Drawing on Doilies

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Do you have any doilies in the back of a cabinet that could use a little marker and sticker beautification?

Why limit yourself to plain ol’ 8.5 x 11 paper when there are so many paper options out there?

We’ve been experimenting with drawing on teeny-tiny paper, gigantic rolls of paper, coffee filters, post-its, tape, and now doilies.

I love browsing dollar stores for fun odds and ends that can take on new lives in our art studio (it’s my achilles heel, if you were to ask my husband), and I spotted three different sizes of paper doilies that sang to me from across the aisles.

Did you know that doilies are known for their singing? Anyhoo, I picked them up, along with a gold sequin tiara for dress-up and kitchen tools that will make great sand toys.

Materials

  • Paper Doilies
  • Markers
  • Glue
  • Sequins, pom-poms, stickers, etc.
  • Any other mark-making tools you can dream up

The invitation: I laid out markers and sequins during my daughter’s nap, and when she woke up we made some energetic doily drawings.

The fun thing about doilies is that they pose all kinds of neat challenges to the artist:

  • The round shape offers a suggestion to create circular marks
  • Doilies are full of little bumps and holes that challenge the artist to go around them, over them, or simply deal with them!

What else could we do with our doilies?

Think!

cards and paperclips

A Program Designed to Encourage Kids to Think Outside the Box

I discovered a really great website that’s full of innovation-generating ideas for kids (but they would be SO much fun for adults, too):  Think!

As I read the mind-stretching “assignments,” I was reminded of Learning to Love You More and creative design challenges such as this one at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA.  The ideas are generally fun and simple, and encourage experimentation, problem-solving, curiosity, and exploration…all good skills for helping children develop their abilities to generate new ideas and think independently.

My daughter is mostly too young to be my test-subject, but having taught children ages 5-18, I can see the potential in these activities and look forward to trying these out in our future. Here are a couple examples from the site…

Cards and Straws

Build the largest structure you can and send its measurements in with your pictures. You may use — one box of paperclips, one bag of straws, and one deck of cards.

Good luck!

Paper and Pencil

The only things that you need for this challenge are a stop watch, paper, and pencil. In 60 seconds, write down all of the things that you can do with a brick and a blanket. If your list is less than 10 items long, give yourself another 60 seconds and add some more. Good luck! Share your lists — we’ll make one big list.

New Project from the Getty Museum

artist mark bradford

Open Studio: A Collection of Art Making Ideas from Artists

In conjunction with Los Angeles-based artist and MacArthur Fellow Mark Bradford, the Getty Museum just released a new project that’s full of unique artist-designed activities. Through these activities, the internationally known artists (Catherine Opie and Kara Walker, to name two!), offer glimpses into their own art-making approaches and processes.

Although the projects are designed for K-12 teachers, some of these creativity-boosting ideas could be fun to try out at home with the 5 and older crowd.  Or, if you’re planning a trip to the Getty this summer, consider preceding or following up your visit with one of these lessons.

Interested?  Check out the Open Studio website here!

Celebration Flags

Celebration 4th Banner

The town next to us boasts a fabulous kids parade every Fourth of July, where kids of all sizes decorate a vehicle of their choice and then parade down the main street, ending at the park for a big festival of music, hotdogs, and bouncy houses. This is our second year in the parade:  Last year I did all the decorating, but this year N and I collaborated on a triangle banner to adorn her wagon.  We talked about the parade all morning, and she was enthusiastic about the process of drawing circles, dashes and dots all over her triangles.

This really simple project could be spun in a hundred different directions (see links below for other ideas), and it’s a great way to add some bling to your yard, wagon, bedroom, patio, birthday party, etc.

What’s the hook?

  • Your child will reflect on a holiday, idea, or celebration (i.e. Fourth of July, Nature, Birthday)
  • Your child will have an opportunity to collaborate
  • Your child will be part of a process of contributing to an important celebration.

Time

20+ minutes

Materials

  • Paper
  • Scissors (for the adult)
  • Drawing materials; crayons, markers, paint, etc. (we used markers)
  • Yarn, ribbon, or twine
  • Masking or Clear Tape

Directions

  • Cut paper into shape of choice. We made triangles. I cut 8.5 x 11 paper in half, and then cut free-hand triangles from the paper (we were in a hurry!).
  • Give your child a stack of triangle papers, and keep some for yourself.
  • Draw on your papers, and encourage your child to draw on his or hers’. Since it was the 4th of July, I drew red and blue stars. My daughter has been into circles and dots lately, so that’s what she drew.
  • Cut a piece of string to the desired length.  Leave a little extra on either end to tie it off.
  • Tape the top/back of each triangle, side-by-side, to the string.
  • Voila — you have a banner!
  • Extra fancy, extra credit: If you plan to see both sides of the banner, glue another set of triangles to the back of each piece.  And, if you have time and a sewing machine, you could sew these together with some pretty, wide ribbon for a more lasting creation.  See “Sew a Simple Fourth of July Banner” below.

Related Projects

Sew a Simple Fourth of July Banner

Tutorial: No sew triangle pennant banner with kids

Garden Wish Flags

Newspaper Bunting: A Tutorial

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Rolling Rock Painting

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I’ve been on the hunt for inspiring activities that foster creative thinking, and just came across a sweet project called Super Sized Marble Painting from Jenny at Let the Children Play.

Jenny is a preschool teacher, so many of her activities are geared toward large groups of kids and I was pressed to figure out a way to pull this off with just me and my 2-year old. Another issue was that I didn’t have any marbles in the house, and I couldn’t swallow forking out $11 for the marbles I found at the toystore this morning. In a fit of resourcefulness that I attribute to my girl scout past, I remembered the big bowl of smooth river rocks I have tucked away for forcing hyacinth bulbs to grow.  Score!  Something to consider:  because painted rocks/marbles are bound to fly around, this is an excellent activity to try outdoors.

What’s the Hook?

  • Children get to experiment with non-art materials (in this case, marbles or rocks instead of paintbrushes), a reminder that all things are not necessarily what they seem, and that objects can be repurposed with new possibilities.
  • Older children will problem-solve as they try to figure out how to achieve color and line combinations within this almost unpredictable, moving framework.
  • Children will be active!  This is not quite Jackson Pollack Action Painting, but without some physical activity the artwork would just never happen.

Time

20+ minutes, 5 minutes for set-up and 5-10 minutes for clean-up

Materials

  • A stack of paper
  • Thick paint such as tempera or acrylic
  • Small, rolling objects such as marbles or smooth rocks
  • Bowl/bowls for the paint. I lined my bowl with tin foil so that I could simply throw the paint away when we were done — easy clean-up!  I was happy to use one bowl for all the colors, but you may want yours in separate containers.
  • A tray of some sort. I found ours at a thrift store for $3.  You can find these new at stores like Target.  A clear plastic tub or cardboard box would also do the trick.
  • Masking tape
  • Paint Brush (optional).  Great to have on hand in case your child wants to ditch the rocks for ol’ fashioned brush painting.

What we did

  • Tape a sheet of paper inside the tray.
  • Squeezed four paint color into a bowl
  • Dip a rock into the paint and then place it on the paper.  Repeat this step for as many rocks as you’d like.  We used about 8.
  • Rock the tray back and forth to create marks all over the paper.

  • We taped the complete paintings to a fence
  • Clean-up:  I dropped the rocks in a sand pail full of water, swished it around, and poured the water on in the garden, and we washed our hands in the hose before heading inside. Pretty easy.  The apron helped, too!


Big, Bad, Porcelain Canvas

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In preparation for a recent trip to Boston, friends suggested that I stock up on new toys to entertain my child on the airplane.  So, along with purchasing a Mrs. Potato Head and an Elmo DVD (a moment of weakness for our almost-TV-free home that thankfully paid off), I found these great washable bathtub crayons in a local beauty supply store.

I knew these would be a hit after seeing our almost-2 year old “washing” the sides of the bathtub with bars of soap and sponges.  Drawing on the bath seemed to be a natural extension of that!

Obviously, this wasn’t a plane toy, but what better place to test out bathtub crayons (that are supposed to wash off, but do we know for sure?) than in a hotel bathtub?  You’re with me, right?  I wish I was able to capture the visuals a little better, but I was busy getting a little wet as my daughter drew and erased the drawings at least four times.  I usually refrain from drawing on my child’s pictures, but she asked me to make some stars, which she promptly filled with expressive marks.  And the good news is that in the end, it all cleaned up perfectly!

The best part of this activity, in my opinion, is extending the process of mark-making beyond the piece of paper or easel. This is one of those “thinking outside the box” activities that can help kids understand that there can be more than one way to do something.  Not to mention, a lot of joy can come from freely moving greasy crayons all over a huge porcelain canvas.

Exploring with Play Dough

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Got dough? Here are some ideas to get you started…

The possibilities are truly endless. At 16 months, it was enough for my daughter to just squish it and move balls of dough from one bowl to another. At 20 months, she wanted to cut it, so we introduced a safe wooden “knife” that we got for free from our local cupcake shop.  Lately, at almost 2 years, she likes to “cook” muffins and cookies and tacos, and I’m grateful to whoever makes play dishes, rolling pins, and cookie cutters!  I collect tools from everywhere: Melissa and Doug Shape Model and Mold comes with rolling pins and is fabulous, the Play Doh Fun Factory comes with cookie cutters and a spaghetti maker (much like a garlic press), and I source my own kitchen for straws, potato mashers, toothpicks, and popsicle sticks.

You can roll the dough into worms and balls, smoosh it and stamp it, and poke it with forks and straws.  If you want to help your child learn how to use scissors, roll out some worms and show them how to cut them with safety scissors. This is incredibly rewarding to kids who are frustrated by cutting paper, which is really not the easiest thing to do!

Sometimes we’ll roll it out on the counter, but  there’s always a little art table covered in Mexican oil cloth that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.  You can pick up inexpensive plastic sheeting or oil cloth at your local hardware store.  My best advice, if you rarely play with play dough, is to just put it out with a bunch of tools, and see what happens.

Sticky, Gooey Play Dough

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I’m addicted to play dough. Playing with it, cutting it, rolling it, but especially making it.  Play dough is an excellent material for exploring a pliable 3-D media, and it has the potential to help a child exercise fine motor skills and develop their creative mind through play acting (i.e. making “cookies”).

When my daughter was 16 months we bought our first batch of play dough at Whole Foods.  It was awesome.  And expensive. And when the whole family came down with what felt like the swine flu just days after playing with the stuff, I knew I had to throw out the whole sad lot with the tissues and hand wipes.  It was painful to fork out more money for another round of dough, and then a friend asked why I wasn’t just making my own.  Right.  Excellent question. I was an art teacher, and why had I never made play dough?  Slightly embarrassed, I knew I had to set off and find a great recipe.

If you look around for play dough recipes you’ll find recipes that include everything from cornstarch to Kool Aid to peanut butter, but the one I’m sharing here is for the really good, traditional stuff.  The recipe comes from First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by MaryAnn F. Kohl, and it’s the only one I’ve used.  So, do let me know if you have one that trumps it, but I’ll stand by the quality of this dough.  The book, by the way, is fabulous, and I recommend it highly to anyone searching for excellent art activity ideas for little ones.

The Recipe

This will make enough dough for an entire preschool class.  I usually make 1/2 the recipe and it’s still plenty!  For two colors, divide the recipe in half.

  • 5 cups Water
  • 2 1/2 cups Salt — an entire container of Morton’s-style
  • 3 Tbsp Cream of tartar — this can be bought in bulk at Whole Foods, or found in the spice section of big grocery stores
  • Food Coloring: 1 tsp for pastel, 3 tbsp for vivid
  • 10 Tbsp Oil — I use Canola, but any veggie oil should work
  • 5 cups Flour

Combine the water, salt, cream of tartar and food coloring in a large saucepan on a low heat, and stir with a wooden spoon. As the mixture heats up, stir in the oil and then the flour.

Mix, until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan, starts looking dry, and it becomes difficult to move the spoon. Pinch a piece between two fingers…if it’s not sticky it’s done. Remove from heat. Cool until it can be handled.

Place on counter and knead 3-4 times. Store in an air tight container or large Ziplock bag.


Eight Ways to Follow a Child’s Curiosities

painting birdhouse

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

I really wanted a birdhouse.  I’m not sure why exactly, but I impulsively and enthusiastically bought an unfinished birdhouse, and for whatever other reason, I then tucked it away in the back of closet. The mind works in odd ways.

In any case, about a week ago, my daughter became especially fascinated by some birds she saw on one of our walks.  The observation led to further curiosities about birds in our books, birdhouses, naming birds in various toys, and spotting birds in the sky.  Following one of our bird chats, I offered  up that we could make our very own birdhouse.  What I didn’t completely anticipate was the unbounded enthusiasm you often see when someone has earned an Olympic gold medal!  And what I experienced in that short, beautiful moment is that my child was thrilled that I had not only listened to her, but that I also intended to help her pursue her interests and follow her curiosities.

Seeing the enthusiasm, I quickly pulled out the birdhouse, paint, and brushes.  I’ve been unprepared for these impulsive moments in the past, and was relieved that the table was already covered in vinyl and the brushes and paints were ready to go.  With toddlers, the whole mood can shift with the wind, so within minutes Project Birdhouse was underway.  Any preconceived ideas I had for my darling birdhouse flew out the window and I opened myself up to my toddler’s ideas.  Thankfully, she allowed me painting rights, and the two of us painted the whole house (under her direction!) in about 15 minutes.

I somehow convinced her toddler impatience that we had to let it dry before filling it with seeds, and the next day it was outside attracting birds.

Eight ways to support a child’s curiosities

  • Listen closely and carefully to what your child is saying.
  • Don’t interrupt the child with your own interpretations.  Rather, reiterate what they are seeing and experiencing.
  • Follow the child’s lead.
  • Explore the child’s curiosity in multiple ways.
  • Ask questions about the process of discovery.
  • Encourage risk-taking and experimentation.
  • Be flexible and ready to change your agenda to accommodate growing interests.
  • When possible, have a stockpile of self-serve materials (i.e. books, craft supplies, toys, videos) ready that will support your child’s interests.

If your child is interested in…:

  • Doctors, newborn babies, hospitals: Visit a large nearby hospital.  Many hospitals are open to the public and allow visitors.  You might be able to see newborn babies in the nursery, and it’s educational to look for scrubs, wheelchairs, gurneys, stethoscopes, etc.  Also, consider purchasing an inexpensive doctor kit.
  • Airplanes: Take a trip to the airport.  If you’re in a car, look for a road that loops around the back of the airport that will allow you to  watch planes taking off.  And if you happen to have an aviation museum near your home like this one your child will love the hands-on experience of climbing into a cockpit and “flying” helicopters.
  • Cooking: Cook together, and set up a mini-kitchen for your little chef.  Have your child climb up on a step stool so that he or she can see all of the action.  Depending on your child’s ability and age, he or she can pour flour into a batter, mix scrambled eggs, spread jam on toast, pull husks off of corn, etc.  A mini-kitchen can be as simple as fashioning a stove out of a low cabinet that’s repainted and covered with little kitchen accessories.  Here’s a smart and simple DIY kitchen idea.

Be the "Guide on the Side"

Aleksandra and Max

In the world of education, sage on the stage is a phrase that’s sometimes used to describe the all-too-familiar scene of the knowledgable teacher delivering lectures to passive students who memorize information for the sake of spitting it back out again on testing day.  This method of teaching assumes that the child is an empty vessel, waiting to be filled with information, and doesn’t give the child much opportunity to think for themselves.  As you can probably imagine, the problem with this type of instruction is that while the learner may appear to “know” information, he or she doesn’t really learn all that much.

In order to really understand something, humans need the motivation to generate knowledge and meaning through their own experiences, rather than regurgitate information that’s been fed to them.  Back to the world of education, this active form of learning is often referred to as constructivism, a learning theory supported by instructors (or parents) who act as facilitators rather than teachers.  You’ll know a constructivist environment when you see discussion, analysis, prediction, problem solving and posing, active learners, and facilitators who ask open-ended questions.

Huh?  But I’m a parent, not a teacher!

Right!  But there’s a world of research on how constructivist learning environments can foster creative thinking skills, skills that are critical for children to embody in order to thrive in this ever-changing world, and we have the perfect opportunity to steal some good ideas from the world of education and put them to work in our own homes.

Putting it into action

  • Take a step back. If you find yourself on the “teaching soapbox,” find opportunities to be the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage.
  • Be an active listener. Listen to your child, and respond to what they’re interested in.  If they aren’t yet talking, follow their gaze and respond with descriptive dialogue about the object/s they’re looking at.  For example, “I see you’re looking at the big, red ball.  Would you like me to bring it to you?  What do you think about it?  Oh, you’re feeling it.  It’s soft, isn’t it?”
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “tell me about this picture,” “what do you think will happen now?” or “I wonder what we could make with this play dough?”  This will empower your child to think independently, come up with novel conclusions, and express his or her ideas.
  • Follow their lead. If your child takes an interest in the birds outside the window, paint a birdhouse together, watch videos of different kinds of birds singing on YouTube, buy a bag of birdseed to feed some birds, make bird noises together, find books about birds at the library, etc.

References:

Wikipedia: Constructivism

Jacqueline G. Brooks and Martin G. Brooks, In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1999)

Alison King, From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. 1993. College Teaching. v41 no1 p30-35.

Exploring Glue

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Who doesn’t love playing with glue?  I have a strong memory of covering both my hands in glue with my best friend at summer camp, and then seeing the look of horror on our counselor’s face when we mischievously started peeling off our own “skin.”  I’m not advocating for that kind of behavior here, but my point is that there are endless possibilities for creating and playing with glue:  it can be used as an adhesive or a paint, it can be squeezed or dripped, and it has a delightful (and for some, disgusting) sticky quality that is fun to touch…and sometimes peel.  There are lots of recipes out there for home-made glue, but I love good old-fashioned Elmer’s School Glue.  It’s non-toxic, inexpensive, and works really well.

Exploration Connections:

  • When playing with glue, children can learn about viscosity, and how one object can adhere to another, sometimes permanently.
  • Children will also make choices about which objects they want to use, where to place them, and how many to include on the paper, helping them experience decision-making skills and autonomy in a lovely way (rather than throwing an “I want THAT cookie” fit in the grocery store).

Time:

Set-up: 5 minutes (after materials are gathered and/or purchased)

Activity:  5+ minutes, depending on the child’s ability, interest, distractions, etc.

Materials:

  1. Paper
  2. Glue
  3. Disposable Bowls
  4. Small objects for gluing (i.e. feathers, pom-poms, leaves, macaroni)

Activity:

  1. Squeeze enough glue into a disposable bowl to fill its bottom.  (After the glue dries, you can use the bowl again for another gluing activity.  Hoorah for recycling!)
  2. On your own paper, show your child how to dip an object in the glue and place it on the paper.  Hold your paper sideways or upside-down (depending on the weight of the object) to demonstrate that the glue is holding the object in place.  Next, encourage them to try, and ask them what they’re doing and/or comment on their process by saying things like, “You’re dipping the noodle in the glue and dripping glue on the paper.  And now you’re placing it on the blue paper.”
  3. Alternatively, give your child a small glue bottle and show them how to squeeze it on the paper.  They can then place the objects on the small dot or pile of glue.  This is a great option for kids who don’t want to touch the glue, and also helps children understand the physics of squeezing a bottle to release a liquid.

Another idea for the preschool crowd: Writing with glue as a preschooler

Creativity in the Garden

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Spring is here (!!!), and for us that means it’s time play outside and start a garden.

Children learn through play, and for them “play” is “work.”  So this is a great opportunity to let them “play” while learning about seeds, digging holes, packing mulch, and watering.  All you need are some play clothes, a few plants, a pot or bit of land, soil, and a trowel or two.  Not to fret if you don’t have land — this activity can be easily adapted to an indoor space (such a kitchen) or patio with a few pots and a small bit of dirt.

You can start with the following simple instructions, and then go from there…make garden art, build a musical fence, play with the hose, build a birdhouse, look for snails, or collect leaves.  The options are endless.  More inspiration on gardening with kids can be found here: http://www.thekidsgarden.co.uk/

Creativity Connections:

  • Gardens can be a place to gain problem-solving skills. For example, children can explore how deep they need to dig holes, how much water it takes to fill a watering can, and they can make decisions about where they want to plant seeds or plants.
  • Ask the child problem-solving questions such as, “What shall we plant in this large hole?  The strawberries, the sage, or the tomatoes?”
  • Ask the child invention-building questions such as, “What do you suppose we could do with this trowel?”

Time:

  • If you’re planting a pot or two, once you’ve gathered your materials, this activity could be done in 1/2 hour. Children who enjoy the sandbox, may linger over the joys of digging dirt and could use more time.  For a larger garden space, give yourself at least an hour…possibly more. Attention spans can be short, but once outside, time can go by quickly with all of the distractions of bugs, dirt, digging, water, and mud.

Materials:

  1. Planting pots or  a clear spot of earth
  2. Soil
  3. Plants: veggies, herbs and small flowers are great for small hands
  4. Seeds
  5. Trowels:  one adult size and one child size.  Spoons can work too.
  6. Gardener’s knee pad (not necessary, but really helpful) — get two if you can!
  7. Spray bottle: not really necessary for gardening, but little gardeners adore playing with these
  8. Watering can or hose. Small watering cans are easy to find in drugstores as part of sandbox kits this time of year.
  9. Play clothes

Directions:

  1. Talk with your child about what you’re planning to do:  You can choose the plants together or have them ready on “planting day.”
  2. Show your child the tools you’ll be using, and explain how you’ll use them (i.e. dig holes, put plants in the ground, water the plants).
  3. As you’re placing seeds or plants in the dirt, explain the process to your child so that they hear what they’re doing while actually doing it.  This helps solidify their learning.  Also, be sure to ask them what they’re doing, to get their take on it.
  4. Be prepared for a MESS!  It’s inevitable, but also part of the fun.
  5. After the plants and/or seeds are in place, don’t forget to water them.
  6. Once you’re done, recap the gardening process with your child by reminding them of what you just accomplished and asking them what they did, and encourage your child to play in the garden.

Dirt-free Alternative:

If you don’t have a garden, can’t stand the sight of dirt, or you’re facing a rainy day, plant some seeds indoors.  We eat a lot of avocados around here, and a fun, simple activity is “planting” avocado pits.  Check out these simple instructions.  All you need is an avocado pit, 3 toothpicks, a glass, water, and A LOT of patience.  So simple!   Be sure to plant a few just in case they don’t all “pop.”  Ours were planted three weeks ago, and we’re still waiting for them to sprout!