“E” is for Experiment

My bloggy friend Deborah over at Teach Preschool just reached her 20,000th Facebook fan. Can you imagine? TWENTY-THOUSAND! She’s awesome in so many ways, and is especially extraordinary in that she runs a preschool and also finds/makes/squirrels away time to tweet/facebook/blog and generally keep the whole online preschool community together in one special place. Not to mention she’s one of the kindest bloggers out there.To celebrate this big social networking milestone, Deborah invited her early childhood education friends to contribute a letter, in the form of a blog post, to the “ABC’s of Teaching Preschool.” Given the nature of my blog, “E” for Experiment is what I have for you today. Oh, how I love a good creative experiment!

So can you imagine my surprise when I spotted this very truck TONIGHT on our evening stroll? The kids were in the wagon, happily playing with handfulls of leaves, and I did the biggest double-take. Circled back down the street and snapped this shot.

Serendipity, right?

Experimentation is at the heart of learning. When children are curious about something new they may ask about it, test it, try to figure it out, look at it from a different perspective, fail, or try something different. Last night I watched my almost one-year old work at putting a lid on a bottle for close to ten minutes. She flipped it over, moved her hand to get the right grip on the lid, missed the mouth of the botter, made contact, succeeded, put it down to clap (!), and then did it all over again.

About eight times.


Here are three of our all-time favorite kitchen experiments–a little sample of what makes us happy at Casa TinkerLab. There are MANY more — just type “experiment” into the search bar and see what comes up! If you have a favorite experiment, I’d love to know what it is — by no means have we exhausted the possibilities.

Corncob Popcorn Experiment

Perfect for fall. Collect some dried corncobs and pop them in the microwave.

The Butter Experiment

Grown-ups may have to do most of the work, but the results are pretty spectacular.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

This project is so much fun that you’ll want to buy a gallon of vinegar in preparation for the requests for “more.”

If you’re not already a Teach Preschool Facebook fan, click right here and join the 20,000+ party.

Spiral Watercolor Streamer

I love it when we make things that make our house feel like a party, which might explain why buntings drip off the wall of my kids’ room, paper crowns peek out of our cabinets, we have four pink balloons in the bathroom, and we celebrate birthdays months before they actually happen just so we can blow out candles. My baby turns one next week, and we’ve been singing her Happy Birthday every night over tea lights with the hope that she’ll learn how to blow out her candle by Labor Day. Please tell me that we’re not the only ones!

I’ve never actually seen spirals like these at a party, but they remind me so much of streamers. Wouldn’t they be lovely, especially in large quantities?

To get started I set up watercolor paper cut into circle shapes, watercolor paint, brushes, and water.

I added some paper towels, which are useful for dabbing up excess water. I also like to offer a few different brushes so that my child can learn how brushes can make a variety of marks while building her materials confidence. And while the end product is all pre-planned, the art-making portion is open-ended. Any form of art 2-D art exploration is encouraged!

After the paintings dried I cut them into spiral shapes, pierced a small hole in the center of each one, and then tied a piece of string through the hole…knotted on the back of the paper.

They store flat until they’re ready to hang.

My neighbor came over this afternoon and noticed it right away, which either means that the spiral is rad or a total eyesore. What do you think?


Shaving Cream and Food Coloring

Have you set up a sensory shaving cream activity yet? My 3 year old first enjoyed this when she was 16 months, and I can attest that it’s an engaging and meaningful sensory activity for toddlers. As children reach preschool, why not mix some food coloring into the shaving cream and take the opportunity to teach about warm and cool colors?

If you’d like to read more, head on over to my guest post on the Kiwi Crate blog.

Wishing you all a happy weekend!

Cork Sculpture

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a thing for repurposing found materials. Neither of my parents were mad upcyclers, but I think I can trace this passion to an after-school class that was led by a parent-artist. This mom was (still is) AWESOME! — she died her hair, plastered her house (walls, ceilings, etc) with sequin-studded art, and encouraged us to create imaginary worlds from whatever we had on hand. Obviously I had an affinity for this sort of thing because all of my friends didn’t turn into artists like me, but this exposure helped me see the world through a lens that made things a whole lot clearer. (So thank you, Ingrid!).

Fast forward way too many years…I’m still making art with random bits and bobs — it just comes naturally to me, but it’s also a way of living. Art materials don’t have to be purchased in the store — they’re all around us. And now I’m in a position to inspire my own children as Ingrid inspired me.

Exposure is everything.

I like to offer my 3-year old, N, materials as a provocation: I’ll put a few bowls of things out and see what she comes up with and on this occasion it was: CORKS! My daughter developed her idea for this sculpture from a box of corks, bag of buttons, a few small dowels, piece of laminate, and a hot glue gun, but it could have gone in a million directions.

She built the tower as high as she wanted, and then added the buttons and dowels. To assemble it, I manned the low heat glue gun while she directed me on where to put the glue. She was in control, but I got to keep everyone’s fingers burn-free.

Baby sister was right there with us, captivated by and grabbing for all the little pieces that were potentially hazardous to her health. Who knows, maybe she’ll become a busy upcycler one day too!

If you like to create, tinker, or make art, can you trace the root of your passion back to an inspiring person or event? And do you see yourself as the source of inspiration for someone else?

This project is shared with It’s Playtime

Sculpting with Claytoons

Most days I feel like I have the best job in the world (and this is especially true after my morning coffee). While I’ve chosen to be SAHM, there’s still a busy worker bee inside of me who has trouble not working, and I consequently have trouble saying no to exciting opportunities that coincide with my creative values. Squeezing work into the small cracks of free time isn’t always easy, but striking the right work/family balance is something that I’m always striving toward.

This is a long way of saying that I recently started working with a group of talented educators and designers to create an art curriculum for a DIY art zone at Zeum: San Francisco’s Children’s Museum. After one of our meetings I discovered Zeum’s gift shop (what a lot of fun!) where I found a box of Claytoons sculpting clay — the stuff that Zeum uses for all their stop motion animation projects — and it made for the perfect gift for my little sculptor.

The challenge for my 3 year old is that it’s much stiffer than play dough, but the flip side is that it holds its shape better and can therefore stand upright without wobbling over. You can also add armatures (wire threaded through the clay) to it for further support.

We practiced rolling ball and tubes, and worked on strategies for attaching pieces together. One of the best things about Claytoons is that it’s oil based and it won’t dry out! So go ahead and leave it out on the table for a few days and it’ll still be in tip-top shape (which is much more than you can say for play dough!).

My daughter’s representational drawings are far from recognizable as objects, but with the clay I could tell immediately that this was a person. Amazing! Not that it matters, really, if she makes something that I can recognize, but through this observation I could see how rewarding this experience must be for her — to articulate an idea with clay that couldn’t be articulated with pen and paper. If your child is in the same boat, sculpting may be for you too!