Growing Big Ideas

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“Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.”

-Kevin Kelly, Futurist and Author of What Technology Wants

We had a big pile of CD cases, just waiting to be repurposed into…something! BioColors paints are known for their plasticity (they don’t crack like tempera), and I thought it we could have some fun squeezing them into the cases, sealing up the holes, swirling the paint around, and then maybe peeling the paint out. That’s where my idea began, anyway. But this isn’t about me.

N loves to squeeze stuff, and enjoyed pouring paint onto the plastic jewel cases.

We worked with limited palettes to avoid that big mushy mix of brown that comes when all the beautiful colors get mixed together.

N asked for “just red and white, because it makes pink,” and also wanted to add some sequins to the mix. Pretty.

We put about five of these painted jewel cases up to dry, and then N revisited them the next day — on her own accord — with fresh ideas in mind.

Like grown-ups, children need time for their thoughts to muddle together, brew, and then emerge into something bigger. It’s important to keep in mind that good ideas have long incubation periods (see Steven Johnson’s TED Talk, below) and we shouldn’t expect kids to come up with big ideas on the spot —  these things often take time to grow. And to properly give children opportunities to innovate, it’s helpful to present them with open-ended activities that can blossom beyond an initial plan.

If you’ve been following along, you may remember N’s growing interest in pitched roofs from when we made Gumdrop Sculptures and created a cardboard Pitched Roof for a water-flow experiment. The next day…

She opened a case, spotted the pitched roof connection, and said she wanted to make a house. I recently noticed that she’s had a hankering for building things, but this blew me away and was a far cry from where we started the day before. She needed some structural assistance from her handyman/contractor/dad, who was happy to cut tape and generally hold things together. Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about the teamwork involved in building structures, and it seemed that she enjoyed the real-world connection with her own team of workers holding up windows and such.

She then requested some siding material, which her handyman cut to her specifications. And thank goodness, or else the squirrels might come in! As my daughter approaches her third birthday, it’s amazing to see her mind take on more complicated tasks and ideas, and I look forward to seeing further down the path of discovery through her eyes.

Resources:

Author Seth Godin created this loooong list called Where do ideas come from? It’s brilliant and easy-t0-read.

Author Steven Johnson talks about how ideas are networks in his TED Talk: Where Good Ideas Come From

Steven Johnson writes about the importance of open innovation platforms in The Genius of the Tinkerer in the Wall Street Journal.

This post is linked to We Play, ABC and 123, Tot Tuesday

What do you think it takes to grow a big idea?


Traveling Magnets

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While we make a lot of art in our home, I cherish any project that develops creative and critical thinking skills. I’m attracted to fun activities with an experiential twist, and I’ve noticed lately that we’ve been dabbling in the worlds of science, literature, and dramatic play, as much as we have in that of art. For this simple experiment, we explored how magnets can travel through water and glass, speculated on how we could get the magnets out of the jar, exercised fine motor skills, had to problem-solve in order to figure out how to get the paper clips out of the water, and experienced moments deep concentration (my favorite!). And if you look closely, you’ll notice that N had to put her treasured lollipop down in order to play. A sure sign of child approval!

First, N picked up some paper clips…

And dropped them into a jar full of water. Then she used a strong magnet to pull each of the paper clips up the side of the jar.

Got it!

I’m learning that my daughter likes to try new things, figure them out, and then move on to the next thing. So she was highly engaged with this for the first three of four paper clips, and that was it. While I would have loved to see some sustained attention, it’s always nice when these short-lived activities are also incredibly easy to set up. In this case, set up was a snap (jar + water + paper clips + magnet) and clean up was next-to-nothing.

And we learned that magnets can travel through water and glass!

Two thumbs up from the child and the mom!

Special thanks to Amy at The Wonder Years for the inspiration!

What magnet games do you like to play?

The Butter Experiment

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Last week we made butter!

I have friends who made this fine food back in their grade school/scouting/summer camp days, but I haven’t had this pleasure until now. As such, this was much an experiment for me as it was for my child. And it was SO worth it. This project appealed to me because it hardly cost a thing, it was super easy to make, and I was rivited by the process of making my very own butter. And it appealed to my two-and-a-half year old because she could participate in the kitchen by doing many of her favorite things: pouring, mixing, and of course…eating!

Ingredients

  • Glass jar with tight-fitting lid. I used a clean spaghetti sauce jar
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • That’s it! Really, it’s that easy.


Directions

  • Pour cream into a jar. Fill it about 1/4 of the way to allow room for shaking.
  • Shake continuously until the cream divides into butter and “buttermilk”
  • Scoop out and pat butter into a bowl or molds.
  • Save the sweet butter milk for other recipes. Delish.

For this experiment, we made two batches: one in the glass jar and the other with a hand mixer. I hypothesized that the hand mixer concoction would whip up much quicker, so you can imagine my surprise when it never got past the thick cream phase. Given the nature of butter-making, maybe the blender would have worked better. If you’ve had success making butter with a mixer, please share your tips!

N helped with the hand mixer, gave the jar a few shakes for good measure, and then handed her duties off to me and her G-Ma.

There’s my adorable Mother-in-Law being a sport: baby-carrying in one hand and butter-shaking in the other. She’s clearly a pro. And a bonus…as you can see, my baby was enthralled by the process. It’s never too early to help a child develop critical thinking skills!

After about four minutes of shaking, the cream whipped up into a lovely spreadable consistency. Not quite butter, but still worth a taste. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that N is keeping herself busy cutting up coffee filters and snacking on raisins, while her grown-up friends labor away with butter shaking.

Mmmmmm.

About 10 minutes of shaking later I said out loud, “I don’t get it, is it supposed to look like REAL butter? Are we doing this right?” And within seconds the shaking became much easier and the butter was READY! We added a little bit of salt to taste, and then steamed up some corn to put it to the test. And it was amazing.

How it works

When you shake heavy cream, the drops of fat that are usually suspended in the liquid smack against each other and stick to each other.

When was the last time you made butter, and have you tried any variations on this experiment?

Happily shared with Tot Tuesday, We Play, Play Academy, and ABC and 123, Kids Get Crafty

Scary Spaghetti

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If you haven’t already seen the newest addition to our site and you like a good challenge, check out the Experiments section. There are currently three posted experiments, which are assignment-like challenges that you can do with your kids. If you tinker with one of these, you have the option of adding a link back to your blog or uploading a photo to share with this growing community. In one of the experiments, which invites you to do something with PASTA, TinkerLab reader Pinkie from the Czech Republic added scary spaghetti.

And we tried it last week.I loved it because it was easy, I could use materials I had on hand, my daughter was completely in charge (with a little help from me since she ran out of steam and I had to man the stove), and it was interesting to see how the little spaghetti sculptures transformed into a twisty pasta snack.

We started with a few hot dogs (veggie, turkey, beef…take your pick) and a bit of spaghetti. N cut the hot dogs into bite-sized pieces, broke the spaghetti in half, and then started poking away.

Once the bowl was full, we cooked them. A little bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese later, and these were ready to eat. Not exactly gourmet, but they get two thumbs up from the two and a half year old.

Happy March to you!

What can we spin?

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My daughter was glued to the spin art table at a carnival that we went to a few months ago, so when I saw this easy spin art machine from Crayola I couldn’t resist purchasing it. My friend Jean at The Artful Parent recently set up a fun spin art project for her five year old using a salad spinner and thin white paper plates. This is the same set-up we had at that carnival, and it’s an amazing low-cost, upcycled option with great results. I bet you could find a salad spinner at the dollar store if you didn’t want to run yours through the ringer.

Here’s what we did:

We added paint…

and gave it a few spins.

Added more paint

And sat back to watch the magic happen.

Like marble painting, once N got going there was no stopping her. She made MANY of these beauties and I’m thinking of turning them into bunting for her birthday. Any ideas?

I wish I could remember how it came up, but we started musing on what would happen if we used ketchup instead of paint. I’m not an advocate of playing with food, but I am an advocate of experimentation, so we brought out the ketchup to see what would happen.

It was a slurry of a mess, that got even more sludgy after we added ranch dressing. Sorry I missed snapping that…it all happened pretty quickly. The next morning, N requested eggs and ketchup…

in the spinner. Of course.

This is a totally reasonable request, right?

So we cut some plates down to size.

Scrambled up some eggs.

Squeezed the ketchup on.

And spun it around until it was good and messy. As you can imagine, the eggs flew around the spinner in every direction. Because of their flatness, I bet pancakes and maple syrup would work beautifully. What do you think?

Aesthetics aside, it still tasted good.

Have you been experimenting in the kitchen? Please share!

This post is happily shared with

We Play: Childhood 101, ABC and 123, Kids Get Crafty @ Red Ted Art

Defrosting Animals

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Although we live in mostly Sunny California, I’ve been inspired by all of the snow and ice activities I’ve been reading about in the blog world lately. Sensory activities always go over well in our house, and I had a feeling this would work out in my favor.

Right after my daughter turned two, she was fascinated by all-things-ice. Here she on a plane, happily pouring ice from one cup to another. We were traveling to Mexico with very few toys, and were delighted to discover that she was highly engaged with ice-based activities like filling water glasses with ice cubes, playing with ice in the bathtub, and picking up ice from an ice bucket with tongs. If you have a little one and haven’t yet played with ice, this is the time!

I froze a number of animals in various plastic bowls and silicone bento containers, and put them in the freezer before going to bed. I especially like these mini bread loaves because they can fit into the nooks and crannies of my freezer and they didn’t take forever to thaw out. If you live somewhere chilly, you can probably set the ice up right in your backyard, but I had to make a little room in my freezer, which is no small feet when said freezer is 1 cubic foot and full of pureed baby food.

In the morning, we were greeted with a fun defrosting activity. The bowls of icy animals were placed in a large tub alongside odds and ends worthy of picking, banging, and melting away ice. My daughter had trouble with the hammers, as the slippery icy animals kept squirming away, and the golf tees ended up adding more danger to the activity than I’d imagined. My husband enjoyed these tools, however, which turned this into a nice collaborative project, while my daughter was invested in squirting an endless supply of warm water (courtesy of moi) all over the ice.

And between the two of them, all of the animals were freed!

Happily shared with Tot Tuesdays, Monkeying AroundHomeschool Creations, Science Sunday, High Paw: Best Toys for Toddlers, World Animal Day Bloghop

Contact Paper Suncatcher

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Since making Sticky Autumn Collages a couple weeks ago, we’ve been addicted to contact paper. And thank goodness for that because I needed some serious validation for buying seventy-five feet of the stuff!!  Despite the semi-gloomy weather, we could not be stopped from making art with the word “sun” in it…this is a strong activity for even a rainy day. In fact, it’s a good indoor project that may even thrive with a side of hot apple cider and pumpkin bread.

Inspiration: Suncatcher Collage, created by visitors to the Children’s Discovery Museum (San Jose, CA), 2010

Materials:

  • Clear Contact Paper
  • Painters tape, Paper Tape, or Masking Tape
  • Pre-cut pieces of Tissue Paper

I cut a large piece of clear contact paper and taped it securely to the floor. N didn’t need a lot of encouragement to walk on it because this is just inherently fun and feels weird. Lots of giggles or gasps. I credit MaryAnn Kohl with this idea.

Then we stuck the tissue shapes to the contact paper. The contact paper is super-sticky, so once the tissue is down, it didn’t come back up again. For reals.

N got into this, and especially enjoyed folding and crumpling the tissue before placing it on the sticky paper.

While I finished adding all of the pieces, N took a yoga break. Of course. Then we removed the tape and stuck the contact paper directly to a window. So pretty.

When the Suncatcher was done, I got a request for “Contact Paper and Play Dough.” How could I refuse?

Turns out the play dough doesn’t stick. And then, N wanted to know what would happen if she sat on the contact paper. She came up too. Whew!

Somehow, this all morphed into making play dough snowmen with “many teeny-tiny heads.” I love the stream of conscious that guides children from one moment to another. You never know where you’re going to end up.

Do you have a favorite activities that includes contact paper?