Make a Terrarium

How to 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

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
Author: 
Recipe type: Painting
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.
Ingredients
  • 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.
Instructions
  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?

 

Drawing over Old Photographs

drawing on photo

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
Author: 
Recipe type: Drawing
Prep time: 
Making time: 
Total time: 
 
Drawing over photos with paint pens is a fun way to mix realistic imagery with abstract coloring.
Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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

 

Washi Tape and Found Paper Collage

tape and found book collage process based art with kids

                        “Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people. When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs”   ~ John F. Kennedy

Do you set up open-ended prompts or invitations for art-making?

Making art, and in turn creative thinking, is rooted in discovery, experimentation, and the free exploration of materials. Projects that foster independent thinking focus on the processes of creation and experimentation rather than  the final product.

 Washi tape and found book collage. A Tinkerlab Art Invitation.

If you spend any time on Pinterest, you know that the internet is full of ideas for creating beautiful kids’ crafts, but I caution you that while these projects may deliver a tidy product, they may not have your child’s best interests in mind. Your best bet for fostering creative growth is to set up open-ended art-making invitations. Not only will your child’s imagination thrive, but you’ll have less to stress over and prepare for.

To get started, choose a few related materials, lay them out on your table, and see what your child (and maybe you!) can come up with.

Our most recent art invitation included these materials:

tape and paper collage

I placed the materials on the table and began by flipping through the book in search of interesting images. My 4-year old paid attention to my curiosity and jumped right in to share which images she wanted me to cut out for her.

tape and paper collage

We built a small collection of favorites. As she glued or taped, I cut. An added surprise is that we talked a little bit about the content of the images along the way (bird houses versus bird feeders, the most colorful birds we could think of — she insists it’s the Scarlet Macaw and I can’t really argue with that!).

tape and paper collage

Washi tape is one of my more recent art material splurges. If you don’t know about washi tape, it’s a decorative Japanese masking tape, It has a bit of a glossy sheen to it, it’s usually somewhat transparent, and it makes everything look adorable.

Before leaving on a recent trip we visited the art supply store for traveling supplies, and two packs of Washi tape begged for us to buy them. Washi is not cheap, but I’ve noticed that a little bit goes a long way. While my 23-month old could use miles of it in 5 seconds flat, my 4-year old used it sparingly.

The plaid rolls come in this set of three: Kikkerland Plaid Washi Masking Tape. I heard that Target carries an inexpensive brand of washi tape (I think the brand is Smash), but they were all out when I visited. Not surprised, really, since washi tape seems to be all the rage in the scrapbooking world at the moment, but I’ll an eye out for it on future trips.

tape and paper collage

The beauty of the art invitation for us parents is that they cut down on our stress. Aside from making sure that you have some materials to work with, these invitations don’t require a lot of fancy preparations or planning. On top of that, there is no expectation to create something with a specific outcome. Keep these words in mind for successful art making with kids: The Journey is the Destination.

More on Invitations

Do you set up art invitations? How does your child respond to them?

Note: Tinkerlab shares affiliate links for products or companies that we think our readers will enjoy knowing about. If you purchase through those links we’ll receive a small percentage of the sale, which help keep our inspiration engine running!

 

Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

It’s summer and we’ve been doing a lot of citrus juicing in our home. Between my 4-year old expert juice squeezer and my almost 2-year old juice taster,  our simple and inexpensive juicer has been hard at work.

invisible ink science activity kids

While little Rainbow napped, Nutmeg and I gathered materials and set up the project. We talked about how we’d have to reveal the ink (lime juice) with the high heat of an iron or hair dryer, and she couldn’t wait to get started. She loves dangerous tools.

invisible ink citrus kids

We gathered our ingredients.

Here’s the full recipe:

5.0 from 2 reviews

Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment
Author: 
Recipe type: Science
Prep time: 
Making time: 
Total time: 
 
Lemon juice is acidic, and acid weakens paper. When paper is heated, the acid burns and turns brown before the paper does.
Ingredients
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Paper
  • Paint brush or Q-tip
  • Iron
Instructions
  1. Squeeze lemon or lime into a bowl.
  2. Paint the juice onto your paper with a paint brush or Q-tip.
  3. Wait for the paper to dry.
  4. Heat the paper with an iron, hair dryer, light bulb, or other heat source. Be careful that you don’t hold it there to long, as it could burn the paper.
Notes
Experiment with other liquids: milk, orange juice, white wine, vinegar, and apple juice are good bets.

 

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

Just as we were getting started, baby R woke up to join us. She’s 22 months old now, and enjoyed the sensory experience of squeezing the limes with her bare hands, and then licking her fingers. According to my mom I used to eat lemons right off our tree, so this wasn’t too much of a surprise.

invisible ink lemon lime juice

The girls experimented with different colored papers and brushes. Afterwards I realized that Q-tips would have been perfect for this project, but we enjoyed the challenge of small watercolor brushes.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

The papers dried pretty quickly on this warm day and we were able to get right to the fun part of burning the acid with heat. N’s grandma blows her hair dry every day, and N is obsessed with this tool. Obsessed. We ran the heat on the paper for about a minute with little success. I never blow dry my hair and have a cheap blow dryer for projects like this, and maybe that’s why? In any case, we decided to move on to the iron.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

I folded a thick towel, placed the art on top of it, and she ironed away. In most cases an ironing board would have been better, but ours pulls awkwardly out of the wall and it’s too tricky to get the three of us around it safely. This worked perfectly and only took a few seconds to show its results.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

N’s picture of her and her dad (he’s above her head, slightly visible in all his heated lime acid glory).

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

I really like how the abstracted images turned out and wished I had joined them once I saw how cool these looked. I usually join in when we’re creating and somehow forgot to on this round.

How about you? Do you find yourself doing projects with your kids, or are you in more of the facilitator mode? And what do you think about the new recipe card tool and header?

Explore Modern Artists: Painting with Edward Hopper

learning art masters edward hopper

Welcome to the first project in our newest series: Explore Modern Artists. Today we’ll take a look at one of my favorite American Artists, Edward Hopper, with a preschool-friendly painting technique.

Explore Modern Artists with Kids : series of projects on Tinkerlab

The Q-tip painting technique that we used could be applied to the work of just about any 2-D artist, so definitely take this as inspiration and run with it in another direction if that works better for you. If you’d like to connect the technique with the artist, take a look at the work of Georges Seurat, who painted with dots of paint.

 

Explore Modern Artists: Edward Hopper

I thought we would begin with Edward Hopper because it’s been warm and sunny around here and my kids and I have been looking at some of his paintings as we talk about an upcoming visit to Cape Cod, which is where Hopper had a home and studio. Edward Hopper’s iconic seashore paintings masterfully capture light and evoke a sense of calm, while transporting us to the Eastern Seaboard.

My children are preschoolers and I wanted to make this a project that would be fun for them while encouraging them to look closely at Hopper’s work. This technique has little to do with Hopper’s work, but it got my kids talking about what they saw in his pictures while inventing their own patterns of color.

set up edward hopper art project

Materials:

edward hopper kids art

Set-up:

The project itself is easy to set up and children will enjoy learning about an artist while layering paint on top of his images. Give yourself 20+ minutes for set-up, the activity, and then clean-up.

When we paint, I cover our table with a plastic tablecloth. Each child had a paint palette filled with dollops of tempera paint, and a big cup of Q-tips, which we used as brushes. You could use brushes instead, but they thought the Q-tips were fun.

We selected a few paintings that we enjoyed. I’m adding links to the images in case you’d like to use these too.

Before the painting began, 4-year old N and I talked a little bit about Edward Hopper while looking at some of his art. I gave her an age-appropriate synopsis of his life and then we talked about what we saw happening in his paintings. This bit was under 5-minutes because she was excited to paint. Fair enough.

ground swell edward hopper inspired

More on Art Looking

I’m a huge fan of an in-school program called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), which helps children build visual literacy and critical thinking skills through the process of looking closely at a work of art. A facilitator sits in front of a group of children and leads an interactive discussion about one work of art. I’ve led many of these discussions myself, and the energy around these conversations is palpable. To see VTS in action, there a some great videos on the Visual Thinking Strategies website. 

More from Explore Modern Artists

Paint like Jasper Johns

How to Make a One-minute Bubble Solution

how to make a one minute bubble solution

how to make a one minute bubble solution

I’ve been so busy with all sorts of parenting/household/traveling/social things lately, and love to find easy projects that make my kids happy. This is one of those things.

My daughter’s preschool has a big bubble table set up all summer long, and it’s a magical place where the kids can chill out and regroup while they make and pop bubbles. The other day I set up a few water areas around our yard, and the kids would migrate to this bubble table after a few rounds on the Slip ‘n Slide or bounces on our neighbor’s see-saw.

Materials

  • Dish Soap
  • Water
  • Big Bubble Wand
  • Large tub, small pool, or water table

how to make a one minute bubble solution

Squirt some dish soap into the water table and then fill with a little bit of water. Add a big bubble wand and you’re good to go!

I use the dish soap from Trader Joe’s, and was surprised that it worked so well. I’ve used Dawn in the past, and the bigger, commercial soaps make fantastic bubbles.

I’d encourage you to experiment with your soap and see if it works before setting this up for a big group of eager kids.

I’m always looking for easy projects that my kids will enjoy? Do you have a favorite one-minute activity?

Easy Art: Air Dry Clay

creative kids clay

creative kids clay

Material: Air Dry Clay

Have you ever noticed that kids don’t need a lot of bells and whistles and fancy stuff to get creative, have fun, and feel on top of the world? Yesterday we foraged some cardboard boxes from a neighbor’s move because 4-year old Nutmeg has a vision of building a space station.

Today I’d like to introduce you to ONE material that helps build creative thinking, and share some tips on how to use it. The idea is to keep your life simple while supporting your child’s curiosities.

creative kids clay

Crayola makes a wonderful product called Air Dry Clay. You can buy it in 2.5 or 5 pound containers. The 5 lb. container is about $10, and if you store it properly it will last for ages. I’ve had our 2.5 lb. tub for about 5 months, we use it about once/month, and it’s still in great shape.

But why buy clay, if you have play dough?

I’m an enormous fan of play dough (here’s the BEST play dough recipe if you’re looking for one), but there are some unique benefits to clay:

  • In terms of squeezing, building, and inventing, clay and play dough serve similar purposes, but the texture of clay gives children a different sensory experience.
  • Kids will enjoy learning that clay is a special kind of dirt that can be molded and dried at high temperatures to create dimensional objects
  • Clay is more dense and requires stronger muscles to mold it and work with it.
  • Adding water to clay creates a slippery material that many children love to play with. In the real “clay world” a mixture of water and clay is called “slip” and it’s used to attach one dry clay piece to another.
  • Clay can be molded into sculptures and objects that can be saved and later painted: pinch pots, bowls, alligators, rockets, etc.

How we use it

We always pull all the clay from the bucket and divide it in two, so that each of my kids has a hefty piece. Our table is covered with a plastic table cloth,, and at the end of the project clean-up is easy with a few wipes of a rag or sponge.

To begin, I usually give my kids a pile of clay…and that’s it!

I like to scaffold my projects, meaning that I’ll slowly introduce materials to them. I do this because I find that extending a project like this improves their ability to fully explore phenomena and keeps them from being done in 3 minutes flat. You’ve had that happen right?!

Once that runs its course, I’ll give my kids a small bowl of water so that they can add it to the clay to moisten it. Older children will probably dab the water with their fingers and add it to the clay as needed. My monkeys, on the other hand, are champions of bowl-dumping. And that’s fine. If the table is getting too wet I’ll limit them to “x” number of bowls. They love playing with the clay when it’s wet…it’s a totally different sensory experience.

creative kids clay

And finally, I’ll introduce them to a simple tool such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, wooden knife, glass marbles, etc. Again, I usually try to keep this to one material so that they’re not overwhelmed by choices. Having one material to add to the clay invites them to push their imaginations and test multiple solutions to problems.

When they’re done, the clay goes back into the container. While this clay is designed to “air dry” we solely use it for the purpose of sensory play, fine motor development, and imagination-building.

Clean-up

I wipe the table down with a clean, damp terry cloth rag. Any clay that gets on the clothes should wash right out. Put clumps of clay back in the container or in the trash. It’s important that clay doesn’t go down your sink, or it will clog your pipes.

Other Materials

I’m planning to write about other art and exploration materials: is there anything that you’d like to see me write about?

Resources

mr. rogers celebrates arts

Mr. Rogers Episode 1763: Celebrates the Arts. Mr. Rogers meets potter Dolly Naranjo who forages clay from a hillside, mixes it with volcanic ash (with her foot!), and shows us how to make a coil pot. If you have Amazon Prime, you can screen it for FREE by clicking on the link.

Clay and Children: The Natural Way to Learn. By Marvin Bartel at Goshen College Art Department. A wonderful resource by a potter on teaching children about clay.

What is clay? on KinderArt. Kid-friendly definition of clay, words used in the pottery studio (wedge, kiln, slip, glaze, etc.)

Make Air Dry Pendants, from Melissa at The Chocolate Muffin Tree

How to Make Paint: Sweetened Condensed Milk

milk paint.032

sweetened condensed milk paint diy from tinkerlab

This recipe is a keeper because it comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably have on hand, and it expands the way children think about art supplies. When children have the opportunity to invent things and imagine new possibilities (in this case, making their own paint, inventing colors, and imagining what they can create with the paint), opportunities for creative thinking are greater.

Not to mention, both of my kids (21 month Rainbow and 4 year old Nutmeg) enjoyed painting with it, and, um, eating it too. Once dry, the paint has an attractive shiny coat to it. Because there’s sugar in the milk, I’m not going to guarantee its archival quality, but after we’ve had our paintings for a month they still look brand-new.

I get a lot of questions about activities that can be enjoyed by kids of multiple ages. Generally, my opinion on this is that children will adapt the materials in front of them to meet their own level of ability. This project will work for toddlers on up to adults; just expect that the results will vary.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

My 4-year old’s completed paintings.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

Materials

  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Food coloring
  • Small mixing bowls
  • Paint brushes
  • Tea spoons for mixing
  • Card stock or other heavy paper for painting on

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

Pour a little milk into a bowl, add a couple drops of food coloring, and mix.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

My 21-month old got into the mixing action too.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

Our painting set-up: I have a big, clear plastic tablecloth that covers the art table. It’s perfect for sticky + wet projects like this. I taped my toddler’s paper to the table to keep it from slipping.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

These paintings takes some time to dry. Rainbow did not have a delicate painting hand and her paint went on quite thick. The painting on the right had a deep puddle on it that took a good day to dry. And when it finally dried it caked up a bit and had a nice crackled effect to it. Just something to keep in mind in case you’re looking for a quick-drying paint…this is not it!

Have you tried this before? What kitchen supplies have you tried painting with?

And be truthful, aren’t you just a little bit curious about what it would be like to paint with sticky milk?

This post has been shared on It’s Playtime

Explore Modern Artists: Paint like Jasper Johns

kids art jasper johns

Today on Explore Modern Artists, we’re taking a close look at the work of American Artist Jasper Johns.

Explore Modern Artists with Kids : series of projects on Tinkerlab

For the art historians out there, Jasper Johns is technically a contemporary artist, but the piece that my four-year old and I looked at falls into the time-frame of modern art. I spent years working in modern and contemporary art museums, but love this kind of art because it breaks rules, the materials are often surprising, and the work is often as much about ideas as it is aesthetics.

Explore Modern Artists with Kids: Jasper Johns

I flipped through a 20th century art book in search of something that would appeal to my preschooler and had a feeling that Jasper Johns’ White Numbers would do just that. My daughter is obsessed with writing letters and numbers, which helped her dive into this project, and ultimately made it her own.

Materials

  • Image of Jasper Johns’ White Numbers
  • Acrylic Paint (FYI: acrylic paint will stain clothes so wear a smock or nothing at all)
  • Paint brushes: Flat, Foam, Make-up sponges
  • Paper Plate
  • Stick-on foam or paper letters and/or numbers
  • Foam core, wood panel, canvas or other substantial surface to paint on
  • Paper to cover work area

Jasper Johns. White Numbers. 1957. Museum of Modern Art. Encaustic on Linen. 34″ x 28 1/8″.

Art Looking

Begin with a short discussion about the artwork. Try to use open-ended questions, although this can be more difficult with preschoolers who are just getting their bearings with vocabulary. These are some of the questions I used:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
  3. How did the artist organize the numbers? Are they in order or random? What do you see?
  4. What colors do you see?

Through this line of questioning, my daughter was able to figure out that Jasper Johns created a random series of numbers in rows and columns.  She concluded that Jasper Johns may have been trying to confuse people with his meaningless series of numbers.

peeling stickers

After about five minutes of this, we talked about the materials that we would use, and I asked N if we should use numbers, letters, or both. I also asked if we should use the same palette of paint as Johns. She chose to use numbers and letters, and requested “all the colors.

preschool jasper johns

As we peeled them, my daughter wanted to sort them by color.

Despite Johns’ neat rows of numbers, N also wanted to place her’s randomly on the board “to confuse people.” And then she walked all over them to make sure they were stuck down properly.

We added paint to a paper plate.

This whole activity was set up on the floor, which I highly recommend as it gave N a lot of freedom to move around.

And then we painted. I offered her three different brushes and we talked about which one she preferred (foam brush).

We worked on this together and she really enjoyed the camaraderie. When the painting was dry we hung it up to enjoy. The foam core buckled a bit as it dried, which is something to consider if you’re thinking of hanging this in your home. Wood or canvas would be a far better choice.

More on Art Looking

If you’d like so tips on how to look at art with kids, you can check out one of my more popular posts: Five Easy Steps for Talking with Children about Art.

I’m also a huge fan of an in-school program called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), which helps children build visual literacy and critical thinking skills through the process of looking closely at a work of art. A facilitator sits in front of a group of children and leads an interactive discussion about one work of art. I’ve led many of these discussions myself, and the energy around these conversations is palpable. To see VTS in action, there a some great videos on the Visual Thinking Strategies website. 

More from Explore Modern Artists

 

DIY Water Wall

collection of water wall materials

Does it feel like summer in your part of the world? It’s heating up here, and my kids have been enjoying this easy and inexpensive new backyard water feature. All you need is a nearby water source and a wall to attach it to.

I’ve been inspired by Let the Children Play once again! Last summer Jenny gave us the idea for our mud pie kitchen (and here’s her mud kitchen), and other outdoor hands-on activities that get my kids thinking and building in the fresh air. Her water wall post (full of water wall inspiration from around the web) has been sitting in my mind since she posted it in October (she’s in Australia where it’s bloody hot in October), and it’s altogether responsible for the hours of fun my kids and neighborhood friends had with our newest backyard water feature. Thank you, Jenny!

My older daughter helped me build this one afternoon last week while my toddler was napping. She loved the responsibility of holding the bottles steady while I drilled and took a lot of pride in our finished water wall. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s a lot of fun and an upcycler’s DIY dream.

water wall build

To replicate this upcycled playscape in your own garden or patio, I’ll break this down into some simple steps.

collection of water wall materials

Four Basic Materials

  1. Plastic bottles
  2. Screws (this nifty kit came from IKEA)
  3. Drill
  4. exacto knife

With the exacto knife, cut a hole in the side of the bottle. The hole will be large enough for you to fit your hand into it so that you can easily position and drill in the screws.

score bottle and add screws

Using the exacto knife, score an “X” on the side of a bottle and push a screw through the “X” from the inside. Repeat one more time so that you have two screws poking through the bottle.

Screw the bottles to a fence or wall. Tilt them slightly downward to help the water pour through. You might have to shift the bottles around or cut the holes a bit more to make the water wall work properly. Test as you go.

water wall testing

Test it out to make sure it works. Add a bucket at the bottom to catch the water, which can then be added to plants or returned to the top of the water wall.

Invite some friends over to play.

water wall play

Set up a water-filling station and add some pitchers, watering cans, and cups.

And be prepared for eye-opening, open-ended fun.

 

Painting Birdhouses

toddler painting birdhouse

The last time my in-laws visited, they left my girls with these cute little wooden birdhouses. I tucked them away to paint on their next visit, but my 3 year old couldn’t wait that long. In fact, about a month after I stored these, and an hour before leaving the house to meet friends in the park, my daughter suddenly remembered the birdhouses that were, as far as I could tell, out of mind.

“I want to paint birdhouses today!” she said. After explaining, for the 80th time that starting a sentence with “I want” isn’t okay with me, I further shared that there was no way we could get the materials out, set up, paint, clean up, and be out the door in time.

Well, in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, it can almost be done. We were ten minutes late.toddler painting birdhouse

Materials

  • Wooden birdhouses. My MIL found these at Michael’s, and I think they’re very reasonably priced.
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper Plates
  • Bird seed
  • Funnel or paper + tape for a DIY funnel

toddler painting birdhouse

Paint

Squeeze paint onto throwaway paper plates. Paint as desired. The challenge of painting a 3-D thing is entirely different from painting a flat surface, and there’s something magical about it. If you have a child who doesn’t normally enjoy painting, I’d suggest you try painting something with width and depth and see what happens.

By the way, acrylic paint will almost never wash out of clothes, so be sure to cover up properly.

birdhouse materials

Fill with Seeds

Unless the paint is quite thick, acrylic paint dries really fast and you could move on to this step within an hour. When the paint dries, the bird house is ready to be filled. If you don’t have a funnel, you can easily make one by spinning a piece of copy paper into a cone shape and taping the side shut.

filling birdhouse with seed

Hang

The last step is to hang it. If you have squirrels be sure to hang it somewhere that squirrels won’t reach it. Our squirrels are sneaky and go almost anywhere birds go, so unfortunately our seed has been poached…once again. But I’m determined to attract some cute little songbirds around our house one of these days.

More Bird Feeder Inspiration

Juggling with Kids made these cool cookie cutter birdfeeders

If I were a bird, I’m not sure I’d venture close to this feeder

Biodegradable Orange Bird Feeder from the lovely Rhythm of the Home

Recycled bird feeder, made from a plastic bottle and a couple wooden spoons, over at Heck Fridays