Defrosting Animals

IMG_4545

Although we live in mostly Sunny California, I’ve been inspired by all of the snow and ice activities I’ve been reading about in the blog world lately. Sensory activities always go over well in our house, and I had a feeling this would work out in my favor.

Right after my daughter turned two, she was fascinated by all-things-ice. Here she on a plane, happily pouring ice from one cup to another. We were traveling to Mexico with very few toys, and were delighted to discover that she was highly engaged with ice-based activities like filling water glasses with ice cubes, playing with ice in the bathtub, and picking up ice from an ice bucket with tongs. If you have a little one and haven’t yet played with ice, this is the time!

I froze a number of animals in various plastic bowls and silicone bento containers, and put them in the freezer before going to bed. I especially like these mini bread loaves because they can fit into the nooks and crannies of my freezer and they didn’t take forever to thaw out. If you live somewhere chilly, you can probably set the ice up right in your backyard, but I had to make a little room in my freezer, which is no small feet when said freezer is 1 cubic foot and full of pureed baby food.

In the morning, we were greeted with a fun defrosting activity. The bowls of icy animals were placed in a large tub alongside odds and ends worthy of picking, banging, and melting away ice. My daughter had trouble with the hammers, as the slippery icy animals kept squirming away, and the golf tees ended up adding more danger to the activity than I’d imagined. My husband enjoyed these tools, however, which turned this into a nice collaborative project, while my daughter was invested in squirting an endless supply of warm water (courtesy of moi) all over the ice.

And between the two of them, all of the animals were freed!

Happily shared with Tot Tuesdays, Monkeying AroundHomeschool Creations, Science Sunday, High Paw: Best Toys for Toddlers, World Animal Day Bloghop

Creative Experiment #2: Pasta

Pasta

Make something with pasta.

Pasta! It’s a multicultural food that can be found in everything from Pad Thai to Mac ‘n Cheese. Kids love to eat it. It’s got an amazing shelf life. And most of us already have it stockpiled in our pantries.

We eat a lot of it in our home, and it’s made an appearance in more than one art activity. For example: Drippy Gravity Painting

So now I ask you…what can you do with pasta? The project should be executed by children, but adults are welcome to facilitate or collaborate if the mood strikes!

To join in on the Experiment

  • Use pasta (noodles, macaroni, ramen…it’s up to you!), along with any other materials of your choice
  • Attach a photo of the experiment along with a description of what you and/or your child/ren did in the comment section below.
  • There is no deadline for this project.

If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • Take the pasta outside, and make an installation in the dirt, sand, or sidewalk
  • Attach it to another object with a glue gun. Attach it to paper with white glue.
  • Dye it, sort it, print it, make patterns with it
  • Make a batch of fresh pasta
  • String it up like a necklace or bunting
  • As a provocation, put a variety of art materials in front of your child (i.e. pasta, markers, yarn, glue), and see what they come up with

Instructions for adding an image file

  1. Click on the “Choose File” button (below the “Submit” button)
  2. Choose a JPEG file from your computer
  3. Type in a description of your experiment into the comment text box
  4. Click the “Submit Comment” button

Felt Dollhouse Dolls

DSC_0579

diy felt dolls

If you had been there, you would have thought I found gold when I discovered an old handmade dollhouse in a second hand shop last year. It had real shingles, an attic, and even some built-ins like a toilet paper dispenser. It’s the little things that make me happy.

After hauling it home, I spent countless evening hours repainting it by flood lamps in the garage. The things we do for our kids, no?

Meanwhile, I was on the hunt for natural wooden dolls, and was faced with pretty severe sticker shock when I finally found them. $10 for a miniature doll?! I finally found an affordable Melissa & Doug Wooden Family Doll Set and some Wooden People that are great for painting or keeping plain (as we have).

But like any  sane person with a Martha Stewart streak, I set off to make some of my own, and you can too!

Materials

Everything can be purchased at JoAnn Fabrics (or similar fabric/craft store)

  • Pipe Cleaner(s)
  • Craft Felt
  • Embroidery Floss and Needle
  • Wooden Bead with pre-painted face. If they don’t have these, you could paint faces on plain beads with acrylic paints or paint pens.
  • Doll hair
  • Hot Glue Gun

Time

  • The most time-consuming part of this was stitching up the clothes, but all-in-all, this was a fairly quick project.

I bent a pipe cleaner (chenille stem) into the shape you see here, and wrapped it with embroidery floss. I then tied off the floss ends so that they don’t come loose.

I made some clothes with craft felt. If you’re a Project Runway fan like I am, this is your time to shine (as I clearly am). The blue felt is about to become a pair of pants.

I inserted the body into the pants, and then stitched the sides up with a blanket stitch. If you’ve never done a blanket stitch before, once your get going it’s really simple. And kind of fun. Here’s my favorite tutorial.

I cut another piece of felt for a shirt, and then stitched the seams shut.

I cut out another shape that would become a hat, glued hair to the head, and then glued the hat on top of that. Finally, the head was glued onto pipe cleaner “neck.”

Cute and bendable. Inexpensive, simple, and rewarding! If you can handle doing this all over again, make a family of dolls to inhabit your mini home.

Deconstructed Valentines

DSC_0659

Kids Valentines Ideas  Deconstructed Valentines

Our neighborhood market does a good job at displaying an appealing array of holiday goodies just as you enter, and I’m often a sucker for such marketing ploys. They recently set up a lavish Valentine’s ordeal, and before even getting close to the milk aisle, I already had a shaker of heart sprinkles and a Fancy Nancy Valentine’s Day book in my hands.

N skimmed through the book on the way home, and then devoured every word as soon as we had a chance to sit down together. We’ve been talking a lot about this mysterious “hearts and flowers” holiday, but I don’t think it actually began to sink in until we read the book.

Once we read the book, mere moments passed before the request to “make Valentine’s cards” came in and Project Deconstructed Valentine’s was underway! It all began quite obviously with a pile of doilies, cut-out hearts, glue, and glitter.

And then the cutting began. And more cutting. Cutting, cutting, cutting. Any vision I had of  frilly Valentine’s with heartfelt messages was quickly replaced with one of hearts, cut into smithereens. A bazillion little fragments of love, splintered all of the table.

It wasn’t enough to cut up a sheet of paper. Oh, no. I had to cut hearts out of the paper first, and then hand them over for further cutting. Since we were collaborating, I was then instructed to glue the little shards to a doily, which is what you see here. A true collaboration, full of process-based goodness. And while the end-result may not be what I had in mind, I actually think we ended up with something far more interesting and fun to look at in the end.

Recipe for Making Process-based Valentine’s Cards

Although I didn’t start with this plan, in retrospect I think this is what led to our success…

  1. Look at examples of Valentine’s Cards or Read a Book about Valentine’s Day
  2. Set up some basic Valentine’s materials – Doilies, Red and Pink Paper, Glitter, Glue, Scissors, Markers
  3. Provide materials in a color scheme that will make the end product look cohesive (i.e red, pink, white, and silver)
  4. See where it takes you without prescribing how the child should make their card
  5. Gift them, hang them, or repurpose them. N wanted to decorate the house with ours, and I had a package to send off to grandma and thought this would make for a festive gift topper.

What are your Valentine’s traditions?

 

Vinegar and Baking Soda

DSC_0705

Have you tried the baking soda and vinegar experiment with your kids yet? 

Yesterday N skipped her nap and requested “gooey flour and water” for her quiet time activity.  Did you hear me sighing? I sort of had “read books” or “play with a puzzle” in mind, but I guess that would be too much to expect when we rarely sit down and work on puzzles during non-quiet times, right?

I had a million little things in the hopper, but it seemed like a reasonable request. So, there she was, inches deep in flour, salt, water, and white vinegar. With its clear color and acidic smell, the vinegar gave this sensory project an elevated feeling of alchemy. She liked the smell of it, then tasted it, and then tasted everything.

As I was sitting there watching this serious game of ingredient exploration unfold, I remembered the ol’ vinegar and baking soda trick! So I brought out the baking soda and asked innocently, “would you like to add some baking soda into your cups?” Of course she said “yes,” and her reaction to the merging of the vinegar and baking soda made missing a nap totally worthwhile.

First she add baking soda to all of the cups and then she poured vinegar on top of the baking soda. We played this game in both directions: adding vinegar to baking soda and vice versa.

After depleting my white vinegar reserves, she begged me for more. (Hey! This project is a winner!) Since I was also sort of curious about how the other vinegars would react to the baking soda, I reluctantly handed over my red wine and balsamic vinegars. They each bubbled, but had slightly different reactions.

Happy experimenting!

Happily shared with Childhood 101

Sweet Potato Heart Prints

DSC_0664

“A life without love is like a year without summer.” – Swedish proverb

Now that our light-up snowman and twinkly lights have finally come down (yes, we’re those people!), we’ve been talking up Valentine’s Day and all things hearts. While I see it as a holiday full of commercial hype and overpriced flowers, I’m reminded that for children it can be full of play and joy and loads of sugar. Mmmmm.

When N developed an addiction to sweet potatoes last week, I bought a five-pound bag of the little beauties only to find out she’s not eating them this week. Of course. So, amidst my plan to freeze a batch of roasted sweet potatoes I realized that they’d also be good for carving up some heart stamps.

So I cut one in half and carved out a couple hearts.

The heart shape rises about 1/2 inch off the potato base to help us get some nice, clean prints.

Materials

  • Potato Stamp/s
  • Tempera Paint. Acrylic works too, but you’ll see why I’m so happy I used washable tempera in just a moment
  • Brayer or Paint roller
  • Smooth, flat surface to squeeze the paint on
  • Paper for printing

I rolled out a little bit of paint so that N could cover the stamp in a mostly uniform fashion. And then she got stamping.

Lately, she’s been interested in figuring out how things work. And then once her curiosity is satisfied, she’ll move on to the next thing. So here she is, done stamping in about three minutes flat and apparently investigating the bottom of the stamp. I had to leave the room for five minutes to change her baby sister’s diaper, and now I see that perhaps she was actually wondering how that black paint would feel all over her hands and the table?

Wow! That was a surprise!

I calmly reminded myself that it’s all about the process. And thanked myself for using washable paints. On our old school table that has seen worse days.

If you try this project, I’ve added a new feature that allows you to leave a picture in the comment section.

Creative Experiment #1: Toilet Paper Roll

Toilet Paper Roll

To mark the start of the new year, I’m starting a project called Creative Challenges. A new challenge will be introduced every month or so, and you are invited to join in on the fun. The project should be executed by children, but adults are welcome to facilitate or collaborate if the mood strikes! Okay, here we go…

Make something with a toilet paper roll.

We all have a few of these lying around (right?!), so why not have fun with them before they hit the recycling bin.

To join in on the Challenge

  • Use at least one toilet paper roll, along with any other materials of your choice
  • Attach a photo of the experiment along with a description of what you and/or your child/ren did in the comment section below.
  • There is no deadline for this project.

If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • As a provocation, put a variety of art materials in front of your child (i.e. markers, tape, yarn), and see what they come up with
  • Make an installation, using only toilet paper rolls, scissors, and string
  • Attach things to it with a glue gun
  • Decorate it to look like an object (person, animal, house, etc.)

Melted Plastic Bag Collage

DSC_0629

I’m a recycler at heart, so projects that incorporate found materials (such as plastic lunch bags and wrapping paper) speak to my soul and my aesthetic. This is one such project. And it was also a true experiment as I’d never done this before and wasn’t at all sure how it would turn out. I love that! I borrowed this idea from MaryAnn Kohl’s Art with Anything.

We began by filling plastic lunch bags with odds and ends: stickers, cut-up pieces of old art, and wrapping paper. While we worked on this right after breakfast, which sort of explains the pajamas, my child would live in her pj’s if she could. She seems happiest jumping around the playground, but I think she may be a little cozy homebody at heart.

Once the bag was ready, we placed it between two pieces of aluminum foil…

and then ironed it flat.

After letting it cool for a minute, we peeled the foil apart to reveal our “laminated” art. While difficult to see in the photos, the heated texture of the plastic turned out mottled and bumpy. N wanted to open the bag after we heated it, which led to a nice convo about how the bag melted.

Hey, that was fun. Let’s do that again!

We made three of these altogether — two were by N and the third was a collaboration (a new word we’re working on!). We made the top two with sandwich baggies and the bottom with a ziplock bag — each worked equally well. This turned out to be fun and educational on a number of fronts:

  • Exploring Volume: My child adores filling bags with things. If she had a mountain of bags to fill while wearing her pajamas all day, she’d be in her own little piece of heaven. If your child likes to fill bags too, this project could be for you!
  • Problem-solving, creative thinking, and exploration: She could choose from an assortment of materials, and was thoughtful about which items to fill the bags with.
  • Practicing a skill: For us this was cutting with Scissors. She’s been practicing this for a while, but has recently hit her cutting stride. So for us, a good half hour was spent on just cutting up wrapping paper.
  • Plastic melts when it’s heated to a high temperature! See yesterday’s Shrinky Dink activity for more on that.

Valentine’s Day Shrinky Dinks

DSC_0782

Do you remember Shrinky Dinks? I loved loved loved these as a child, but I wasn’t sure if my 2.5 year old would be ready for them yet. We happened to find ourselves at a Hanukah party in December where a bunch of craft tables were set up, and my child gravitated to the Shrinky Dink table. Why, I’m not sure, but the mountain of Sharpie markers may have had something to do with it. We had a really good conversation about how plastic melts with heat (in this case, in a hot toaster oven), and I’m impressed that my daughter can now articulate a wide range of melting things including snowmen, ice cream cones, and now shrinky dinks!

Materials

  • Shrinky Dink Refill kit – I ordered these from Amazon
  • Sharpies in a variety of colors. The Shrinky Dink company also recommends Prisma Color pencils or non-water based crayons. We used Crayola Twistables and Crayola washable markers for this project.
  • Oven or Toaster Oven
  • Hole Punch (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)

I cut one of the sheets in half, and my daughter drew all over them with Sharpies, markers, and crayons.

We’ve been revving up for Valentine’s Day, so when a request for a heart shape came in I was ready! I made a little heart template on green paper, traced the shape onto the plastic, and then cut it out. You can get a sense of the scale reduction in the picture above. I punched a hole near the top, so we could add these to a keyring or necklace later on.

Heat the oven to 325, then bake! The plastic curls as it heats up, and it’s really fun to watch. If there’s ever a time to use the oven light, this is it! This step takes less than 30 seconds, so watch it closely.

And there you have it…Shrinky Dinks just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Resources

  • The Shrinky Dink company put this handy little idea and cheat sheet together
  • Our friend Chelsea shares these instructions from Curbly for making your own shrinky plastic pictures from #6 plastic (polystyrene). It’s brilliant: resourceful, inexpensive, and recyclable! We will most definitely be trying this out.

How to Make Goop

DSC_0663

Homemade Goop is one of the best things I’ve learned how to make as a parent, and today I’m going to share this big secret on how to make goop. It’s the easiest recipe, and full of so much fun for small children.

Have you tried it? The recipe is simple and children are riveted by the magic of this weird substance.

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

 

Fun History of Goop

Goop, better known as Oobleck (named for a slime in Dr. Seuss’ book Bartholomew and the Oobleck ) is a fun material to play with: At one moment it’s a solid, and at the next it’s a liquid…it’s unbelievably silly to play with, and I’ve witnessed adults get lost in the strange sensation of its texture. For my science friends out there, this is a dilatant material, which is one that changes its properties in reaction to external stimuli. We don’t have the Dr. Seuss book (yet!), but I imagine it would be fun to read the book in conjunction with this activity.

Stretch this project out

To get the most bang for your buck, do what I did and set up this goop-making activity up as a 3-part activity to enable your child to experience the medium in multiple ways.

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. container of Cornstarch
  • Up to 1 cup of water
  • Liquid watercolors or food coloring (optional)

Supplies

  • Big tub for mixing — I used an under-the-bed storage container. Contains the mess well so my child can play unencumbered by my tidy concerns
  • Spoons, little bowls, toys for playing, scooping, and filling

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

How to Make Goop: Part 1

I placed the jar of corn starch in the tub, alongside a spoon and a couple small bowls. I expected my daughter to pour the whole tub of corn starch out, but she carefully scooped it from the container spoonful by spoonful. This took a while, as she was wholly invested in the process of measuring and then pouring. Once playing with dry corn starch ran its course…

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

How to Make Goop: Part 2

We added water. I gave her just a bit at a time, so she could enjoy the process of mixing it in. Ultimately, the cornstarch:water ratio is about 2:1.  And as we went along, we chatted about what it felt like in our hands, if it was easy/hard to stir, and what we were doing. And once she seemed to have her fill of playing with this funny material…

How to make Goop :: Tinkerlab.com

How to Make Goop: Part 3

We added a few drops of liquid watercolor to the Oobleck (food coloring would also work), which she swirled around and mixed up. She was really interested in dropping the color into the mixture, but stirring it up barely sustained her interest. After focused play with the Oobleck for the last 30 minutes, she seemed to have had enough…ready to move on to the next big thing.

If you try this (or already have it under your belt), I’d love to hear from you!

Art With Everyday Things

DSC_0638

I stumbled upon Tsh Oxenreider’s blog, Simplemom.net, and its words of clean and simple living wisdom have been a huge inspiration to this pile-making, book-loving, overstuffed home-making, can’t-throw-away-art-supplies-from-college kind of gal. I was so drawn in that I purchased her book, Organized Simplicity, and I’m finding myself on a new path toward simplifying my home and life.

Related to all of this, my home has fallen under The Great Purge, and odds and ends like never used triangular make-up sponges are mostly finding their way into the trash. Or in this case, because I still have the art material hoarding sickness…the art table. Although the whole point of this journey is for me to get rid of things, I had a feeling that my little art explorer would enjoy tinkering with them.

And she did! After sponging to her heart’s content, N reached for the paint squeeze bottles. Mixed media painting begins here! When she was younger I waxed poetic about limiting art supplies in any given project to avoid overwhelming a child with options. I’m still formulating my thoughts on this as she gets older, but it’s becoming more and more clear that she enjoys having access to a wide variety of materials in one sitting. In another recent session, she used pom-poms, glitter glue, and watercolor paint…all of her own design.

And then she picked up a grease pencil, or china marker, for some additional mark-making. These pencils not only make beautiful bright marks, but they’re fun for kids to peel open.

While the triangle sponges were saved from the dump this time around, it’s a whole other story for the old blender, maternity clothes, and set of rarely used hot cocoa mugs. Although, on second thought, that dying blender may find a second life as a paper pulper. Or not.

I’d love to know…what everyday objects you or your kids like to tinker with?

Teaching at the d.school

dschoolimage

In my life outside of TinkerLab, I work with museum teachers to learn and practice skills for engaging museum visitors (both children and adults) in meaningful discussions about works of art. One of the strategies I most enjoy using and teaching is called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). And today I had the great pleasure of facilitating a VTS session at Stanford’s d.school in a class called Creative Gym: A Design Thinking Skills Workshop. Don’t you just love the name of this course? The class, an experimental studio focused on honing design intuition and creative confidence, was founded by Grace Hawthorne and Charlotte Burgess-Auburn. Charlotte is Director of Community at the d.school and Grace is cofounder of Ready Made magazine. If you’ve ever read Ready Made, you’ll understand why I knew I would adore Grace before ever meeting her.

VTS is a research-based teaching method for looking at art “that improves critical thinking and language skills through discussions of visual images.” I guided the students through two looking activities, followed by a short discussion about how they could apply this strategy to other areas of their lives.  They came up with all sorts of interesting interpretations including how this approach of looking carefully at an artwork can help one suspend judgment, become more keenly aware of stereotypes, and become open to multiple points of view. Several museums such as the MFA Boston and DeYoung Museum have trained their floor staff and volunteers in VTS, and if you have the opportunity to participate in one of these lively discussions it’s definitely worth your time!  While this post isn’t specifically about children, I include it because it’s important to remember that if we expect our children to become creative and critical thinkers, we should remember to nourish and support our own creative spirit as well. Watch this video for a taste of what this conversation could look like.

As much fun as it was to lead this workshop, I am in love with the concept of this course and wish I had the time to take it myself!