One Color at a Time

I was talking to a friend at the park today about things that keep parents from setting their kids up with art projects.  The list isn’t too much of a surprise, and you might even have your own bullet points to add to this (please share if you do!):

  • The house/table/furniture could get messy.
  • Clothes will need to be changed, washed, or thrown out.
  • It requires too much facilitation.
  • I’ve seen, and there’s no way I’m allowing Sharpies in the house!
  • I just don’t have the patience for it.

Fair enough. Art projects are not for everyone, but after today’s convo I’m on a new mission to also share ideas that are easy on the parents’ will, time and emotions. In my own effort to tackle some of these issues, N’s little art table is always covered in plastic (our dining room table, pictured above, is an old high school table that came with expletives carved into its legs — so no worries there!), we have aprons for painting and cooking, paints and markers are usually washable, and messy projects are often taken outside.

A couple days ago we embarked on a little color-mixing activity that is SO surprisingly clean that my 2-year old asked, “Why is my hand not dirty? Is my hand dirty?” All you need are some squeezable paints (tempera or acrylic — makes no difference) and a zip-lock bag with a good seal. This last part is critical!


  1. Set out your materials: zip-lock bag and 2-3 paints
  2. Open the bag or have your child open the bag. My daughter wanted to hold the bag open.
  3. Squeeze ONE color into the bag. My daughter really wanted to do this step, so we traded bag for paint. This became an exercise in restraint (for her) when I found myself saying, “Just squeeze it a little bit…like toothpaste. Not too much.”)
  4. Zip the bag up
  5. Hand it to your child to experiment with, mush around, squeeze, etc.
  6. Once this has run its course, add another color and then zip it up again. I used this as an opportunity to teach color mixing by saying, “First we put blue in the bag. What color do you want to add next?  Okay, yellow. What color will we get when we mix blue with yellow?”
  7. Young children will be interested in the sensation of smooshing and mixing, and older children may be interested in “drawing” into the paint by pushing down on it against a hard surface like a table. We tried this, but it was a solitary sport for mom.

After playing with “clean” paint for a few minutes, N was jonesing to actually paint, so I carried the “one color at a time” idea over from the first project into what you see in the photo above. She picked the color she wanted to begin with (yellow), and then chose colors to add, one at a time.” The first painting was yellow/blue, and the second was yellow/blue/red.

After that, she was done.

Wonderful Whiteboarding

If you’ve been following me, you probably know that I love introducing my daughter to a variety of media.  When I went on maternity leave a couple years ago, this little dry erase board came home from the office with me, and it’s now a spot where N can freely draw while we brew our morning coffee and heat up oatmeal. We also have the Ikea easel, which has a dry erase board on one side, and this moves freely between N’s bedroom and the living room.

Creative Connection

Dry erase drawing is great because it’s temporary, easily wipes up when a drawing is complete, and the pen moves across the smooth whiteboard surface in a fashion so different from markers.  Watching my daughter draw in this medium, I see that her ideas flow freely, one idea emerges into another, and when she’s done, a simple swipe of the eraser allows her to begin all over again.  It’s like brainstorming at the toddler level!  Plus, on a large scale, drawing on a white board is a lot like drawing on a wall — without the cleaning nightmare associated with all of that.

(Photo: Fast Company)

Related to this, my husband, Scott, happens to co-direct the Environments Collaborative (i.e. he designs the interior spaces) in the incredibly creative Stanford Institute of Design, where dry-erase boards hang freely in place of walls (see photo above). They even have an entire room (called the White Room — surprise, surprise!) dedicated to whiteboard-style brainstorming.  My daughter BEGS me to visit her dad at work, and while I know it’s because she has a huge heart for her dad’s affection, I assume that part of this longing must also have something to do with the endless supply of post-its and sea of whiteboards that stretch from one end of the building to the other.

Drawing at the d. School

Cleaning up our mess. so we’ll get invited back!

Making it happen

Drawing with dry-erase markers was introduced in our house when my daughter was about 18 months, but it didn’t really become a favorite activity until she was almost two and could easily open and close the markers and erase her markings without assistance.  While whiteboarding on a big canvas can be tons of fun, you don’t need wall-to-wall dry erase boards to make this happen.  In fact, just the other day I picked up a $2 board that’s about 12″ x 16″ in the school supply section of Target that will be perfect for dry-erasing on-the-go.  For the more ambitious-minded, there’s a company called IdeaPaint that sells a paint product that can turn virtually any surface into a whiteboard. Here’s a little inspiration from their website:

And finally, it will take a bit of hunting, but you can also find nontoxic dry-erase markers, such as these from Expo. Have fun drawing on this glassy surface, and please share your whiteboard drawing/brainstorming/creating/exploring tales!


A Program Designed to Encourage Kids to Think Outside the Box

I discovered a really great website that’s full of innovation-generating ideas for kids (but they would be SO much fun for adults, too):  Think!

As I read the mind-stretching “assignments,” I was reminded of Learning to Love You More and creative design challenges such as this one at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA.  The ideas are generally fun and simple, and encourage experimentation, problem-solving, curiosity, and exploration…all good skills for helping children develop their abilities to generate new ideas and think independently.

My daughter is mostly too young to be my test-subject, but having taught children ages 5-18, I can see the potential in these activities and look forward to trying these out in our future. Here are a couple examples from the site…

Cards and Straws

Build the largest structure you can and send its measurements in with your pictures. You may use — one box of paperclips, one bag of straws, and one deck of cards.

Good luck!

Paper and Pencil

The only things that you need for this challenge are a stop watch, paper, and pencil. In 60 seconds, write down all of the things that you can do with a brick and a blanket. If your list is less than 10 items long, give yourself another 60 seconds and add some more. Good luck! Share your lists — we’ll make one big list.

Big, Bad, Porcelain Canvas

In preparation for a recent trip to Boston, friends suggested that I stock up on new toys to entertain my child on the airplane.  So, along with purchasing a Mrs. Potato Head and an Elmo DVD (a moment of weakness for our almost-TV-free home that thankfully paid off), I found these great washable bathtub crayons in a local beauty supply store.

I knew these would be a hit after seeing our almost-2 year old “washing” the sides of the bathtub with bars of soap and sponges.  Drawing on the bath seemed to be a natural extension of that!

Obviously, this wasn’t a plane toy, but what better place to test out bathtub crayons (that are supposed to wash off, but do we know for sure?) than in a hotel bathtub?  You’re with me, right?  I wish I was able to capture the visuals a little better, but I was busy getting a little wet as my daughter drew and erased the drawings at least four times.  I usually refrain from drawing on my child’s pictures, but she asked me to make some stars, which she promptly filled with expressive marks.  And the good news is that in the end, it all cleaned up perfectly!

The best part of this activity, in my opinion, is extending the process of mark-making beyond the piece of paper or easel. This is one of those “thinking outside the box” activities that can help kids understand that there can be more than one way to do something.  Not to mention, a lot of joy can come from freely moving greasy crayons all over a huge porcelain canvas.

Exploring Glue

Who doesn’t love playing with glue?  I have a strong memory of covering both my hands in glue with my best friend at summer camp, and then seeing the look of horror on our counselor’s face when we mischievously started peeling off our own “skin.”  I’m not advocating for that kind of behavior here, but my point is that there are endless possibilities for creating and playing with glue:  it can be used as an adhesive or a paint, it can be squeezed or dripped, and it has a delightful (and for some, disgusting) sticky quality that is fun to touch…and sometimes peel.  There are lots of recipes out there for home-made glue, but I love good old-fashioned Elmer’s School Glue.  It’s non-toxic, inexpensive, and works really well.

Exploration Connections:

  • When playing with glue, children can learn about viscosity, and how one object can adhere to another, sometimes permanently.
  • Children will also make choices about which objects they want to use, where to place them, and how many to include on the paper, helping them experience decision-making skills and autonomy in a lovely way (rather than throwing an “I want THAT cookie” fit in the grocery store).


Set-up: 5 minutes (after materials are gathered and/or purchased)

Activity:  5+ minutes, depending on the child’s ability, interest, distractions, etc.


  1. Paper
  2. Glue
  3. Disposable Bowls
  4. Small objects for gluing (i.e. feathers, pom-poms, leaves, macaroni)


  1. Squeeze enough glue into a disposable bowl to fill its bottom.  (After the glue dries, you can use the bowl again for another gluing activity.  Hoorah for recycling!)
  2. On your own paper, show your child how to dip an object in the glue and place it on the paper.  Hold your paper sideways or upside-down (depending on the weight of the object) to demonstrate that the glue is holding the object in place.  Next, encourage them to try, and ask them what they’re doing and/or comment on their process by saying things like, “You’re dipping the noodle in the glue and dripping glue on the paper.  And now you’re placing it on the blue paper.”
  3. Alternatively, give your child a small glue bottle and show them how to squeeze it on the paper.  They can then place the objects on the small dot or pile of glue.  This is a great option for kids who don’t want to touch the glue, and also helps children understand the physics of squeezing a bottle to release a liquid.

Another idea for the preschool crowd: Writing with glue as a preschooler