything into a house.

Matzoh gingerbread house

Your turn! What’s your favorite way to make a gingerbread house?

Note: This post may contain affiliate links

 

Tinkering Spaces: Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent

MaiaWatercolors_JV

Today I’m joined by the inspiring and talented Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent, who I’ve invited to kick off a new series of informative interviews that center on designing kid-friendly creativity spaces, or tinkering spaces. If you’re scratching your head because you can’t figure out where to put your children’s art materials, hatching a plan to turn your laundry room into an art room,  or shifting furniture to make room for a new easel, these interviews are sure to give you food for thought.


RACHELLE: Welcome, Jean! Your blog,The Artful Parent, is a huge reason why I’m blogging today. You’ve inspired many parents like me to begin their own Toddler Art Group, your writing is so friendly that I often feel like I’m chatting with you over a cup of coffee, and now, lucky for us, you’re writing a book! I’ve watched your art studio grow and change along with your children and I’m excited to have you here today to share some insights about setting up a functional home art studio.

JEAN: So glad to be here! I love your blog too, Rachelle, especially your generous approach to experimentation and creativity.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Jean Van't Hul of The Artful Parent | TinkerLab.com

RACHELLE: Thanks! You have an adorable, functional studio space that I would love to call my own. Can you tell us a little bit about this space and how it got started?

JEAN: We moved to our house when my older daughter, Maia, was almost a year old. I’d been reading books on children’s art and wanted a space to use for art. The house is small, but there is a large laundry room at the back with a cement floor. Perfect for kids art! I painted over the fake wood paneling, gave the cement floor a coat of paint, set up a coffee table to use as a toddler-sized art table, and invited one of Maia’s toddler friends over for an inaugural art experience (feelie goop). Over time we added shelves, more art supplies, different tables, and an art drying wall.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Jean Van't Hul of The Artful Parent | TinkerLab.com

RACHELLE: If you had to be selective, what are three things that you love the most about the space?

JEAN: Well, I truly don’t think a child needs a fancy art space in order to make art. A table and a few supplies are enough—whether they are in a corner of the living room or just at the dining table between meals. That said, here are three things I especially love about our studio:

  1. The wall of shelves my husband added. There are low shelves where I keep art materials accessible for the girls and also high shelves where I keep art materials that I don’t want them to use without supervision.
  2. The drying wall, which doubles as an art display wall.
  3. My IKEA adjustable tables—a generous gift from my toddler art group mamas! The table top is a wipeable laminate, which is so perfect for art.
Tinkering Spaces Interview with Jean Van't Hul of The Artful Parent | TinkerLab.com

RACHELLE: You recently posted about updating your creative space to accommodate a five-year and a toddler (and of course, the Toddler Art Group). How did you change the space to welcome children of different ages and various developmental stages?

JEAN: I was mostly just more selective about what materials I kept within reach and what I put higher. Also, I had to think about (and adjust) easel and table heights. Beyond the actual art space, I had to reconsider how and when I let my older daughter do art. The one-on-one kinds of projects we were used to were hard to do with a needy baby/toddler with us, so we started doing more simple projects and saving the more ambitious projects for naptime. I also began setting up a variation of the big sister art project for the toddler. It’s getting easier again to do a wider range of activities and Daphne is joining in more and more.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Jean Van't Hul of The Artful Parent | TinkerLab.com

RACHELLE: Your children are prolific art-makers! What do you do with their art as they make it and how do you organize and store their completed projects?

JEAN: They certainly are prolific! And I can’t say I always keep up. I try, but the art piles up! I do have a simple storage system that has worked well for me. I use plastic storage boxes labeled with the child’s name and age. We also use artwork for birthday and holiday cards, wrapping paper, and gifts.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Jean Van't Hul of The Artful Parent | TinkerLab.com

RACHELLE: You’ve written a lot about your favorite art materials, and I’ve discovered my favorite watercolors and paper for young children through you. What five supplies are indispensable to you and your kids at this moment?

JEAN: It’s so hard to keep it to 5!

  1. Liquid watercolors
  2. Washable tempera paint
  3. Paper
  4. Markers
  5. Homemade playdough

Those are the five that get the most consistent use. But how can I leave off contact paper?! Or collage materials? Or tape and glue?! Really, the supplies that are indispensible are whatever the kids are working with right now. How’s that for an answer? :)

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Jean Van't Hul of The Artful Parent | TinkerLab.com

RACHELLE: If you were only restricted by your imagination, what would your ideal children’s art space include?

JEAN: I’d have to say that our art space is pretty ideal for us right now. If I were wishing for more, I might add a sink right in the studio for washing hands and brushes. Also, morning sunlight. And a studio elf to keep it clean.

We actually don’t do the majority of our art in the studio, though. A lot of our art making and creative activities happen at the dining table or the nearby kid-sized table. There’s something to be said for having an art space (even if it doubles as an eating space) right in the thick of things and in the midst of family life.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Jean Van't Hul of The Artful Parent | TinkerLab.com

RACHELLE: You also seem to be an avid sewer, and I know that many of us would love to find more time for our own creative pursuits. Between blogging and writing a book, how do you carve out time for your own projects? And where do you work on them?

JEAN: Ask me again in a few months!

Parenting is my priority time- and energy-wise right now and my own creative pursuits often take a backseat to what I can do with my children. But I have started to think about how I can embrace my own creativity and see what that might mean to me at this point. I’m not even sure. I’m considering trying out an evening art class and possibly a photography class. We’ll see…

RACHELLE: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

JEAN: Thank you for inviting me here, Rachelle! I hope we can talk in person someday!

RACHELLE: I hope so too; that would be so much fun. Thank you for joining us today!

Do you have an inspiring Tinkering Space to share?

If you have an art studio, maker space, or tinkering garage that you think our readers would be inspired by, we would love to hear about it! You can fill out this short form and we’ll be in touch.

More Tinkering Spaces

You can check out the rest of the TinkerSpaces in this series here. 


 

Jean has graciously offered to share a 2012 Artful Parent Calendar with one lucky reader. Around the Year with The Artful Parent: Celebrating the Seasons and Holidays with Arts & Crafts” is no ordinary calendar. This one is chock-full of ideas and inspiration to keep you and your family artful throughout the coming year. Each month features at least one seasonal art or craft activity complete with photos and instructions. By keeping this calendar handy, you’ll have an attractive visual reminder to add a bit more art into your family’s life throughout the year.

Readers who leave a comment by Monday, December 19 at 9 pm PST will be entered to win a free copy of the Artful Parent calendar. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. Open internationally. Giveaway is closed.

 

Drizzle + Paint Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread cookies with kids

Mmmm, gingerbread cookies. After making our salt dough ornaments (and having one of our friends try to eat one…yikes!), we thought it was high time to make real, edible cookies. My mother-in-law’s gingerbread recipe is truly the best one I’ve tried, but when I discovered that the Gingerbread Cake and Baking Mix from Trader Joe’s could be adapted to make cookies, and all I had to do was add an egg + butter, I was sold.

We rolled out the dough, selected our favorite cutters, and cut our shapes. If you’ve never made gingerbread cookies, give yourself an hour to chill your dough before you plan to work with it. Even with refrigeration, the dough is pretty sticky and required a fair amount of flour to keep it flexible and off the counter.

I filled a piping bag with royal icing (dry hard icing). My MIL uses more of a buttercream frosting, which is delicious, but I thought we’d have some fun “painting” with the royal icing. Most of the royal icing recipes you’ll find ask you to make it with raw egg whites, but I wasn’t comfortable with that, especially since I’m feeding these sugar bullets to kids! Instead, I used meringue powder. I happened to have some in the pantry, but you can find this at specialty groceries and Michaels craft store (so I’ve heard). And low and behold, it can be found on Amazon.

Recipe for Royal Icing

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

I fit the disposable piping bag with a small, round #4 tip, gave my daughter a few suggestions on how to hold and squeeze the bag, and let her go to town. We started with white icing, and then I mixed the remaining icing with all natural yellow food coloring on my daughter’s request.

Once the icing firmed up, we moved the cookies to a nice, clean plate where we could admire our handiwork.

And eat some cookies.

Mmmm, I hate to say this, but these gingerbread bites rivaled those from the original recipe.

I picked up three more boxes today. Yum yum.

Next up: Ginger Bread Houses!

What are you baking for the holidays (with or without the kids)?

Feel free to add a picture with your comment!

 

 

Hanging Holiday Stars

hanging holiday star

I was invited by Elmer’s (the glue people) to join in their Look for Less challenge. If you know me, you probably know that I like a good challenge, and I’m a huge fan of Elmer’s, so I said YES! The challenge was to create a magazine-worthy product with Elmer’s products, for a fraction of the retail cost. That’s doable, but herein lies my second challengeI blog about creative process-based things that I do with my KIDS. Uh-huh. What on earth could we do? But when I spotted these two gorgeous images of hanging paper stars I thought there could be something to it — perhaps a joint effort with me and my 3-year old. Well, you let me know what you think.

I found an easy, workable tutorial at The Magic Onions for our paper stars. This is a little sneak peak at how ours turned out.

I cut large squares from four sheets of 24″ x 36″ drawing paper. You know, the trick where you fold a triangle in the paper and then snip the excess rectangle off? I taped that extra rectangle to the table so that N had a place to store her rubber stamps. She decorated two of the papers with Painter’s Calligraphy Pens, Paint Pens, and stamps. The calligraphy pens were a bit too stinky for her, but she happily continued with the other materials.

Pine cones and snowflakes in a limited palette of red, green, and silver.

Snowflakes, sea stars, and Stars of David. That’s how we roll.

The tutorial over at The Magic Onions is really clear, so I won’t get into the details here, but suffice to say that once you make one, you’ll want to keep cranking them out. They’re so simple!

I used the Elmer’s Craft Bond Extra Strength Glue Stick to seal the paper right up. Worked like a charm.

Waiting for it to dry.

I cut a piece of cotton string, about 3′ long, so we could hang it from the ceiling, and taped it about 3″ inside one of the points.

Then I ran a line of Elmer’s School Glue under the string to give it extra support and along the edge of the point. A little clamp helped keep it all together.

Sticking the pieces together. This was a little tricky. I placed the pointy face of one star in a bowl, rested the other star on top of it, and added bits of school glue to hold it in place. I gave it overnight to dry, but school glue seems to dry in under an hour.

There you go! The Look for Less. Crafted by a mom and her 3-year old. Since I already the drawing paper, stamps, and string, the whole thing cost $0.00! But the materials are so low-cost and flexible anyway, that I bet you could do it too with wrapping paper and ribbon after opening gifts on Hanukkah or Christmas. Or make them from all the extra art work your kids bring home from school. Newspaper colored with potato prints. What do you think?

Giveaway!

Elmer’s is giving away TWO prize packs with the following materials:

  • Black 20×30 Foam Board
  • White 20×30 Foam Board
  • CraftBond All-Purpose Glue Stick
  • CraftBond Repositionable Glue Stick
  • CraftBond Extra-Strength Glue Stick
  • X-ACTO Designer Series Gripster Knife
  • Painters Assorted Colors Set

Leave a comment with your favorite frugal way/s to decorate for the holidays by Wednesday, December 14 at 9 pm PST for a chance to win. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. US addresses only. Congratulations to Jeni Harris and Epiphius, winners of the Elmers prize packages, and thank you to everyone who entered for sharing your great ideas and comments!

Disclaimer: Elmer’s sent me materials to make my project and a $25 Visa gift card.

Six Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

wish for imagination

“As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you – the first time around.” – Oprah Winfrey

One of my close friends recently asked me what I hope my children will take with them into adulthood, and it sort of stumped me. I think about things like this all the time, but the hard part was consolidating it into an elevator pitch. After a big pause when I thought about experimentation, creativity, and exploration I said, “I want my children to be confident.Confident in their ideas, confident in who they are, and confident that they can make things happen.”

Having confident children is a big idea to unpack, and getting there is full of multiple moments and lots of moving parts. As a parent, you don’t always know if you’re on the right path, but there are some touchstones that can help guide the way. Since my oldest child is only 3, I can only see so far into her future, but we seem to be headed in a good direction.

6 Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

Tool #1: Experimentation
We create  opportunities to try new things. I set up science experiments like this one with dry ice, I encourage her to follow her curiosities (what will happen if I drop rainbow sprinkles in my milk?), and yesterday she wanted to mix sugar into her water to see what it tasted like. If it’s safe, why not?

Tool #2: Independence
We set up multiple areas of our home where our kids have free access to materials that build creativity. This is our self-serve mail center where she can find envelopes and stamps to mail cards on a whim. We also have a self-serve art cabinet and unlocked kitchen drawers where she has access to kid-friendly knives and cooking tools. The last thing I want to imagine is sending my child off into the world, but I know it’s something that I need to prepare her for.

Tool #3: Imagination

When I talk with my daughter I encourage her to consider all sorts of alternate realities. I’ll ask questions such as, “What do you suppose would happen if…?” or “If we could hop on an airplane this afternoon, where would you like to go?” When she draws I never make assumptions about what I see on her paper. What may look like a boat to me may be a kite to her. When I’m not sure, it’s best to comment on what I do know (I see you used red and blue crayons) or ask open-ended questions (can you tell me about your picture?).t

Tool #4: Exploration

Understanding materials and their properties takes time. This one is about digging deep and spending enough time at something that it becomes second nature. My one year old spends about 15 minutes at this chalkboard each week. 15 minutes isn’t a lot of time, but it becomes a long time when it happens week after week. I rotate the materials that I offer her, and give her time to explore them. One day it might be small chalk, another day it’s sidewalk chalk, and another day it’s water and long paintbrushes. In the long run she begins to understand how a chalkboard is different from a piece of paper or a white wall.

Tool #5: Innovation

Testing things out in various contexts. This one is harder for me to pinpoint, but it centers around the novel combination of materials and ideas. The blue and pink tool that you see in the photo is a stuffed animal maker, but my daughter used it to grind coffee in her mud kitchen. In another example, my friend’s one year old put a bucket on his head and pretended he was football player. Children do this naturally and it’s important to support and encourage this kind of out-of-the-box thinking.

Tool #6: Curiosity

Curiosity leads to discovery, and discovery builds confidence. With my daughter watching carefully, I filled about 50 water balloons on this hot day. At some point she declared that she wanted to know how to fill balloons too. While it was tricky to secure the balloon to the hose, she was motivated to figure it out and inevitably found a way to fill them. Discovery! Look and listen for moments of curiosity that can be turned into opportunities for learning and discovery.

Interested in more? Read about 3 more tools that build a child’s confidence.

What tools do you think are important for building a child’s confidence?