Ghosts + the Emergent Curriculum

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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?

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.

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.

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.

Creative Cooking

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While the art world may dominate a large corner of the creativity market, creative activities can be found in just about any aspect of life. And the kitchen is a great example of this.  A couple days ago my daughter spotted the candy sprinkles that we used for her birthday cupcakes, and jumped up and down with enthusiasm to make cookies — the medium (in this case, sprinkles) inspired the following 1 1/2 hours of cookie making.

When I’m in the kitchen, she’s always involved in some way or another, from scooping granola into breakfast bowls to shucking corn. And this is great for her on many levels: she learns where her meals come from (and is now in the practice of encouraging everyone to thank her for her contributions to meals…she can be sassy!), she knows where everything lives in our kitchen, and she’s beginning to understand the properties of recipes and food. When we shuck corn, for example, she hands the cob off to me when she reaches the silk because it grosses her out. And when she pretends to make pancakes I hear her naming off the ingredients (“flour, baking powder, eggs…”).

Of all the things we make together, one of the best recipes for kid participation (in my life as a parent thus far) is pizza. Kids can roll the dough, sprinkle cheese, and choose their own toppings. And with that autonomy comes problem solving (figuring out how to roll out the dough to fit the pan or resolving an area of dough that has become too thin and breaks), exploration (working with pliable dough and experiencing the feeling of cheese as it falls from the hands), and creative thinking (making choices about what goes on the pizza). And the part of making pizza that’s especially creative is that you can easily improvise with the ingredients — one day it’s pineapple/olive and the next it’s feta/sausage/mushroom. One of my favorite food writers, New York Times columnist, Mark Bittman, is well known for improvising in the kitchen. I love his cookbooks, and always feel liberated from cooking conventions when he’s by my side.

While we’ve done this in our home kitchen, this would be a really fun activity to run in a preschool, afterschool program, or camp. Given that you have access to an oven, of course. I’ve made my own pizza dough, but excellent pre-made doughs are easily found in the fridge or freezer sections of many markets. If you happen to have a Trader Joe’s near you, they have three varieties, and they’re each $.99.  In my not-enough-time-to-clean-the-house life, this is the no-brainer way to go. When we make pizza together, I always make a big pie for the family while she makes her own mini pie that she’s always very proud of.

Steps

  1. Set up your cooking area. With kids, anticipation is everything. Get out the rolling pins (if you have a mini rolling pin, this is the time to use it), clean your work surface, grab some flour for dusting, and gather your ingredients. Set up a station for yourself, and one for each child.
  2. Ingredients: Your favorite cheese (pre-shredded if you’re short on time. We make a mozzarella/feta combo.), pizza sauce, and your child’s favorite toppings. I like to put all the toppings in little bowls — cooking shows have obviously played a role in this!
  3. Create! Roll out the dough. If your child isn’t old enough for this step, give them some dough to play with and squeeze. At two years old, my daughter gets the idea of rolling, but I still jump in to help her shape it into something edible. Spoon on some tomato sauce, place toppings, and sprinkle on the cheese.  Follow the directions on your dough package to see how long your pizza should cook.
  4. Eat. And enjoy the pride you see in your child’s face, as they enjoy their own homemade pizza.

Bon Appetite!

The Creativity Crisis

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Newsweek just published a must-read article, The Creativity Crisis, co-written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (both well-known for their best seller, Nurture Shock). In the article, the authors make a great argument for infusing childhood experiences and school curricula with creative-thinking methodologies, stating that children who are stronger creative thinkers will fare better when faced with life’s problems and that “the correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.”

They go on to state that creative thinking skills have been on the decline in school age kids since 1990, and that the numbers are making no real signs of popping back up. Despite the seemingly dire news, the authors share that a solution could lie in enriching children’s educations with creative-thinking activities, and that infusing current educational practices with project-based learning and creative problem-solving pedagogies will also help.

Related to this, they wrote a companion piece called Forget Brainstorming, with seven great tips on how to foster creativity.  It’s a useful list for both kids and adults.

Highlights from the Article

  • “A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future.”
  • “Claremont Graduate University’s Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and University of Northern Iowa’s Gary G. Gute found highly creative adults tended to grow up in families embodying opposites. Parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability. They were highly responsive to kids’ needs, yet challenged kids to develop skills. In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished.”
  • “Preschoolers who spend more time in role-play (acting out characters) have higher measures of creativity.”

Think!

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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.

Rolling Rock Painting

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I’ve been on the hunt for inspiring activities that foster creative thinking, and just came across a sweet project called Super Sized Marble Painting from Jenny at Let the Children Play.

Jenny is a preschool teacher, so many of her activities are geared toward large groups of kids and I was pressed to figure out a way to pull this off with just me and my 2-year old. Another issue was that I didn’t have any marbles in the house, and I couldn’t swallow forking out $11 for the marbles I found at the toystore this morning. In a fit of resourcefulness that I attribute to my girl scout past, I remembered the big bowl of smooth river rocks I have tucked away for forcing hyacinth bulbs to grow.  Score!  Something to consider:  because painted rocks/marbles are bound to fly around, this is an excellent activity to try outdoors.

What’s the Hook?

  • Children get to experiment with non-art materials (in this case, marbles or rocks instead of paintbrushes), a reminder that all things are not necessarily what they seem, and that objects can be repurposed with new possibilities.
  • Older children will problem-solve as they try to figure out how to achieve color and line combinations within this almost unpredictable, moving framework.
  • Children will be active!  This is not quite Jackson Pollack Action Painting, but without some physical activity the artwork would just never happen.

Time

20+ minutes, 5 minutes for set-up and 5-10 minutes for clean-up

Materials

  • A stack of paper
  • Thick paint such as tempera or acrylic
  • Small, rolling objects such as marbles or smooth rocks
  • Bowl/bowls for the paint. I lined my bowl with tin foil so that I could simply throw the paint away when we were done — easy clean-up!  I was happy to use one bowl for all the colors, but you may want yours in separate containers.
  • A tray of some sort. I found ours at a thrift store for $3.  You can find these new at stores like Target.  A clear plastic tub or cardboard box would also do the trick.
  • Masking tape
  • Paint Brush (optional).  Great to have on hand in case your child wants to ditch the rocks for ol’ fashioned brush painting.

What we did

  • Tape a sheet of paper inside the tray.
  • Squeezed four paint color into a bowl
  • Dip a rock into the paint and then place it on the paper.  Repeat this step for as many rocks as you’d like.  We used about 8.
  • Rock the tray back and forth to create marks all over the paper.

  • We taped the complete paintings to a fence
  • Clean-up:  I dropped the rocks in a sand pail full of water, swished it around, and poured the water on in the garden, and we washed our hands in the hose before heading inside. Pretty easy.  The apron helped, too!


Exploring with Play Dough

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Got dough? Here are some ideas to get you started…

The possibilities are truly endless. At 16 months, it was enough for my daughter to just squish it and move balls of dough from one bowl to another. At 20 months, she wanted to cut it, so we introduced a safe wooden “knife” that we got for free from our local cupcake shop.  Lately, at almost 2 years, she likes to “cook” muffins and cookies and tacos, and I’m grateful to whoever makes play dishes, rolling pins, and cookie cutters!  I collect tools from everywhere: Melissa and Doug Shape Model and Mold comes with rolling pins and is fabulous, the Play Doh Fun Factory comes with cookie cutters and a spaghetti maker (much like a garlic press), and I source my own kitchen for straws, potato mashers, toothpicks, and popsicle sticks.

You can roll the dough into worms and balls, smoosh it and stamp it, and poke it with forks and straws.  If you want to help your child learn how to use scissors, roll out some worms and show them how to cut them with safety scissors. This is incredibly rewarding to kids who are frustrated by cutting paper, which is really not the easiest thing to do!

Sometimes we’ll roll it out on the counter, but  there’s always a little art table covered in Mexican oil cloth that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.  You can pick up inexpensive plastic sheeting or oil cloth at your local hardware store.  My best advice, if you rarely play with play dough, is to just put it out with a bunch of tools, and see what happens.

Exploring Glue

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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).

Time:

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

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

Materials:

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

Activity:

  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

Creativity in the Garden

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Spring is here (!!!), and for us that means it’s time play outside and start a garden.

Children learn through play, and for them “play” is “work.”  So this is a great opportunity to let them “play” while learning about seeds, digging holes, packing mulch, and watering.  All you need are some play clothes, a few plants, a pot or bit of land, soil, and a trowel or two.  Not to fret if you don’t have land — this activity can be easily adapted to an indoor space (such a kitchen) or patio with a few pots and a small bit of dirt.

You can start with the following simple instructions, and then go from there…make garden art, build a musical fence, play with the hose, build a birdhouse, look for snails, or collect leaves.  The options are endless.  More inspiration on gardening with kids can be found here: http://www.thekidsgarden.co.uk/

Creativity Connections:

  • Gardens can be a place to gain problem-solving skills. For example, children can explore how deep they need to dig holes, how much water it takes to fill a watering can, and they can make decisions about where they want to plant seeds or plants.
  • Ask the child problem-solving questions such as, “What shall we plant in this large hole?  The strawberries, the sage, or the tomatoes?”
  • Ask the child invention-building questions such as, “What do you suppose we could do with this trowel?”

Time:

  • If you’re planting a pot or two, once you’ve gathered your materials, this activity could be done in 1/2 hour. Children who enjoy the sandbox, may linger over the joys of digging dirt and could use more time.  For a larger garden space, give yourself at least an hour…possibly more. Attention spans can be short, but once outside, time can go by quickly with all of the distractions of bugs, dirt, digging, water, and mud.

Materials:

  1. Planting pots or  a clear spot of earth
  2. Soil
  3. Plants: veggies, herbs and small flowers are great for small hands
  4. Seeds
  5. Trowels:  one adult size and one child size.  Spoons can work too.
  6. Gardener’s knee pad (not necessary, but really helpful) — get two if you can!
  7. Spray bottle: not really necessary for gardening, but little gardeners adore playing with these
  8. Watering can or hose. Small watering cans are easy to find in drugstores as part of sandbox kits this time of year.
  9. Play clothes

Directions:

  1. Talk with your child about what you’re planning to do:  You can choose the plants together or have them ready on “planting day.”
  2. Show your child the tools you’ll be using, and explain how you’ll use them (i.e. dig holes, put plants in the ground, water the plants).
  3. As you’re placing seeds or plants in the dirt, explain the process to your child so that they hear what they’re doing while actually doing it.  This helps solidify their learning.  Also, be sure to ask them what they’re doing, to get their take on it.
  4. Be prepared for a MESS!  It’s inevitable, but also part of the fun.
  5. After the plants and/or seeds are in place, don’t forget to water them.
  6. Once you’re done, recap the gardening process with your child by reminding them of what you just accomplished and asking them what they did, and encourage your child to play in the garden.

Dirt-free Alternative:

If you don’t have a garden, can’t stand the sight of dirt, or you’re facing a rainy day, plant some seeds indoors.  We eat a lot of avocados around here, and a fun, simple activity is “planting” avocado pits.  Check out these simple instructions.  All you need is an avocado pit, 3 toothpicks, a glass, water, and A LOT of patience.  So simple!   Be sure to plant a few just in case they don’t all “pop.”  Ours were planted three weeks ago, and we’re still waiting for them to sprout!