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

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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

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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

 

Art Dice

collage

Art Dice from Tinkerlab

I’ve been saving these wooden cubes for the just the right project, and it recently occurred to me that they could be repurposed into Art Dice: a fun tool for creating some randomly generated art. Every flip of a dice becomes an opportunity to explore art vocabulary, drawing skills, color recognition, and shape identification, to name a few. If you have any spare blocks lying around, you might want to consider repurposing them into a new life as tool for art making!

For children older than mine and/or adults, these could be used to chase away writer’s or artist’s block: Simply roll the dice and draw or write about what pops up. Combine a few dice together and rise to the challenge of combining disparate ideas into a cohesive whole.

While this project comes a bit premature for my daughter, I made three dice based on the Elements of Art for us to play with: Shapes, Colors, and Lines. You could easily replace these themes with characters, places, textures, moods, architectural elements, etc.

We started with the line dice and I shared that after rolling the dice I would draw the line that randomly appeared on top . My daughter watching me do this for a few rounds of polka dots, spirals, and circles, but she didn’t make a move to jump in. Instead, she scribbled on my drawings, picked up her trusty scissors, cut the drawings into a handful of pieces, and collaged them into a picture. But this was wonderful — the dice sparked a game that led us in a new, fun direction!

She finally picked up the dice and kept rolling it until the circle showed up on top, which was what she REALLY wanted to draw all along, I suppose. And she proceeded to draw a page full of circles. Awesome!

Ideas for Game Rules:

  1. Each player has a piece of paper. Players take turns rolling the dice, and each player draws what they see after the dice roll. Decide how many times you’ll roll the dice before sharing your pictures with each other. Marvel at the similarities and differences between artworks.
  2. Players share one piece of paper. The player who rolls the dice draws their interpretation of the shape/line/color on the paper. They pass the dice to the other player who does the same. This continues for a set number of turns.
  3. Try either of the above games with more than one dice.
  4. Any other ideas? Please share!

If you like this idea, then you might also enjoy Keri Smith’s Dice walking game, as explored on The Artful Parent

Happily shared with ABC and 123 and Sun Scholars

Vinegar and Baking Soda

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Have you tried the baking soda and vinegar experiment with your kids yet? 

Yesterday N skipped her nap and requested “gooey flour and water” for her quiet time activity.  Did you hear me sighing? I sort of had “read books” or “play with a puzzle” in mind, but I guess that would be too much to expect when we rarely sit down and work on puzzles during non-quiet times, right?

I had a million little things in the hopper, but it seemed like a reasonable request. So, there she was, inches deep in flour, salt, water, and white vinegar. With its clear color and acidic smell, the vinegar gave this sensory project an elevated feeling of alchemy. She liked the smell of it, then tasted it, and then tasted everything.

As I was sitting there watching this serious game of ingredient exploration unfold, I remembered the ol’ vinegar and baking soda trick! So I brought out the baking soda and asked innocently, “would you like to add some baking soda into your cups?” Of course she said “yes,” and her reaction to the merging of the vinegar and baking soda made missing a nap totally worthwhile.

First she add baking soda to all of the cups and then she poured vinegar on top of the baking soda. We played this game in both directions: adding vinegar to baking soda and vice versa.

After depleting my white vinegar reserves, she begged me for more. (Hey! This project is a winner!) Since I was also sort of curious about how the other vinegars would react to the baking soda, I reluctantly handed over my red wine and balsamic vinegars. They each bubbled, but had slightly different reactions.

Happy experimenting!

Happily shared with Childhood 101

Candy Cane Still Life

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At least half of the art activities that happen in our home are improvisations. Today was another rainy day, and after setting up a marble run, sommersaulting off the couch, playing with neighborhood friends, and jumping in puddles, I pulled Candy Can Still Life out of my rabbit hat. It was a short activity, but totally worthwhile and applicable, I think, to a wide variety of ages. In terms of creating a still life, my toddler (is 2.5 still a toddler? I’m not so sure.) isn’t at all interested in depicting objects realistically, but at her age we could take inspiration from the colors of candy canes.

Materials

  • Black paper
  • Silver Sharpie
  • Red and White Chalk

I started by placing a black paper in front of her and asking, “What color are candy canes?” After a silent pause, I brought out the glass full of canes for further investigation, and we saw that they’re red and white!  This was my cue to “dig up” some red and white mark-making tools. I also asked if she’d like the silver sharpie. Um, yeah, have you ever met a toddler who didn’t want to draw with a Sharpie? Not likely.

After drawing with the Sharpie, she played around with the red chalk, and became fascinated with how it broke apart when she made forceful polkadots on the page. The smearing was pretty interesting, but after getting covered with a handful of red dust she was done. Fair enough.

I like how the vivid colors pop off the black background. While my child-art-projects generally have a focus on process over product, as this one does, I also really like how it turned out. The coherency of the final product seems to be the result of working within the constraints of limited materials. Professional artists work well with constraints, and I believe that children benefit from a similar approach to art making. So there you have it…a Candy Cane Still Life, of course!

If you try this out, I’d love to hear from you! Happy Drawing, and Happy Holidays!

Printed Upcycled Circle Scarf

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I have a stockpile of t-shirts that no longer have a purpose, just waiting to be upcycled into other things. After leafing through Todd Oldham’s Kid Made Modern, I got just the inspiration I needed to pull this activity off. The set-up was a bit involved, but not too crazy. The fabric we used in this project came from a 2nd hand XX-large never-before-worn t-shirt that I picked up for 99 cents. Awesome.

I started by cutting a couple potatoes into diamond

and square shapes.

We chose four colors of paint and spread them thinly on paper plates.

A colorful toddler-selected palette. A trend-setting selection, that’s sure to catch the eye of designers for next season’s fashions.

I cut two bands of fabric from under the arms of the t-shirt, each one about 6″ wide. This is scarf #1, wrapped around a grocery bag so that the paint doesn’t soak onto the backside of the scarf or table.  Let the stamping begin.

Stamping all over.

After experiments with stamping reached their pinnacle, painting on stamps and scarves was underway.

Then the request for fabric markers came in.

And finally, after adding some apple stamps on day 2, it was done!

After N wore this simple no-sew scarf for a bit, I could see that it wants to curl up inside-out, rendering the designs almost invisible. Bummer. So it looks like I may need to add a little stitching and a fabric backing to make it work better. Aesthetics aside, this was a fun activity that made us feel good about repurposing fabric and veggies into art.

Happily shared with The T-Shirt Diaries

Sponge Stamping

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In the days leading up to the arrival of Baby I, I spent a lot of time in our garage in search of baby clothes, the car seat, and other long forgotten baby paraphernalia– and along the way I found a box of sponges shaped like letters, hearts, and flowers that I’ve been hauling around since my early art teaching days.

Inspired by my find (and, frankly, thrilled that I could finally justify keeping all this junk to my poor husband), I set up a bowl of red and yellow paint, put out some paper, and showed my toddler how to dip the sponges in paint before stamping them on the paper. The project is incredibly simple, and managed to hold my child’s attention for almost, er, ten minutes. In giving her two warm colors I thought it would help her focus on how the sponges work with the paint, but in hindsight, having a few extra colors may have sustained her interest longer. All said, as a first sponge stamping experience I’m pretty pleased with how it all played out.

Stamping N’s and Hearts.

I showed N  how to dip the sponge in the paint and both smear and stamp it on the paper. She opted for stamping. I always do my demonstrations on my own piece of paper to allow her the freedom to create her own work without my influence.

Thick, wet, stamped paint.

I think I picked up these sponges at a dollar store, which might be a good place to forage for something similar. My neighbor Stephanie had us over for sponge stamping, and she used make-up wedges. What’s so great about these is that they’re dense like foam, and hold their shape nicely in the cluthes of little hands.

Homemade Stickers

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After sending our 4 year old friends Josie and Callie some stickers a few months back, they reciprocated by sending us a few sheets of mailing labels to make our own stickers. Brilliant!  Stickers have long been popular around here, they’re fun, and they seem to make their way onto everything from lunch bags to birthday cards. Making stickers from mailing labels is an easy spin on everyday drawing, more imaginative and less expensive than pre-designed stickers, and the perfect activity for kids who like drawing AND stickers. Since receiving our label sticker gift, we’ve stocked up on more sheets of these, and added them to our self-serve paper basket. If you decide to open your own homegrown sticker factory, pretty much any sort of blank office stickers should do the trick.

It was a very cool moment when I realized she could see the perforations of each sticker, and made each rectangle its own element.

N is going through her circle period!

Peeling off and adding stickers to a sheet of paper.

The final product.

I’ve noticed that N has tendency to layer papers and stickers in her art, so I also used this as an opportunity to talk with her about layering. I would say things like, “I see you’re putting that sticker on top of the other ones. You’re making layers. Can you say ‘layers’? Can you say ‘I’m layering the stickers’?”  She gets into this kind of “repeating me” discussion, and it works for us a good way to teach and reinforce new vocabulary words and sayings.

Do your kids love stickers too?

What kind of sticker projects are happening in your home or school?

Art Supply Organization

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If your child’s art supplies are anything like ours, they tend to overflow into a state of disorganization pretty quickly.  As a self-proclaimed scatterer, I won’t profess expertise at organization, but in attempting to bring some order to my home I’ve landed on some decent solutions toward wrangling art materials in a small space.  And, in the process, I found some compelling solutions by other creative folks that may appeal to you too. If you’d like to share your own great space-saving, kid-friendly, easy-access solutions, I’d love to hear about them.

First, there are the art staples that live on our art table for easy access. If I notice something is going unused, I’ll replace it, but these mainly remain the same. For now we’re using Markers, Crayons, Dot Makers, Glue (squeezable and stick), Painter’s tape (for taping paper down), and Small Pads of Paper. I found these nifty little metal bins in the dollar section of Target that are small enough that they don’t overwhelm the table. The crayons are mostly ignored, but for some reason I feel the need to keep them around. Maybe it’s time to replace them with some stickers?

Next, I think it’s important to give kids easy access to paper, so they can make art when the fancy strikes. Because our art area in in our living room, the solution I came up with is filling a basket with paper and placing it on one of our low bookshelves. I really like the 80 lb. white sulphite paper from Discount School Supply. Thanks to The Artful Parent for this tip! It’s heavy enough to take wet media and large amounts of glue, but flexible and thin enough that it doesn’t get bulky when you want to store completed projects. N is now in the practice of saying “I want to make art!” and grabs her own paper. Not that I’m especially lazy…well, maybe just a bit…but it’s really nice when kids can help themselves! Adults are more relaxed and kids are more empowered.

And finally, we have storage all over the house for the extra supplies like paints, play dough, stickers, stamps, pipe cleaners, brushes, sponges, rolls of paper, etc. Most of it is stored away in a locked cabinet or high shelf, but it’s nice to have little things handy for on-the-spot art making. So, another area of our living room shelves (a little higher than the paper) is dedicated to little things that I can get to on the fly. And they’re high enough — for now — that my daughter can’t unload them without my assistance.

Other Solutions

Top Row:

  1. Marker/Pen/Pencil holder upcycled from a phonebook. From Makezine.
  2. Keep the tabletop clear with pockets made from kids aprons. From Lowes Creative Ideas.
  3. Preschool-style bins for organizing supplies at kid height. From Day Care Mall.

Bottom Row:

  1. Bookshelf/Art Supply area. Low access for kids and high access for adults. From Jessica Lucia on Flickr.
  2. Art supplies that are easy to see. From Gently Down the Stream on Flickr.
  3. Corkboard, Chalkboard, and Painting station. From Pottery Barn Kids.

And finally, Amberlee at Giver’s Log has written a nice post on organizing kids’ art supplies that’s worth checking out.

Beans are for Gluing

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Unless they’re refried and smothered in guacamole, my daughter is not a huge fan of eating beans. But, when given the opportunity to glue the little suckers to a piece of paper, the very same beans are her friends. After spending way too much time grazing the bulk bins on a recent trip to the market, we filled up a bag with a colorful potpourri of bean soup for art making, of course.  This simple little activity is a great way to extend gluing, glittering, and collaging activities. My kid adores glue, so this one was bound to please.  And for the last week, a bowl of beans has graced our art table for spontaneous moments of bean art.

The Creative Hook

  • Picking up little beans builds fine motor skills
  • Making art with non-art materials teaches kids to think outside the box
  • Problem-solving skills will be encouraged as children make choices about where and how to place the glue and beans

Materials

  • Beans
  • Paper
  • Bottle of Glue

Directions

  • Offer your child a piece of paper, bottle of glue, and a bowl of beans
  • If gluing objects is a new activity for the child, demonstrate — on your own sheet of paper — how to squeeze the glue and drop beans in the glue puddles. Otherwise, let your child have at it.

Follow up

My daughter made two bean pictures the first day we made these. When I thought she was “done” with her second piece, I was surprised to watch her make the decision to coat each of her beans with another layer of glue “to make them disappear.” Very cool. And then, a couple days later, I was was reminded of the importance of making creative activities and supplies accessible when she walked over to her table to make bean art just minutes after waking up.

Extension for School-Age Kids

If you have older children, they may enjoy making a bean mosaic like this one from Frugal Family Fun Blog or this one from Disney’s Family Fun.  And here’s an edible version, using jelly beans, which is definitely for the older crowd. My child would just spend the whole time eating, and none of the beans would make it into the art.

Salty Sprinkles

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Since last week’s Glitter-Fest 101, mounds of paper have been magically turned into sparkly creations — and my husband and sister have even jumped in on the glittering action. I actually overheard my husband say, “glitter is fun!” In all fairness, I think he was commenting to our 2-year old on how much he was enjoying their time together, but still! The only one who’s been overwhelmed by the glittering extravaganza has been my vacuum cleaner, who was recently given a raise for all of his hard work.

To foster the glittering fad, which (for my child) stems from a love for shaking sprinkles of any kind, I came across an idea for making my own glitter from salt. It’s not exactly the same as the wonderful shiny metallic stuff, but it fulfills the joy of shaking interest, it’s always fun to play with a new material, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of making our own art supplies.

What’s the Hook?

  • Kids will enjoy the process of making their own art material.
  • Making homemade art supplies can be fun, economical, and teaches children that art can be made from just about anything. I hear my daughter say “let’s buy it!” way too often, and it’s nice to think about future conversations that are infused with “let’s make it” instead.
  • Playing with new materials opens children’s experiences and world views up to new possibilities.
  • It’s easier to clean up than traditional shiny glitter.
  • If you use the salt/food coloring recipe, it’s completely non-toxic.

Materials

  • Salt
  • Food Coloring or liquid watercolors. I used Colorations Liquid Watercolors because I had them on hand, but I hear that food coloring works well too…and many of us have some tucked away in our kitchens. If you’re considering the watercolors, I think they’re worth investing in for other projects too:  they’re reasonably priced, washable, and the colors are rich.
  • Mixing bowl and spoon
  • Plates or cookie sheet for drying the “glitter”
  • Shakers. I found some salt/pepper shakers in a dollar store. Cocoa and parmesan cheese shakers would do the trick too.

Directions

Pour the desired amount of salt into the mixing bowl or cup.

Add a few drops of food coloring/watercolor to the salt and mix until the salt is evenly covered.

Pour the mixture onto a plate and allow it to dry. This should take a couple hours. If you want to expedite the process, pour the salt mixture onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Once dry, break up the clumps of salt with your fingers or the back of a spoon.

Pour glitter into your shakers. Another option is to pour into a bowl so that your little artists can scoop it onto their art with spoons.

Enjoy your new, homemade glitter!