Imagine Childhood: Interview with Sarah Olmsted

Imagine yourself as a child, running through a wide open meadow, making your own magic wand from a found twig, and building forts in thick woods, and you’ve caght the spirit of Sarah Olmsted’s book, Imagine Childhood: Exploring the World through Nature, Imagination, and Play.

Imagine Childhood book

I recently got my hands on Sarah’s hot-off-the-press book, which is packed with 25 magical projects that are as much inspired by the author’s own rich childhood as they are by her experience as an exhibit designer at the Field Museum of Natural History, and I have to tell you…it’s beautiful.

But beyond aesthetics, Sarah says, “these projects are not about what is produced in the end (although that part is fun too); they are about the process of getting there.” Ahhh, this makes me happy.

Guess what? Today is the Tinkerlab stop on the IMAGINE CHILDHOOD: Exploring the World Through Nature, Imagination, and Play book-blog tour, and I’m thrilled to welcome Sarah into our little corner of the web for a cozy little interview.

Here are the other stops if you’d like to soak up more Imagine Childhood inspiration while tapping into some other great blogs:

Readers will have the opportunity to win one a copy of Sarah’s book at the end of this interview.

Rachelle: Welcome, Sarah! I’m so glad that you’re here. You describe the journey your book takes as “chasing the magic of childhood.” Can you tell us about your childhood, and a little bit about the magic you remember from it?

Imagine childhood book

Sarah: That’s a hard question to answer succinctly because so many of those magical moments existed outside of the world of words.  They were feelings and experiences, milliseconds of expansion in the midst of the beauty and chaos of everyday family life.  My childhood was a typical one.  I come from a big family, so we were wild, rambunctious, loud, and loving like any house full of people, dogs, cats, birds and rabbits would be.  There was always something going on at any given moment, and while we didn’t have many “big” adventures, at the end of every day there was definitely a story to tell.

I don’t think I “remember” the magic of my childhood as much as I feel it.  I feel it when I’m wandering in the woods by myself and I can hear the sound of leaves shifting over my head.  I feel it when I learn something new that completely changes the way I understand the world.  I feel it when I let go and drift totally and completely into the moment.  I feel it when I allow myself to play.

Rachelle: You write in your book about the close relationship you have with your family. I’m always interested in hearing how parents can help shape their child’s experiences. Will you share a story about how your mom encouraged your creativity to flourish?

Imagine childhood book

Sarah: Growing up, my mother trusted me to figure things out in my own time.  She had a way of always being there without having to be right there.  I can’t imagine how many hours she spent watching all of us kids from a distance, close enough to comfort or help if that was what the situation required, but far enough away so that we felt empowered by the freedom of exploration.  Whether I was running around in the woods making forts, digging up the backyard to make a giant mud pit with my brother, or just reading stories in my room, I felt like an adventurer.

Even though she was always there the moment I needed her, my mom stood back just enough to let me feel like no one was watching.  In that bubble of my own little world, I could test things out, I could make mistakes, and I could make discoveries.  Those are the experiences that cultivated my creative spirit.  They taught me to trust in my intuition and to never fear failure, because that’s where you learn all of the really good stuff.

Rachelle: Ah, that makes me feel like I’m on the right track! Fostering independence and seeing failure as an opportunity for growth frame my own parenting philosophy. Can you tell us about a favorite project from your book and how it exemplifies your point of view?

Imagine childhood book

Sarah: It’s difficult to choose a favorite because each project comes from a different place and sparks a different emotion in me. But I guess if I had to pick one for today I would choose the Rube Goldberg activity.  I’m a school nerd at heart so the physics component of putting one of these chain reactions together appeals to that side of me, but I also love how they put emphasis on the process rather than the result.  Since the “success” of one of these types of activities requires a lot of trial and error, the fun often comes from figuring things out and laughing (a lot) when they don’t work as planned.  I think this activity lends particularly well to the spirit of IMAGINE CHILDHOOD for that exact reason.

While there are many projects and tutorials throughout its pages, this book is more about experience than outcome.  It’s about the conversations that happen while making things together. It’s about getting to know the world inch by inch. It’s about exploring imaginary universes and running through real forests. It’s about living in childhood . . . regardless of your actual age. This book is about being a kid.

Rachelle: What’s your next big project?

Sarah: Right now, apart from sharing the IMAGINE CHILDHDOOD book, I’m also working hard in the Imagine Childhood shop.  As we move into our 5th holiday season, we’re putting the final touches on our new gift guide (packed with our favorite children’s goods as well as lots of free seasonal recipes and crafts)  and preparing everything for the busy days ahead.  We have some great new things this year that I can’t wait to share :)

Rachelle: I’m so glad that you mentioned your shop! I got absolutely lost poking around over there and would highly recommend it to all of my readers. I would feel lucky to call any of the materials and kits on your site mine — they are just beautifully curated. Thanks for talking with me today, Sarah!

Sarah: Thanks so much for having me over to your beautiful space!

Sarah Olmsted grew up in Colorado and spent much of her time exploring art, science, and the nearby foothills and mountains. After receiving a bachelor of fine arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, she spent some time as a freelance children’s furniture designer/fabricator, which eventually led her to the Field Museum of Natural History. There she worked in exhibit design, developing interactive educational activities for permanent and traveling exhibitions before moving on to cofound in 2008.



One copy of Sarah’s book, Imagine Childhood, will be given away to a lucky reader. To enter for your chance to win, click on the Rafflecopter giveaway. This is open to U.S. addresses only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Art Games: Draw with Art Dice

I’m always happy to land on fun art games that entertain my children and help their brains develop. I originally blogged about these handmade art dice last Spring, and thought you might like to see how this popular tool is getting used by 2-year old daughter #2.

Art games

I started with a set of blank wooden blocks. If you don’t have wood blocks, you could make your own by folding paper into a cube shape. I’ll include a link to a template that you can print at the end of this post.

art games

My toddler gathered a set of art dice, markers, and a sheet of paper, and then decided to cozy up in my bed with one of those funny lap pillow-tables. I didn’t tell her what to do, so I can only assume that she’s seen her sister use these dice before when she turned the die to orange, selected an orange marker, and then proceeded to make an orange circle.

One of the dice is covered with a variety of lines, and we practiced making long lines, short lines, wavy lines, and zig-zag lines.

And then she returned to work on color.

art games

The part that I enjoyed the most was watching her engage in this self-directed activity for close to twenty minutes. Every now and then she’d invite me to draw with her or ask me the name of a color, but for the most part little R was engaged with making connections between the images on the dice and what came out of her pen.

I first did this with my older daughter when she was two, and at four, we still use these every now and then. I use them too as a way to jog my imagination when I’m in a drawing rut. And my 4-year old and I will use them together to make collaborative drawings. Check out the original Art Dice article for more game ideas.

If you make your own art dice (they make great gifts!) and give ’em a spin, I’d love to hear about how it goes for you. Here are a few inspiring links from a couple of my readers…

Art Games: More Art Dice Inspiration

I love seeing how Barbara used art dice to teacher her 2nd graders about line and primary colors.

In this post, Heather, Vice President of the University of Victoria Art Education Student Association created paper templates that you can simply print, cut, and glue. Easy peasy. Thanks Heather!! Color, Line, Shape 

Jean at the Artful Parent is also a fan of art games. Here are a few of my favorites from her site:

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Homemade Gifts: Kiwi Crate for the Holidays {Giveaway}

We love homemade gifts, so when Kiwi Crate recently asked me if my 4-year old would like to try one of the newest Holiday crates from their Celebration Shop, guess what I said? Yes please!

We’re giving away three of these Holiday Crates, and you’ll have a chance to win one at the end of this post!

homemade gifts from Kiwi Crate

They sent us a crate called Gifts Made by Me, and given the quality of this crate, I’m sure that the other two holiday crates, Crafty Christmas and Handmade Hanukkah, are just as fabulous.

As you probably know, I’m a DIY gal and rarely gravitate to pre-packaged activities. But here’s the difference with Kiwi Crate: although the package everything up for the busy parent, they don’t skimp on the quality of the materials and the projects in this crate value the process as much as the product.

But this isn’t just my opinion…my 4-year old worked on these gifts for three days and kept talking about them. We work on a lot of homemade projects in our home, and her engagement with this crate speaks volumes of the how thoughtfully these materials were assembled.

homemade gifts: kiwi crate for the holidays

When the package arrived, N was itching to rip it open. I had a plan in my mind that we’d save it for later in the week, but I had a hard time curbing her enthusiasm. I told her that we could open the crate, look it over, and then save it for the next day. That sort of backfired because opening the crate only got her more excited.

She quickly assessed that the crate contained materials for making homemade gifts (two high quality notebooks that she would make prints for, plus all the wrapping materials we’d need)– which she already decided were destined for her grandparents, and we were off to the races.

Homemade Gifts: Kiwi Crate for the holidays

The first thing we did was set up a mini-printing studio, and Kiwi Crate sent all the materials to make this successful and mitigate the mess.

I appreciated this because printmaking, when done right (with real printing inks, as included in the crate), can be a huge mess. Instead, it was all contained on the craft paper, cotton swabs, brayer, and thin sheet of plastic that we taped to the paper. It was a clever set-up that I’ll be sure to replicate next time we pull out the ink and brayers.

homemade gifts: kiwi crate for the holidays

The crate also came with a really nice brayer (the tool you see back there that rolls the ink onto the plate), which I’m excited to add to our brayer collection.

I only had a couple issues with the crate, but they’re not deal-breakers. The ink took a few days to dry, which I’d attest to the summery weather we’ve been having. And the snowflake stickers that we used to make our own stamps didn’t hold their shape too well. But my 4-year old didn’t mind one bit, and the smudginess of our snowflakes added to the homemade charm of her gifts.

When she was done, she created two notebooks, two cards, and hand-printed ribbon. Gorgeous!

The best part? It’s only the beginning of November and my 4-year old already made her grandparents their holiday gifts: homemade notebooks that she’s proud of.

homemade gifts from Kiwi Crate

More Information About Homemade Gifts from Kiwi Crate

Sign up for the Kiwi Crate Newsletter

Buy a Gift Subscription for friends, cousins, and kids

Check out the Holiday Crates in the Celebration Shop

Free shipping on orders of $100 or more with the code WINTER

Enter the Giveaway

Kiwi Crate is giving away 3 Crates like the one I reviewed: Gifts Made By Me. Prizes can only be shipped to U.S. mailing addresses. The contest will close on November 18, 2012 at 11:59 EST. a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’m an advisor to Kiwi Crate and they sent me a free crate to review, but all opinions in this review are my own. This post may also contain affiliate links.