Time Travel with Popcorn Breakfast Cereal

How to make breakfast popcorn. via Tinkerlab

“The laziest man I ever met put popcorn in his pancakes so they would turn over by themselves.”

W.C. Fields

What can get children excited to try something new? In my home it’s always food and grand experiments, and this project includes both. My kids, ages 2 and 4, were enthralled from start to finish. Maybe it will be the same for you?!

This project encourages experimentation and curiosity, while also teaching basic kitchen skills. 

How to make Popcorn Cereal: Teach your kids about colonial times with this special popcorn cereal recipe from Tinkerlab

On the recommendation of Deborah from Teach Preschool, we picked up a copy of The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola. Have you read it?

The book shares a little bit about the history of popcorn while teaching children how to make popcorn. And it’s all told through cheerful illustrations and a humorous storyline. My kids adore this book, along with the other books by author Tomie de Paola, and I appreciate that my girls are learning some cool facts while we enjoy a bit of reading. In case you’re not familiar, de Paola is also well known as the author of Strega Nona and The Art Lesson. Both super popular in our home.

How to make Popcorn Cereal

At one point in the story, the author writes, “The Colonists like it [popcorn] so much that they served popcorn for breakfast with cream poured on it.” Really?

The girls and I talked about this point for a few minutes and made some guesses about how this popcorn cereal might taste. And then we concluded that the only way to find out is…

…to make popcorn cereal for breakfast!

Popcorn Cereal
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Making time: 
Total time: 
Makes: 4
 
This recipe is inspired by Tomie DePaola's "The Popcorn Book." In the book, DePaola writes that "The Colonists like it (popcorn) so much that they served popcorn for breakfast with cream poured on it."
Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup Popping Corn
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil or coconut oil
  • Milk
  • Honey
Instructions
  1. Pour the oil and popping corn into a covered medium-sized pot, and place the pot over a medium-high heat.
  2. As the oil heats up, gently shake the pot so that the kernels cook evenly.
  3. Listen for the popping to go crazy, and continue shaking the pot until the pops only happen once ever three seconds.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and pour the popcorn into a large serving bowl.
  5. To serve: Scoop a few spoonfuls into a cereal bowl, pour milk over the popped corn, and drizzle with honey.

How to make popcorn cereal

Whenever possible, I like to include my kids in the kitchen. Not only do we enjoy each other’s company, but cooking provides children with so many opportunities to learn through measuring, chopping, pouring, making educated guesses, and exploring volume, just to name a few.

And all of these things add up to building confidence both in the kitchen and in life. 

So, my kids measured the popcorn and the coconut oil, and I set it up on the stove.

Coconut oil can cook at a high temperature without burning, making it quite perfect for popping corn. The flavor is also divine. I recently joined Costco because they have an amazing selection of organic produce (no affiliation — I just like the place!), and I was surprised to find a big tub of organic coconut oil. Really, at Costco! I’ve also purchased it at Trader Joe’s, in case you’re in the market.

popcorn cereal tomie depaola

Once the corn was popped, we moseyed over to the breakfast table and gave our new recipe a try. The verdict? My kids LOVED it. They had seconds. And thirds. Not a spec of popcorn remained in the bowl. I can’t promise that your child will feel the same way about it, but I loved it too.

breakfast popcorn recipe

That’s my two-year old, on her second bowl of breakfast popcorn cereal!

How to make Colonial popcorn cereal

Yum, there’s even a bowl for me. As soon as the milk hits the popcorn, it gets nice and soggy just as you’d imagine.

how to make breakfast popcorn

After pouring some milk over our popcorn, we drizzled it with our favorite honey. So, so good. And then we proudly woke dad up and told him all about how we ate breakfast just like the colonists.

More Ideas

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 12.31.39 AM

  • Try the Corncob Popcorn Experiment: Cook a dried corncob in the microwave for some serious fun and  magic.
  • I just found this recipe for making Perfect Popcorn. I’ve never tried this technique before, but it makes a ton of sense. I’m totally trying this next time.
  • The Popcorn Book by Tomie DePaola
  • Other fun and educational things to do with popcorn and preschoolers on Teach Preschool
  • Are you a fan of Tomie de Paola? Guess what? He has his own website and it’s awesome!
  • If you live anywhere near Concord, NH, there’s a Tomie de Paola show going on through June 23, 2013. And…they have some of the original illustrations from his personal collection will be for sale!
  • Subscribe to Tinkerlab and you’ll be the first to know about new posts like the one you just read.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, but I only share links to products that I love or that I think you’ll find useful. 

 

 

 

 

Inspired by Nature: Four Easy Steps to Follow a Child’s Interests

Inspired by Nature: wasp nest and bumble bee art

four easy steps to follow a child's interests

Do you have bees, birds, squirrels, deer, possum, or other creatures milling around your neighborhood?

It’s been wild animal week here at Casa Tinkerlab. We had two big discoveries at our house: a wasp nest in the eaves by our back door and a bird nest tucked into a hole along the siding of our house.

Sad story, we found the bird nest on the ground today, and all of the eggs were gone, probably discovered by a band of squirrels. My two-year old has been keeping a watchful eye on that nest and her first thought went to the mama bird when she said, “I think I hear the mama bird.”

Sure enough, we saw the mama nervously flying around some nearby bushes, and my heart sank for her. We carefully collected the nest and put it back into its spot in the event that the mom can use the nest again.

wasp nest 2

This wasp nest, on the other hand, was something that I was determined to remove myself. No sad feelings here. Sorry if you’re a wasp fan, but rest assured that no wasps were harmed in the process. Basically, I knocked it down (quite heroically) from it’s post with the end of a broom.

My kids were impressed.

The nice thing about finds like this (as long as no one gets hurt along the way) is the opportunity to learn from them.

Of course my kids had tons of questions about the wasp nest. At first we thought it may have been a growing beehive, so we started to search for information on bees, and then we learned that it was in fact a wasp nest. We also noticed it first came out of our eaves it was round and firm, and that it sank into itself after about half an hour on our dining table.

My four-year old loves to join me in web searches for information, so we started off with searches like “bee hive” and “how do bees build their hives?” The hives looked nothing like our little specimen, but by this point my daughter had an idea and she asked me to collect images of bees and related images that you might find in a garden.

bee drawing

I started a Photoshop file and dragged black and white images to a file, resized them to make them all fit to scale, and then printed the images on her request.  She then spent over an hour carefully coloring in and cutting out her images, and then creating the composition you see here. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a pond, but that’s no big deal when you have a market to fill in the blanks.

Projects like this encourage children to be curious, explore, and tap into their imaginations.

Directions

  1. Pay attention to what your child finds interesting in nature
  2. If you’re on a walk or hike, take along an field pack: a backpack to save collected objects, camera, magnifying glass, binoculars, pencil, and a notebook to draw or write in.
  3. Go the library to find books on the topic or search the internet for more information or videos. YouTube is often a great resource for investigations like this. Like this, ahem, educational video on how to remove a wasp nest.
  4. Make something that documents your new-found knowledge. How does your child want to interpret his new knowledge? Maybe it’s drawing, building, cooking, writing a story, talking about it, or taking photos?

 

Inspired by Nature: wasp nest and bumble bee art

More ways to discover nature and follow a child’s interests

Eight Ways to Follow a Child’s Curiosities

Finding Nature with Kids

Build a Nature Table

A Question for you…

What treasures, animals, and natural discoveries have you observed around your home?

Homemade {Easy, Low-cost} Light Table

Easy low cost homemade light box

My 2-year old came down with a fever last week and we’ve been more or less house-bound. It’s no fun at all, but it’s made me pretty resourceful around the house. One big win was pulling out our homemade light table.

My 4-year old, who used to love this box, seems to have grown out of it (sniff — maybe it’s a phase?), but my 2-year old was right at home sorting and designing compositions.

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table

I’m a fan of things that light up. Light Tables are wonderful for exploring the play of light, shadow, color, and transparency. Their unique nature can add a magical element to child’s play and encourage curiosity, exploration, and problem-solving.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember the overhead projector that we salvaged for just $5 from Stanford’s Re-Use Department or the DIY Light Table that we filled with salt and water beads.

Build a Light Table

I wanted to include a light box tutorial in my forthcoming book and recognized that our light box wouldn’t be easy for other parents or caregivers to replicate, so I started tinkering. Once I wrapped my head around this project, it couldn’t have been simpler.

Like painfully simple! Wait ’til you see.

If you don’t already have one of these, you’ll wonder why not.

Rubbermaid Light Box with Christmas Lights

Light Box Materials

  • Under-the-bed style clear storage box. Ours is made by Rubbermaid. It’s 6″ x 17″ x 28″ , the lid is clear, and it has has a latching lid. I found ours at either Target or Ace Hardware, and here’s a link to what appears to be the same box via Amazon: Rubbermaid Storage Box. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • White Tissue Paper (the kind you wrap gifts with), wax paper, or tracing paper. My preference is white tissue paper. Stay clear of parchment paper as it’s impossible to tape it to anything.
  • Clear Tape
  • String of holiday lights
  • Extension cord: optional

Directions

  1. Tissue Paper: Line the inside of the lid with tissue paper and tape it in place. Use clear tape so that the tape doesn’t show. 
  2. Holiday Lights: Spread a string of holiday lights around the inside of your box. The cord will dangle out. We were able to close our box on the cord, but this isn’t necessary.
  3. Play! Place a few bowls of transparent manipulative materials near the light box and invite your child to create.
  4. Seed the project: My kids are most responsive to this invitation if I seed the table with a few ideas. I set all of the materials out as you see in the photo above. My 2-year old saw this and added a red circle in the middle of one of the “flowers.” Then she decided to build a whole series of flowers with my assistance (below).

Homemade Light Box

Design Materials that we use

Light Box manipulatives

More cool design materials that you might enjoy

Store-bought Light Box Options

If making your own light box doesn’t appeal to you, there’s an enormous selection of store-bought options to choose from. We also have this sweet little 5″ x 7″ Gagne Light Panel that I found at a local art store. It doesn’t have the big-impact, scale-wise, as our homemade box, but it’s not too expensive, portable, and I love it for tracing projects (mama makes art too!).

plug in light table

Blog Love

I couldn’t have written this post without mentioning that as I was working on this project, my friend Anna at The Imagination Tree posted her own DIY Light Box for Sensory Play. Our projects are nearly identical, and this isn’t the first time this has happened! Click on the links to see how Anna made her sensory light box.

Two years ago we both posted the same project, on the same day. Here’s a peak: If you have a toddler, you might also enjoy my Colander Sculpture and Anna’s Discovery Box Pipe Cleaners. The Imagination Tree is one of my favorite blogs. If you’re a hands-on parent I’m sure you’ll love it too, so do check it out if it’s not already on your radar.

 

Looking at Art with Kids: Norman Rockwell

How to look at art with kids :: Tinkerlab.com
Have you spent any time looking at art — in a MUSEUM — with your child? Even though I’m an arts educator who spent years leading gallery tours and training docents, we don’t spend as much time in art museums as I’d like because, you know, my children look at everything as a potential playground. I have an arsenal of gallery games and tricks up my sleeve, but they’re no match for a 2-year old!

This isn’t to say that we don’t look at art. We look at art at home, and sculpture gardens are a preschool parent’s best friend. But given my love for visiting art museums, I’ve had to seriously adjust my expectations of how a visit feels.

In a word. Short.

This summer we had the pleasure of visiting Cape Cod’s Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, MA. If you ever find yourself in the area with little and big people, it’s a multi-generational gold mine. A few highlights were Hidden Hollow (an outdoor classroom and fun zone), the indoor carousel, and gorgeous gardens and grounds. What we didn’t expect to see was a traveling Norman Rockwell exhibit, Norman Rockwell Beyond the Easel.

My mother-in-law wanted to see the show, and while I did too, all I could imagine was the push-pull of my two- and four-year-olds to skedaddle in the wake of weary art patrons and Rockwell’s photorealistic paintings.

But the interpretive team did a great job bringing Rockwell’s work to my kids’ level. We snapped lots of photos in the Model T, put on old-fashioned clothes that matched the style of Rockwell’s models, and assembled a magnetic version of Rockwell’s famous painting, The Runaway (1958).

Do you know The Runaway? It turns out that Norman Rockwell’s narrative work provides a rich platform for children to search for meaning, and my my 4-year old loved it!

We were all fascinated by the side-by-side comparison of the final painting with intermediate sketches and the black-and-white photograph that Rockwell staged as inspiration. We did a lot of tennis-match looking to spot the similarities and differences, which made me appreciate Rockwell’s eye for details and storytelling even more than I had before.

Try it for yourself…it’s super fun.

Print the two images, and then look at them carefully with your favorite little person, an experience that fosters creative thinking and curiosity. Beyond making comparisons, you can try asking a couple inquiry-based questions (based on Visual Thinking Strategies) that will get the conversation flowing:

  1. What’s going on in this picture?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that? (ask this question if your child offers a subjective answer such as “The boy likes the Police Officer.”)
After that, if you want more information about The Runaway and the photo that it was based on, click over here.

If you find yourself falling in love with this image or you want to see more works by Rockwell or other beloved American artists, you might enjoy visiting Art.com’s Americana gallery or go directly to The Runaway on Art.com. I own a few pieces by Art.com, and the quality is beyond belief. I almost feel like I’m looking at the original piece.

They also do an incredible job framing their work, which was the first thing I noticed when I opened the carefully wrapped print that arrived on my doorstep. You can see what I mean in this craftsmanship video, which shows how Art.com‘s frames are handcrafted in America.

You can also find Art.com on Pinterest, where they pin cool art and, ahem, I hear there’s a BIG giveaway happening soon for their Pinterest followers.

What was the last museum you went to? Any tips on visiting art museums with kids?

This post is sponsored by Art.com, but all opinions are my own.

We only think when confronted with a problem

we only think when confronted with a problem :: tinkerlab.com

“We only think when confronted with a problem.” — John Dewey, American philosopher and educator

What do you think about this quote by John Dewey? 

I spend a lot of my time considering how to set the stage for open-ended discovery as a way to foster a child’s confidence and independence. If you caught my last post, Organizing a Self-serve Creativity Zone, you’ll see a thread here. Children who set up their own problems are invested in the process of learning and are motivated to see a project through completion.

If you were to put paint pots, blocks, or a basket of acorns in front of your child, what expectations would you have? Do you think you would have a specific outcome in mind or would you be curious to find out what he would make of these materials?

When I place materials on a table or in the garden as a learning invitation, or provocation, I can’t help but guess or imagine how my children might use them. Maybe that’s human nature.

The other day I invited my 4-year old to draw some pumpkins that I placed on the table. I imagined  that she might draw a round, orange image with a green stem on top. Instead she started with a round, orange pumpkin shape, and then added a pattern of orange circles, a grid of orange lines, a windy brown flower-covered tree trunk, and then she filled the rest of the page with Halloween stickers and polka dots. In all, she spent close to an hour working on this project. An hour.

If I instructed her to draw a pumpkin as I imagined it, you can guess how long that might have taken her.

So I try to get past any expectations I might have because my children always surprise me with their own clever interpretations that often extend far beyond the box of my adult mind. Not only that, but these invitations are fun for me because I get the chance to learn from my children and witness how they think about the world.

Today I challenge you to place some intriguing objects in front of your child as a provocation to explore, create, invent, and problem-solve. Be open to exploration, wonder, and curiosity. Pay attention to where their own thinking leads, as it might surprise you.

Maybe you already do this — yay! If so, I’d love to hear about how you set up successful provocations and what makes them work in your home or school.

Ideas for Provocations

  • An opened-up paper bag and a black marker (see above)
  • A jar of fresh flowers or colorful Autumn leaves, paper, markers or crayons to match the flowers/leaves
  • Multiple cups filled with vinegar, one cup filled with baking soda + a spoon (See Vinegar and Baking Soda)
  • A basket of toy cars, cut pieces of cardboard (that could become ramps or bridges), boxes
  • A couple sheets, kitchen clips (See How to Build a Simple Clip Fort)
  • A tall jar of water, assorted liquid watercolors in jars, pipettes
  • Large piece of paper covered with circles of multiple sizes, container of markers
  • Clay or Play Dough, small bowl of water, popsicle sticks (See Clay)
  • Piece of canvas, wood or felt; bowl of small stones, sea glass, or shells
  • Containers filled with different scrap paper, glue, large piece of paper (See Self-serve Valentines)
  • Child-friendly knife, whisk, mushrooms or other soft food, cutting board, bowl (See Cooking with Toddlers)

Silently step aside and observe. What does your child do with the materials? What problem is he trying to solve? You might want to step in periodically to help problem-solve or prompt further discover with open-ended questions.

How do you set up provocations and what makes them successful in your home or school? If this is new-to-you, I’d love to hear how what you think about this process for discovery.

Organize a Self-Serve Creativity Zone

slime

“The drive to master our environment is a basic human characteristic from the beginning — from birth.”

--Jack P. Shonkoff, Harvard University (From Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky. New York: Harper Collins, 2010).

Do you have self-serve spaces in your home that are dedicated to creativity, art, science, and tinkering? Today I’m sharing our creative zone, the space where most of our art and creative explorations take place.

The key to this space is that it’s all self-serve. I jump in and participate, of course, but my kids know where everything is and it’s all accesible to their little hands. And they’re capable of cleaning it up when they’re ready to move on to the next thing.

We live in a small home, and I’m not suggesting that our plan will work for everyone, but the general spirit of it is something that I think we can all stand behind: when children can execute on their own ideas, it builds their confidence and encourages curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.

My objective is to give my children room to take charge of this space in order to test and follow through on their big ideas.

This space has moved all over our house, but for now it’s in our dining room space, just off the kitchen. It’s perfect for us because the light is the best in the house and there’s room for our self-serve art supply furniture. The table and chairs (Pottery Barn) are sturdy, meaning that grown-ups can comfortably sit in them and there’s plenty of natural and artificial light.

In order to execute on their ideas, children need to have access to creative materials, so all of ours are stored on low shelves where my kids can find them (and then, theoretically, put them away). Having a garbage can (Ikea) in the space is also key to keeping it neat. I don’t know why it took me so long to get a waste basket for this area!

Not all of our creative materials are stored here: I keep less-often-used materials like bottles of paint and play dough tools in a closet and the garage. I also introduce new materials when my children seem to tire of what’s in the space — maybe once a week. This week our table is consumed with a big batch of slime! If you’re interested, you can watch our video tutorial on how to make slime here.

There’s a letter writing center on top of one of the book shelves, which includes envelopes, cards, small homemade booklets, string + tape (both in action at the moment), a stapler, art dice, compass, and an address stamper. Next to this is a 3-tiered dessert tray, repurposed to hold collage materials and stamps.

Beneath this shelf is storage for clean recycled materials (including a phone book that just arrived — I can’t believe they still make these!), sketchbooks, a magnifying glass, and this hammering activity.

Next to the shelf is a unit of drawers, and one of them is dedicated to my kids and their creative pursuits. It’s filled with various tapes, extra clear tape (we race through this stuff), scissors, hole punchers, extra scissors (because mine constantly walk away, like socks in the laundry), my card readers, and a few other odds and ends. This drawer is in flux, but for now it’s working for us.

The other day I set out this invitation of pre-cut paper and a bowl of stickers to greet my kids when they woke up. So simple and it took me three minutes to arrange it. When my kids saw the table, their imaginations turned on and they got right to work, dreaming up all sorts of possibilities as they pulled various materials out to help them realize their visions.

More Creative Zone Inspiration

Organize your Art Station

New Creative Studio Corner

Art Supply Organization

Organizing Art Supplies: Day One

Organizing Art Supplies: Day Two

Organizing Art Supplies: Pantry Labels

Art Table in the Living Room

What are your self-serve tips and tricks?

If you have a picture of your space, you’re welcome to add it to a comment (be sure that it’s smaller than 500 px wide). 

If you like what you see here, we’d love to have you join our 7000+ member community on Facebook.


Diet Coke Mentos Experiment

diet coke and mentos explosion

My 4-year old and our neighbor enjoyed witnessing this explosive soda and Minty Mentos experiment. Have you tried it? It doen’t require a huge set-up, and the show is pretty awesome. I have to warn you that the explosion itself goes by quickly, so you might want to have an arsenal of soda containers on hand so you can conduct multiple experiments.

diet coke and mentos explosion

Ingredients for Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment

  • Diet Coke
  • Minty Mentos
Hee hee — pretty obvious, huh?

mentos and diet coke

Take the Mentos out of the wrapper.

mentos and diet coke experiment

Almost as soon as the Mentos hit the soda, the explosion begins, so f you’d like to try dropping more than one into the Soda bottle, make a paper tube and fill it with all your Mentos.

filling mentos into a tube

Take it outside. open the bottle, drop in one (or multiple) Mentos, and then step back!

kids mentos and diet coke

The explosion happened so fast that I was unable to capture it with my camera, so you’ll have to try this experiment for yourself and see how it works.

Experiment ideas

  • Try this with other types of soda. I read that diet soda is recommended because it’s less sticky than regular soda, but regular soda should work too. Compare the results of regular and Diet Coke.
  • The carbonation is what’s supposed to trigger the reaction: try this experiment with carbonated water. What happens?
  • Compare the results of fruit-flavored and mint-flavored Mentos.
  • What happens when you add other ingredients to the soda: salt, rock salt, sugar, baking soda, peanuts.

soda science experiment

The Science Bit

According to Wikipedia, “the numerous small pores on the candy’s surface catalyze the release of carbon dioxide(CO2) gas from the soda, resulting in the rapid expulsion of copious quantities of foam”

Taking this 100 Steps Further…

Eepybird.com (Entertainment for the Curious Mind) shared that  the exploding Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment was first introduced by University of Chicago chemistry professor, Lee Marek. The Eepybirds later recreated this experiment in a spectacular multi-bottle show on David Letterman.

 Your Turn!

So, are you ready to run out and pick up some soda and Mentos? Have you tried this experiment? What did your kids think about it?

DIY Baby Fabric Bucket Toy

DSC_0740

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in April, 2011.

If you’re looking for ways to mix up your baby play time routine, you might enjoy trying this simple activity with materials you may already have in the closet and recycling can.

DIY Baby Fabric Bucket

I often wax poetic about my preschooler’s creative pursuits while my little one makes the occasional appearance in the background of photos. So I thought it was about time I brought her (and her “generation”) to the forefront of this site.

I’ve posted before on creative exploration for babies (See Sensory Play for Babies), and thought you might like to see this idea that supports a baby’s natural curiosity, fine motor skills, and focus. If you’ve ever placed a baby near a box of tissues, you’ve most likely witnessed complete removal of every single tissue, along with multiple attempts at eating half the stash. Playing off of this idea, I created a reusable “tissue box” from a tall yogurt container filled with tissue-sized scraps of colorful fabric.

I cut a hole in the lid that was wide enough for her to drop a hand into.

Then I sat back to watch her grab pieces of fabric,

…and pull them out!

The focus was incredible and reminded me how serious babies can be about their “work.”

More Baby Resources

  • View more Baby activities on Tinkerlab
  • For a wide variety of well-written articles about fostering a baby’s growth, one of my favorite writers on the topic is Janet Lansbury.
  • Anna of The Imagination Tree, wrote this must-read post about Baby Treasure Baskets. I have at least two of these in my home at all times that engage my daughter’s senses and capture her thoughts. She also has a Baby Play category on her site that’s well worth exploring.

This post was shared with It’s Playtime

Creative Adventures: Tidepooling

tidepool

 Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. - Edward de Bono, psychologist and writer

This post is something new for me. I usually write about our hands-on projects, but I thought it would be fun to take our creative thinking out into the great wide world. In reference to the quote above, not only am I breaking out of the pattern of my blog posts as I write this, but it’s experiences like the one I’m about to share that encourage children to look at things in a new way and help build their creative thinking skills.

As you read this, consider how you can break a pattern in order to look at things in a new way.

Can you believe this view? It’s a favorite beach about 45 minutes from my house…not too far, really…and here’s the pattern that we broke: this was the first time we’ve been there in over a year!  Sad, right? It’s an awesome spot called the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, located in Moss Beach, CA, just north of Half Moon Bay. And what makes it doubly amazing is that you can walk all over the fascinating tide pools and check out the sea life up close. A kids’ dream.

tidepool kids

The reason we haven’t been in ages because my youngest, Baby R, hasn’t been stable enough to handle the rocks on her own and I wasn’t sure of my own footing with her in the carrier.

Well, she’s hardly a baby anymore at 21 months, so there we were. I didn’t know how it would go with her, actually, but after holding my hands for a bit she wanted to brave the rocks by herself. She fell a couple times, nothing major, and seemed to enjoy the challenge of navigating the slippery, uneven terrain.

Creative adventure at the tide pool | TinkerLab

N is almost 4, and turned this into a jumping adventure. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my kids like to dress themselves. Who wears dresses and tights to the tidepools? Um, that would be my daughter.

tidepool kids

When I was a kid I loved discovering the squishy sea anemones that retract and squirt water when you touch them. So of course I had to introduce them to my little friends. They were hooked and would squeal with laughter when they found a colony of these little slippery creatures. This turned out to be a great bonding activity for these two.

beach lunch kids

We found the perfect spot to eat lunch and talk about the molting seals (they’re sitting on those far-off rocks), talk to the park ranger about sea stars, and take in the fresh air.

And without any extra effort on my part, this outing encouraged my kids to explore and follow their curiosities; building blocks of creative thinking. On the walk back to the car N asked when we could come back to see the sea stars that the ranger told us about. She wanted to know all about the harbor seals and how they’re different from ringed seals. And where do they go when the tide comes in? And she wanted to bring her dad back to introduce him to the tide pools.

Spending time in nature, outdoors, and in a new environment does wonders for the mind. These experiences can challenge, excite, and educate us.

So now I ask you: What can you do to break your established patterns in order to look at things in a different way? 

Favorite web spots for outdoor adventures

Go Explore Nature: Connecting with Kids and Nature. A beautifully written and photographed blog by Debi Huang, an LA-based mama of two boys. This is a must-read site if you live in California. I get all sorts of good tips for traveling with kids to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, not to mention anyone who can explore nature in LA gets major props in my book. She also has a fantastic list of nature-related resources. Not to be missed.

Let the Children Play. Written by Jenny, an Australian-based preschool teacher. Jenny’s child-raising point of view is play-based and project-oriented. You’ll often spot her little charges learning through play in their natural outdoor space, and her ideas often influence my own backyard transformations. She did some great leg-work and put together this useful list of Top 10 Outdoor Play Blogs

Cooking with Kids: Butter and Rosemary

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Do you like to cook with your kids? It’s not always the easiest thing for me to do; we have a tiny kitchen and limited counter space, but I try to find ways to integrate my kids into the kitchen routines when I can.

Why? Because cooking, experimenting, and learning about the interaction of ingredients builds creative thinkers, gives my kids a solid footing  and confidence in the kitchen (hey, I’m priming them to cook for me one day!), and it’s a wonderful way to bond and share stories about family traditions and food adventures.

20 month old Baby R (who’s hardly a baby anymore) likes to spend time in the kitchen, but she’s not the best helper in the world. So I try to drum up activities that will keep her hands busy and her mind engaged while I cook.

The other day we were baking bread and the recipe called for rosemary and a pat of butter. As I pulled the flour, yeast, maple syrup, milk, salt, and butter together, I also cut two tablespoons of butter off the end of the stick and chopped it into rough pieced for R to handle.

The slippery texture was captivating.

I handed her a few sprigs of rosemary to handle and poke into the butter.

cooking with kids

After squishing the butter for a bit she really wanted to cut the butter like me, so I gave her a small butter knife and showed her how to hold it. She cut butter for about fifteen minutes before tiring of this, which gave me just enough time to pull the bread dough together.

I’m not one for wasting food, but we did throw the gooey mass of butter and rosemary away when we were done.  I suppose I could have saved it, but there was a lot of finger licking going on and I wasn’t ready to go there. However, I liken this experience to playing with play dough (made from flour and oil) or dry beans, both materials that we use for imaginative and sensory play. When children learn to handle real food they build a relationship with it and gain a stronger understanding of its properties.

So, the next time you’re in the kitchen, if you don’t already do this, look around for something sensory for your toddler to explore. You might also enjoy reading Cooking with Toddlers, where I share a few tips including our favorite kid-friendly knives.

If you have a preschooler or school age child, you might like this fun post on how to invent a recipe with kids, where I share some ideas on how to foster a spirit of experimentation by building a pancake recipe from scratch.

And when my kids want to play in the kitchen, but they’re not interested in helping, I often slide this big tub of wheat berries out from under a counter for them to explore. It often makes a big mess, but it keeps them entertained while I cook and it’s easy enough to vacuum up when they’re done.

What do your kids like to do while you cook?

Finding Flow: A Journey Toward Happiness

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Have you ever been so deeply involved in something that you lost all sense of time? How did you feel in this moment?

It happens to me all the time, often when I’m writing blog posts like this late into the night. Oops, it’s 2 am. How did it get to be so late? Or when I’m building or painting something that requires my focus and attention. Maybe it happens to you when you’re training for a big run or when you’re baking your favorite recipes. It’s a great feeling, right? You lose all sense of yourself and probably create something incredible that amazes even you. And maybe you thought, “really, did I make that?”

And guess what…this happens to kids as well. 

When I pay attention to what my children are interested in and how they get wholly absorbed in meaningful activities (pouring and mixing water in the bath, imaginative play in forts, or mastering a drawing game, below), I notice that these moments happen all the time. At the root of these moments are the elements of curiosity, exploration, and imagination.

I recently facilitated a cloud dough station at my daughter’s nursery school. A handful of children surrounded the table, asking good questions., squishing dough in their hands, and laughing. One of the boys who arrived at the table late couldn’t keep his hands off the dough; it reminded him of snow.  He was captivated by the feel of it and stayed rooted at that table, running his fingers through the silky dough and enjoying the phenomena of its texture. Witnessing this enthrallment in a child other than my own reminded me of the growth, comfort, and exploration that children can find through meaningful hands-on experiences.

Csikszentmihalyi flow with kids

Watching young children engage deeply in an activity (some to the point that they stopped talking and forget that the world is moving around them) made me think of the concept of flow, coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his seminal book,  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

The idea, simply, is that people are happiest when they’re deeply absorbed by whatever they’re doing. In a 1996 Wired Magazine article,  Csikszentmihalyi explained flow as…

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

In his books,  Csikszentmihalyi explains that reaching a true state of flow can takes years of experience and practice, but you can see moments of it in children of all ages, learning how to focus their attention by exploring the things that they’re passionate about. Have you seen these moments in your own children or students?

An interesting point to note about flow is that it can’t happen if the task is too easy. If the child (or adult) isn’t challenged to test their new skills,  they become bored. You’ve witnessed this transition away from flow if you’ve ever tried setting up a “favorite” activity, only to find your child is no longer interested in it.

In the photos I’m sharing here, my daughter just learned the dots and boxes game, and wants to keep at it (over multiple days) to figure it out and test her knowledge. She’s in a state of 3-year-old flow. But as soon as she’s mastered the game or feels like it’s too simple, she’ll no longer be in that state.

Csikszentmihalyi flow children

I’d love to hear about your own observations of flow, either with yourself or your children. Can you think of a time that you experienced this? And what about your children?

And if you can’t think of any off the bat, I’d like to challenge you to look for these moments over the next few days. Take some notes and report back with your discoveries.

Sensory Activity: Wheat Berries

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Could your child spend hours sifting flour or scooping sand? Sensory activities like these can fully absorb the minds of young children as they test the limits of materials and build imaginary worlds through pouring, filling, and building.

This sensory activity is so easy, it doesn’t require a lot of materials, and the process of exploring tactile materials through hands-on play is good for growing brains.

But why wheat berries? Like rice or sand, wheat berries are fun to scoop, but the larger, rounder size has a different tactile feeling than these other materials. I’m not advocating for one over the other, but presenting this as an option that came on like gangbusters with my kids.

And you can grow or cook this nifty grain after the playing is done…scroll down for more on that.

wheat berry sensory activity

Materials

  • Wheat Berries*
  • Large Container
  • Small toys, bowls, and scoopers

* I found our wheat berries in the bulk bin aisle of Whole Foods, and used a full bag for this project. You can find wheat berries in most bulk bin aisles and online. I spotted this organic 25 Lb Bag of Hard Red Wheat Berries on Amazon and there are plenty of other choices there.

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I poured the wheat berries into the tub and placed a few plastic eggs, a couple homemade paper funnels, a couple bowls, a scooper, and an egg carton next to the tub. My kids dropped what they wanted inside and started playing.

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They came up with all sorts of ideas that surprised me, but perhaps the biggest surprise was watching them play alongside one another (well, across the table, actually) in total harmony.

The other surprise: This activity went on for days. Each night I would clean everything up, put the lid on the tab, and tuck it away under a cabinet. And the next day my toddler would ask me to pull it out.

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The only mistake I made was setting this up over a shaggy carpet. It was such a mess, but nothing the vacuum couldn’t take care of. On a nice day, this would be fun outside, but I would caution you against setting this up over any dirt or land that you wouldn’t want wheat grass shooting up in.

They also brought dollhouse furniture and little action figures over to the tub, where they ran them through various adventures. My three-year old built a paper canoe (seen above), to fill with berries and take Strawberry Shortcake on rides down the river.

I loved watching how inventive they were with this simple grain as the backdrop for their creativity.

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And suddenly the tub doesn’t seem so big anymore! When they exhausted all of their play options, walking right in the wheat berries, and eventually sitting in them became a game in itself.

More Wheat Berry Fun

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Wheat Berry Gardening (above), Tinkerlab

Wheat Berry Salad with Dried Cherries and Walnuts, Ellie Krieger on Food Network

Wheatberry Salad with Bell Pepper and Red Onion, Barefoot Contessa on Food Network

A nice explanation on why wheat berries are good to eat, and a recipe for Greek Wheat Berry Salad, A Life Less Sweet blog

Have your kids played with this fun sensory grain?