Art Project: Overhead Projector

overhead projector art project

My husband works at a university and the collector in me was overjoyed to discover that there’s a little-known department on campus that sells surplus property from departments that no longer need old projectors, desks, and reams of paper.

I wandered into the dusty space about a year ago and walked out with something everyone needs: an overhead projector for just $5. Right, you have one, don’t you? And then it moved to my garage where it continued to collect dust for another year.

Well, I finally pulled it out and it turned out to be a perfect rainy day art project.

overhead projector object discussion

My daughter had never seen one of these before, so we started off with an open-ended game in object-based looking that I learned in graduate school. The idea behind the game is to unpack the qualities of a mysterious object based solely on what you can see. No other information is shared, and the process of discovery can build a great deal of enthusiasm around an experience.

I didn’t tell N what we were looking at. Rather, I put the projector in a place where she could easily see it from multiple points of view and then our conversation sounded something like this:

“What do you see?”

A box with a long, tall pole and a plug. It’s dusty. You missed a spot.

“Got it. Okay, how do you suppose it might work?”

I don’t know. Maybe you plug it in. And I see these knobs, so they probably turn. If I turn this one, this piece moves up the pole. There are some buttons, so you can turn it on and off.

“If we plug it in, what do you think it might do?”

I think it makes noise. A loud noise, like a blender. Brrrrrrrrr.

“Hmmm. Maybe it does make a noise. We’ll find out in a moment. If you open this flap, what do you see?”

A light. Let’s plug it in!

playing with the overhead projectorI plugged it in, flipped open the light, and spread out a collection of tangram pieces to play with. N had fun adjusting the height of the light and then made various arrangements of shapes, both abstract and realistic.

tessellation tilesI have a huge collection of transparent tangram tiles that I picked up at Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), but if you click on this link it’ll take you to Amazon where you can order these shipped straight to your home.

overhead projector with kidsI pulled the curtains in the room shut, and the overhead projector’s bulb did a great job illuminating the wall. The walls in this room are painted dark grey, so I taped two sheets of 18″ x 24″ paper from Discount School Supply to the wall, and it made for a perfect screen.

We talked about how the projector reverses images, so you won’t see a mirror image of what exists on the glass plate.

This art project was wonderful in so many ways. The dim lights in the room were calming and helped focus my child’s big afternoon energy like a cup of tea can focus mine. It was fun to play with something new, and we both enjoyed exploring the mechanics of this archaic tool from Stanford’s past. As an artform, working with the tangram shapes was like painting with light and color, while making compositional choices. 

In case you’re interested in finding your own overhead projector, I did a quick Craigslist search and see them posted in the $25-$80 price range, but I bet a little searching could find you something for less money. And if you happen to be in my real-life friend circle, you’re more than welcome to borrow mine for a while, which is better than having it collect dust in my garage.

I’m thinking our next overhead projector project might be making our own transparencies. Any other ideas?

Do you have an overhead projector, light table, or some other type of projector (either of your own or at your disposal)? What could you try this with?

Tinkering on the Typewriter

I’ve been thinking about getting an old typewriter for a long while (this post from The Artful Parent struck a chord, and I love how Jean set up a writing area around her typewriter), but since I’ve been on a purging streak since the first of the year it was hard to justify the purchase, and find a good spot for it.

By the way, if you’re interested in organizing your life and home from the inside out, I found this book enormously helpful. Okay, so fast forward many months…closets are mostly cleaned out, the garage is full enough to host 3 garage sales, and I’m flipping through a copy of Cottages and Bungalows magazine when I come across this bit of inspiration…

I immediately got on craigslist and within minutes, I found a cool 1970’s Galaxie Deluxe for $20! After recently spotting another machine in our thrift store for $100, I knew this was a deal. Score! My 3-year old was so excited about it, and we made a big adventure out of going to pick it up, cleaning it when we got home, and just playing with it for a solid hour that morning. Typing, spelling, checking out the inner workings of the machine, asking questions about how it works, scrolling, pounding…

Amy at Let’s Explore has been making these wonderful List Poems about Fall with her daughters that are wonderful keepsakes of a fleeting moment in time. I’ve wanted to try this with N, to capture her thoughts of the Fall, and she was game! Here’s what she dictated to me…

Don’t you just love the variety and hand-made quality of the type? So much character!! I think this wil be a fun addition to our Thanksgiving…thinking about asking each of our guests to share a message of thanks that we’ll add to a memory book.

If you’ve been playing with typewriters, or have a thought about picking one up, what would YOU do with a typewriter?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime

Machine Sewing with a Preschooler

The other day my 3-year-old asked if we could “look on the computer for an art activity” which I suppose says a lot about what computer time looks like in my house!

So I opened up one of my favorite blogs, The Artful Parent, and saw that our friend Jean was sharing simple pyramid-shaped beanbags. N was intrigued and immediately said that she wanted to make some beanbags too. In my mind, child-directed projects are often the most successful, so I took the opportunity to pull out the sewing machine and began to teach my daughter how to sew.

I invited N to choose the fabric from my stash, and then she cozied up with some remnants and my gigantic scissors while I cut the pattern.

To begin our sewing lesson, I propped the foot pedal up on a couple of thick art books (see, they ARE good for something!) and explained how it worked.

She helped me fill the bobbin with red thread and got the hang of the pressure surprisingly quick. Good practice! She stepped aside to watch me sew a few beanbags together, and then wanted her own turn to sew her remnants together.

I helped her sew three sides together, flip it inside out with a pencil, and she was BEAMING when she discovered that she had sewn a “pencil cover!” Of course!

And these are my completed bean bags. They were a snap to make and have brought so much joy to my one year old. But more on that tomorrow!

If your child isn’t yet ready for machine sewing, check out how I started my daughter off with hand sewing. 

This post shared with It’s Playtime



String Cup Telephone

I met up with the Los Angeles-based Trash for Teaching at the Maker Faire last weekend. Trash for Teaching is an organization that collects factory overruns and byproducts and redistributes them to teachers, schools, and museums for open-ended art making and tinkering. This is great for teachers with small materials budgets, inspiring for children to think creatively about how to repurpose materials, and wonderful for the environment. If you’re a Bay Area teacher, we’re lucky to have the incredible RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching) right here in San Jose.

I was given a few bags of materials to play with, and N and I enjoyed looking through the rolls, styrofoam, colorful papers, foil, cups, and sticks for inspiration.

Wouldn’t you agree that this is right up my alley?

Each bag was thematic, and one of the themes included materials that could be turned into string cup telephones. Do you remember tin can telephones? This is a a funny take on that idea.

Since Trash for Teaching is all about upcycling cast-off materials into something new, the big question today is “what was the original purpose of the cups you see in the picture below?” Bonus points and a big virtual trophy to you if you have the correct answer! (Keep in mind that these materials came straight from the factory floor and were never used otherwise!).

Make a string cup telephone set. It’s ridiculously simple, and worked great.

  1. Drill small holes in the bottom of each cup.
  2. Find a piece of string about three feet long.
  3. Thread the ends of the string through each of the cups. Tie off with big knots.
  4. Ring, Ring! Find a partner, pull the string taught, and you’re reading for some telephone play.

How would the telephone work if the string were 8 feet long?

20 feet long?

Does the sound change with different kinds of string or cups?

Playing Big

This week I’m sharing kid-friendly inspiration from the Bay Area Maker Faire.

Have you ever noticed that things can be much more fun and compelling when they’re really, really big? Think about awe-inspiring cruise ships vs. cute little kayaks or imaginative play possibilities in a refrigerator box. Today I have four show-stopping examples of play on a large scale, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you could replicate these at home or school.

Big Idea #1: Make your own Marble Machine

Open Make, a collaboration between the Exploratorium, MAKE Magazine, and Pixar Animation Studios, assembled this popular marble run installation. With a peg board as a base, participants could move various ramps, tubes, and funnels around to create the marble run of their dreams.

Grown-ups and kids were wholly engaged by this project. If you click on over to the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio site, you can download a Marble Machines PDF that will give you some ideas on getting your own marble run going. For more inspiration, we made these two marble runs from toilet paper rolls and cardboard boxes on TinkerLab.

Big idea # 2: Hundreds and Hundreds of Blocks!

If you plant a pile of hundreds of blocks in the middle of a sea of families, this is what you might expect to see! These structures were created by CitiBlocs, and I think they’re super cool. They’re narrow wooden blocks that seem to be great for building UP, designed for kids ages 3 and older. These structures remind me of the game, Jenga.

Big Idea #3: Baseball Bat Xylophone

Gorgeous, and simply genius!

Big Idea #4: Super size Lite-Brite

Did you remember the Lite Brite? This glowing, oversize Lite-Brite was an attention grabber, and people couldn’t keep their hands off of it.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have one of these permanently installed in the kitchen to entertain kids during dinner prep? Okay, maybe that’s just my dream! When I spotted a vintage Lite-Brite at a second-hand store last year I snapped it up for my kids to enjoy.

This photo isn’t from Maker Faire, but from a wonderful nature and wildlife center near our house, CuriOdyssey, where we’ve played with this even larger scale Lite-Brite made of colored-water filled bottles placed in what looks like a huge wine rack. I think it’s brilliant!

Photo: Frog Mom

What large-scale games are you excited about?