Make a Terrarium

Today I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Amanda E. Gross, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with at the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum. She has an incredible eye for all things related to creativity and kids, and today she’s here to share some tips on how to make a terrarium. I’ve wanted to make one of these for a long time, and thrilled that Amanda is here to give us some guidance.

How to Make a Terrarium

Terrariums are the perfect project to stoke both the imagination and a curiosity for nature.

Before building your terrarium, you might like to start by reading a book about an outdoor critter (i.e, Eric Carle’s Very Quiet Cricket, Leo Leonni’s Inch by Inch, or Patricia Polacco’s The Bee Tree). After reading the story, find out if your child wants to build a home for the critter with materials from outside. Talk about the critter’s habitat and its other likes and wants that might be incorporated into your terrarium.

As alternatives, you could guide the project with a focus on fairy houses or on terrariums as little ecosystems. To begin, discuss the seasons and/or plant life cycle, and how the terrarium will incorporate sunlight, soil, and water, just like the plants’ environments outside. The little world your child creates will foster a sense of eco enjoyment and responsibility.

How to make a Terrarium

Step One

Take a stroll outside, getting up close to wonderful sensory experiences like dirt, pebbles and lush green plants.  Gather interesting leaves, sticks, acorns, etc. to use in the terrarium.  Soil, pebbles, and moss may be collected if available, or purchased.

Step Two

Bring your materials home and spread them out over a plastic sheet, and play around with combinations and the possibility of making a critter house.

How to make a Terrarium

Step Three

A clean fishbowl or Mason jar makes the perfect terrarium container.

How to make a Terrarium

Step Four

Add about an inch of pebbles to the fishbowl, for drainage. Pile on an inch or two of soil mixture, with chunks of activated charcoal for filtration and fertilizer. I’ve been told that pyrite is a good mix-in, but not necessary.

 

How to make a Terrarium

Step Five

Make small valleys to add plants, while their roots are still moist. I bought a succulent to add to my terrarium, a low-maintainance green buddy (it only needs water about once a week) that is fun to watch grow over time. Next, arrange moss, sticks, leaves, and other bits. I used the top of an eggplant for the roof of my critter house.

Step Six

Tailor the terrarium to your child’s interests and skill level. If appropriate, make a little critter friend to add; I made my bug out of plasticene clay and sticks for legs. You could add a literacy component by making a collage poem or haiku about the terrarium after creating it, using words and pictures from magazines.

Place your terrarium in indirect sunlight and make sure to water it every week or so if you have a succulent nested in there, and more often for temperate plants.

Resources:

Making Terrariums so Simple
Make a Kid-friendly Terrarium
Terrarium as a learning too for children
Twig: Purchase supplies for moss terrariums and other small worlds
Terrarium Figurines on Etsy
More Terrarium Figures on Etsy

Amanda E. Gross_headshotAmanda designs curricula to guide and inspire children, teens, and adults to appreciate art and to create!  She earned a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from The Rhode Island School of Design and is an instructor at Academy of Art University.  Amanda is also an illustrator, painter, DIY crafter, and permaculture enthusiast. Find out more about Amanda here: Art Curricula WebsiteArt Portfolio WebsiteLinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Sticker Resist with Watercolors

Do you have a set of watercolors? If not, this fun project will give you reason to pick one up.

Watercolor sticker resist

My kids and I have been keeping sketchbooks for a few months, and we enjoy the challenge of testing out new techniques, materials, and ideas as we move through our books. Painting over stickers (and then peeling them back) presents children with the opportunity to learn about masking off areas of their work, negative space, and paint-resist.

This project is ideal for preschoolers and above.

Materials

  • Watercolor paints
  • Paintbrush/es
  • Paper Towels or rags for blotting paint.
  • Sketchbook or Heavy Paper that can support a fair amount of water. Watercolor Paper is ideal.
  • Office Stickers: Round, rectangular. Paper tape or kid stickers work well too.

Sticker resist with watercolors

I started with a few sheets of dot stickers from the office supply aisle at the drug store, and then made a random pattern all over my sketchbook.

Sticker resist with watercolors

Then I painted a wash of rainbow colors over the stickers.

Sticker resist with watercolors

Nutmeg thought this looked pretty cool, and jumped in with her own version: rectangle stickers and free-form painted shapes. I always encourage children to follow their own ideas when making art.

Sticker resist with watercolors

She peeled the rectangle stickers off the page to see how the technique worked, and then added a sea of circle stickers to the page.

Sticker resist with watercolors

She asked if she could peel all of my stickers off — quite easily her favorite part of the whole project.

Sticker resist with watercolors

When the paint dried, she peeled all the stickers off her page to reveal the white space below. So fun!

Printable Project Recipe

Sticker Resist with Watercolors

Prep time: 

Making time: 

Total time: 

Paint over stickers, and then peel them back, to reveal the white spaces of the page. A lesson in negative space and masking as a resist.
Supplies
  • Watercolor paints
  • Paintbrush/es
  • Paper Towels or rags for blotting paint.
  • Sketchbook or Heavy Paper that can support a fair amount of water. Watercolor Paper is ideal.
  • Office Stickers: Round, rectangular. Paper tape or kid stickers work well too.
Steps
  1. Place stickers on the paper.
  2. Paint over stickers.
  3. When the paint dries, peel stickers off.

What do you think? Have you tried other techniques for masking off paper?

 

This Creative Week

This creative week. A week of inspiration from Tinkerlab.

This week has been a mixture of outdoor summer fun and indoor (staying cool in the East-coast humidity) play. We kicked off the new Creative Table project on Instagram a couple weeks ago, and we have close to 100 inspiring photos of creative projects in action! Take a look at last week’s Creative Table images, and add your own by filling out this form or tagging us on Instagram.

Here are some of the things that inspired me this week…

Learning

This Creative Week, learning articles

Are you putting the Kibosh on Creativity?, Janet Lansbury

Raising Successful Childrena must-read article from the The New York Times: 
An excerpt: Research shows that “The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.”

Listen to a recording of this week’s panel with Stephen Downes, Howard Gardner, Alfie Kohn, and Gary Stager as they talk about the need to reform the education reform movement

Creativity: What we can learn from Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, Forbes

Activities

This Creative Week, Activities

Shaving Cream Bath Paint, The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Make Lavender-filled bags with kids, an early sewing project, Red Ted Art

60 Nature Play Ideas for Kids, The Imagination Tree

Reggio-inspired Block Corner for toddlers, An Everyday Story

DIY

This Creative Week, DIY

$30 Learning Tower from an IKEA stool and wood, How We Montessori

DIY Magnetic Board, Teach Preschool

DIY Swiss Cheese Chalet, The Cardboard Collective

5 Inspiring Outdoor Play Spaces, from Childhood 101

Pinterest Boards That You Might Enjoy

pinterest from tinkerlab.com

Back-to-School

Baby Play 

Art Recipes

Sketchbook Inspiration

 

DIY Baby Fabric Bucket Toy

Fabric Toy Bucket for Babies

If you’re looking for ways to mix up your baby play time routine, you might enjoy trying this simple activity with materials you may already have in the closet and recycling can.

DIY Baby Fabric Bucket

I often wax poetic about my preschooler’s creative pursuits while my little one makes the occasional appearance in the background of photos. So I thought it was about time I brought her (and her “generation”) to the forefront of this site.

I’ve posted before on creative exploration for babies (See Sensory Play for Babies), and thought you might like to see this idea that supports a baby’s natural curiosity, fine motor skills, and focus. If you’ve ever placed a baby near a box of tissues, you’ve most likely witnessed complete removal of every single tissue, along with multiple attempts at eating half the stash. Playing off of this idea, I created a reusable “tissue box” from a tall yogurt container filled with tissue-sized scraps of colorful fabric.

I cut a hole in the lid that was wide enough for her to drop a hand into.

Then I sat back to watch her grab pieces of fabric,

…and pull them out!

The focus was incredible and reminded me how serious babies can be about their “work.”

More Baby Resources

  • View more Baby activities on Tinkerlab
  • For a wide variety of well-written articles about fostering a baby’s growth, one of my favorite writers on the topic is Janet Lansbury.
  • Anna of The Imagination Tree, wrote this must-read post about Baby Treasure Baskets. I have at least two of these in my home at all times that engage my daughter’s senses and capture her thoughts. She also has a Baby Play category on her site that’s well worth exploring.

This post was shared with It’s Playtime

Drawing over Old Photographs

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in August, 2011.

Drawing over old photos :: Tinkerlab.com

Drawing over over old photographs is a fun way to turn old images into new treasures. Not only is the process totally enjoyable, but the product can be turned into postcards that are fun to mail to family and friends.

Old photos can be found in thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, reuse centers, and mom’s attic. Can you think of anywhere else?

To start, I collected a big, random stack of photos when we visited the San Francisco re-use shop, SCRAP, with the idea that we’d use them for some kind of collage.

And then I remembered doing a fun photo painting project at some point in my own past, which inspired the direction we took this.

N recently started representing objects in her drawings, so I thought she might be at a point where we could have some fun playing with the intersection of realism and abstraction.

N likes to find new places to create, and on this day it was the kitchen floor. To do this project, all you need is a stack of old photos and some paint pens like these Elmer’s Painters Pens. Sharpies would work too, but with a slightly different effect.

Print a Recipe

 

Drawing on Photos

Prep time: 

Making time: 

Total time: 

Drawing over photos with paint pens is a fun way to mix realistic imagery with abstract coloring.
Supplies
  • Paint Pens (such as Elmer's Paint Pens)
  • Old Photographs (or photos printed on photo paper)
  • Covered table or work area, since paint pens can be permanent
  • Smock to protect clothing
Steps
  1. Place a stack of photos and a bucket of paint markers in the middle of the work area.
  2. If your pens are brand new, depress them ahead of time to get the paint flowing.
  3. Offer your child a stack of photos to sort through and choose from.
  4. Each of you will choose one photo to work with.
  5. Draw over the photos in any way you see fit.
  6. Display the photos or turn them into postcards and mail them to friends and family.

If you don’t have any *actual* photos lying around, you could try sourcing them at a thrift store, cut images out of a magazine, or print your own photos onto photo paper or card stock.

As you can maybe tell from the images above, we collaborated on a few of the photos. I marked up a photo and then handed it to N, and then she added her own ideas.

After I drew on a photo that she started, N said to me, “you do it your way and I’ll do it my way.” Yikes. I’m usually really sensitive to drawing on kids’ art, and I learned that she didn’t see this as a collaboration — she was okay drawing on my photos, but didn’t want me to draw on hers.

So, I took a few big steps back and allowed her to do it her way!

A few of our creations — both “collaborations” and our own works of art. We turned these over later in the day and made some of them into postcards.

What do you think? Have you tried this yourself? Any other ideas on what we could do with these works of art? Do you have a favorite spot for collecting treasures for reuse?

Re-use Shopping Resources

I Heart RAFT (SF Bay Area)

National (US) search for contractor/building reuse: Building Materials Reuse Association

Find FREE stuff on Craigslist: List of SF Bay Area resources

Find FREE stuff in your neighborhood through the Freecycle network

SCRAP Portland

SCRAP San Francisco

Surplus Sales at Stanford University

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse (Berkeley, Oakland, CA)

Reuse Resources via East Bay Depot Creative Reuse

 

What can I do to help a child who doesn’t want to make art?

If you have a child or if you work with children, chances are that you’ve experienced at least one instance of an art project or invitation being met with refusal. Can you think of a time?

What can I do to help a child who doesn't want to make art? from Tinkerlab.com

When my older daughter was about 2.5 she wouldn’t touch crayons, markers, or any sort of mark-making tool. She didn’t start out this way, and I scratched my head trying to find a way to make drawing more fun.

I introduced drawing games such as playing with art dice, which made drawing more adventurous. I looked for novel ways to draw with unusual materials such as  drawing on windows with dry erase markers, and we were back into the swing of things.

I also tried to step back and pay attention to her interests.

What did she enjoy doing? When she played on her own, what did she gravitate toward? When I did this, I noticed that she enjoyed the challenges of building activities: building block towers, stacking pillows on the furniture, and making structures out of toys. So I switched up our routine and offered her sculptural prompts such as building recycled sculptures.

We’re not all wired with an artsy gene, and I know plenty of children and adults who never find their way to the art table, but just because a child doesn’t show an interest in art do not make the assumption that it will always be that way. My daughter is a case-in-point!

Are you struggling with this problem or have you been there/done that?

Every child is unique, and we all approach challenges like this from different perspectives. I would love to hear how you have helped a child who wasn’t interested in making art. Do you have a strategy that worked? All tips are welcome — my hope is that this post will be a valuable resource for parents and teachers who may inevitably find themselves in this same situation.

 

Natural Playground with Tree Stumps

Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.
– Henry David Thoreau

Build a Natural Playground with Tree Stumps,

Do you have a natural playground in your yard or near your home? A natural playground is an outdoor play area that’s landscaped with materials such as logs, dirt, grassy hills, sand, natural bridges, and streams instead of plastic playground equipment.

Aside from our beloved plastic playhouse, our small suburban garden is full of natural loose parts and I’m constantly looking for ways to develop it into an inspiring, open-ended, natural play area.

Why a natural play scape? 

In Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Natureplayground designers and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining an ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slide; a surprising conclusion considering what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.) and promote competition rather than co­operation (Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.).

Start with Tree Stumps

Tree stumps are useful for walking on, turning into seating for impromptu fairy tea parties, using as a base for bridges or tables.

We live near a children’s museum with a large-scale spiral tree stump path that will entertain my kids for hours. The stumps are of various heights that challenge children to climb, crawl, skip, walk, and jump. When they bump up against each other, as they move in opposite directions, they have to negotiate the space and make concessions. In short, it’s brilliant.

Ever since I first discovered this neighborhood treasure, I’ve been on the hunt for some tree stumps of our own. No small feat, though! We don’t own a chain saw, our trees never get trimmed, and I had no idea where I could find these beauties.

My radar was tuned and then low-and-behold, I spotted these guys, hard at work.

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I asked them if they would be so kind as to share a few pieces with my stump-loving kids, and they said yes. I’m indebted. My car was soon overloaded with heavy lumber and I was beaming!

So how do you find tree stumps? This one stumped me for some time (how could that pun not be intended?). I was on the lookout for tree trimmers, and lucked out that my trunk was empty and these guys were generous with their time and muscles. I would caution you that trees can be infested with termites or other dreadful bugs and diseases, so it could pay to secure your stumps at a cost from a local lumber yard. These stumps appeared to come from a healthy tree that was getting trimmed away from a power line, but I’m no tree expert. If you know more about this than me, please let me know if our stumps are healthy!

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I got these beauties home and my kids wanted to play with them right away (notice the tap shoes — ha! — these two crack me up). I put the stumps in our front yard until we could find a good place for them, and of course our next door neighbor friends wanted to come over and play too.

How to score tree stumps for your play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I think I have a good spot for them now, in the dirt and under a tree, and I’ll share more of our natural play scape ideas as it comes together.

natural playground with tree stumps

More Nature Play Ideas

How Climbing Trees Builds Critical Thinking

Finding Nature

Plant a Garden with Kids

Thrifting for Natural Materials for the Garden

Theory of Loose Parts (Let the Children Play)

Scanner Art Experiments

Scanner art experiment with kids

If you have a scanner and a little bit of time, this low-mess project kept my preschooler busy for a whole morning. Lots of fun for curious kids!

scanner art experiments

Not too long ago we had a big print job in our home, which peaked my daughter’s interest in the printer. The noises, lights, and moving paper were all new and exciting, I’m sure. Every time I printed something, she volunteered to rescue it from the machine. So we set up a scanning project, just for her. For the first run, we helped her select some objects to scan. Once she got a hang of it, she was off on her own!

Setting up materials on the printer bed.

Soooooo exciting!!

She experimented with different materials: puzzle pieces, acorns, baker’s twine, and her own hands. And she experimented with different colors of paper.

While this quickly became HER project, I was lucky enough to be invited to join her.

If you don’t have a printer/scanner, you could easily do this in your local printshop (which we’ve done too!). N thought this was cool field trip. I think she liked the big machines, the whirling sound of copies as the come out of the printer, and the novelty of it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Cause and Effect: How placement of objects on scanner affects the image output
  • Exploring the functions of machines and how they can help us
  • Composition and Selection: Making choices about what objects to place, and in which location

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Your turn!

Have you tried scanning with your kids? If this inspires you to do some scanning, please come back with your stories with me.

This post was shared at We Play @ Childhood 101. Go ahead, give it a click for more play ideas.