10 Ways to Have Creative Fun with your Kids this Summer

10 Ways to have Creative Fun with your kids this summer | Tinkerlab

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”   – Henry James, Author

10 ways to have creative fun with your kids this summer from Tinkerlab

Today is the last day of school for my kids before the start of summer.

Not only is summer a school-free time for many children, but it can also mean warm weather, long car trips, digging up lots of beach sand, and long empty hours to lollygag (my favorite pastime).

While we often think of creative activities for kids as easel painting or drawing, getting outdoors fills children with new ideas, an imaginative spirit, and a thirst for life that will give children fodder for their ideas and art making.

Here are ten simple ways to have creative fun with your kids this summer:

10 Ways to Have a Creative Summer with Kids | Tinkerlab

1. At the Beach. While many parents look forward to beach trips as an opportunity to relax while the kids play (me, me!!), you can take comfort in the fact that while children play they are filling their brains with the sensory experiences of playing with sand, architectural processes of building castles, and physics lessons in how waves and tides move. We love the beach as a spot for the creative adventures that always go along with tidepooling, and look forward to trying our hands at sandcasting with plaster of paris (via The Artful Parent).

DIY Travel Coloring Station | Modern Parents Messy Kids

2. During Long Car Trips. Are you dreading planning a long car trip this summer? While DVD’s do wonders for keeping backseat bickering at bay, hands-on activities not only keep the mind active, but they can encourage long, uninterrupted spells of creativity as well.

To keep everyone’s mind occupied and on the same page, you’ll enjoy this awesome list from MPMK of audio books that the whole family can enjoy.

MPMK also shares the brilliant idea of making a DIY Car traveling station (photo, above). It’s magnetized so that materials won’t fly all over the car. Once you see this you won’t want to go back to your old methods.

Related to that, The Imagination Tree shares this how you can repurpose a simple plastic tray into a drawing station with window crayons with this clever DIY Portable art board.

Backyard Camping | Modern Parents Messy Kids

3. At the Campground. Getting outdoors and taking adventures do wonders for eliciting creative thinking. If you don’t have any grand plans for camping this summer, not to worry because you can always pitch a Tent in the backyard and make sun-baked s’mores (via Kids Stuff World) on a hot day with creature comforts not too far away. Mmm.

Now, if you can actually manage to pack up all your gear and head out to the woods, This Mama Makes Stuff offers some sage advice on how to make the most of camping with kids. The Creative Homemaker shares a Happy Camper Scavenger Hunt  (with a free printable that’s super cute) that will encourage children to look carefully at the world around them.

outdoor adventure

4. Around the Neighborhood. 

Speaking of scavenger hunts, you don’t have to go very far to find cool things to look at. Just walk out your front door with a camera and you’re ready to take a rainbow scavenger hunt or any other sort of scavenger hunt you can dream up.

geocaching

5. On the Hiking Trail.

And then we can always kick scavenger hunts up a notch!

Have you ever been geocaching? When geocaching was first introduced back in 2001, I was one of the first people to go out and buy a GPS. And my husband laughed at me. We planted one of the oldest caches in Southern California and then the first cache in Indonesia, and wouldn’t you know that they’re both still there!

Now geocaching is so easy and affordable with phone-based apps like the Geocaching App for the iPhone. This activity gets kids moving and encourages them think hard as they go back and forth between connecting coordinates with real-world landmarks. Not only that, but it’s fun for everyone in the family.

I can’t recommend it enough. Hmm, all this cache talk reminds me that it’s been ages since we’ve hit the trail. I’m adding this to our summer list!

climbing trees | tinkerlab

6. At the Park

Did you know that climbing trees can support creative thinking?

And then there’s the DIY Art Camp. If the weather is nice, why not invite your friends to join you for some art-making at the park? A couple summers ago we hosted a summer art afternoon for some friends. After a picnic (kids need fuel for the brains), we made sand paintings, paper bag crowns, and summer fireworks tote bags.  

Kiwi Crate

7. On the Lake

Put engineering skills to work by making your own boats like these from NurtureStore, and then test them in the lake, pool, or stream.

If you order a Kiwi Crate subscription, your July crate, Wonders of Water (see photo above), will come with all the supplies you’ll need to build your very own sailboats.

plant a garden with kids

8. In the Garden

Whether you have a large plot of land or a tiny patio, a short walk out your own front door into the fresh air gives children a low-threshold opportunity to get close to nature. You could try making your own Water Wall, planting a Garden with  the Kids, or making fairy gardens for your resident gnomes and keepers of pixie dust.

You could also try Kiwi Crate’s Fairy Fun Crate that comes with everything you need to make a magical wand, flower garland, and miniature fairies.

Matching Sticker Game from Tinkerlab

9. On the Plane

Make a stack of these matching games (photo above) ahead of time.

If you’re traveling with a Lego-fan, and you have some skill with a sewing machine, this fabric tray Lego base is gorgeous and brilliant. Now if only there were a way to wrangle all those Legos on the plane!

Before you travel, your child may enjoy pretending that he or she is taking a trip or setting up a travel agency. This does wonders for building excitement (as seen in these pictures!).

If you subscribe to Kiwi Crate, in the month of August your kids will get Fun with Flight crate, filled with everything you’ll need to make retro-style rubber band rockets and paper gliders.

take an adventure trip

10. On an Adventure

Have you ever organized or gone on a mystery trip? They’re so fun, and can make even the most ordinary outing an adventure. On this recent trip to San Francisco, my husband wanted to introduce us to a Smitten, an ice cream shop that makes fresh ice cream, while you wait, with liquid nitrogen. Cool! (sorry I couldn’t help myself).

Adding to the cool factor, Smitten is located in a recycled shipping container in one of our favorite spots for people watching. Scott kept the whole thing to himself and then wowed my 4-year old with the adventure of watching her ice cream come to life.

To arrange a mystery trip, announce that you’re planning one, let your party know if they need to come prepared with any special clothes, snacks, or other creature comforts. And then hit the road!

get outdoors

On that note, enjoy the great outdoors and know that that spending time outside is one of the best things you can do for a child. 

I’ll leave you with this quote from playwright Henry Miller:

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” 

Inspired by Nature: Four Easy Steps to Follow a Child’s Interests

Inspired by Nature: wasp nest and bumble bee art

four easy steps to follow a child's interests

Do you have bees, birds, squirrels, deer, possum, or other creatures milling around your neighborhood?

It’s been wild animal week here at Casa Tinkerlab. We had two big discoveries at our house: a wasp nest in the eaves by our back door and a bird nest tucked into a hole along the siding of our house.

Sad story, we found the bird nest on the ground today, and all of the eggs were gone, probably discovered by a band of squirrels. My two-year old has been keeping a watchful eye on that nest and her first thought went to the mama bird when she said, “I think I hear the mama bird.”

Sure enough, we saw the mama nervously flying around some nearby bushes, and my heart sank for her. We carefully collected the nest and put it back into its spot in the event that the mom can use the nest again.

wasp nest 2

This wasp nest, on the other hand, was something that I was determined to remove myself. No sad feelings here. Sorry if you’re a wasp fan, but rest assured that no wasps were harmed in the process. Basically, I knocked it down (quite heroically) from it’s post with the end of a broom.

My kids were impressed.

The nice thing about finds like this (as long as no one gets hurt along the way) is the opportunity to learn from them.

Of course my kids had tons of questions about the wasp nest. At first we thought it may have been a growing beehive, so we started to search for information on bees, and then we learned that it was in fact a wasp nest. We also noticed it first came out of our eaves it was round and firm, and that it sank into itself after about half an hour on our dining table.

My four-year old loves to join me in web searches for information, so we started off with searches like “bee hive” and “how do bees build their hives?” The hives looked nothing like our little specimen, but by this point my daughter had an idea and she asked me to collect images of bees and related images that you might find in a garden.

bee drawing

I started a Photoshop file and dragged black and white images to a file, resized them to make them all fit to scale, and then printed the images on her request.  She then spent over an hour carefully coloring in and cutting out her images, and then creating the composition you see here. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a pond, but that’s no big deal when you have a market to fill in the blanks.

Projects like this encourage children to be curious, explore, and tap into their imaginations.

Directions

  1. Pay attention to what your child finds interesting in nature
  2. If you’re on a walk or hike, take along an field pack: a backpack to save collected objects, camera, magnifying glass, binoculars, pencil, and a notebook to draw or write in.
  3. Go the library to find books on the topic or search the internet for more information or videos. YouTube is often a great resource for investigations like this. Like this, ahem, educational video on how to remove a wasp nest.
  4. Make something that documents your new-found knowledge. How does your child want to interpret his new knowledge? Maybe it’s drawing, building, cooking, writing a story, talking about it, or taking photos?

 

Inspired by Nature: wasp nest and bumble bee art

More ways to discover nature and follow a child’s interests

Eight Ways to Follow a Child’s Curiosities

Finding Nature with Kids

Build a Nature Table

A Question for you…

What treasures, animals, and natural discoveries have you observed around your home?

50 Earth Day Activities for Kids

Upcycled Box Bugs

Earth Day is our annual reminder to slow down and appreciate the bounty of the earth. The following 50 Earth Day Activities for kids will encourage children to create objects from natural and recycled materials and spend more time outdoors.

I hope you’ll find some inspiration here, and if you have more ideas to share, please add them to a comment so that others can enjoy them too.

Happy Earth Day!

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Earth Day Activities with Natural Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Earth Day Activities with Recycled Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Outdoor Art Earth Day Activities

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Fall Crafts: Glycerin Leaves

How to make glycerine Leaves

We’re ga-ga for all the multi-colored maple leaves of the season, and my older daughter, N, is likely to burst into a chorus of “red and yellow leaves” as we drive down the road. I’ve been reading up on how to preserve the leaves so that they’ll last more than a couple days and it turns out that you have a few choices, some of them being : preserve them with a glycerin solution, seal them with hot wax, press them between sheets of contact paper, or melt them between sheets of wax paper.

We had a bottle of glycerin in the cabinet for bubble-making, so I thought we’d try our hands at making glycerin leaves. I have to tell you upfront: the process was fantastic and my kids really got into it. The results, on the other hand, meh. Not so spectacular. More on that soon.

Supplies

  • 1/4 c. glycerin
  • 1/2 c. water
  •  Fall leaves
  • Two pans that can stack inside each other
  • Spoon for mixing

Mix the glycerin and water in your pan. Add leaves.

If you don’t have enough solution to cover the leaves, make another batch. My 4-year old loved taking charge of this step and we ooohed and ahhhed over the leaves as they went into the glycerin bath.

Find another pan that’s a bit small than the first, and place it on top so that all the leaves stay submerged.

Put this aside for three-ish days, or until the leaves are super-supple. At this point, the leaves should have absorbed enough of the glycerin solution to retain their color and texture.

Remove the leaves from the glycerin solution and pat dry on a towel. Your leaves are now ready to display.

For those of you who might be banking on this recipe as a way to preserve your leaves for years to come, I think this is worth the experiment but it may not be foolproof. About two weeks later, our leaves have not turned brown, but they definitely haven’t retained their original color. I decorated a corner of our mantle with them, and they look pretty good, but not spectacular. I found this recipe that added surfectant (found in garden supply stores), and it sounds like that may help the glycerin soak into the leaves.

This minor detail has not affected my kids, however, who have been incorporating the leaves into their projects.

Have you ever made glycerin leaves?

Any tips or thoughts on what may have gone wrong? Or was I expecting too much?

 

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 here.

Nature Table: Where Art, Stories, Memories, and Peace Unfold

make your own spiritual nature table
make your own spiritual nature table

Today I’d like to introduce you to Rashmie Jaaju, the mama behind the creative learning blog, Mommy Labs. I’ve known Rashmie since I started blogging and always appreciate her sincerity, mindful approach to parenting, and the passion she brings to raising a creative child. Furthermore, Rashmie lives in New Delhi, India, and I hope you’ll enjoy peeking into Rashmie’s colorful corner of the world as much as I do.

Welcome, Rashmie!


Hello friends, I’m elated to write for Tinkerlab today and be able to connect with all you wonderful, creative people. Rachelle is a long-time blogger friend and she’s an inspiration to me for the passion, creativity and focus she puts into her blog; as well as for the person and the mother that she is to her adorable kids.

I’d like to share with you all my Nature/Spiritual table. Actually, it’s not just a table but a part of our home that’s now synonymous with quiet time, peaceful vibes, nature inspiration and a place to get together as a family for a few moments of prayer and connection with the higher self.

 

How Our Nature Table Started

I’ve always loved collecting ‘finds’ from nature – fallen leaves, river stones, pine cones, drift wood, sea shells, feathers. I have dozens of boxes stuffed with these things; plus piles of books that hold leaves, flowers and petals within their pages.

It struck to me one day that keeping these natural elements in closed boxes and books is not serving the purpose. I’d much rather want to keep these beauties in front of my eyes so that my family and I can connect with nature inside our home, and also recollect the stories associated with them – the stories from trips, nature walks, beaches, treks…

So, in that whimsical, uplifting moment, I started this nature table.

All it took was a quick refurbishing of an old wooden table that I’d used for different purpose at different points in time. From being a pedestal for the refrigerator to a book shelf to a low dining table, this table has served various needs.

We scrubbed, painted and polished the table and found a clutter-free, well-lit, cozy space for it in the study room. There’s a big window right above the table and a door next to it that leads to a balcony overseeing vast open green land, so there’s ample sunlight and fresh air.

Nature Table for Spirituality and Meditation

The Table as a Natural Canvas

It’s been almost an year now and I’ve redecorated this space every two months or so introducing flavors from every season, a festival like Holi or Diwali, or family events (birthday, travel, anniversary). See some pictures of the nature table from winter 2012. And then, there’s always something to add after a nature walk in the near by park or in the neighbourhood.

Recently, we went on a trip to the Himalayan region in India (it’s called Himachal Pradesh) and we collected tons of things from the treks we took there. These have now become part of the nature table.

Interestingly, the nature table has become an artful corner in our home. It’s almost like a canvas for me and my daughter – Pari – who’s 6.5. She rejoices in laying out leaves, pebbles, feathers, pine cones on this square space. We love lighting aromatic candles and incense here. It also gives her a sense of ownership since she actively takes part in decorating this corner of the house…

Kids Connecting with nature in home with nature table

Spiritual Corner

My family sits in front of the nature table almost every day and we recite a Buddhist mantra (though we’re not Buddhist) and Sanskrit Shlokas, including a Gayatri Mantra. We play the Tibetan Singing Bowl. Read more about the meaning behind the singing bowl over here. You may also read on the same page about the Buddhist mantra – Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo.

So, this nature table is a spiritual corner rather than a religious place of worship. It helps us fill our cup of peace and quiet. :-)

Buddha Nature Table

Even our guests – kids and adults alike – are immediately drawn to it. The moment my 2-year old niece, Sarah, enters our home, she heads for this corner. The gemstones, pebbles, feathers, copper bells, shells – she can engage herself with all these for an hour at least…!

nature art spirituality for children

Keeper of Memories

Above all else, as I look at each of the natural elements placed on this table, I can’t help but reminisce about the moments we found these pieces. The stories come alive through the mind’s eye. The drift wood for example – it came floating on the waves of the river Sutlej when Pari was playing along the bank. This river is on a volcanic bed, which gives the water a unique characteristic that’s also said to heal and alleviate joint aches. The water on the surface is chilling cold but thrust your toes just an inch deep and you’ll feel the heat instantly!

Every inch of the nature table tells a story. I’d say it’s a keeper of memories….!

nature table waldorf spiritual connection for kids

A Place to Reflect

This room is also where I sit everyday to write – be it for my blog or in my journal. There’s an aura to this space that makes me reflect and put them into words. As such, nature is the source of sustenance for my soul. And, art!

Do you have a spot in your home that’s dedicated to nature or spirituality? What helps you connect with your inner self? I would love to hear your story.


Rashmie writes about creative and natural learning for children at Mommy Labs. She takes inspiration from art, travel, books, photography and most essentially – the spiritual energy of nature to nurture a sense of wonder in young souls.

Crushed Flower Experiment

Crushed Flower Experiment

Now that summer is coming to an end (sniff — I’m kind of in denial — you?), it’s a good time to harvest some of your last blooms for some flower-painting experiments.

Crushed flower experiment

We took a walk around the neighborhood and picked some weeds from wild roadside gardens, and also selected a handful of flowers and leaves from our own yard.

Materials

For this project you’ll need: assorted flowers and leaves and paper

The experiment lies in testing the flowers to see what colors actually emerge from them as they’re crushed and smeared onto paper. We were surprised by the blue hydrangea’s brownish-green hue, but also got some more predictable amazingly brilliant yellows and purples from our roses and dandelions.

Crushed Flower Experiment

More Artsy Science Experiments

If you’re interested in more experiments that lie at the intersection of art and science, you might also enjoy Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment and the Egg Geodes Science Experiment.

More Flower Projects

For more with flowers, you’ll have a lot of fun Pounding them into Flower Bookmarks or maybe you want to learn how to press flowers. Zina at Let’s Lasso the Moon has a lovely idea for turning a huge sunflower harvest into back-to-school teacher gifts. And, there are over SIXTY amazing ideas in the Tinkerlab Flower Creative Challenge that will keep you busy with all your harvested flowers.

And similarly, here are some ideas for making vegetable-based egg dyes.

What are your favorite ways to use, preserve, and harvest your end-of-summer flowers?

Make a Terrarium

How to Make a Terrarium

Today I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Amanda E. Gross, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with at the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum. She has an incredible eye for all things related to creativity and kids, and today she’s here to share some tips on how to make a terrarium. I’ve wanted to make one of these for a long time, and thrilled that Amanda is here to give us some guidance.

How to Make a Terrarium

Terrariums are the perfect project to stoke both the imagination and a curiosity for nature.

Before building your terrarium, you might like to start by reading a book about an outdoor critter (i.e, Eric Carle’s Very Quiet Cricket, Leo Leonni’s Inch by Inch, or Patricia Polacco’s The Bee Tree). After reading the story, find out if your child wants to build a home for the critter with materials from outside. Talk about the critter’s habitat and its other likes and wants that might be incorporated into your terrarium.

As alternatives, you could guide the project with a focus on fairy houses or on terrariums as little ecosystems. To begin, discuss the seasons and/or plant life cycle, and how the terrarium will incorporate sunlight, soil, and water, just like the plants’ environments outside. The little world your child creates will foster a sense of eco enjoyment and responsibility.

How to make a Terrarium

Step One

Take a stroll outside, getting up close to wonderful sensory experiences like dirt, pebbles and lush green plants.  Gather interesting leaves, sticks, acorns, etc. to use in the terrarium.  Soil, pebbles, and moss may be collected if available, or purchased.

Step Two

Bring your materials home and spread them out over a plastic sheet, and play around with combinations and the possibility of making a critter house.

How to make a Terrarium

Step Three

A clean fishbowl or Mason jar makes the perfect terrarium container.

How to make a Terrarium

Step Four

Add about an inch of pebbles to the fishbowl, for drainage. Pile on an inch or two of soil mixture, with chunks of activated charcoal for filtration and fertilizer. I’ve been told that pyrite is a good mix-in, but not necessary.

 

How to make a Terrarium

Step Five

Make small valleys to add plants, while their roots are still moist. I bought a succulent to add to my terrarium, a low-maintainance green buddy (it only needs water about once a week) that is fun to watch grow over time. Next, arrange moss, sticks, leaves, and other bits. I used the top of an eggplant for the roof of my critter house.

Step Six

Tailor the terrarium to your child’s interests and skill level. If appropriate, make a little critter friend to add; I made my bug out of plasticene clay and sticks for legs. You could add a literacy component by making a collage poem or haiku about the terrarium after creating it, using words and pictures from magazines.

Place your terrarium in indirect sunlight and make sure to water it every week or so if you have a succulent nested in there, and more often for temperate plants.

Resources:

Making Terrariums so Simple
Make a Kid-friendly Terrarium
Terrarium as a learning too for children
Twig: Purchase supplies for moss terrariums and other small worlds
Terrarium Figurines on Etsy
More Terrarium Figures on Etsy

Amanda E. Gross_headshotAmanda designs curricula to guide and inspire children, teens, and adults to appreciate art and to create!  She earned a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from The Rhode Island School of Design and is an instructor at Academy of Art University.  Amanda is also an illustrator, painter, DIY crafter, and permaculture enthusiast. Find out more about Amanda here: Art Curricula WebsiteArt Portfolio WebsiteLinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Natural Playground with Tree Stumps

natural playground with tree stumps

Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.
– Henry David Thoreau

Build a Natural Playground with Tree Stumps,

Do you have a natural playground in your yard or near your home? A natural playground is an outdoor play area that’s landscaped with materials such as logs, dirt, grassy hills, sand, natural bridges, and streams instead of plastic playground equipment.

Aside from our beloved plastic playhouse, our small suburban garden is full of natural loose parts and I’m constantly looking for ways to develop it into an inspiring, open-ended, natural play area.

Why a natural play scape? 

In Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Natureplayground designers and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining an ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slide; a surprising conclusion considering what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.) and promote competition rather than co­operation (Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.).

Start with Tree Stumps

Tree stumps are useful for walking on, turning into seating for impromptu fairy tea parties, using as a base for bridges or tables.

We live near a children’s museum with a large-scale spiral tree stump path that will entertain my kids for hours. The stumps are of various heights that challenge children to climb, crawl, skip, walk, and jump. When they bump up against each other, as they move in opposite directions, they have to negotiate the space and make concessions. In short, it’s brilliant.

Ever since I first discovered this neighborhood treasure, I’ve been on the hunt for some tree stumps of our own. No small feat, though! We don’t own a chain saw, our trees never get trimmed, and I had no idea where I could find these beauties.

My radar was tuned and then low-and-behold, I spotted these guys, hard at work.

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I asked them if they would be so kind as to share a few pieces with my stump-loving kids, and they said yes. I’m indebted. My car was soon overloaded with heavy lumber and I was beaming!

So how do you find tree stumps? This one stumped me for some time (how could that pun not be intended?). I was on the lookout for tree trimmers, and lucked out that my trunk was empty and these guys were generous with their time and muscles. I would caution you that trees can be infested with termites or other dreadful bugs and diseases, so it could pay to secure your stumps at a cost from a local lumber yard. These stumps appeared to come from a healthy tree that was getting trimmed away from a power line, but I’m no tree expert. If you know more about this than me, please let me know if our stumps are healthy!

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I got these beauties home and my kids wanted to play with them right away (notice the tap shoes — ha! — these two crack me up). I put the stumps in our front yard until we could find a good place for them, and of course our next door neighbor friends wanted to come over and play too.

How to score tree stumps for your play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I think I have a good spot for them now, in the dirt and under a tree, and I’ll share more of our natural play scape ideas as it comes together.

natural playground with tree stumps

More Nature Play Ideas

How Climbing Trees Builds Critical Thinking

Finding Nature

Plant a Garden with Kids

Thrifting for Natural Materials for the Garden

Theory of Loose Parts (Let the Children Play)

Creative Adventures: Tidepooling

tidepool

 Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. - Edward de Bono, psychologist and writer

This post is something new for me. I usually write about our hands-on projects, but I thought it would be fun to take our creative thinking out into the great wide world. In reference to the quote above, not only am I breaking out of the pattern of my blog posts as I write this, but it’s experiences like the one I’m about to share that encourage children to look at things in a new way and help build their creative thinking skills.

As you read this, consider how you can break a pattern in order to look at things in a new way.

Can you believe this view? It’s a favorite beach about 45 minutes from my house…not too far, really…and here’s the pattern that we broke: this was the first time we’ve been there in over a year!  Sad, right? It’s an awesome spot called the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, located in Moss Beach, CA, just north of Half Moon Bay. And what makes it doubly amazing is that you can walk all over the fascinating tide pools and check out the sea life up close. A kids’ dream.

tidepool kids

The reason we haven’t been in ages because my youngest, Baby R, hasn’t been stable enough to handle the rocks on her own and I wasn’t sure of my own footing with her in the carrier.

Well, she’s hardly a baby anymore at 21 months, so there we were. I didn’t know how it would go with her, actually, but after holding my hands for a bit she wanted to brave the rocks by herself. She fell a couple times, nothing major, and seemed to enjoy the challenge of navigating the slippery, uneven terrain.

Creative adventure at the tide pool | TinkerLab

N is almost 4, and turned this into a jumping adventure. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my kids like to dress themselves. Who wears dresses and tights to the tidepools? Um, that would be my daughter.

tidepool kids

When I was a kid I loved discovering the squishy sea anemones that retract and squirt water when you touch them. So of course I had to introduce them to my little friends. They were hooked and would squeal with laughter when they found a colony of these little slippery creatures. This turned out to be a great bonding activity for these two.

beach lunch kids

We found the perfect spot to eat lunch and talk about the molting seals (they’re sitting on those far-off rocks), talk to the park ranger about sea stars, and take in the fresh air.

And without any extra effort on my part, this outing encouraged my kids to explore and follow their curiosities; building blocks of creative thinking. On the walk back to the car N asked when we could come back to see the sea stars that the ranger told us about. She wanted to know all about the harbor seals and how they’re different from ringed seals. And where do they go when the tide comes in? And she wanted to bring her dad back to introduce him to the tide pools.

Spending time in nature, outdoors, and in a new environment does wonders for the mind. These experiences can challenge, excite, and educate us.

So now I ask you: What can you do to break your established patterns in order to look at things in a different way? 

Favorite web spots for outdoor adventures

Go Explore Nature: Connecting with Kids and Nature. A beautifully written and photographed blog by Debi Huang, an LA-based mama of two boys. This is a must-read site if you live in California. I get all sorts of good tips for traveling with kids to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, not to mention anyone who can explore nature in LA gets major props in my book. She also has a fantastic list of nature-related resources. Not to be missed.

Let the Children Play. Written by Jenny, an Australian-based preschool teacher. Jenny’s child-raising point of view is play-based and project-oriented. You’ll often spot her little charges learning through play in their natural outdoor space, and her ideas often influence my own backyard transformations. She did some great leg-work and put together this useful list of Top 10 Outdoor Play Blogs

Easy Peasy Rock Painting

rocks rock painting

rock painting

This is such an easy project and my kids (almost 4 and 20 months) have gone crazy for it. And I have to confess that I really enjoyed it too. Very addictive. I chalk their enthusiasm (and mine) up to a couple things:

  1. Painting or drawing on a 3-dimensional surface is a fun challenge
  2. The colors of the paint markers are vivid and opaque (i.e. pretty), and very easy to use.

rock painting

There are lots of ways to paint a rock, for example, we recently painted a big rock with watercolor paints. But the method I’m sharing today is so easy and the mess is minimal.

Materials

  1. Selection of smooth river or beach rocks
  2. Paint markers. We used Elmer’s Painters Pens
  3. Covered table (the markers leave a mess on the work area that you’ll be happy that you prepared for it).

rocks rock painting

If your markers are new, you’ll want to shake them a bit and depress the tips until the paint starts to flow. Just follow the directions of your paint. 3-year old N wanted to make each of her rocks unique.

rocks rock painting

And her sister, Baby R, enjoyed the challenges of learning to hold the marker and controlling the lines as they hit the rock.

rocks rock painting

N was so proud of her creations, and actually hid her favorites (not seen here) in a closet for Father’s Day. Phew, guess I’m off the gift-giving hook.

The rocks really are spectacular and seeing them makes me so happy.

A small clean-up caveat: the ink will get all over your kids’ hands, but don’t fret. The mess would have been much worse if you’d given them a bowl of acrylic paint and brushes. And it will all come within a day or two.

More Rock Painting

rocks magnets

Jen at Paint Cut Paste shows you how to make thumbprint rock magnets. Tweet Tweet.

rocks rock painting

This is one of my first posts: Rolling Rock Painting. It’s like rolling ball painting, but a little bit more unpredictable.

rocks rock painting

I love homemade games, and this rock domino set from Martha Stewart would make me so happy.

Have you or your kids painted rocks? If you’re a blogger, feel free to share a link in your comment.

How to Press a Flower

how to press a flower

Do you have a bounty of flowers in your garden? Have you ever wanted to press a flower, but weren’t sure where to start?

how to press a flower

Pressing flowers just requires a little bit of patience for the flowers to actually dry, but the process is quite simple and doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment.

how to press a flower

Start by collecting some flowers. Big thick flowers like roses are hard to press, but delicate flowers like pansies are the perfect candidates for this project. My suggestion: Make an experiment out of the process and try a bunch of different flowers to discover what works best.

We thought that daffodils would work out great, but they stuck to the press and lost a lot of color. So experiment, make guesses, document your ideas, and make some discoveries.

how to press a flower fridge

If you’re not pressing right away, store your flowers in the fridge to keep them fresh.

how to press a flower

Flower Press

I used a very inexpensive product, the 4M Flower Press Kit (Amazon). The press comes with nifty straps that you can tighten and hold the whole thing together, and I didn’t have to spend a lot of time cutting cardboard. However, you could easily make your own press with the following materials: a stack of cardboard, photocopy paper, and a heavy book. 

how to press a flower

Place one piece of cardboard down on your table. Cover it with a piece of photocopy paper. Place flowers on the paper in the way that you want them to dry. Add another sheet of paper on top of this, and then another piece of cardboard.

how to press a flower

Keep stacking: Cardboard, paper, flowers, paper. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until you’re done. Place one last piece of cardboard on top. Cover the whole thing with one or more heavy bricks to smoosh it down flat.

how to press a flower

This is where you have to be patient: come back and check the flowers in two weeks. We pressed these two weeks before the grandparents came for a visit, which created a natural moment in our lives for uncovering our dried treasures.

how to press a flower

If you’d like to glue these to a card, pour some white glue, Mod Podge (Amazon), or Glazing Medium (Amazon)
into a small bowl. Paint the glue to the card (not too much if you care about the glue showing) and adhere the flowers to your paper.

how to press a flower

You can use your pressed flowers to make collaged cards, framable art, or add a bowl of them to a table and see what the kids come up with.

*********

Which reminds me that our next Creative Challenge for kids is coming up on June 4, and the material is: Flowers! I hope you’ll join me. Start collecting those flowers and have fun with this one.

And if you’re looking for a reason to make your own art and would love the company of others to motivate you, I hope you’ll consider joining the fun Double Page Spread Challenge. We just started last week and there’s already a ton of inspiration on Instagram (type in #tinkersketch to follow) and on Facebook.

*********

Have you pressed flowers? Any favorite pressing flowers? What else could you do with dried flowers? And any other tips that I missed?

Add a Little Learning to Playtime

DSC_0403 2

Today I’m celebrating the one year blogiversary of my friend Jillian over at A Mom with a Lesson Plan. One year! When you stop to think of about it, it’s amazing what can be accomplished in just one year. A preschooler travels into their first year in Kindergarten, a high school senior becomes a college student, and a mom can start a blog that inspires other parents (and have over 1300 Facebook fans to prove her impact…go Jill!). If you’re thinking about starting your own blog, maybe today is the day. It might not start out pretty, but just think about where you’ll be in one year!

A Mom with a Lesson Plan focuses on preschool sized activities for kids at home, so when Jill asked me to write about how we add learning to our playtime, I thought, “Awesome, because that’s what we do all the time!” Every time children play, they learn, and in turn, each activity is full of opportunities for more learning! So, today I’m sharing how we’ve been learning about measurement by watching our paperwhite bulbs sprout and grow…while wearing pajamas and making silly drawings in the kitchen, of course.

N planted the bulbs (found at Trader Joes) with my husband, and about a week later they sprouted. A couple days later they were noticeably taller, so I talked to N about measuring them, with the long-term idea of tracking their growth.

We have a chalkboard painted on a door of our kitchen where I wrote “Bulb 1″ and “Bulb 2.” N is learning how to write and asked if she could draw the “2.” Of course! (++ adding more learning to our playtime). She asked me about the “1” that I drew, and said it didn’t look like a “1,” making this another learning opportunity to share that there are different ways to draw numbers. After sorting that out, she added some fab drawings of bulbs to the chalkboard.

Then we got to measuring. I brought out a ruler, which she has lots of practice using as a drawing tool, but not so much for measuring. We counted out the inches, one through 15 (it’s a long ruler!), and I showed her where to look for the inch markers. She’s been really curious about how analog clocks work, and I suppose this touches on a similar concept of recognizing numbers as symbols that represent something else.

We added the numbers to our chart. As you can see, it’s highly technical, so email me if you need specifics :) N is only 3 1/2, so her grasp of charts is limited, but she enjoyed the process of measuring and documenting, and of course drawing!

Children learn through play. It’s inevitable. What does learning look like in your home or school?

More ideas for adding learning to playtime can be found by these bloggers who are are celebrating with Jillian today. You can click directly to their posts through the linky below.