Photo Documentary with Kids

sidewalk chalk face

Taking time to look closely at the details of life is a skill that comes naturally to many of us, and worth fostering in children who can run like the wind. When we pay attention to details, we develop a healthy curiosity of the world that surrounds us, make comparisons, and notice nuance. And all of these good things contribute to creative and critical thinking. If you’d like to help your child sloooow down, pay attention to details, and smell the flowers (literally!), you could try this fun and interactive photo documentary activity. Your child could take all of the photos or direct an adult to, as mine did!
A few nights ago, the girls and I walked around the neighborhood just before bedtime while my husband cleaned up the kitchen. Lucky me, right?! N, my oldest, truly stops to smell the flowers (it’s a skill we’ve been working on!) and collected all sorts of treasures along the way. When we finally arrived home, we were welcomed by a joyful sidewalk chalk drawing. What a surprise! N and her dad talked about the ephemeral nature of the drawing and how it would probably be gone in the morning, a victim of the sprinklers. So, she asked my husband to take a picture of it….

She enthusiastically shared details with her dad about the walk-adventure we just took, and invited him to join her on a bike ride along the same route (a brilliant bedtime procrastination move if you ask me). And he bit!

So off they went. He brought the camera, and she asked him to take photos of things that she wanted to remember later on…

The first photo: Fuzzy Yellow Flowers

Rainbow Lantana. Did you know that Lantana is poisonous? I love this plant, but with a baby piranha in the house I recently pulled it all from my garden.

Pink Flamingos. What 3-year old wouldn’t stop to check these out?!

Garden Rocks

Green Bamboo

They circled the block and returned home. Happy, tired, and ready for bed!

How do you help your kids slow down and smell the flowers?

Do you have a favorite walk or bike ride ritual?

Mini Paintings

mini watercolor paintings

Do you recognize these materials?

I’m big on repurposing found objects into art, so when I found a plastic slide sheet from my pre-digital days I couldn’t bear to throw it out before giving it the ol’ arts and crafts makeover. If you’re not familiar with these, they’re essentially sheet protectors for slides. I showed the sheet to N with the suggestion that we fill it with mini paintings. She liked the idea, and got busy collecting markers while I chopped watercolor paper up into little squares.

Materials

  • Watercolor paper, cut into small squares
  • Markers or mark-making tool/s
  • Liquid Watercolor Paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Covered Work Area

N wanted to color each of the squares with red marker. Cool!

She started off slow but steady, and I think when she realized just how many squared were ahead of her, her momentum picked up and the drawings became quite sketchy.

A full tray of watercolors was left over from another project, and while there was a rainbow of color to play with, she stuck to violet. She had a plan!

I was amazed by her diligence, and thought she’d certainly make it to the end. But with two squares to go, she called it quits and asked me to help her finish. I’m partial to keeping my hands out of children’s art, but N often begs me to collaborate with her so I helped her complete the project.

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I encourage you to look around your home for objects that could be repurposed into art. My heart melts when I hear N say, “Let’s turn this into art!” And this happens often! While store-bought art supplies certainly have their place, sourcing materials from the environment is a wonderful lesson in recycling, resourcefulness, and creative thinking.

Happy Hunting!

Cookie Sheet Monoprints

drawing patterns on ink for monoprint


When I discovered printmaking after college, I learned how to make everything from intaglio prints to screen prints. I simply adore working in this medium!! Children and printmaking haven’t been an easy combination for me — the inks can be toxic and the materials can take over a space, but I’ve been taking every opportunity I can to bring printmaking down to my child’s level, and each of our printing sessions has been engaging for both of us. There’s so much magic in pulling prints — if you haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to give it a go. I’ll add links to our other printmaking projects at the bottom of this post.

Monoprinting is a lovely combination of printing and painting. Printmaking is usually defined as a images made in multiples, and monoprints are the exception as each “print” is one-of-a-kind (“mono” meaning “one”). These prints are ridiculously easy to make — you just need a little bit of table or floor space to store the drying prints.

To make these prints, we started with:

N chose a green and blue paint combination. I squeezed a little bit onto the cookie sheet (you can always add more if it’s needed) and she moved it around with the brayer.

I placed a cup of Q-tips on the table for easy access.

Then she used a Q-tip to make marks in the paint. I’m interested in giving my daughter full control of her art-making experiences, and would only step in to smooth the paint or help remove/add paper. I believe that taking on the role of facilitator encourages her creative confidence.

She pressed paper down to pick up the print.

And peeled it back to reveal some printing magic!

So many patterns and shapes were explored.

And of course, no painting activity is complete without the requisite hands-in-the-paint experience!

I often get asked “what do you do with all that art after your child makes it?” If only we could keep every piece! But my house is small and I can’t keep a lot of stuff around for very long. A lot of it gets recycled, a few key pieces are saved in our archive box, most of it is photographed, a few pieces make their way onto our fridge or walls, and the rest gets turned into gift wrap, presents, or cards. Because we used thin paper to make these, they were perfect for cutting up and glueing onto thank-you cards with a glue stick.

More printmaking projects on TinkerLab

Bubble Wrap Prints

Sweet Potato Prints

Abstract Prints using Foam Trays

Sink Mat Prints

Printmaking around the Web

Nature Prints in Sculpey: The Artful Parent 

Leaf Print Garden Flags: Paint Cut Paste

Printmaking with Toys: Childhood 101 

Pool Noodle Printing: The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Watercolor, Leaves, and Saran Wrap: A new way to Make Leaf Prints: The Artful Parent

Glue Prints: The Chocolate Muffin Tree 

This post is shared with It’s Playtime 

Painted Paper Mural

choosing paint for the paper mural

It’s summer, so just about everything we’re doing over here has taken us outside. And I also have a 10-month old who’s far happier outside than in, so I’m busy dreaming up all sorts of things that will keep my 3-year old entertained in the great outdoors. This project could also be easily set up inside — just add a drop cloth to protect your floors!

This would be a fun project for a birthday or block party — with more kids involved the enthusiasm would be sure to build!

Materials

  • Fence or Wall
  • Large Sheets or Rolls of Paper
  • Bowls filled with Paint. I used Tempera Paint
  • Paper Tape
  • Large Brushes

I taped sheets of paper to a fence, placed bowls of paint on the ground with some textured foam brushes, and my daughter took it from there.

I’ve noticed that N has been particular about keeping her paint colors separated! She kept each brush in its color, and that was that! This hasn’t always been the case; when N was younger she was more invested in mixing paint than applying it to paper.

Do your kids have a favorite way to paint?  

Baby Food Candle Jars

cutting paper

Despite putting my best foot forward toward making my own baby food, I’ve still succumbed to buying jars of smashed peas and pureed peaches for handy food on-the-go. While all of our jars get recycled, it’s hard to ignore the quantity of glass or the art-making potential in these adorable little vessels. I allowed about ten of them to pile up before this project hit me. Not only do I like how they turned out, but it’s also one of those crafts that’s child-driven. And if you know me, you know that I like my art projects to be open-ended. If you also have a stack of these cuties in your dish rack begging to be repurposed, you might also want to scroll through the links at the end of this post for more ideas.

Materials

  • Baby Food Jars with the labels removed
  • Tissue Paper
  • Mod Podge
  • Paint Brush
  • Scissors
  • Glitter (optional)

Cut the tissue paper up into pieces. I cut a bunch of these ahead of time since I wasn’t sure how invested N would be in this step. But of course, she loves cutting, and we had a bounty of tissue paper pieces in no time at all!

I limited the palette to pink, light blue, and white with a red pattern (saved from an Anthropologie gift…lucky me!), and recommend this as a unifying strategy if you’re going for something seasonal or to match your couch.

I poured some Mod Podge into one of the jars and N mixed in some glitter for an extra-sparkly effect. If you’ve never used Mod Podge, it’s similar to white glue and does an amazing job at both gluing and sealing. Mod Podge Rocks is a fabulous blog that’s brimming with Mod Podge ideas.

We placed the tissue papers into clear containers for easy spotting. With a brush, my daughter painted glue on the outside of the jars and covered them with tissue paper of her choice. I didn’t want to miss out on the fun and made a few, too!

I was impressed when she came up with the stumpy-hand technique for covering the jars mess-free!

To seal them well, I gave each jar a goodly overall layer of Mod Podge before turning them upside down for drying.

We’ve been decorating our summer table with them, but given the palette, wouldn’t these be sweet decorations for a baby shower? Looking for Mod Podge? You can buy it here!

So, I know I’m not the only one trying to come up with baby food jar ideas. Tell me, please, what you’ve done with baby food jars!!

More Baby Food Jar Crafts from around the web

Fabric Tea Light Baby Food Jars from Prudent Baby

Tons of Ideas for re-purposing baby food jars from Making Friends

Gluing knick-knacks to baby food jars from The Mother Huddle

12 Ways to Re-Use Baby Food Jars from Chasing Green

Personalized Tea Light Holders from Radical Crafts

 

Drippy Painting

child squeezing paint

My daughter lurves squeezing just about anything (including her sister’s “plump little cheeks,” as she says it), so when I saw this gorgeous post at Childhood 101 I was inspired to pull our squeeze bottles out for a painty afternoon. I purchased the bottles (Nancy Bottles) from Discount School Supply, but clean shampoo, ketchup, or similar bottles would also work well. In fact, a variety of bottles would be a playful painting experiment!

Our easel was set up in a funny spot between the dining table and a wall because I found that moving it around the house and yard makes it much more appealing to my daughter. Without this movement it becomes a stagnant piece of furniture and won’t draw her in. If you’ve faced this phenomena, Jean at The Artful Parent wrote a wonderful post on this topic called 6 Ways to Encourage Continued Interest in Your Children’s Easel.

Set Up

  • Cover the floor with a drop mat or large pieces of paper, taped to the ground.
  • Fill your easel with paper
  • Fill bottles with tempera, Bio Color, or acrylic paint. We used tempera, which is great for process-based work and it isn’t archival. If you plan to work on a canvas, acrylic paint would be a better way to go.
  • To create coherency, choose a palette of colors that work well together.
  • Optional: Add paint pots and brushes for adding additional mark-making

Without actually squeezing the bottle on the paper, I described the process to my daughter. I tried to be somewhat vague so that she could explore the medium freely. She’s used these bottles numerous times and got right to work.

Once she squeezed as much as she wanted, N picked up a brush and added some brown paint strokes over the drips. She seemed to enjoy the proces of blending colors to eradicate some of the drips.

And then she enjoyed the process of smearing more of the drips together into beautiful mixed up smudges of color.

Because of the splat mat, clean-up was surprisingly simple. While I should have wiped down the easel soon after the painting session, I waited half the day and our easel still sports reminders of this project. But it reminds me of a fun afternoon, and I like the way it looks!

If your children like to drip paint, here are some other paint dripping projects that we’ve tried out:

Salt and Flour Paint (age 2 1/2)

Squeezing Paint (age 2 1/2)

Sugar Cube Sculpture (age 3)

Funnel Painting (age 33 months)

Drippy Gravity Painting (age 2 1/2)

What do you think?

Land Art with Children

Dandelion Floating in Water

We were invited by Rashmie of Mommy Labs to join Forest Fiesta, an online celebration of World Environment Day (June 5) with her and about twenty other arts and education bloggers. This year’s host country was India, and Rashmie came up with the inspired idea to act as our Indian blogging host. Thanks, Rashmie! When you reach the end of this post, you can click around and see the forest creations made by my friends and their children from around the globe.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program, is Forests. According to the UN, it’s the “most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action.”

And with that, I’d like to share our positive environmental action with you…

Before heading out, we spent some time looking at pictures of inspirational land art, with a vague plan to make something monumental from nature.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day at a nearby farm that has a beautiful forest of trees and a creek that runs through it. I packed a little investigator bag for N, and she was delighted to find a magnifying glass in it. Aside from the photo, it didn’t get much real use, but it was a fun way to begin our adventure into the forest…

We took a hike through the trees and marveled at the patterns made by the sun and leaves.

Once we got into the forest, we noted the abundance of moss. Both of my kids loved feeling it’s texture. I adore the look of moss and lichen, so we brought a little bit home for this year’s fairy garden.

N spotted these colorful leaves caught by a log in the stream, and she asked me to take this picture.

We played with the creek’s current, and sent leaves and flowers down different parts of it, noting the various speeds at which the objects moved.

And then we stumbled upon the bridges! Forget nature for a minute — these bridges make LOUD sounds when you run across them! N took her shoes off, made herself right at home, and must have run across these bridges for almost an hour!

Meanwhile, Baby Rainbow enjoyed the experience of digging into the dirt and leaves. And this is when the abundance of leaves gave me this idea…

…to build a leaf path! Do you see it there? N was careful to walk around it as she exited the bridge.

She stopped periodically to help me gather yellow leaves and lay them down, but mostly she wanted to RUN! I think she’s a kinesthetic learnerWhat kind of learner do you think your child is?

When hikers approached to cross the bridge we’d sit down together and engage them in conversation or eavesdrop on their conversations, and this was where the fun came in.

A mother with two boys walked by, did a double take when she saw the path, and then stopped to take a photo of it. Her boys ran over and we overheard a loud, “cooooool.” (Score — I think we managed to execute a “positive environmental action”)! We chatted with a couple of women who asked us who made it. We did! And if we’d heard of the artist Andy Goldsworthy? We had, and he was actually our inspiration! They also mentioned that they were impressed with the scale of it, and never would have thought to stop and make something like this themselves. (Small children make us slow down and do crazy things, no?!).

N loved the interactions and attention that we brought to the environment and ourselves through this action, and it prompted her to make her own piece of land art…a circle!

If you’ve made land art or have a favorite link to share, I’d love to hear about it (and you can add a picture to your comment)! I was actually surprised that i didn’t find a lot of land art by kids online. Maybe this will be my next Creative Challenge?!

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This post is shared with It’s Playtime

 

Rock Candy Experiment

DSC_0384

We’ve been making rock candy, and in the true spirit of experimentation we made three batches (and hope that we finally got it right!). There are so many ways to get this confection started, and I’ll share a few thoughts and links for those of you who might want to give it a try. The thing about rock candy that appealed to me is that the ingredients are simple, and I already had them all on hand (Yipee!).

Rock Candy: Ingredient List

adapted from Rock Candy Recipes via The Exploratorium and Science Bob

  • 2+ cups sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • sauce pot
  • wooden spoon
  • clean, narrow jar/s or glass/es
  • wooden skewers
  • clothes pins
  • candy thermometer or digital thermometer that reaches 240 degrees F
  • wax paper
  • food coloring (optional)
  • vanilla extract or other flavoring (optional)

At least 3 hours ahead of time:

Snip the ends off your skewers so they’re not sharp. Dip the ends of the skewers into a simple syrup mixture (sugar + water, 2 sugar: 1 water, cooked until the sugar dissolves) and then roll the skewers in sugar. Set aside on wax paper until dry. This might not take long at all, but we gave it three hours. If you don’t have skewers, you could use the string method (see photo below). The skewer or string act as a “seed” that attracts the cooling sugar to adhere to it.

(String method: Dip your cotton string in the sugar solution, roll it in sugar, and allow it to completely dry. This could take 24+ hours.)

I don’t normally allow my daughter to cook boiling hot things at the stove (do you?), but she begged me to get involved and she did a great job! What are your thoughts on this? Any tips for kitchen safety that also allow for kids to fully participate?

  • Boil 1 cup water in a small saucepan
  • Slowly add 2 cups of sugar and mix with a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves
  • Cook sugar solution until it’s 240 degrees F (also known as the soft ball stage in candy making). Some rocky candy recipes say to simply boil the solution until the sugar dissolves. I tried this and it didn’t work for me, but let me know if it works for you!
  • Remove from the heat

  • Add food coloring. Be generous.
  • Add flavor (we made one batch with pure vanilla extract and another with real lemon extract). We added about 1 tbsp. lemon, and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

  • Dangle sugar-covered skewer into sugar solution so that it’s about 2/3 of the way down the jar.
  • Attach a clothespin to the top to keep it in place. We put 2-3 skewers in the jars. I wonder if this will be too crowded to work?

And now we wait. Somewhere between 3 and 7 days!! Already feeling impatient, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it! Sugar will form on the surface, and I’ve read that you can scoop it out and enjoy it while waiting for the rock candy to form.

Well, the truth is that we couldn’t really wait :) Before washing the pot, we coated a few spoons with the hot candy. And as soon as they cooled, we were treated to homemade vanilla and lemon lollipops!

So, do you think you might join us?

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Resources

Candy Stages, from The Exploratorium

Rock Candy Crystal Kit, from Steve Spangler. In case you don’t want to mess around with the messiness of this project.

 

Hanging Fabric Collage

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While my daughter could spend all day at the park, she’s not so interested in hanging out in our garden these days. I’m wrapping my head around the dilemma of spending too much time inside, and have a few theories and solutions brewing, one of which is to take our art projects outside!

Materials

  • Paper to nail to fence or wall
  • Scraps of fabric
  • Glue Jar + Glue
  • Fat paintbrushes
  • Scissors

We began by nailing a couple long strips of tan butcher paper to our fence so that the paper wouldn’t blow away.

N painted thick glue on the paper, and then stuck pre-cut small pieces (roughly 2″ x 2″) of fabric directly onto the glue.

Meanwhile, baby Rainbow enjoyed having the sandbox all to herself!

The fabric we used came from a small stash of  fabrics that I’ve had for ages (dress shirts, boxer shorts, and quilt remnants.)  N found this men’s shirt and wanted to wear it as a smock. When I taught Elementary Art we used dress shirts as smocks all the time, and it took me back to a happy time! She asked a million-plus questions about the boxers, and specifically wanted to know why we were cutting them up. The unintended consequences of this activity: a lesson plan that covered recycling, thrift stores, upcycling, and…

Cutting with GIANT scissors!

At this point, N left the glueing phase and entered the cutting phase of the project. Once she gets those scissors in hand, there’s no stopping her.

Here’s what the collage looked like before she got “chilly” and requested that we move back indoors.

Baby steps, right!?

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This post is shared with It’s Playtime

Sugar Cube Sculpture

sugar cube sculpture

We made sugar cube sculptures. What a fun and surprising lesson in building, painting, and dissolving!

Materials

  • Box of sugar cubes
  • Glue bottle
  • Sturdy base to glue onto
  • Paint in squeezy bottles

Boxes of sugar cubers were harder to find than I thought, but I ultimately found them at our big supermarket (and bought 2!). We used scrap wood for the base, basic Elmer’s school glue, and Nancy Bottles for the paint.

I suggested that we could build a sculpture with the sugar cubes, and presented N with the materials. That’s all she needed to hear before she began to glue the cubes onto the panel.

And stack them up tall.

You can see that this isn’t the strongest structure in the world!! I filled some Nancy Bottles with watered down BioColor paint, which my daughter then squeezed all over the sculpture. Because the water acted as a dissolving agent, if I were to do this again I’d use straight-up paint without the additional water.

It’s looking a little patriotic, no?

And it end up in this beautiful heap of swirly, melting color. Not exactly what I imagined when we started, but it did lead to some wonderful conversations about dissolving. We only used about 1/10 of the sugar cubes to make the sculpture, so why not set up a dissolving experiment with the rest of the cubes?!

The next day N turned the remaining cubes into sugar water in under five minutes. It was quick, but what a great lesson and experience!

What are you or your kids building with?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime, Childhood 101

String Cup Telephone

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?

Glittery Collage with Acrylic Gloss Medium

DSC_0702

Have you used gloss medium before? It’s a clear acrylic paint that is great for sealing two-dimensional projects.

I was cleaning out the laundry room and came across an old bottle of acrylic gloss medium and varnish. Have you ever used this stuff? It’s awesome! It’s essentially glue wrapped up in a paint bottle, and so easy to apply with a paintbrush. And when it dries it leaves a beautiful, unifying glossy finish that makes everything look purposeful.

I also have a stash of laminate and wood pieces that I thought would make a good substrate for this project. I let N go through the pile and choose the ones she wanted. You can see her two choices in the picture up there.

Materials

  • Acrylic gloss medium. I also like matte medium, but the final look is obviously different.
  • Wood, linoleum, cardboard or some other sturdy surface to collage onto.
  • Paintbrush
  • Collage papers: We used aluminum foil and bleeding tissue paper
  • Scissors
  • Bowl for the gloss medium
  • Glitter

We put the materials out together, and N wanted to cut the aluminum foil. I showed her how it’s easily torn, but she loves cutting. It’s very empowering, and I guess foil is pretty fun to cut.

While she worked on the aluminum foil, I started cutting the tissue paper. Why, I don’t know, since she wanted to do that too. I should know better.

Once it was all set up, she began painting gloss medium on the laminate…

and sticking papers onto it. We talked a bit about layering and composition, and I used language like, “You’re layering the yellow paper on top of the blue paper” and “I see you chose to put the red piece vertically, next to the green piece.” It’s the teacher in me, for sure, but language like this also helps build vocabulary and contextualize the process.

Once her fingers got a bit gooey, some of the pieces stuck to her hand and she realized she could ball them up and stick them down in a new way.

And then she spotted the glitter and came up with the idea of shaking it right into the medium. Bravo!

And oh my goodness, the party just began! This got goopy and gluey, and the middle layer got higher and higher. I can’t even remember how many times she asked if she could add more medium to the bowl.

Once dry, the medium is completely clear, allowing all of the colors to shine through. I’m really excited about this piece, and love that it was created on a more permanent substrate…perfect for hanging. It feels substantial and archival and I’m thinking it could be a pretty nice father’s day gift.

What are your ideas?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime