Looking at Art with Kids: Norman Rockwell

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.” — 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.

DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough

Have you ever made your own play dough? Im a fan of store bought dough (it’s so easy!), but making your own is a money saver and we can make TONS of it in minutes. And with the simple addition of a little pumpkin pie spice, our dough smells heavenly…just like pumpkin pie!

"Smells like Fall" Pumpkin Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

 

Inspired by The Artful Parent’s Autumn Arts and Crafts book, The Artful Year: Autumn, we finally pitched our peppermint playdough in favor of a more seasonal scent: Pumpkin Pie!

Pumpkin Pie Playdough Recipe…

I used our favorite play dough recipe, which also happens to be the favorite of my daughter’s awesome preschool class, so I’m not going to get experimental with the dough itself, but we did experiment with the spice combination.

The dough itself takes about 20 minutes to prepare, it cooks on the stove-top, and the most complicated-to-find ingredient it calls for is cream of tartar. If it’s hard for you to find, you can get Cream of Tartar on Amazon.

Yes, you can find 2-minute dough recipes, and I’d encourage you to use them if you’re short on time, but the benefit of this recipe is that it will last for ages. Ages. Scroll down for a PRINTABLE recipe card.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

After we made the dough, I placed it on the counter to cool. Meanwhile, my 2-year old worked away at pinching out a real pie crust.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

When the dough was cool to touch, we squeezed orange liquid watercolors on half of it and then kneaded it in. For this step, be sure to mix on a surface that won’t absorb the watercolors. My 4-year old wanted to make half the dough orange and half of it white.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

Although we had planned to use a jar of pumpkin pie spice in the dough, my 4-year old was curious about using whole spices that we just bought, so we pulled out the coffee grinder and gave it a very loud whirl. Fun! I don’t have a proper nutmeg grinder, but this seemed to do the trick. And the smell of cardamom — I absolutely love it.

We experimented with the spice blend by adding the different spices, first quite cautiously and then rather liberally, and in different combinations. I learned that my 4-year old isn’t too crazy about the smell of cardamom, but loves cinnamon.

DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough

Rating 

Prep time: 

Making time: 

Total time: 

Playdough is a wonderful material for building fine motor skills, developing imaginations through exploratory play, and supporting early engineering and building skills. This recipe rivals anything store-bought.
Supplies
  • 5 cups water
  • 2½ cups salt
  • 3 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice, or a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom
Steps
  1. Mix everything but the food coloring together in a large pot until somewhat smooth. It will be lumpy. Not to worry, the dough will get smoother as it cooks.
  2. Cook the dough over a low heat. Mix frequently. The water will slowly cook out of the mixture and you’ll notice it starts to take on a sticky dough appearance.
  3. Keep mixing until the edges of the dough along the side and bottom of the pan appear dry. Pinch a piece of dough. If it’s not gooey, the dough is ready.
  4. Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board or cooking tray that can withstand a little food coloring.
  5. Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth and then divide it into the number of colors that you’d like to make. We divided our in half: one orange and the other white.
  6. Flatten the ball, add a little bit of food coloring, and knead it in. Add more food coloring to get the desired shade.
  7. Store the dough in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it’ll keep for months.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie PlayDough | TinkerLab.com

My 2-year old was very happy, however, to shake-shake-shake the pie spices all over her gigantic mound of dough. Can you imagine how yummy our kitchen smelled?

 

Easy "smells great" pumpkin pie play dough | TinkerLab.com

After all this cooking, it was time to bake! At this point, our orange and white/tan doughs marbled into something lovely, and we got busy making small cakes and setting them out to eat on a 3-tier plate server.

Playdough Recipes

Rainbow Play Dough, Tinkerlab

No-cook Cinnamon Playdough, The Imagination Tree

39 Ways to Play with Playdough, The Artful Parent

Downloadable (Free) Playdough Recipe Book, Nurture Store

Fall Activities

50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids, TinkerLab

Fall Bucket List, Tinkerlab

40 Autumn Activities for Kids, The Imagination Tree

Make Fall Sunprints, Tinkerlab

Multi-color Leaf Prints, Kleas

Negative Leaf Impressions, Tinkerlab

Is this your first time here?

Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Subtraction and Addition with Manipulatives

 

Do you have a child who’s interested in math? Or maybe you have one who’s struggling, and you’re searching for a way to make it more relevant and fun?

Problem Solving Skills

This is, ahem, the very first math post I’ve ever written. My oldest child is 4, and has taken a huge interest in math, so it might just be the first of many. Fingers crossed.

If you know my blog, you’ll know me as an artsy-DIY-experiment kind of gal, and recognize that this post goes waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone, but if you need a little proof that I’m sort of qualified to talk on this subject, I took high school calculus (thanks Mrs. Tracey!) and I’m really good at counting 🙂 I’m also an advocate for creative and critical thinking, child-directed learning, and math games can help children develop problem solving skills. 

Okay, so this is how this game came about…

My kids and I were on a Target run, and did the obligatory cruise down the $1 lane when 4-year-old N spotted a pack of dry erase subtraction cards (see the photo below).

She eagerly asked if we could get them and my first thought was…

“um, no, you don’t even know how to add numbers, let alone subtract them!”

But after a beat, I put on my improvisational hat and said “yes, of course, that will be fun,” and I imagined that she’d simply enjoy the process of drawing all over them.

math is fun

When we got home she wanted to know how the cards worked, so we pulled them out.

Applied Math

Math can be so abstract and the only way I knew how to communicate the principles of subtraction was with the assistance of small objects that we could add and subtract. I’m sure I learned how to add this way, and I’m hardly claiming originality here.

I took out our basket of tree cookies (sliced up branches), and removed twelve of them, since the highest number on the cards was 12. We had tree cookies, but you could use coins, crayons, blocks, pom-poms, or any other small object that you have handy.

She can read numbers, so we started with the first problem: 3-3= 

N held her dry erase marker carefully above the worksheet and waited for my next move.

I separated three cookies from the pile and asked her how many pieces we had. She said “3.”

I proceeded: “Okay, so if we take 3 away (and I swiped them aside), how many are left?”

“Zero!” she yelled, loud enough for the neighbors to hear (they’ve told me that we’re kind of loud…eek).

“Exactly,” I said.

Cool Math

After this first round, she was on a roll. As we moved through the problems, she would set up the cookies for the first number, and then take them away for the second, and mostly needed me as her cheerleading section. And her little 2-year old sister got into the spirit too, yelling out numbers across the table. Seriously, math is cool and fun, and great for building problem-solving skills. 

Also, I never thought you could skip addition and go straight for subtraction!?

Have you tried teaching your child math this way? While we used pre-made cards, you could easily make up your own worksheet by hand or on your computer.

Do you think you’d give this a try?

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

Baked Pumpkin Seeds

While it still feels like summer here in California, pumpkins are showing up at our markets and the feeling of Autumn is in the air.

How do you cook pumpkin seeds

My older daughter asked about getting a pumpkin, so we picked up a small pie pumpkin the other day and then promptly turned it into an afternoon of hacking the pumpkin, digging out the seeds, and then roasting them up. We also baked the pumpkin and made pie filling that’s waiting to be baked into something amazing.

baking pumpkin seeds

I have wonderful memories of opening and carving pumpkins with my dad, and my hope is that my children will come to embrace this season with love as a result of our cooking adventures.

How to Bake Pumpkin Seeds

The set-up was simple:

  • One cutting board
  • One pumpkin
  • Heavy kitchen knife (pumpkins are crazy tough to cut)
  • Empty pan or bowl

My kids have a set of knives from Curious Chef that are fabulous for cutting up mushrooms, scrambled eggs, marshmallows, cheddar cheese, and all things not-too-hard. I began by cutting the top off the pumpkin, and then my 4-year old asked if she could help. Ha!

Although it was clear that her beloved knife was no match for the pumpkin, in the spirit of experimentation she gave it a go. This is how kids learn! Once we got past that, we got back to digging seeds out of the pumpkin. We got most of them out before I cut the pumpkin in half, which helped us clean it out really well.

My kids aren’t really into goopy things at the moment, but children who are would probably love the sensory experience of mucking around with all the smooshy pumpkin seeds and such.

We put all the seeds into a pot of water, added a few pinches of salt, and boiled it for 20 minutes.This helps clean the seeds off while infusing them with a little flavor.

Salting things is one of 4-year old N’s favorite kitchen duties, and while I initially worried that she’d oversalt our food, she’s become very judicious after lots of practice. Our favorite salt is Maldon Sea Salt, and we keep it in a bamboo salt box like this.

how to bake pumpkins seeds

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

After 20 minutes, we spread the seeds out on a baking tray and set them aside to dry overnight. 

The next day, we mixed them with 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 kid-size pinces of salt, and a few shakes of garlic powder. This all goes into a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes. About 20 minutes into the baking, I turned the seeds to help them cook evenly.

The kitchen smelled like heaven.

My kids were eager to try their creation, but sadly, they weren’t fans. I think the crunchiness wasn’t that appealing, and maybe with a different flavor like cinnamon-sugar would have been more their speed. Good thing we have a few more months to tinker with our recipe!

More Fall Activities on Tinkerlab

Fall Bucket List

Negative Leaf Impressions

Capture Fall Memories with Kids

Acrylic Painted Pumpkins

No-carve Pumpkin Decorating

Do your kids like pumpkin seeds? Do you have a favorite baked pumpkin seed flavor that we could try?

On Failure

failure quote

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately, and how failure is nothing more than an opportunity to learn, improve, iterate, and grow.

Innovators aren’t afraid of failure, and in many cases it’s only by embracing failure that we can learn to pick ourselves up and get closer to the outcome that we envisioned in the first place.

What do you think about failure? Are you a perfectionist? How do you react when things don’t go as you planned?

What do you think stands in the way of your ability to fail, or why do you think you’re good at accepting mistakes as part of the learning process?

More on Failure and Innovation

The term “loser” hasn’t been around forever, and in the mid 19th century, Americans began to associate business failures with personal failure. Read more about this fascinating history of the beginnings of failure in America, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America

Creating an Innovation Culture: Accepting Failure is NecessaryEdward D. Hess, Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business for Forbes.

Why Great Innovators Fail: It’s all in the Ecosystem, Forbes

Don’t Fear Failure in Innovation: Google’s Chief Technology Advocate, CIO.in

Why Failure Drives Innovation, Baba Shiv, Sanwa Bank, Ltd. Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

 

Celery Science Experiment

How to set up a simple Scientific Experiment with Celery and Food Coloring :: Tinkerlab.comWhile I’m an art educator by trade, having small people pulling at my pants has turned me into a mini-alchemist who’s suddenly found herself reading books to her kids about Galileo (The Magic Schoolbus and the Science Fair Expedition) and brewing all sorts of concoctions in our kitchen (vinegar and baking soda, anyone?).

The celery science experiment is easy to achieve with basic kitchen materials and it’s embedded with all sorts of opportunities for introducing the scientific method (in short: asking scientific questions, making predictions, and conducting an experiment).

 

science food coloring celery experiment

Materials

  • Celery with leafy tops
  • Clear glasses
  • Water
  • Food coloring

The Celery Science Experiment

N poured water into three glasses. about 3/4 cup in each.

Then she added a few drops of food coloring — 5-8 drops, but who’s counting! — into the glasses and stirred with a piece of celery, which was left in the glass. And then we talked about what might happen if we left the celery in the colored water for a while.

science food coloring celery experiment

We oohed and ahhed over the lava-lamp effect of the food coloring as it hit the water.

The Scientific Method: Make Predictions

We started off with red, yellow, and green, but N really wanted to mix colors and added blue and red to the green water (far right). We revisited our earlier discussion and made predictions about how the celery might change.

While waiting for something to happen, I chopped the celery heart off the bottom of the stalk and set up a printing activity.

N humored me by making a few prints and then asked if she could play with colored water. Totally!

While I only have one photo of this, it was probably the highlight of the afternoon.

capillary action

When we checked the celery a couple hours later, this is what it looked like. I put a leafy top next to it so you can see how subtle the change is. Hmmm. While I could see the change, I wasn’t sure it would make a big impact on my daughter. And then I realized that I should have just put the leafy parts in the water for a more dramatic result. Done!

A few hours later the blue/green had the most pronounced shift, but the red and yellow were visibly different too.

capillary action

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the red and blue-green died celery tops, about 16 hours after the stalks had been sitting in the water. N seemed to appreciate the difference, but wasn’t nearly as impressed as her dad and I were.

How the Celery Science Experiment Works

Plants need water to survive and they draw water up from their roots through their capillaries. The capillaries are hollow and act a lot like a straw. Adding color to the water helps us visualize this usually invisible process.

Is this your first time here?

Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

 

Diet Coke Mentos Experiment

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?