Taped Trees from Observation

tree with support

My older daughter, 3 year old N, likes to look through my library or “read” blogs with me and pick out activities for us to work on. I love it when this happens because then she’s self-motivated to work on a project, it supports my philosophy of educating children through an emergent curriculum, and cuts back on those “failed” activities. I was doing some research for a project I’m working on and stumbled upon a British early childhood education site when N spotted this activity (I want to give credit, but the link was lost). This is a wonderful exercise in observation and it doesn’t require a lot of materials or set-up…my kind of project!

Materials

We began by looking at a tree outside the window to observe and discuss the lines and scale of the trunk and branches. I loved how N’s eyes continuously darted back and forth between the tree and her paper. I suggested that she start with the trunk, so she chose black tape to make two vertical lines. I thought she might be representing the width of the trunk in relation to the branches, but I asked her about it before jumping to conclusions.

She responded that there were actually *three* trunks and still had one more tape stripe to make. Our little tree is propped up with support posts — she was so observant!

Her eyes moved back to the tree so she could take in the branches and leaves. At this point we went outside to get a closer look before returning indoors.

She added leaves in a bounty of colors, saying, “I bet you’ve never seen PURPLE leaves before!” As an aside, we went to the plant store later that week and bought a plant with purple leaves. She was impressed.

This project worked especially well with my daughter because she was able to articulate an image of a tree without having to draw one (something she’s not yet able to do). And it would be an appropriate project for older children as well.

Do your kids like to play with tape too? What kind of tape do you like to use?

Fine Tuning the Mud Pie Kitchen

mud pie kitchen

In case you’re one of the few who doesn’t read my blog religiously (gasp!), we’ve been building a mud pie kitchen in our yard. It began in part as a way to lure my child into our yard, but its popularity with our resident 3-year old has organically turned this into one of our summer’s bigger projects. And the biggest surprise is that it’s been almost entirely child-driven.

About a month ago we started with this. A couple crates, some sand toys, and lots of big ideas. Two weeks later the kitchen was still going strong, so we piled into the car to drive to the Goodwill to search for mud kitchen treasures. 

This is how it looked after our thrift store trip. But did you know that my daughter likes things in their places? I was aware that the hodge-podge pile of dishes and scoopers might eventually keep her away from the outdoor kitchen, so I pulled out a jar of nails for us to hammer in “hooks” for our pots and utensils.

What I didn’t anticipate is N’s interest in hammering the nails in HERSELF! But I should have. This child has three (3!!) wooden hammers and couldn’t scramble into the house fast enough to get one.

She hammered in a few nails, but really enjoyed directing me to hammer nails in specific places.

N’s friend came over and the two of them were so industrious in this new space. It was actually very difficult to turn off the caramel-maker and break up the party at closing time!

And now I think we’re done! I love the order that the hanging utensils brings to the kitchen.

Slide Drawing

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My daughter loooooves going to the park and we’re blessed to live in a place that’s teeming with them! So it didn’t take much convincing or prodding to get her excited about setting up this high-energy mark-making activity with me. The juxtaposition of art materials on playground equipment made for a rich, memorable experience, and prompted her to see things from our everyday experiences in a new light.

We gathered our materials — roll of paper ($5 at IKEA, I also spotted this Melissa & Doug Easel Paper Roll for $6.95), crayons, and masking tape — and moseyed over to the park for some Slide Drawing!

There were a couple of other kids at the park, and we waited for them to move toward the sandbox before I covered a slide in a long sheet of paper. N took her crayons to the top and tested them out…a crayon in each hand. I have to admit that I was nervous about monopolizing a slide, so I tried to work quickly and keep a low profile. It reminded me of a when I helped a street artist on a very fun, clandestine night, way back when, with a bucket, brush, wheat paste, and large stack of posters in hand.

The children in the park were curious about what we were up to, so we invited them to join us. It turned out they were more interested in chit-chatting and provoking us than drawing, but having an audience is also an experience. Yay for performance art!

My daughter could have done this all afternoon, but the other kids wanted to use the slide so we wrapped up shop and we’ll return again for more soon. Maybe tomorrow!

Would you try slide drawing?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime

Face Collage for Scribblers

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When I was an art teacher, the youngest age group I worked with was Kindergarten so I rarely had the chance to witness a child’s transition from scribbling to representational drawing. My three year old daughter is at the precipice of representational drawing and it’s an exciting place to be, but she can get frustrated that she can’t create what she imagines (which is often!) and frequently asks me to draw things for her. This can be tricky because it goes against my belief that children should find their own way with visual representation and I’m often reluctant to draw things for her.

This project was born from a need to manifest her vision while also matching her abilities, and would be appropriate for children on the verge of creating representational drawings as well as those who draw realistically. Links to information about stages of artistic development at the end of this post.

I cut circles, rectangles, half circles, and some organic shapes from colorful recycled pantry boxes and spread them out on the table for my daughter to choose from. N chose a light blue oval for the face shape (also pre-cut), glued it to a 9 x 12 sheet of paper, and selected pieces to represent the parts of the face.

Facilitating and Asking Questions

I acted as a facilitator and if she seemed stumped I would ask questions such as, “What part of the face is next to the eyes?” “Ears? Okay, can you find a shape that could be an ear?”

I tried not to guide her decision-making and made room for her to adhere the pieces in the way she envisioned it, even if I didn’t think it was “accurate.”

She added the eyes (on top), nose, ears, orange cheeks, a mouth, and an aluminum foil philtrum (the area between the mouth and nose!). Did you know it’s called a philtrum? I didn’t!! I thought she was adding a mustache on top, but she explained that it was just a ribbon! Always ask before making assumptions!

She wanted to make curl the ribbon into a circle and I helped her glue it together. I enjoyed watching her vacillate between reality and imagination in one sitting.

When she finished the first picture she moved on to the next one (after a costume change, of course!), and this time it was all about the imagination — no faces involved!

Resources

  • For more on the developmental stages of children’s drawings, Viktor Lowenfeld is the last word on this topic and you’ll learn a lot about it here.
  • For even more from Viktor Lowenfeld, you could read this seminal book from him: Creative and Mental Growth. I just bought a used copy for myself for just $7!

How did your children make the transition from scribbles to representational drawing?

Drawing Under the Table

creation

I placed a large sheet of paper and a bucket of markers under my daughter’s art table, and left it there with the hope that she’d discover it and fall in love with the idea of drawing in this unlikely art-making location. In reality, I had to lure her to the spot, provoke her with all sorts of silly comments such as, “I wonder what’s under your table?” and then suggest that she could actually draw in this spot if she wanted to.

As you can see, she humored me, but for only a handful of seconds. While this was still a good exercise in creative thinking, it wasn’t the lasting activity that I’d imagined. Well, come to think of it, most of our projects don’t sort out in the way I imagine them!

This seemed like a good provocation, but my thought is that the timing wasn’t right, I could have done a better job setting the stage, or it wasn’t her cup of tea. What do you think?

Related Activity

Here’s a fun factoid and extension for children older than mine (N is almost 3). Michelangelo spent four years on his back painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four Years!! Show children pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and then invite them to draw angels or any image of their choice on paper mounted underneath a table.

And please let me know how it goes — I’d love to try this again one of these days!

DIY Marble Run

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Easy DIY Marble Run that helps children practice problem solving and creative thinking skills | TinkerLab.com

DIY Marble Run Supplies

To keep this simple (I like simple), this is all you will need:

  • Cardboard rolls
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Marble/s or small rolling objects
  • Scissors
  • Bowl or basket

Easy DIY Marble Run that helps children problem-solve and think like engineers | TinkerLab.com

Decorate your DIY Marble Run rolls (optional)

For this DIY marble run, we started by wrapping the paper towel and toilet paper rolls with colored masking tape. This step is purely decorative, but it added some pizazz to the design and kept my daughter busy for a good part of a morning. Totally worth it, in my estimation.

We had fun layering and wrapping tape, selecting colors, and cutting the rolls. Once the rolls were appropriately covered, I took a pair of scissors and cut the tubes in half, right down the center. N thought this looked like fun so she jumped in on the cutting action too.

Easy DIY Marble Run that helps children problem-solve and think like engineers | TinkerLab.com

Find some clear wall space

Set your marble run up on an empty wall, large window, or sliding glass door.

We found some wall space, taped the highest tube to a spot that N could easily reach, and kept on taping rolls until we had something we were happy with.

Test as you go

The trick to making the marble run work is to test it as you go. Marbles move fast and like to fly right out of the tubes if they’re not positioned to catch speedy marbles. We tested the sections of our DIY marble run a few times to work out the angles and distances. This is a fabulous math and physical science lesson!

Easy DIY Marble Run that helps children problem-solve and think like engineers | TinkerLab.com

Watch the magic happen

Once we got it to a place that seemed to work, N dropped in her marble and stood back to watch the magic happen.

Easy DIY Marble Run that helps children problem-solve and think like engineers | TinkerLab.com

Add a basket to catch your marbles

We needed something to catch the balls (and jellybeans!), and a strawberry basket was just right for the job.

Build a marble run from recyclables to encourage problem-solving and creative thinking | TinerkLab.com

Experiment

  • Try rolling other objects down the chute. How do they compare to the marbles?
  • Make chutes out of other objects such as cut-up  + folded cardboard boxes or folded paper. What material/s make for the best chutes?
  • Build a marble run inside a large cardboard box.

Glittery Cotton Ball Collage

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My very active almost 3-year old hopped off her bike just long enough to work on a collage. The weather has been so nice, and I can’t really blame her.

Materials

  • Cardstock: 8.5 x 11, from a fat ream I picked up at the office supply store
  • White glue in a jar
  • Glitter
  • Scissors
  • Short-handled artist brushes
  • Collage Materials: Cotton balls, tissue paper, pasta, paint chips

She mixed the glitter and glue with a brush. Now that N’s fine motor skills are more refined, I really like these short-handled artist brushes because they enable her to paint marks as she imagines them. I think I picked them up as part of a set in the art supply section of JoAnn Fabrics. We also have a stash of fat toddler-friendly brushes, which cover large surfaces quickly in case that’s what she’s after.

She painted the glitter-glue onto the card stock.

And then she added do-dads to the glue.

A few pieces of pasta and tissue paper later and we had ourselves a beautiful child-designed glittery cotton ball collage.

Do you have a favorite collage technique?

Drawing Shadows

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Today was an on-and-off sunny day, but in those brief moments of sunshine we squeezed in a quick little chalk drawing project that’s a great way to help children look at things from a new perspective, which is a key ingredient in creative thinking.

I talked to N about a plan to draw our shadows earlier in the day, and lamented that it was too cloudy to try it out. When she spotted a break in the weather she was excited to head out and unpack the shadow drawing mystery. And her butterfly wings and bike, which were all her doing, were dynamic props for the activity.

What you need

  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • A sunny Day with a low sun. 2-3 hours before or after noon would probably be a good time to try this out.

We found a good spot with relatively smooth asphalt, and I asked N to choose a color for the drawing. What is it with this child and pink?! She watched closely as I traced around her shadow, and made every effort to hold her bike steady while I captured her image. It reminded me of those wonderful old daguerreotypes, or photos, of people who sat for their portraits for 15-25 seconds! I invited N to try her hand at tracing, but she wasn’t at all interested. I think it was a bit too challenging for her (she’s 34 months). Plus, she was busy being butterfly girl on a bike. Ya know?

Other Ideas

  • Take turns drawing shadows and being traced.
  • Invite your child to dream up props as shadow enhancements (akin to N’s wings and bike).
  • Draw shadows of inanimate objects: chairs, toys, tables, etc.
  • Distort reality by tracing part of a shadow literally, and other parts abstractly.

What else could you do with Shadow Drawings?

This post was shared with Childhood 101

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

Teaching at the d.school

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In my life outside of TinkerLab, I work with museum teachers to learn and practice skills for engaging museum visitors (both children and adults) in meaningful discussions about works of art. One of the strategies I most enjoy using and teaching is called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). And today I had the great pleasure of facilitating a VTS session at Stanford’s d.school in a class called Creative Gym: A Design Thinking Skills Workshop. Don’t you just love the name of this course? The class, an experimental studio focused on honing design intuition and creative confidence, was founded by Grace Hawthorne and Charlotte Burgess-Auburn. Charlotte is Director of Community at the d.school and Grace is cofounder of Ready Made magazine. If you’ve ever read Ready Made, you’ll understand why I knew I would adore Grace before ever meeting her.

VTS is a research-based teaching method for looking at art “that improves critical thinking and language skills through discussions of visual images.” I guided the students through two looking activities, followed by a short discussion about how they could apply this strategy to other areas of their lives.  They came up with all sorts of interesting interpretations including how this approach of looking carefully at an artwork can help one suspend judgment, become more keenly aware of stereotypes, and become open to multiple points of view. Several museums such as the MFA Boston and DeYoung Museum have trained their floor staff and volunteers in VTS, and if you have the opportunity to participate in one of these lively discussions it’s definitely worth your time!  While this post isn’t specifically about children, I include it because it’s important to remember that if we expect our children to become creative and critical thinkers, we should remember to nourish and support our own creative spirit as well. Watch this video for a taste of what this conversation could look like.

As much fun as it was to lead this workshop, I am in love with the concept of this course and wish I had the time to take it myself!

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

Why Creative Thinking?

kwame kwei armah video

What will our childrens’ future look like? The world as we know it is changing so rapidly that it’s almost impossible to know what it will look like in just five years, let alone thirty. I saw the movie Social Network this weekend, and was reminded that Facebook has only been around for about five years. I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember my life before its existence. I vaguely remember getting family updates on all my extended family through my parents or those epic 2-page holiday letters, and now I find myself stopping my mom to say things like, “…and did you know that your best friend is about to become a grandma?” She didn’t. True Story.

And this is why it’s so important to foster creative thinking in today’s youth. It’s not enough to memorize historical facts, ace a multiple choice test, or correctly identify all of the elements in the periodic table. I’m not knocking these tasks, but if we want to our kids to thrive, and *gasp*…compete, in the unknown world of the future, they’ll need a lot more than good memorization and “passing the test” skills because we don’t know exactly what kind of information they’ll need. Sure, we can guess, but what will serve them best are the abilities to think independently, be open to new ideas, be inventive, apply their imaginations, suggest hypotheses, and search for innovative solutions.

Take less than two minutes to watch this adorable video that advocates for creative thinking skills in the classroom.  If you’re a parent or teacher, ask yourself if your school is doing everything it can to support the aforementioned skills.

How is your school or your child’s school fostering creative growth?
What skills do you think are important for today’s children to develop in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world?