Organic Shape Monsters for Halloween

When I saw this idea over at We Heart Art, I loved it for its open-ended qualities and simplicity. Joanna did this project with Kindergarteners, but it was adaptable to my 3-year old and could easily scale up for older children. Plus, the monster theme played out so nicely with Halloween right around the corner. Grrrrr….

And, are you ready to hear how easy this is? All you need are about 20″ of yarn, paper, and some markers or crayons. 

We talked about witches, ghosts, and jack-o’-lanterns all morning, so when I asked if N wanted to make a monster she was game. In general, she hasn’t drawn too many realistic drawings, so I was curious to see where this experiment would go. We each started out with a piece of yarn. I moved the yarn around my page to make an organic shape, connected the two ends to close it, and then traced an outline around the shape. N took note and did the same. So far, the process intrigued her.

We removed the yarn and I invited her to turn it into a monster. And this is what’s so cool about this project: There’s no expectation and the outcome is totally up to the child’s imagination. The red apostrophe shape she’s working on is a little baby monster. Awwww. At first glance I thought it was the mouth, which is a good reminder on why it’s best to never make assumptions and ask the child about their work without making interpretations!

Okay, now you can see the mouth. Ferocious!

She also added some arms, eye lashes, a forehead, a belly button, and fur. It’s kind of Jabba the Hutt, no? And despite it’s obvious scariness, I love it!

Have you ever heard that people learn as they teach? (In case you’re wondering, it can be credited to the Roman philosopher, Seneca — I had to look it up, and subsequently learned about it so I could share it with you!). Well, N’s friend came over the next day, and at one point in the afternoon the two of them sat down at the art table and she independently showed him how to make a monster! You can imagine my surprise and delight — I guess she really embraced the concept and thought it was worth sharing.

More Halloween Ideas

If you enjoyed this post, you have to check out 50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids.

Shopping for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

This magnificent butterfly finds a little heap of dirt and sits still on it; but man will never on his heap of mud keep still.  — Joseph Conrad

Did you know that yesterday was International Mud Day? One of my fondest childhood memories is pretending to feed my friend Alexandra’s cat the ooey gooey mud pies we made in her garden, and my hope is to instill my own child with a similar joy for mucking around and being comfortable in nature…and mud, even!

I wrote about our new Mud Pie Kitchen two weeks ago, and since it’s still a popular place to hang out I thought we could move into phase two of our kitchen remodel and talk about mud pie kitchen accessories.

This, of course, involved an educational trip to the Goodwill for some new tools and appliances and N was eager to go.

Thrifting for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

My two little kids and I scooted quickly past the fragile knick knacks and dishes (phew!), and made our way to the metal and wood aisle. N picked out everything you see in the basket while I acted as her guide, making suggestions and occasionally vetoing her choices (she really wanted that pizza wheel up there, which was smartly taped off).

The biggest score was a pink and blue plastic toy called the Fluff Factory, which you can see buried in her basket. It was reminiscent of a meat grinder, and I couldn’t wait to find out what its original purpose was. It turns out that it’s used to fill teddy bears with fluff. How awesome is that? N had no idea of its purpose, but she saw potential in it and I love that even more!

 

Setting up the Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

When we got home there was the requisite costume change into the tutu bathing suit (for her, not me) before unveiling the new pots and pans. And while these new goods were for our MUD pie kitchen, it was all water play without a speck of mud in sight. N loved her new coffee pot (just $3!), kid-sized REAL frying pan, and of course, the Fluff Factory. To accomodate our expanding collection of dishes and such, we added some more counter space, which helped tremendously.

She spent the rest of the afternoon pouring water and dropping flower petals into the little factory and turning the crank to push the water through. Problem solving at its finest. Oh, and maybe next time we’ll actually play with mud!

Mud Pie Kitchen Accessory Ideas

  • Crates
  • Old Tables
  • End tables (they can act as stoves and fridges)
  • Wooden spoons
  • Small pots and Pans
  • Shiny Dishes
  • Jell-o molds
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Buckets
  • Large Tub (to act as a sink)
  • Nearby hose

Mud Pie Kitchen Accessory Tips

  • Shop for materials at a second hand store. You never know what you will find, which can help you (and children) see the potential in surprising objects.
  • Involve children in the design of the kitchen. Purchasing her own kitchen supplies raised N’s eagerness to use them. She talked about playing with her new pots all the way home and couldn’t get into her bathing suit fast enough.
  • Include interactive Tools that can work like appliances

See our Mud Pie Kitchen Series

How to Set Up a Mud Pie Kitchen

Mud Pie Kitchen Ideas

 

How to Set Up a Mud Pie Kitchen

This may not look like much, but we’ve been testing our mud pie kitchen and getting a fresh perspective on what works. It used to reside in another part of our yard, and I thought that moving it might make it more accesible. And it did!! I fashioned the stove/sink from two wooden crates I found at a craft store last summer. Next, mud pie tools were gathered from our sand box: buckets, bowls, and a jello mold picked up at a second hand store for a dollar. We got the measuring cups at our last trip to IKEA, and carried pots and pans outside from the indoor play kitchen.

I filled the big green tub with water and we called it the “sink,” and N got busy making soup. She owned the kitchen right from the start and there was no end to what she wanted to create.

The sink got muddy pretty quickly, so she requested another pail full of clean water. Some kids love the mud, mine tolerates it.

The kitchen was set up next to some flowery bushes, which made for a convenient food pantry.

She carefully pressed flowers into the mud like sprinkles on a cake. The contrast was gorgeous. We started this pretty late in the day, and she would have played out there all night if she could have. She actually told me that she wanted to skip dinner because she wasn’t hungry. So I guess the whole test kitchen thing went well!

When she was all done, we poured the dirt back into the ground and the kitchen is ready for our next cooking adventure.

What I learned about making a Mud Pie Kitchen

  • The Mud Pie Kitchen is an incredible way to encourage imaginative play, which can lead to creative thinking, curiosity, and experimentation
  • The kitchen does not have to be elaborate to work
  • It should be child-height
  • It’s nice to have multiple levels or surfaces to work on
  • Set it up directly in or next to dirt/mud/sand
  • Have a water source nearby
  • Fill a large container with water
  • Useful tools: spoons, bowls, spades, colander, pitcher
  • Use real kitchen tools to reinforce that play is work (to children, it is!)
  • Include something fancy like a jello mold
  • If there aren’t natural materials nearby (like flower petals), forage for them ahead of time

See our Mud Pie Kitchen Series

Mud Pie Kitchen Ideas

Shopping for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

Fridge Box Imaginative Play

We got a new fridge (!!), and while I’m thrilled with the new appliance, I have to admit that I was almost as excited about the box that it came in. I had to convince the delivery team to save it for me, and was surprised that they seemed shocked by my request. Have they not delivered glorious ginormous boxes to the homes of preschoolers before?

But what would we do with it? I put the question out to my Facebook page because I was interested in gathering a wide range of possibilities for N to choose from, and the responses ranged from hilarious (Carissa said, “it would MY ‘quiet place’ for the day and then the kids could have it tomorrow.”) to the fiscal (Bron said I might be able to sell it on ebay for $50!!). Lauren at 365 Great Children’s Books suggested “a castle…a cafe…a library…a puppet theater.” I ran these along with all the other ideas past my daughter who immediately said she wanted to make a cafe. But once she saw the box, she decided that it would be a FOOD TRUCK!

I pushed her play kitchen around to the back door (sadly, it was too tall to fit inside), cut a service window on one side, and added a couple quick tires to differentiate it from a fast-food place.

N added a cash drawer and a calculator, and was ready to take orders.

I asked her about the menu and she told me that I would be eating ravioli (actually a lovely assortment of rocks). I couldn’t quite nail down the theme of her truck because the next day she was making lemon crepes. It made me laugh when she packed my food up in a to-go bag!

As the day went on more things were added: hand soap (because her customers should have clean hands before eating) and the beginning of a menu (the red paper attached with purple tape).

We also added a window to the front of the truck, a chair for driving, a lighting system, and some employees.

Activities like this are great for imagination-building and open-ended play. We’ve only had this up for 2 days, but it’s already given us HOURS of fun. For more cardboard box ideas, go on over to our Cardboard Box Challenge, which shares the cardboard creations of nearly 25 creative education/parent bloggers.

Book Links

Your turn: What have you done with a LARGE box? Or what would you do with one?

If you have a fridge box link or a fridge box photo to share, feel free to do so in the comments.

This post is linked to It’s Playtime!

Ghosts + the Emergent Curriculum

N is fascinated with Halloween decorations, and with every animatronic witch and 10-foot spider that we see around town she decides that we, too, need to own “that!”. We decorated with some cobwebs, pumpkins, and a 3 foot spider, but apparently that’s not enough! After seeing a ton of ghosts yesterday, followed by lengthy discussions about our spooky friends, with my daughter asking “how could we make a ghost?”, this ghost bonanza emerged. I’m not an early child educator, but I’ve taken an interest in emergent curriculum, which is planning a curriculum based on students’ interests, and the proof that this concept need not be relegated to preschools was in the HOURS of ghost decorating and play that followed.

While N was napping, I cut up some fabric for ghost-making.

The remains of the t-shirt I cut up for the Upcycled Circle Scarfs would become ghost heads.

I laid these out during naptime, and when she woke up she threw them across the room. Really! Anyone else have kids who wake up grumpy from their naps?

Once the dust settled and bellies were filled with snacks, we made our ghosts and hung them from a tree.

And had fun swinging at ’em like a pinata. Pinatas are big around here.

We drew ghosts on the sidewalk.

Then we came inside and made more ghosts out of paper. I pre-cut them into blobby ghost shapes…

…and then N went to town.

The ghost family kept growing and growing. At one point my darling daughter proclaimed, “I’m making our house really spooky!” True that! Then N decided to embellish with stickers, sequins and pencil. After dinner, the ghost-making continued. I was truly floored by her commitment to this project.

What Halloween activities are you up to?

In what ways have you followed an “emerging curriculum” with your kids or students?

Why Creative Thinking?

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

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

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

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

 

Felt Cookies

Lately, a lot of play-acting around here seems to revolve around cooking. We have a slew of play food, but up until last week we had no cookies. When we wanted to bake a batch, the play dough would usually come out.  Not a bad thing — I love play dough — but while doing some research for another project, I hit on this fun and easy idea from Mirror-Mirror and Laura Bray for making felt play cookies. If you’re not a stitcher, don’t let that curb your own enthusiasm for making a batch of these.  The project is fairly simple, and could even be done with a glue gun instead of stitches if the mood strikes. These are not only great imagination-builders for your own play kitchen, but also make excellent gifts and could be a thoughtful donation to your favorite pre-school or school fundraiser.

The Prototype Batch

Since I had some felt and embroidery thread lying around, I decided to whip up a batch to see if these were worth making. A few iterations on the first batch and a couple visits to the craft store later, and I think I’ve nailed the project down pretty tight.

The very tough Test Kitchen

Materials

  • Acrylic Felt swatches like these: you can find these in craft stores for about 30 cents a piece (9″ x 12″).  Choose colors that you’d like for your cookies and your frosting. Good choices for us were tan, pale pin, dark brown, white, and cream.
  • Embroidery Thread to match the felt
  • Embroidery Thread for Sprinkles. My variety-pack includes pink, hot pink, yellow, and green.
  • Chenille or Embroidery needles. I prefer chenille needles because the eye is a little larger, making them easier for me to thread. Either way, make sure you get something with a sharp point. Stay clear of tapestry needles with their blunt tips.
  • Polyester fiberfill stuffing, such as this.
  • Pencil or fabric crayon

Directions

Fold your felt in half, or stack two pieces together, and draw your cookie shape. I made circles, but you could make gingerbread men, ducks, etc. My cookies are about 3″ in diameter. I like to cut free-hand, but you could place a cookie cutter or the bottom of a glass on top of the felt to get a clean shape.

Cut the felt out.

Make some frosting. Cut an organic circle-ish shape out of contrasting felt.

Layer the frosting on top of one of the cookie pieces. Select a color for the sprinkles. Thread the needle. Knot off one end, and stitch on some sprinkles. Add a couple colors if you ‘d like.

The back will look something like this.

Layer the bottom piece of cookie beneath the frosted top, and stitch around the cookie with a blanket stitch. Be sure to leave a gap to fill in the cookie with some fiberfill stuffing. Stitch the hole closed.

Place your cookies in a jar for gift-giving, or put them on a plate.

Happy Baking!

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Easter in August

After Easter we moved some plastic eggs into N’s play kitchen, and every now and then she’ll ask us to hide them in the garden. One of these rogue eggs has been living in our fire pit for the past month (sadly, we haven’t been roasting marshmallows as much as we’d hoped), and she spotted it yesterday. So, with the two-year old hopping up and down asking for me to find — and hide — the rest of the eggs, I had to quickly pull together a spontaneous egg hunt. And all this led me to finally organize all of the materials in one easy-to-reach outdoor place.  If you’re not opposed to having egg hunts in August, this is a great hide-and-seek game (indoors or out) for any time of year.  And if you want to keep those eggs sacred for the holiday in which they were designed, you could hide toy cars, balls, or any other little fun objects you could dream up.

Pulling it together

I now store all of our eggs in a plastic shoe box, and collected all of our baskets into one place — couldn’t believe my only 2-year old already has four of these! While I usually start the hiding game, for some reason N now takes over after the second egg has been placed, and insists on both hiding AND finding the eggs. Not an issue, as this is obviously just the beginning of her inventing her own games. Which brings me to share why this is a creative thinking activity — I’m excited that my child doesn’t see holidays or seasons as limitations to her own ideas.  She’s not limited by cultural or societal constraints, and when inspiration strikes she’s enthusiastic to embark on a new journey to hunt for eggs in August.

Happy Hunting!