Mud Pie Kitchen: Beta Version

mixing at mud pie kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I learned about making a Mud Pie Kitchen

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

More Mud Pie Kitchens

Amy at Child Central Station has been busy scouring the internet for mud pie kitchens, and you can see her comprehensive list here.

And Jenny at Let the Children Play is a master of the mud pie kitchen. Here’s one of her round-ups, full of good ideas for getting started.

Six Ways to Take Art Outdoors

Image: Saltwater Kids

The weather is heating up over here in Northern California, and we’re spending most of our time outdoors. If you’ve been following my dilemma about coaxing my daughter into our garden, I’m thrilled to share that we spent about an hour puttering and potting out there this afternoon, and this was after we spent three hours on a hike through the forest!! In this spirit, I’d like to share some of my favorite outdoor art-making finds, which I hope will inspire you as much as they inspire me! And if you have a favorite artsy outdoor idea, you’re welcome to share it in the comments below!

1. For all the kids who like to mix, brew, sift, and invent: Potion Making from the brilliant Jenny of Let the Children Play.

2. You just can’t go wrong with a vinegar + baking soda concoction, which is why you’ll want to make up a huge batch of Fizzing Sidewalk Paint from Rachel of Quirky Momma. I’m saving this one for our annual family reunion. Fun!

3. Here’s a beautiful twist on the traditional bird feeder from Saltwater Kids. And wouldn’t these make for nice kid-made summer gifts?

4. Do you have tons of roses (and two adorable kids)? Make rose petal fairy perfume from Anna at The Imagination Tree

5. This oversized version of “marble painting” has been on my list since last summer. My daughter was barely two then, but now I think she’d love the challenge of rolling all sorts of balls around in a kiddie pool. Now we just need a pool! From the always inspiring Jean of The Artful Parent.

6. I have a thing for inexpensive, simple art materials, and this one makes me swoon. All you need is a plastic shower curtain, which can be found at dollar stores, and a laundry line or rope+laundry clips. Oh, and paint too! From Pop-Up Adventure Play (private site). Check out this post from A Mom with a Lesson Plan for another way to do this indoors.

What are your favorite outdoor art making ideas?

Ideas for Building Forts

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In case you’re just checking in, I’m sharing some of my favorite kid-related ideas from the Bay Area Maker Faire, and today I’d like to share two creative ideas for building forts. These aren’t your quick and simple throw-a-sheet-over-the-dining-table sort of forts. These actually take some time. But the pay-off may be worth it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

First up: I met up with second grade teacher Katy Arrillaga, who was busy assembling a milk jug igloo. Or, I should say, “reassembling,” because she deconstructed the igloo that stood in her classroom, somehow managed to cart 400 milk jugs to the Maker Faire, and proceeded to reattach the bottles together. Katy explained that this was a popular reading area in her classroom and the jugs were mostly donated by her students.

This is how it looked about an hour later, moving along more quickly with all of those hot-glue-gun helpers.

This picture was taken the next day. I’m not sure how long it took to complete, but the result is stunning and children flocked to this. There’s something magical about seeing so many familiar jugs on such a scale.

Image: Daniel Shiao

Next up:

The Palo Alto Art Center set up two weaving tee-pees, inspired by environmentalsculptor Patrick Doughtery’s incredible willow-dogwood-pin huts. Here’s the inspiration:

This picture was taken about a month ago when we visited the Dougherty sculpture. The scale is striking. N loved it, and spent about an hour playing in and out of this hobbit-like hidey hole.

Referencing the Dougherty sculpture, kids and grown-ups weaved long strips of fabric, yarn, and ribbon through the slats of the teepee.

Not only were there children engaged on the outside, but they were also weaving from the inside. To give you a sense of the time involved, these teepees had been up for about three hours at this point. So again, these forts take some time.

Have you or your kids built a fort?

What materials did you use? Feel free to add a link or a photo in the comments.

Related Inspiration

The Role of Cubbies in Outdoor Spaces from Let the Children Play

Milk Jug Igloo

A quick image search on “Milk Jug Igloo” turns out all of these igloos!

TeePee Forts

TeePee Art and Weaving Ribbons from The Artful Parent

Gorgeous photos of the Patrick Dougherty sculpture by Mamen Saura


Recycled Weaving Fence

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When I saw this awesome weaving installation on display at the Bay Area Discovery Museum I knew it was something that I wanted to recreate at home. If I were running a preschool I think I would have taken the time to build such a structure because it would be a stellar group project, but as the parent of one curious, yet fickle, preschooler I thought it might be prudent to build a simple test-model first to see if this would be an idea worthy of further exploration (and investment!).

After scratching my head over this, I came up with this prototype made from wooden skewers (two on each end), painters tape, a deconstructed fruit sack from the market, and assorted ribbon.

It was a beautiful day, and N was up for the challenge.

With four ribbon spools to choose from, she cut  what she wanted and worked on figuring out how to get it through the mesh.

It was tricky, but she kept at it until she figured it out. Real challenges give kids the opportunity to celebrate their successes and gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities.

She also tried this shiny, elastic ribbon, and found it was easier to push through the holes. What a nice surprise lesson in compare and contrast!

And she even wrapped it all the way around the edge of the wood post.

N likes collaborating with me — it seems that she takes her work more seriously if I get involved too — so you can see a few of my ribbons woven in there as well. We worked on this for about 20 minutes and I left it up so that we can revisit it over the course of the week. And if there’s still energy around weaving, and this project in particular, I may just invest in some garden fencing like the stuff I saw at the children’s museum.

Has anyone made one of these? Did your child/children stick with it for a while?

Related Ideas

  • If you have a chainlink fence, you could weave through it with fabric or crepe paper. I’m thinking about bringing a basket of crepe paper with us next time we visit the park. Do you think anyone would mind if we made a fence weaving installation?
  • Check out this yarn heart-weaving from Outdoor Knit.

What else could you build a weaving fence from?

This post was shared with Craft Schooling Sunday. Childhood 101, It’s Playtime

Outdoor Water Painting Experiments

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My friend Diana sent me these amazing photos of her son (almost 2 1/2 at the time), experimenting with water painting. She offered him a couple containers of water and a paintbrush and gave him free reign to paint away. I love how he was able to take these simple materials and experiment with them in multiple ways. He’s enjoying the process of painting while learning about the properties of his materials, making comparisons, and experiencing the effects of gravity.

He squatted down low to get close to the action. The wood deck and porous tiles help capture the full effect of the water’s path.

He stood up high to flick the brush Jackson Pollack style, and discovered how distance could change the process.

He bent over to paint directly on the wood.

And then he painted on the tiles. A different texture with another look.

And finally, he painted on chalk drawings.

This is a beautiful reminder that creative thinking, exploration, and experimentation don’t have to come at an elaborate cost (of time or resources). If the weather is nice where you are, consider taking some water and brushes outdoors with an invitation to experiment. Other surfaces that absorb water nicely are bricks, terra cotta pots, and sidewalks.

What outdoor painting projects have you enjoyed?

Please feel free to share you photos in the comment section.

This post was shared with It’s Playtime, Childhood 101


Drawing Shadows

chalk shadow

Today was an on-and-off sunny day, but in those brief moments of sunshine we squeezed in a quick little chalk drawing project that’s a great way to help children look at things from a new perspective, which is a key ingredient in creative thinking.

I talked to N about a plan to draw our shadows earlier in the day, and lamented that it was too cloudy to try it out. When she spotted a break in the weather she was excited to head out and unpack the shadow drawing mystery. And her butterfly wings and bike, which were all her doing, were dynamic props for the activity.

What you need

  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • A sunny Day with a low sun. 2-3 hours before or after noon would probably be a good time to try this out.

We found a good spot with relatively smooth asphalt, and I asked N to choose a color for the drawing. What is it with this child and pink?! She watched closely as I traced around her shadow, and made every effort to hold her bike steady while I captured her image. It reminded me of those wonderful old daguerreotypes, or photos, of people who sat for their portraits for 15-25 seconds! I invited N to try her hand at tracing, but she wasn’t at all interested. I think it was a bit too challenging for her (she’s 34 months). Plus, she was busy being butterfly girl on a bike. Ya know?

Other Ideas

  • Take turns drawing shadows and being traced.
  • Invite your child to dream up props as shadow enhancements (akin to N’s wings and bike).
  • Draw shadows of inanimate objects: chairs, toys, tables, etc.
  • Distort reality by tracing part of a shadow literally, and other parts abstractly.

What else could you do with Shadow Drawings?

This post was shared with Childhood 101

Bird Feeder & Hop Circle

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Today I’m sharing two outdoor activities for creative play…

#1: Peanut Butter Bird Feeder

Our house is shaded by an enormous pinecone-dropping machine, and these little beasts can be found in all corners of our mini-oasis. They are so begging to be turned into something, right? Peanut-butter coated pinecone bird feeders, here we come! (Apologies up-front to all my gluten and nut-free friends…this is why there are TWO activities in this post!).

We started by mixing some oat bran into our peanut butter. I read that this is healthier for birds than straigh-up peanut butter because the grains break up the sticky PB and aid their digestion.

Our little set-up: Peanut butter mix, Holiday cheese knife, Bowl of Birdseed, Twine, Scissors, Pinecones, and Paper to place the completed bird feeders on.

I twisted the twine on the cones and then handed them over to the queen peanut-butter spreader, who took her job very seriously.

She then coated them with seeds (from the dollar store – huzzah!). Which reminds me, I originally bought ten bags of the seed as an alternative to sand for our sand table. I highly recommend it as birdseed feels clean, it has a nice texture, and it has little specks of color that make it pop.

And there it is…ready for the birds. Not the pesky squirrels. Okay, are you ready for the sad part of this little tale? We made FOUR of these (4!), hung two by our house and two off a tree by the street. And not one of them was hanging the next morning! I’m pretty sure the squirrels managed to bring them down, but how? Clever little monsters! Has anyone else had this problem? What could we do differently?

#2: Hop Circle

It was a beautiful day, so N moved down to the sidewalk and started on some chalk drawings. She drew a (wobbly) circle on the ground and asked me if I’d draw more of them so that she could play “Hop Circle.” Haha. I kept calling it Circle-Scotch, but it didn’t really matter.

I thought it would be fun to add in some other shapes and drew a triangle. BIG mistake! I really should have checked with the creative director first, as this was NOT in the plan. Back to circles!

Once all the circles (and lone triangle) were laid out to her liking, she hopped away. How fun! And this reminds me of another hopscotch alternative I recently saw at Let the Children Play, where the kids drew a continuous hopscotch all around the school. Take a look!

Funnel Painting

set up

This was inspired by an idea we found in Mary Ann Kohl’s Preschool Art. I know I’ve said this many times before, but Mary Ann’s books are brimming with creative and engaging projects, and each of mine are dog-eared in a million places. We used materials that we already had around the house — low threshold projects are my cup of tea! — and the set-up is really easy. The other thing I loved about this activity is the SCALE of it — I knew my child would be captivated by swinging a paint-filled funnel across a huge sheet of paper! Now that we’ve done this, the only drawback I could see was doing this indoors, as my daughter wanted to swing paint in every possible direction, turning me into a mini-general who curbed her enthusiasm more than I like to.

To make this happen, we used:

  • A curtain rod
  • String
  • Funnel
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Paint
  • Tape
  • Chairs to suspend the swinging funnel

My daughter helped me tape a big sheet of paper to the floor. We noticed that it wasn’t long enough, so we added some more. I could tell that the paint would come pouring out of the funnel, so I taped off the bottom of it to make the hole a bit smaller. I wrapped some string around the funnel, and taped it in place. Then I looped the string over the pole.

Ready, set…

GO!

After a few easy-breezy swings, N wanted to give the poor little funnel some heavy-duty pushes, which would have been fine if we were outdoors. After mopping up the fourth or fifth puddle of paint off my floors, we called it quits, but we’ll definitely be taking this activity outside in the near future. I can also envision sand in the funnel over a sandbox, or rice over a (really big!) sensory table.

Do you have any other ideas for funnel swings?

Winter Gardening

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Although it’s winter, we were hit by a glorious warm spell about a week ago and I was overwhelmed by the planting bug. Now that the rain is back, what’s especially timely about this activity is that it’s all about bringing the outdoors inside. So, for my snow-bound friends out there, this easy gardening project may make you almost believe that Spring is right around the corner.

We started with a bag of wheat berry seeds that I got from a local farmer. You can also find them at just about any health food store. These are the ones they use to make wheatgrass, and I chose them because I heard they grow fast. This is no joke, they sprouted up almost immediately, and the grass was 7″ tall after just one week!

Day 1

We soaked the seeds in water overnight (about 12 hours), and then dried them out for another 12 hours.

Day 2

I poked drain holes in the bottom of a clean clamshell salad container (go recycling!!) and then filled it with some organic seed starting soil that I found at our neighborhood Hardware store. I love this little store, and all of the good people who work there. Is your hardware store the same?

Filling the container with soil and watering it really well. The spoon is for mixing. This may have been THE BEST part of the activity for my two and a half year old. Following this picture, there was dirt EVERYWHERE!

Filling little biodegradable pots (similar to these) with planting soil, and moistening the pots really well. Once the seedlings are strong, the whole container goes right into the ground. I’ve since found tutorials for making our own seedling containers from newspaper and cardboard egg cartons. They look really simple and incorporate recycled materials! Needless to say, I can’t wait to try both methods next time around.

N distributed the seeds amongst the pots.

So that you could barely see the soil.

And then watered them. I think the seeds can sit right on top of the soil, but I covered them lightly with a little bit more dirt.

She distributed the extra seeds all over our sad winter garden, hoping some of the seeds would catch. We watered our indoor seeds for one week, this is what our garden looks like…

Day 7

I swear, I’ve never seen anything grow this fast! We sprayed twice a day, to keep the soil nice and moist.

And often got impatient, and far preferred POURING water on our plants.

So I devised this much more elegant solution.

I just discovered that the fabulous Marie at Make and Takes experimented with growing grass in tons of different pots and planters — lots of good ideas there for planting pretty grass.

Now the big question — what to do with all of this wheatgrass??

Has anyone had luck feeding wheat grass juice to a toddler?

Frozen Wreath

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Until a few weeks ago, I thought Halloween was the best “season” to celebrate with little kids, but now I’m beginning to think it’s got nothing on the winter holidays. My two year old is enamored by holiday lights, menorahs, ornaments, snowmen, animatronic lawn decorations, Santa, nutcrackers, and gingerbread houses. And the list goes on and on. When I picked her up from preschool this week, I found out that she led her class in a round of Jingle Bells! So, this wreath project is clearly the icing on a very well-frosted gingerbread bundt cake!

To make the wreath, N and I foraged for berries, rosemary sprigs, red leaves, and green sweetgum tree balls on our way home from the park, and then set to work making magic happen when we got home. We filled a bundt pan with water, added our beautiful natural finds, waited for it to freeze, added a ribbon and some more water, and then froze it some more. The perfect spot to hang it ended up being a post by the street, where we could enjoy catching many of our neighbors stop in their tracks to take a closer look. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me, as little creative surprises can be mood changers and eye openers, and it reminded me of Keri Smith’s fun-to-read book, The Guerilla Art Kit.

I stole this idea from the very thoughtful and creative Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent. While our warm California weather renders a wreath like this useless after an hour or two, the lore and magic of winter evoked by this project make the process so worthwhile.

Thanks for the fun idea, Jean, and happy winter!

If I had a Hammer

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

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

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

Resources:

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

Hammering and Building Extensions:

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

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

Easter in August

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

Pulling it together

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

Happy Hunting!