In Search of Life Balance

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I have to confess that I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed for the past few weeks. Or maybe months. The feeling comes and goes, but striking the right work/life balance has been tough, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. If you’re not familiar with my story, I’m a SAHM who has the working bug in her soul. I want nothing more than to be with my kids on a daily basis — to watch them grow, document their journeys, listen to their needs, and help them blossom. But I also love the work I do and I’m compelled to show up every night to spread the joys and importance of arts education long after my kids are in bed. I’m quite certain that many of you are in the same boat as me, which is why I’m sharing all of this with you. I saw my own mom struggle with this tension between parenting and working that was so prevalent in the 1980′s, as highly successful working women were equally compelled to succeed at domestic duties. She had her own business (based at home, of course), which enabled her to always make time to show up as the room mother, bake sale goddess, and birthday party organizer. Frankly, I took all of this for granted since it was my life and she was amazing, but I now understand why it nearly tore her apart.

So tonight, and tomorrow, and probably the day after that, I’m going to do those long overdue dishes, de-clutter my closets, toss out the random odds and ends that fill up the gaps of my consciousness, try to go to bed early (since a 5 am waking child won’t let me sleep in) and spend a little bit more time dealing with the other details of life that I’ve been neglecting.

This child is one of the two main reasons that I write here, and I need to make more time for sleep so that I can fully enjoy these precious, fleeting moments. I have so many projects to share with you, but I know I need to step away from the computer for a little bit in order to organize myself and clarify the rhythm of my days, so that I can come back to work with a fresh mind. And I expect that you’ll understand, so thank you!

What does the rhythm of your day look like and how do you find your balance?

Tin Painting for El Dia de Los Muertos

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El dia de los muertos Tin Painting, Tinkerlab.comThe Mexican folk art of tin painting is eye candy for little kids, such a fun medium to play with, and it’s perfect for El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead, November 1 & 2).

I used to lead this activity when I taught art in Los Angeles elementary schools, and I’ve seen 100′s of children get sucked right into it, inevitably asking for more. I was curious to see if my 3-year-old would have the same reaction…she did!

She made 6 tin paintings before I had to cut her off. If you try this, you’ll have to let me know if you have the same experience with it. If you do a quick image search for Mexican Tin Art (or click this link), you’ll have some good inspiration for this project.

For this project you’ll need:

  • Permanent Markers (like Sharpies) in multiple colors
  • Pure Metal Tooling Foil. Kitchen aluminum foil is too thin to do the job, but I encourage you to try heavy duty foil it if that’s all you have. I order tooling foil from Dick Blick and it looks like you can also get it through Amazon. If you’re feeling more DIY, you could try cutting an aluminum can with tin snips as Anjie did here.
  • Paper tape or electrical tape
  • Blunt pencil
  • Magazine
  • Scissors

This is essentially an embossing project, and I think the joy in it lies in pressing into the foil to create a relief print. It’s highly rewarding, the foil is shiny and enticing, and the final product is a keepsake.

Directions

  1. Cut the foil to the desired size. I like this foil because you can cut it with household scissors or a paper cutter. So easy!
  2. Tape off the edges to avoid cutting little fingers
  3. Place the foil on top of a magazine and draw on it with the blunt pencil. Press down firmly to make a good, strong mark. You can experiment with both a blunt and sharp pencil to see how they work differently. The magazine (or stack of newspaper) creates a cushion that allows the embossing to happen.
  4. Once the drawing is complete, decorate the tin painting with permanent markers. The foil will maintain its sheen beneath the Sharpie marks.
  5. Display proudly.
My daughter taped off these edges by herself (she was proud) and drew one of her signature spiral shapes.
When I introduced this project to elementary age children, we would also include a small piece of tracing paper (the same size as the foil) and images of Pre-Columbian and Mexican symbols (see Resources for a link to a great book). The children would trace the symbols of their choice, place the tracing paper on top of the foil, and then trace the image again. It’s a different experience from the free-form preschool activity I’m sharing here, but it may be of interest to those of you with older children.

Resources

 

Experiment: Make Fake Snow

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How to Make Fake Snow

We’ve been making fake snow, which is equally fun for kids like mine who celebrate winter under a sea of palm trees or those who are house-bound by piles of real winter snow.

How to make fake snow: a cool experiment with kids  |  Tinkerlab.com

Note: This post contains Amazon links for your convenience.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.com

Supplies

How we did it

We started by pouring a small amount of sodium polyacrylate, or fake snow  into a large tub. This material used to make fake snow is non-toxic (although you wouldn’t want to eat it), and you’ll recognize it as the same stuff used to absorb liquid in disposable diapers. I picked up a small bag of “snow” at RAFT, but I’m curious about pulling apart a diaper to mine this fun-to-play-with polymer. If you try this, let me know!

I almost always fall into the camp of “you can always add more,” so we started with just a little bit. When I bought the fake snow, the woman working there joked about a desire to fool her parents by pouring the powder all over their lawn in the middle summer, only to be greeted by a sea of snow once their sprinklers went off. This vision sat firmly in my mind, so I poured gingerly, not knowing just how much the powder would expand.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comIt turns out that it does in fact expand, but nothing to worry yourself about!

one year old drawingMy one-year old was too little for this activity, and I was happy to situate little sister with an activity of her own. She was happy.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comA request came in for a spoon and a bowl to fill. The project is expanding! I asked N to describe the texture for me, and she said it was cool and wet. I agree.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comWorking side-by-side, I now live for moments like this.

Mix colors into your fake snow

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comWhen playing with white snow seemed to run its course, I introduced Liquid Watercolors and a plastic pipette. I limited N to two colors (mostly to keep the crazy factor down) and she requested blue and magenta.

toddler sharpens pencilsMeanwhile, little R learned a thing or two about sharpening pencils.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.com

This turned into a cool color mixing experiment. It was fascinating to see how many of the “snow” pellets absorbed one color or the other, and cast an illusion of purple when viewed at once.

Make Fake Snow with a Friend

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comThe next day our neighbor, J, came over for another snow-making session. J likes a good experiment as much as my daughter does, and the two of them scooped, squeezed, stirred, mixxed and poured until they had to be pulled away for dinner!

What do you think? Will you try to make fake snow?

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.com

Resources

Learn more about how disposable baby diapers work from Imagination Station

Watch Steve Spangler demonstrate Intant Snow on the Ellen Show. I can’t help but smile at Ellen’s reaction to Steve. She’s hilarious.

Note: Use your best judgement and due diligence when using these materials with young children.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime

Painting on Wood Panel

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There’s something about how the layers of paint sit on top of the wood that I find so appealing.

I had to pick up two wood panels for a baby shower gift and my three year old asked if she could paint on some too. She chose three small panels, one as a housewarming gift for her uncle and the other two for herself.

She also asked if she could have some new acrylic paint, and of course the only color she wanted was a shocking bright green. But I’m here to foster her creative intelligence and bit my tongue in favor of enthusiasm for her independent ideas.

When we got home, I taped the panel’s edges off with blue painters tape. In my own painting process I begin by drawing, and then layer the paint on top of that. In a similar fashion, her initial marks were made with grease pencils, followed by shocking green paint.

This was all set up on top of a large piece of paper to keep our table cleanish.

Oh, and the pink shirt is a smock — in case acrylic paints are new to you, they will NOT wash out of clothes! But don’t let this deter you — acrylics are worth it! They have a totally different look and feel from school-grade paints like tempera, which would be too flaky and isn’t as archival for a project like this.

When the first painting was done, she moved on to the next two. We used a variety of brushes and she had a great time sorting through the bazillion colors of acrylic paint that I’ve collected over the years.

By the time she reached the third painting, I noticed that her confidence with the materials had risen, she made complex comments about her aesthetic choices, and her ability to control the paint and execute her ideas as she imagined was further developed.

 

The next day: Peeling off the blue tape — so fun!

This became a mixed media piece with the addition of glitter, which you can kind of see up there. It was added while the paint was still wet, and sticks quite nicely to the paint. One of my favorite things about acrylic paint is how fast it dries! It almost has the look of oil paint, but the results are immediate.

Materials

  • Wood panel
  • Acrylic paint
  • Synthetic fiber brushes (for acrylic paint)
  • Water container for washing brushes
  • Grease pencils
  • Blue painters tape
Note: Acrylic paint should be used in a well-ventilated area. Follow all instructions found on the back of your paint container/s for proper use.
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If you haven’t already seen this mesmerizing video of child artist, Aelita Andre, I thought this might be a good time to share it. This gives me studio envy and has my mind racing with thoughts about how deliberate and thoughtful Aelita is, and how we can adopt some of her studio habits in our own art making practice. The more exposure children have to media and materials (in whatever discipline), the closer they come to mastering the nuances of the materials and reaching the level of expert in their work.

I’d love to hear what you think.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime.

Leather Stamping

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A few weeks ago we learned how to stamp leather. Have you ever tried this? I haven’t done this since summer camp and it was fun to revisit this good ol’ western craft.

We happened upon the sweetest Hoedown in a nearby town. As a Los Angeles native, my heart always skips a beat when I find myself in the middle of old fashioned, middle American goodness. I love antique shows, apple pies, and homemade butter. It’s so far from what I grew up with! While I treasure my big city childhood, I always yearned for a little slice of Little House on the Prairie in my life. Anyone else?

There were horses, apple cider crushing and squeezing, ice cream making, fiddling, and a BBQ with gorgeous QUILTS as tablecloths. Actual quilts…the kind that would take me months to make and that I’d covet as a duvet…sat under our burgers, within arms reach of our ketchup stained munchkins. Amazing.

But back to leather stamping…

You will need

  • Vegetable tanned leather, soaked for a couple minutes in water
  • Mallet
  • Metal stamps, or shaped implements

Choose a design and…

attach it to a post.

Place the stamp on the damp leather, hold on tight so it doesn’t slip, and hit the back of the post with the mallet. Remove the stamp and oooh and ahhhh over the pretty result.

Treat yourself to a cool glass of lemonade when your done. It’s hard work, after all.

Can you think of a recent outing that made your heart skip a beat?

New Outdoor Art Studio

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Did I ever tell you that our backyard used to be a dirt patch? It would have been perfectly lovely for a team of dogs, but it’s driven me nuts since we first moved in.

 I’ve tried all sorts of hacks to make it more appealing. I’m a DIY-hacky kind of girl, after all!. First, we made a cute brick path and filled the entire yard in with wood chips. Ugh. It was pretty, but not recommended with small, barefoot children…I hate learning things the hard way! Months passed. This was followed by a half-failed attempt at seeding my own lawn. Again, learning the hard way. Another month passed before I got the sense to ask our gardener about installing sod.

And it took him one day to make it beautiful. That’s it. One day.

As soon as the grass was laid and watered my 3 year old and I wanted to run around on it. Feeling the grass under our toes was divine.

We’ve been enjoying the garden in all sorts of ways — playing in the sand box, picnics, gardening, building bridges, and of course…making art. I taped some large paper directly to the side of the house for an instant easel. The grooves from the siding gave N the additional challenge of working with a bumpy constraint, but she figured out how to work with it. When we’re indoors she rarely draws with crayons (markers are her tool of choice), but in a new place with new challenges, the crayons became more appealing.

Related to this, I recently spotted this clever way to dry outdoor paintings. Suspend rope between poles and/or trees and add some clothespins to keep the work secure. It’s not original. I’ve seen this before and I expect you have too, but I’ve never thought about setting up a clothes line for art in my own yard. Time to get to it before the weather turns and keeps us indoors.

Is there a part of your home that feels like it’s kept you and your family from reaching your full potential?

What could you do to make it work?

 

 

Pop-up Paper Zoo

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I love collaborating with my three-year old, so I was thrilled when she came up with this idea for me to draw animal shapes for her to color in. We don’t have coloring books in our house (aside from a mandala coloring book suggested by Jen at Paint Cut Paste), so maybe this fed some deep seated need to color in the lines? When I drew the outline of the first animal I wasn’t sure where this was going, but N started coloring away with a clear vision in mind. She’s a true director, putting me to work on the the details while she masterminded the big picture. When she came up with an idea to make the animals stand up, we cut them out, cut small slits in the bottom of the animals and a matching slit in the opposing “stand,” and we suddenly had the makings of a zoo!

Materials

  • Card stock
  • Favorite mark-making tools: Markers, crayons, colored pencils
  • Scissors
After working on the bee, N worked on which way she wanted it to stand.

And she even made her own animal shape. I tried to pin her down (in the most open-ended way possible) on a name or type of animal, but she kept me guessing. I think it was just a shape, but you never know!

She colored both sides of the animals, making them truly three-dimensional. She’s just started to draw with representational marks, and I love seeing how faces and other recognizable objects emerge through these marks.

Our zoo family!

Would you make a pop-up zoo?

After making these I thought some of you might like to have some animal templates to print out. If you do, let me know and I’ll make a PDF set that you can download.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime, World Animal Day Bloghop

I heart RAFT

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I spent part of Saturday at Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT) in San Jose, CA. Despite my best efforts, I can never get out of this place in under an hour! I was first introduced to RAFT, an enormous warehouse full of all sorts of wonderful upcycled baubles and bits, when I managed the school programs at the San Jose Museum of Art. Imagine the neatest, cleanest, most organized heap of recyclables, and you have a pretty clear picture of RAFT.

And this is why it’s like my second home.

Everything is sorted so nicely, just waiting to be turned into something fabulous. It’s an incredible resource for teachers, and I’m lucky enough to have an excuse to continue shopping there. I’m designing the curriculum for a DIY art space at the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum, which will open its doors in October. Yay!

All sorts of paper.

Colorful stickers and tapes, sold by the yard (that’s almost a meter, for my Aussie friends!).

Some of the tape is sold by the roll. I got a roll of caution tape for about $2!

One of the loveliest things about RAFT is that they have a team of smart and friendly staff who spend hours figuring out what you can actually do with this stuff. I got a demo on how you can turn a record + pencil + foam + pin + paper cup into a simple phonograph. Brilliant!

If you’re interested in RAFT, you might like to read about our trip to SCRAP.

Where do you go to find recycled materials? Your trash? Sidewalk? Resource center?

Straw-blown Watercolor Painting

the wide straw doesn't work

Oh, how I love an art project with unexpected results. We took your usual watercolor painting activity and added some straws to create this loopy, drippy beautiful mess. The fun was in trying to control the flow of paint with the droppers and straws, which was near impossible, but totally worth a try.

Note: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience

Materials

  • Watercolor paper or card stock — we used 8.5 x 11 card stock from the office supply store
  • Liquid watercolors. We like to use Sax Concentrated Liquid Watercolors from Amazon. They’re washable and non-toxic.
  • Eye droppers or pipettes
  • Straws
  • Tray to hold the paper. This keeps the paint from blowing all over the table
  • Paper towels, sponge, or towels. Optional, but you won’t regret this insurance policy

Pull some watercolor paint into the dropper and then squeeze it on the paper.

Pick up a straw and start blowing. N tested a wide “milkshake” straw first, and this is what she thought about it…

Yeah, not so good.

She traded it in for a skinny straw and then turned into a straw-blowing paint machine. The skinny straw is the way to go (but I’d encourage you to try both and see what works for you, making it a true experiment!).

After about six straw paintings, my daughter got a brush and did some paint mixing experiments. Such a fun, easy, and not-too-messy way to spend an afternoon.

Have you tried straw painting?

Feel free to add a photo in the comments if you have! Or, give it a try and add your photo next time you stop by.

This post shared with It’s Playtime

Straw Air Rockets

Straw Air Rockets

This is a project we had fun testing with Kiwi Crate, a new hands-on kit of monthly projects that launches  soon. Follow their fun blog for more.

We’ve been having the best time shooting air rockets out of milkshake/boba tea straws (found in our supermarket) The baby enjoyed seeing the rockets fly overhead while chasing them around the room, while my three year old challenged herself to shoot these far and wide.

Materials

  • Milkshake straws
  • Copy, Printer, or other light weight paper
  • Transparent Tape

You’ll want to roll the paper into a tube that will cover most of the straw. Cut a piece of paper large enough to roll around a straw, leaving a 1″-2″ tab that can be taped closed over the other side of paper. Cut another small piece of paper and attach it to the end of the paper tube. Seal it shut. See photos for more direction.

Place the paper tube on top of the straw, move into a wide open space, and blow. What you don’t see here is my one-year old laughing hysterically each time a paper tube shot over her head.This was the third day we played with these over a three week period, and it still caught my kids’ attention. If you decide to try this and it doesn’t work, the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll be stuck with some milkshake straws that may need to be put to work in a more traditional way! Mmmmm.

Have you ever tried to make a paper rocket? What do you think?

More rockets

This project is shared with It’s Playtime, Running with Glitter

Playful Learning Blog Tour: Mail Center

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I’m thrilled to be a stop on Mariah Bruehl’s blog tour for her must-read book Playful Learning: Develop Your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder, a useful resource for parents and teachers who want to infuse learning with playfulness. Yes please! They say that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but this book is certainly an exception. The cover is gorgeous, and the content is equally rich. Mariah has worked in the field of education for over a decade, runs one of my favorite blogs, Playful Learning, and owns a brick and mortar shop in Sag Harbor, NY where children can take workshops and grown-up can buy super-useful supplies. Mariah also teaches E-courses, and I’m giving a spot away to one lucky reader at the end of this post.

Playful Learning is full of meaningful — and doable! — activities for children ages 4-8. Although my own children are 1 and 3, it feels like the perfect time to add this book to my library… some of the projects already relate to my three year old’s abilities and interests, and the rest is food for thought as I plan for what’s to come.

As soon as I read about the Mail Center in a section of the book called Playful Learning Spaces, I knew immediately that it would appeal to my three year old.

The morning that the book arrived, N was busy putting together a care package for her uncle who recently moved to a new town. After wrapping up a painting and some home-baked cookies, we waited patiently in line to ship it at the post office. N helped me address the label and wanted to choose our new sheets of stamps. We were ready for a Mail Center! 

I took inspiration from Mariah’s suggestions and assembled a center that would work in our space. I moved everything out of a bottom drawer in our dining area (it used to hold our table linens) and filled it with envelopes, cards, stamps, scissors, mailing labels, and our return address stamper. I also put our incoming mail in the far right side of the drawer.

It’s all self-service — N can go right to it, take what she needs, and then close it up when she’s done. She’s learning how to properly stamp an envelope and where to attach labels and return addresses.

I loved Mariah’s suggestion to create an address chest so that children can label envelopes on their own. Ownership builds confidence! Photos of loved ones go on the outside of the drawers and their address labels go on the inside. Since I didn’t have a chest, we improvised by taping photos of loved ones on the outside of envelopes. And now my daughter can stamp, address, and mail her own creations…all by herself.

If you would like your own copy of Playful Learning you can buy it on Amazon or purchase a signed copy from Mariah’s shop.

Playful Learning Giveaway(s)!

I’m happy to share that Mariah is giving away both a copy of her book AND a spot in her 6-week E-Course, Playful Learning Spaces. For a chance to win a copy of Playful Learning: Develop your Child’s Sense of Joy and Wonder or a spot in Playful Learning Spaces E-Course ($125 value), leave a comment here by Friday, September 9 at 9 pm PST. Please specify if you prefer one prize or the other. Winner will be chosen randomly and announced on my blog on Saturday, September 10.

This project is shared with It’s Playtime.