Halloween Tradition: Little Fabric Ghosts

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This little fabric ghost tradition began last year, and N has been begging me to revive it for weeks. We haven’t had any white fabric in the house, I didn’t have the energy to make a fabric run, and then low-and-behold I found a quarter yard of fabric in a closet sweep a few days ago! Yay for “free” fabric. It’s more craft than art, but you’ll see in a minute how this can be open-ended and exploratory for curious, creative little minds.

We started with approximately 15″ squares of thin cotton fabric, a little thinner than muslin. But really, almost any thin white fabric will work. We filled the middle with about six cotton balls. Actually, it started out at “five,” but when N took over she increased the number by one or two, until the last ghost had about nine cotton balls in the head. This is good for counting, too!

I cut cotton string into lengths of 12″ – 30″ and then tied them around the “heads.” We then glued on googly eyes with white glue.

Now for the fun part! N wanted to draw a mouth on one of the ghosts so we found a Sharpie marker. Drawing the mouth turned into drawing hair, ears, and decorating the entire body. So fun!

She even drew inside the ghost. There are no limits, are there? We made four ghosts altogether, and she named this one the “dad.” The others (mom, baby, and sister) were plain white…what does this mean, I wonder?

We hung them in the tree to scare our neighbors for Halloween. Monofilament might have eliminated the noose quality of the string, but you work with what you’ve got! Boo!

I love hearing from you. Please share your Halloween tradition/s!

This post is shared with Sunday Showcase. Craft Schooling Sunday

Organic Shape Monsters for Halloween

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When I saw this idea over at We Heart Art, I loved it for its open-ended qualities and simplicity. Joanna did this project with Kindergarteners, but it was adaptable to my 3-year old and could easily scale up for older children. Plus, the monster theme played out so nicely with Halloween right around the corner. Grrrrr….

And, are you ready to hear how easy this is? All you need are about 20″ of yarn, paper, and some markers or crayons. 

We talked about witches, ghosts, and jack-o’-lanterns all morning, so when I asked if N wanted to make a monster she was game. In general, she hasn’t drawn too many realistic drawings, so I was curious to see where this experiment would go. We each started out with a piece of yarn. I moved the yarn around my page to make an organic shape, connected the two ends to close it, and then traced an outline around the shape. N took note and did the same. So far, the process intrigued her.

We removed the yarn and I invited her to turn it into a monster. And this is what’s so cool about this project: There’s no expectation and the outcome is totally up to the child’s imagination. The red apostrophe shape she’s working on is a little baby monster. Awwww. At first glance I thought it was the mouth, which is a good reminder on why it’s best to never make assumptions and ask the child about their work without making interpretations!

Okay, now you can see the mouth. Ferocious!

She also added some arms, eye lashes, a forehead, a belly button, and fur. It’s kind of Jabba the Hutt, no? And despite it’s obvious scariness, I love it!

Have you ever heard that people learn as they teach? (In case you’re wondering, it can be credited to the Roman philosopher, Seneca — I had to look it up, and subsequently learned about it so I could share it with you!). Well, N’s friend came over the next day, and at one point in the afternoon the two of them sat down at the art table and she independently showed him how to make a monster! You can imagine my surprise and delight — I guess she really embraced the concept and thought it was worth sharing.

More Halloween Ideas

If you enjoyed this post, you have to check out 50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids.

Shrinky Dink Charms

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Shrinky Dinks!

I just learned that these polystyrene plastic (#6) sheets were invented by two housewives from Wisconsin in 1973. Weren’t they smart and industrious! I’ve been told that you can make your own shrink plastic projects with #6 plastic, and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried this.

We made Shrinky Dinks a while ago and my 3 year old requested them again the other day. This is such a fun project, and a perfect indoor activity on a cool Fall day. Although it happened to be about 90 degrees when we did it. Fall in California…go figure. We set ourselves up with a sheet of Shrink Plastic, Paint Pens, and Sharpie Markers. You’ll find that Shrinky Dinks can come in all sorts of themes, but I wouldn’t bother with that. I really like the Shrinky Dinks Refill Set of 6 plain 8″ x 5″ sheets. Nothing fancy, but they work!

I set this up on our plastic-covered table and opened the windows since we were using stinky, non-washable pens. I also placed the shrink plastic on top of a sheet of white paper so that N could clearly see her work. All of the drawing happens on the rough side of the plastic, and you’ll want to avoid using oil-based crayons and pencils because they can catch fire in the oven. Yikes.

Rather than draw on individual pieces, I thought it would work best for my little one to draw all over the big sheet before we cut it up. N added all sorts of lines and shapes, but left a lot of white space. We talked about how the plastic would shrink the whole thing down and that we’d see more of her designs if she filled more of the sheet with marks. She understood the point, and found a way to fill that space…with dots. I love it!

She cut the plastic up into three organic shapes, and then I punched one hole in each of the pieces so we could turn them into necklace charms.

After she cut them out, I placed them on aluminum foil on the lowest rack of a 350 degree oven. They start to curl and shrink. Once they flatten, after about 2 minutes, pull them from the oven and wait for them to cool.

I wish I had a good picture of one of the charms around my neck, but I’ve noticed that while I’m really good at documenting each step of our projects, I’m terrible at capturing the final result.  Something I need to work on, for sure. But, at least you can see them as they came out of the oven, all shrunk up. I think they’re adorable, and my daughter enjoyed the process.

Thank you for a fun afternoon, clever Wisconsin Housewives!

Materials Challenge: CD’s + Paint Pens

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This month has been crazy busy, but a few days ago I was actually able to wrap my head around a creative project ahead of time and set this table up *the night before.* Gasp. Do you ever do this? It’s been a while since I have, and I always feel like I’ve embraced my inner-preschool teacher when it happens. Anyway, I look at this sort of project as a provocation: The materials relate to my children’s interests and abilities, are intriguing and suggestive, but there’s no expected outcome. 

Here’s what I used: old CD’s, colorful paper tape, glue bottles, stickers, paint pens, washable markers, + scissors.

The fun thing is that almost as soon as my kids woke up, they were engaged. Intrigued, excited, and full of ideas.

N, my 3-year old, picked out the paint pens and started drawing on the CD’s. After a bit of complaining that they dried up, she learned how to press the tip up and down until the ink flowed freely.

My one-year old is turning into one of her sister’s groupies, and wants to do everything her older sibling does. No paint pens for her, though, so I handed her the washable markers. Thank goodness, because she managed to pull the carefully secured table cloth up and draw all over the table in the 30 seconds I turned my back. Lesson learned!

While the final product isn’t much to look at, the process speaks loud and clear and I can’t wait to do this again.

Do you ever set up provocations? How do they go?

If you’re interested in provocations, you might be interested in the Reggio-Emilia approach to teaching. In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia (Early Childhood Education Series)is about art studios in Reggio schools, and looks fabulous resource.

This post is shared on It’s Playtime

On Storytelling and Finding Voice

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Coming to you live from rainy Boston, MA this week, while my super husband holds down the fort in Sunny California!

In preparation for a panel I’m participating in this week at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Arts in Education Program, I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling. The theme of the conference is Finding Voice, which is clearly something I think about a lot as a blogger. One of the questions they’ve asked me to consider is “What is involved in the work of finding voice?” Wow! What a great question, and with so many ways to answer it. Showing up every week to make art, write, document, share, and reflect (via your fabulous comments) play huge roles in how I’m finding my voice. This blog has become my forum, testing ground, play ground, and writing station.

And the question reminds me of a related video with Ira Glass of This American Life.  If you’re not familiar with him, Ira is a superb storyteller who’s made his life’s work out of documenting and sharing other people’s stories on his radio show. In essence, he says that in order to be really good at your work, and for your work to be as wonderful and big and your own expectations (because, let’s face it, a lot of us make crappy art despite our best intentions), you have to create a huge volume of work. And it won’t all be good. In fact, when you begin it will most likely flat-out suck. But his point is to be diligent, keep showing up, continue working at it, and before you know it your work will match your ambitions. But he really says it best because, well, he’s been at it longer than I have! There are four parts to the series, but I pulled this one out for you. Check out the rest if you like what he has to say.

Preparing for this panel has helped me reflect on my own journey as a writer and documenter of creative learning experiments, and suffice to say that Ira is spot-on! I’m in the process of updating my archives, so you’ll have to trust me when I say that my writing has come a looooooong way since I started blogging last May. By no means am I the best writer or arts educator ever, but I’m getting better at it with each passing blog post. Your comments help me think more deeply about the ideas shared here (so thank you!), and I can use this feedback to help guide the growth of this blog and my writing.

But enough about me, How would you answer this question about finding voice? I’d love to know, from your personal experience, what is involved in the work of finding YOUR voice? What story are you trying to tell? And how are you working at making your voice more effective?

Negative Leaf Impressions

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It’s been unseasonably warm around here — check out the flip flops and dress! And the Easter Basket there…well, would you believe it’s for collecting Fall leaves?

We don’t have a lot of Fall color yet, but enough leaf beauties have hit the pavement that we ventured out for some Leaf Pickin’.

N picked up all of her favorites. She was only limited by the amount of space she had in the basket. My plan was to take them home and make some negative space impressions of the leaves with a spray bottle.

When we got home we laid them all out on huge sheets of paper. And then had a snack. Snacks are important. If we hadn’t been so impatient, pressing the leaves for a day would have made our leaf impressions clearer, but I was working with three-year olds, and, well, they like to do things when they think of them. Patience only goes so far.

I filled a spray bottle with a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 orange liquid watercolors. And oh-my-goodness if this wasn’t the most fun part of the entire project. It could have been the project all by itself. And we could have done it outside. That would have been smart. But fortunately our table was covered with paper and plastic, and the kids sprayed to their heart’s content.

Despite the curling leaves, you can see that the impressions are still pretty clear. It worked best when the kids stood up on a chair and sprayed straight down. Once dry, we hung one above our play kitchen.

And once this was done, we went back outside for bike riding, popsicle eating, and watermelon seed spitting. Really. It’s been that warm.

How are you enjoying these first days of Fall?

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Prepping the DIY Drop-in Studio {GIVEAWAY}

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While I’m lucky to stay at home with my super-rad kids, I’m also lucky enough to squeeze some extra fun “work” into the nooks and crannies of my life. No small task (did you see my In Search of Life Balance post?), but completely worth it. One of my big projects is about to come to fruition and I’m so excited to share it with you. I’ve been helping the newly-branded Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco design a 12-month curriculum for their DIY art space. Yay!

We’re kicking the series of projects off with BUILD: Critter Habitats. Each of the projects has the TinkerLab stamp of approval for being open-ended, valuing process over product, and including found and raw materials. My kids and I spent the better part of today unpacking supplies and helping the staff with set-up, and I couldn’t believe how helpful and good my little ones were. The Museum officially opens this Saturday, October 15, with FREE admission and free rides on the 1906 Playland-at-the-Beach carousel. Please come on down and visit if you’re in the area.

If you can’t make it this weekend, I have a VIP Family Pass to give away to one of my readers at the end of this post. Woop!

Isn’t this a fab setting? It doesn’t hurt that the weather was beyond gorgeous today. It is fall, right?

These are the fun little critters, made in animation clay, that greet you as you walk through the front door.

N was a hard worker today and took the task of building a model critter habitat very seriously with some of the wonderful materials we picked up at RAFT. The space is so close to completion, but you can see that there’s still lots to be done.

While I talked shop, N and R “helped” sort stickers and scissors. Please don’t judge me for allowing my one year old to handle scissors…she was looked after very closely and she couldn’t be pulled away from this activity.

The space is gorgeous — big, bright windows, handmade furniture, and creative surprises at every turn. If you have children between the ages of 3 and 12, I hope you’ll stop by and tell me what you think. We’ve tested this project on my 3-year old and handful of interns, so I’m naturally curious to see how it goes when hundreds of kids come through the doors this weekend. Eeek.


Finalist

Also, I’ve been nominated for the Most Awesome Local Blog award over at Red Tricycle. I’m in the running with some stellar Bay Area blogs, and totally humbled by the nomination. If you have a chance, would you pop over there for one sec to vote for me before coming back here to enter the giveaway?


Giveaway

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or plan to visit one day soon, the Children’s Creativity Museum has offered to give away a VIP Family Pass that’s good for admission for up to four people ($40 value). Shipping address must be in the U.S. (sorry to all my International friends).

To enter:

  • Leave a comment here with a story about your favorite children’s museum experience
  • Extra entry: Tweet about it. Tag me, tinkerlabtweets, so that I can see it
Submissions accepted until 5 pm PST on Tuesday, October 18. Winner will be chosen by Random Number Generator
Good luck! Anne’s name was chosen by Random Number Generator and the Contest is now closed.

 

Halloween Ideas | No-Carve Pumpkin Decorating

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We enjoy simple Halloween ideas, and this one takes the cake with the toddler and preschool crowd.

We had a play date with some good friends last week, and N came home with two cute little pumpkins — one decorated for her little sister with glitter glue and the other decorated with glitter glue and foam Halloween stickers. She was glued to the art table (really, no pun intended) and wanted to make more of these at home.

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The next morning we found ourselves at the market where she spotted, and wanted to buy, some absurd anthropomorphic pumpkins with purple and green feathers for hair. I wish I took a picture. To move us along I mentioned that we had feathers at home and could make these ourselves. She liked the idea so we bought a few sugar pumpkins on the spot and set it all up that morning.

The first thing to go on the table: a bowl of feathers. White glue worked really well for this step.

After gluing the feathers in place, she had trouble securing the buttons she selected to the pumpkin with white glue (gravity!). I didn’t feel like hauling out the glue gun and suggested we could draw on the pumpkin with permanent markers or paint on it with acrylics. Neither solution appealed to her, so she worked on getting two buttons to stick to the side before calling it a day. Maybe I should have bought a bag of foam stickers!

But I do love how this turned out…simple and sweet.

Are you making no-carve pumpkins this year? What bits and bobs would you add to your pumpkins?

Oh, how I love Pinterest: more no-carve ideas from around the web…

 

Five lovely no-carve ideas, including these made with ribbons, from Good Housekeeping

Beautiful no-carve pumpkin projects from Real Simple Magazine

Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Pumpkins

More Halloween Ideas

If you enjoyed this post, you have to check out 50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids.

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In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
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Candle Wax Watercolor Resist

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Ever since my 13-month old turned one she’s been fascinated with candles, so every week or so we bust out a birthday candle and sing five or six rounds of Happy Birthday to her. One of these candles was lying around and N, my three-year old, decided to draw with it. I immediately saw the opportunity to turn this into a wax-resist watercolor lesson – you know, where you paint with watercolors on top of a waxy drawing in order to reveal the lines of your drawing — and I ran to grab the watercolor paints, brushes, water, and paper towel.

By the time I settled down and got it all set up, N was ready for the paint.

The set up: Watercolor paper, birthday candle, paper towel (for blotting saturated brushes), bowl of water, watercolor paint palette, brush.

N has been painting with watercolors for a couple years now, but every time we sit down with them I have to remind her how to clean the brush by making it “dance in the water,” and how to use the paper towel to blot excess water. But of course she never uses the paper towel. In my experience, watercolor paint is not the best painting medium for young children because it doesn’t allow for fluid mark-making as much as other gooey + runny paints like tempera might, but it’s appealing to parents because it’s cheap and far easier to clean up than tempera. So, if you’re inclined to use it, go for it, but don’t expect the paint cakes to hold onto their distinct colors for long!

My one year old couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join in — it’s impossible to distract her away from the art table when we’re working at it, so she got her own paints, etc. Did you catch my rookie move up there? Dont’ worry, I caught it quickly…

Orange smock to the rescue! We have all sorts of aprons, but I find that my kids are most comfortable in my old t-shirts. If we’re working with really wet stuff, a waterproof apron is still the best way to go. Little R was interested in holding a brush, but this became a fingerpainting/pick-the-paint-cakes-out-of-the-case project for her.

Ahhh, a lovely quiet moment of art making. Circling back to the wax resist part of this post, I imagined that N would be enthralled by the magic of it, especially since she initiated the candle drawing in the first place. But she wasn’t all that impressed and turned her watercolor painting efforts toward other things in subsequent paintings. It was still an afternoon full of passion and industry, so no complaints here! And while our final product didn’t turn out so “spectacular,” I urge you to give this project a go if you think your child will enjoy it.

How do you respond to self-initiated art activities?

Halloween Tree

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Are you getting into the Halloween Spirit? At the first site of Halloween costumes (um, I think it may have been in August), my older daughter was overwhelmed with excitement to pull our decorations out of storage. I made her wait until September, which also seemed ridiculously early but at least it wasn’t August! We’ve already tackled at least five Halloween-related projects, so I have plenty to share with you in the next few weeks. If you’re looking for process-based Halloween projects, definitely check back soon!

One of the things I dug out is a glittery, black Halloween tree. We had orange, black, and green paper on the table from a collage project, and N decided it would be fun to make ornaments for the tree. Ha! I never would have thought of this, and adore how inventive children can be. Two of my favorite things about this project: it’s low-cost (assuming you already have the tree) and it’s a great way for little ones to work on cutting, stapling, and decision-making.

Materials

N had a plan to cut shapes out of the paper, staple small pieces on top of them, and color some of them with markers. I loved it! When her ornaments were ready, she told me where to poke the holes and then I strung them with partially opened paper clips. Do you know this trick? Someone recently told me how you can use paperclips as ornament hangers in a pinch, and I had no idea that this random bit of knowledge would come in handy so soon!

And there it is, our Halloween Tree. What do you think?

Think Different

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“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.” – Steve Jobs

I never met Steve Jobs, but his life’s work has influenced me in multiple ways, both subtle and overt, and it’s impossible for me to pass up the opportunity to acknowledge my gratitude for his attention to detail, user experience, and life-changing technological inovation. I’m writing this post on my Mac while downloading photos off my iPhone, and I can think of a million ways in which these tools have altered my life’s work and interactions. The phone, for one, has kept my brain occupied in the middle of the night during some of my hardest nights of early motherhood, connected my children with their grandparents who live miles away, enabled me to snap impromptu photos and videos of milestone moments (or not) when I left my real camera at home, helped me find my way to restaurants/baby showers/weddings/mechanics/airports/towing companies (not a favorite experience, but thank goodness for the phone!).

By some error of craziness, I happen to live near Steve Jobs and paid my respect by lighting candles in a touching street-side memorial in front of his home. The memorial grew by morning and it’s more than apparent that his influence reached so many.

One of the main reasons I write this blog is to prompt, suggest, and gently push parents and caregivers toward raising creative children. This isn’t a soapbox, and if you’re here it’s most likely because you also see the importance of creative thinking, but I also want to stress the point that we have to grab the one chance we have to raise children to be their own true selves, to follow their big ideas, to test juxtapositions that may turn into something entirely novel, and to think different. I’m inspired by Steve Jobs’ life — his strong inner compass that directed him to follow his wild ideas despite convention and the allure of an easy road to success.

I found this video from Apple’s Think Different campaign, and it happens to be the only one narrated by Steve Jobs himself. It never aired. And it’s short. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy hearing the voice of what many consider the Thomas Edison of our time.

And I’d love to know: How has Steve Jobs’ influence changed your life?

Bean Bags for Babies

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I mentioned in yesterday’s post that we made these sweet little pyramid bean bags, courtesy of The Artful Parent. I filled ours with buckwheat (picked up in the bulk section of Whole Foods) that I had to fill those lovely hot/cold therapeutic eye pillows, so I knew it would work well for these too. These little bean bags would be wonderful for all sorts of things, and in this case they were perfect for fostering hand-eye coordination and the age-old favorite of filling and emptying a container.

While I’m not a professional stitcher, I was able to crank out a full set of bean bags for my one year old during her nap. For full disclosure I’ve been sewing since I was young and studied costume design in college, but my machine has been gathering yards of dust since my kids were born. (Shhhh…if you look closely you’ll see that I made a mess out of my stitching.) If you’re a sewing veteran you’ll crank them out too, and if you’re new to sewing this is as easy as sewing gets — just give yourself time to make these and you’ll zip them out in no time.

My older daughter passed this great Melissa and Doug toy down to my one-year-old, but by the time it got to her we didn’t have all the pieces. Frustrating!

But it turns out that it’s a spectacular tool for babies to sort these small beanbags. If you don’t have a similar toy in your home, you could also try this DIY baby bucketmade from a yogurt container.

Where did they all go?

Wouldn’t these be lovely gifts for babies? It’s not too early to start thinking about the holidays, is it?

This post shared with It’s Playtime