Art With Everyday Things

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I stumbled upon Tsh Oxenreider’s blog, Simplemom.net, and its words of clean and simple living wisdom have been a huge inspiration to this pile-making, book-loving, overstuffed home-making, can’t-throw-away-art-supplies-from-college kind of gal. I was so drawn in that I purchased her book, Organized Simplicity, and I’m finding myself on a new path toward simplifying my home and life.

Related to all of this, my home has fallen under The Great Purge, and odds and ends like never used triangular make-up sponges are mostly finding their way into the trash. Or in this case, because I still have the art material hoarding sickness…the art table. Although the whole point of this journey is for me to get rid of things, I had a feeling that my little art explorer would enjoy tinkering with them.

And she did! After sponging to her heart’s content, N reached for the paint squeeze bottles. Mixed media painting begins here! When she was younger I waxed poetic about limiting art supplies in any given project to avoid overwhelming a child with options. I’m still formulating my thoughts on this as she gets older, but it’s becoming more and more clear that she enjoys having access to a wide variety of materials in one sitting. In another recent session, she used pom-poms, glitter glue, and watercolor paint…all of her own design.

And then she picked up a grease pencil, or china marker, for some additional mark-making. These pencils not only make beautiful bright marks, but they’re fun for kids to peel open.

While the triangle sponges were saved from the dump this time around, it’s a whole other story for the old blender, maternity clothes, and set of rarely used hot cocoa mugs. Although, on second thought, that dying blender may find a second life as a paper pulper. Or not.

I’d love to know…what everyday objects you or your kids like to tinker with?

Paint *With* Me

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I picked up some inexpensive kitchen basting brushes for art making with the idea that it would be fun to experiment with various types of mark-making materials, and specifically, a variety of brushes. N picked two paint colors, red and purple, and I dropped the basters in the paint. As usual, I wasn’t sure where this activity would take us. After smooshing some paint around on the paper, she decided to paint her hand and have a go at hand-printing. And then a moment later, she asked me to join in the fun. Huh? Oh no, I thought, I’m just here to facilitate this experience. And then she asked again. “Mom, do you want to paint your hand, too?” Not really, I thought, but how could I say “no” when I’m trying raise my daughter to embrace play, experimentation, and risk-taking?

And it reminded me of a fabulous book that I use during Docent Training called Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up. If you’re looking for a last-minute holiday gift, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a great read. When Ibrought it on a trip with my parents last Christmas, my mom devoured it in a few hours. And our docents raved about it too. The first chapter of the book is called Say Yes, in which the author makes the argument that we should say yes to everything and accept all offers. To quote the book, “Say yes to everything. Accept all offers. Go along with the plan. Support someone else’s dream…Yes glues us together. Yes starts the juices rolling…Saying yes is an act of courage and optimism; it allows you to share control. It is a way to make your partner happy. Yes expands your world.” The opposite of yes, of course, is “no,” which is a blocking word, and it indicates to others that we have a better idea, we’re critical of the idea on the table, or we’re simply uninterested. What kind of message would I send to my child if I said “no?” Instead, I gave her a whole-hearted “YES,” and I’ve lived to tell the story!

After making handprints, N painted in my mostly red print with purple paint.

And then added some more paint, snowflakes, and sequins. When we washed up, the red paint stained our hands a lovely pink color that reminded me of our joint effort to experiment, play, and take risks.

The YES challenge (via Improv Wisdom)

  • Agree with those around you
  • Say yes if someone asks for help and you can give it
  • For one day say yes to everything, and notice the results. (obviously, use common sense!)

If you take on this challenge, I’d love to hear about the results!

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

If I had a Hammer

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My neighbor Liz is an incredible parent, and she’s also a preschool teacher by trade. She introduced us to this early carpintry & building activity this summer, and my daughter has asked me to buy her golf tees on numerous occasions since. I finally got my act together and ordered a set of tees, but this would be an easy no-brainer for any of our friends out there who play golf. It’s nice to have a bowl of tees in the yard in case the mood to hammer strikes. Ouch, no pun intended!

A handful of tees and a toy hammer is all it takes. This hammer is part of a Plan Toys set that we’ve outgrown. The tees are from Amazon.

When my daughter was younger, I would poke some tees into the earth to help her get started, but now she wants to do this step herself. For easier hammering, we like to work with soft or wet dirt.

Resources:

  • Montessori Services sells a hammering set, but you can also order a hammer and tees separately.  I would recommend just the tees and hammer.
  • If you don’t have access to dirt or want to make this an indoor activity, a good alternative is to pick up or find a huge chunk of styrofoam.

Hammering and Building Extensions:

  • Older children may enjoy hammering real nails into a tree stump or piece of scrap wood.
  • Pre-hammer holes into a piece of wood. Using a screw driver and large screws, show the child how to screw into the hole left by the nail.  You could also practice screwing holes into a bar of soap.
  • Cut small pieces of sand paper of various grades, and set out some blocks for the child to sand. Discuss the different textures of the papers with words like rough, course, and smooth.

Have you tried hammering with your kids? What do they think of this activity?

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?

Flour and Water

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We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Sponge Stamping

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

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

Stamping N’s and Hearts.

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

Thick, wet, stamped paint.

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

Homemade Stickers

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

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

N is going through her circle period!

Peeling off and adding stickers to a sheet of paper.

The final product.

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

Do your kids love stickers too?

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

Beans are for Gluing

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

The Creative Hook

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

Materials

  • Beans
  • Paper
  • Bottle of Glue

Directions

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

Follow up

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

Extension for School-Age Kids

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

Salty Sprinkles

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

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

What’s the Hook?

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

Materials

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your new, homemade glitter!

Glitter, Glitter Everywhere

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Okay, I’ll be honest. If you want to keep your home clean or you have a fear of “the mess,” this may not be the post to read. Today we played with glitter, and the stuff can get everywhere!  The initial plan was to use some glitter glue, but as I squeezed the bottle for our trial run, a crack in the bottom of the bottle split open, causing a mound of glitter glue to ooze all over my hand. So, with a glitter-eager toddler awaiting this highly anticipated moment, I was obliged to pull out some shakers of real glitter and the show went on.  The upside here, for anyone who’s feeling less than enthusiastic about embarking on a glitter activity after reading my report thus far, is that N LOVED playing with the stuff. And, if you choose to go the glitter glue route, there’s barely any mess at all.

We had some doilies left over from our Doily Drawings so we used them as the substrate, but any 2-D surface will do. Actually, the holes in the doilies posed some glitter-shaking problems, and I’d probably shy away from them next go around (although there is something pretty about lacy doilies and shiny glitter). With a two-year old, there’s only so much you can do with glitter, but if you have older kids, you may like to try making glittery fairy wands or glitter leaves. And if YOU are giddy for glitter too, Martha Stewart has a whole slew of Halloween glitter activities that will keep you busy for the next few months. Finally, if your child likes glitter like mine does, it’s a great embellishment for just about any art activity. Think of it as an art accessory.

Anyhoo, here’s what you need if you want to get your glitter on:

The Creative Hook

We did this activity for a few reasons.

  • My daughter had yet to use glitter, and the novelty of a new materials posed all sorts of opportunities for exploration.
  • The steps involved with working with glitter are somewhat involved, and the process requires patience and focus.
  • My initial plan was to use glitter glue and then introduce the glitter shaker on a subsequent day, but the plan fell through. The reason for this is that I’ve noticed my child is bonkers for shaking things out of littler containers (candy sprinkles, parmesan cheese, cocoa, cinnamon, etc.) and it was apparent that shaking glitter would be a natural extension of her current fascination with shaking and sprinkling.
  • The visual payoff can be striking, and kids may be wowed by the shimmery effect of the glitter.

Materials

  • Glitter-Glue or Glue & Glitter Shakers. You can find glitter in craft stores, and I’d recommend buying stuff that’s specifically in the kid section because it’s less likely to be super fine and/or toxic. Buy a few colors if you can.
  • Paper
  • Plate, box, or trash can for shaking glitter into

Directions

  • If you’re using glitter glue, show your child how to use it, and let him or her explore how the material works.
  • If you’re using glitter AND glue, show your child how to squeeze glue on the paper, gently shake glitter over the glue, and then shake the extra glue off and onto the plate or into the trash can.

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Egg Carton Painting

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If you grew up in the United States, there’s a good chance that during your childhood you made some version of an egg carton craft: think lady bugs with pom-pom faces and googly eyes. On this page alone, I counted 47 craft projects for preschoolers that begin with egg cartons!

What N and I embarked on is more of a free-painting project, sans pom-poms, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes. It takes the open-ended painting experience from the easel to the egg carton, and offers children an opportunity to think creatively and independently. I’m big on using non-art materials for art-making, and this definitely fits the bill.  Recycling materials teaches kids that anything can be used for art, and we’re only limited by our own imaginations. In addition to all of this, the textured, bumpy surface of the carton is a new form of tactile exploration that offers new challenges to kids used to painting on 2-D surfaces. And, if you set this up on your kitchen floor, as we did, this is a flexible activity for homes with limited art-making space.

Time

10 minutes for set-up and clean-up. 10 – 45 minutes for the activity.  At 2 years old, my daughter spent about 10 minutes on this.

Materials

  • Cardboard egg carton/s
  • Tempera paint (acrylic will work too)
  • Fat brushes. We like round, fat brushes like these.
  • Palette or paint cups. I like to squeeze paints on a plastic-coated paper plate or plate covered in foil.

Steps

  1. Save your cardboard egg cartons. We eat a lot of eggs around here, so this wasn’t too hard.
  2. Cover your work surface. I covered a large area of our kitchen floor with a paper grocery bag that I cut open.
  3. Set up materials. I limited our palette to two colors, which my daughter enjoyed mixing.
  4. Give your child the egg carton, and see what he or she comes up with.

Egg Carton Extension

I found this very cool idea on Giggleface Studios for making an egg carton nature/object collecting box. While my daughter is probably a bit young to fully enjoy this, I imagine it would be a crowd pleaser for kids over 3. And you can see all of the photos that relate to this project here.