Halloween Tradition: Little Fabric Ghosts

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

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

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

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

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?