Land Art with Children

Dandelion Floating in Water

We were invited by Rashmie of Mommy Labs to join Forest Fiesta, an online celebration of World Environment Day (June 5) with her and about twenty other arts and education bloggers. This year’s host country was India, and Rashmie came up with the inspired idea to act as our Indian blogging host. Thanks, Rashmie! When you reach the end of this post, you can click around and see the forest creations made by my friends and their children from around the globe.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program, is Forests. According to the UN, it’s the “most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action.”

And with that, I’d like to share our positive environmental action with you…

Before heading out, we spent some time looking at pictures of inspirational land art, with a vague plan to make something monumental from nature.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day at a nearby farm that has a beautiful forest of trees and a creek that runs through it. I packed a little investigator bag for N, and she was delighted to find a magnifying glass in it. Aside from the photo, it didn’t get much real use, but it was a fun way to begin our adventure into the forest…

We took a hike through the trees and marveled at the patterns made by the sun and leaves.

Once we got into the forest, we noted the abundance of moss. Both of my kids loved feeling it’s texture. I adore the look of moss and lichen, so we brought a little bit home for this year’s fairy garden.

N spotted these colorful leaves caught by a log in the stream, and she asked me to take this picture.

We played with the creek’s current, and sent leaves and flowers down different parts of it, noting the various speeds at which the objects moved.

And then we stumbled upon the bridges! Forget nature for a minute — these bridges make LOUD sounds when you run across them! N took her shoes off, made herself right at home, and must have run across these bridges for almost an hour!

Meanwhile, Baby Rainbow enjoyed the experience of digging into the dirt and leaves. And this is when the abundance of leaves gave me this idea…

…to build a leaf path! Do you see it there? N was careful to walk around it as she exited the bridge.

She stopped periodically to help me gather yellow leaves and lay them down, but mostly she wanted to RUN! I think she’s a kinesthetic learnerWhat kind of learner do you think your child is?

When hikers approached to cross the bridge we’d sit down together and engage them in conversation or eavesdrop on their conversations, and this was where the fun came in.

A mother with two boys walked by, did a double take when she saw the path, and then stopped to take a photo of it. Her boys ran over and we overheard a loud, “cooooool.” (Score — I think we managed to execute a “positive environmental action”)! We chatted with a couple of women who asked us who made it. We did! And if we’d heard of the artist Andy Goldsworthy? We had, and he was actually our inspiration! They also mentioned that they were impressed with the scale of it, and never would have thought to stop and make something like this themselves. (Small children make us slow down and do crazy things, no?!).

N loved the interactions and attention that we brought to the environment and ourselves through this action, and it prompted her to make her own piece of land art…a circle!

If you’ve made land art or have a favorite link to share, I’d love to hear about it (and you can add a picture to your comment)! I was actually surprised that i didn’t find a lot of land art by kids online. Maybe this will be my next Creative Challenge?!

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This post is shared with It’s Playtime

 

Rock Candy Experiment

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We’ve been making rock candy, and in the true spirit of experimentation we made three batches (and hope that we finally got it right!). There are so many ways to get this confection started, and I’ll share a few thoughts and links for those of you who might want to give it a try. The thing about rock candy that appealed to me is that the ingredients are simple, and I already had them all on hand (Yipee!).

Rock Candy: Ingredient List

adapted from Rock Candy Recipes via The Exploratorium and Science Bob

  • 2+ cups sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • sauce pot
  • wooden spoon
  • clean, narrow jar/s or glass/es
  • wooden skewers
  • clothes pins
  • candy thermometer or digital thermometer that reaches 240 degrees F
  • wax paper
  • food coloring (optional)
  • vanilla extract or other flavoring (optional)

At least 3 hours ahead of time:

Snip the ends off your skewers so they’re not sharp. Dip the ends of the skewers into a simple syrup mixture (sugar + water, 2 sugar: 1 water, cooked until the sugar dissolves) and then roll the skewers in sugar. Set aside on wax paper until dry. This might not take long at all, but we gave it three hours. If you don’t have skewers, you could use the string method (see photo below). The skewer or string act as a “seed” that attracts the cooling sugar to adhere to it.

(String method: Dip your cotton string in the sugar solution, roll it in sugar, and allow it to completely dry. This could take 24+ hours.)

I don’t normally allow my daughter to cook boiling hot things at the stove (do you?), but she begged me to get involved and she did a great job! What are your thoughts on this? Any tips for kitchen safety that also allow for kids to fully participate?

  • Boil 1 cup water in a small saucepan
  • Slowly add 2 cups of sugar and mix with a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves
  • Cook sugar solution until it’s 240 degrees F (also known as the soft ball stage in candy making). Some rocky candy recipes say to simply boil the solution until the sugar dissolves. I tried this and it didn’t work for me, but let me know if it works for you!
  • Remove from the heat

  • Add food coloring. Be generous.
  • Add flavor (we made one batch with pure vanilla extract and another with real lemon extract). We added about 1 tbsp. lemon, and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

  • Dangle sugar-covered skewer into sugar solution so that it’s about 2/3 of the way down the jar.
  • Attach a clothespin to the top to keep it in place. We put 2-3 skewers in the jars. I wonder if this will be too crowded to work?

And now we wait. Somewhere between 3 and 7 days!! Already feeling impatient, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it! Sugar will form on the surface, and I’ve read that you can scoop it out and enjoy it while waiting for the rock candy to form.

Well, the truth is that we couldn’t really wait :) Before washing the pot, we coated a few spoons with the hot candy. And as soon as they cooled, we were treated to homemade vanilla and lemon lollipops!

So, do you think you might join us?

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Resources

Candy Stages, from The Exploratorium

Rock Candy Crystal Kit, from Steve Spangler. In case you don’t want to mess around with the messiness of this project.

 

Sugar Cube Sculpture

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We made sugar cube sculptures. What a fun and surprising lesson in building, painting, and dissolving!

Materials

  • Box of sugar cubes
  • Glue bottle
  • Sturdy base to glue onto
  • Paint in squeezy bottles

Boxes of sugar cubers were harder to find than I thought, but I ultimately found them at our big supermarket (and bought 2!). We used scrap wood for the base, basic Elmer’s school glue, and Nancy Bottles for the paint.

I suggested that we could build a sculpture with the sugar cubes, and presented N with the materials. That’s all she needed to hear before she began to glue the cubes onto the panel.

And stack them up tall.

You can see that this isn’t the strongest structure in the world!! I filled some Nancy Bottles with watered down BioColor paint, which my daughter then squeezed all over the sculpture. Because the water acted as a dissolving agent, if I were to do this again I’d use straight-up paint without the additional water.

It’s looking a little patriotic, no?

And it end up in this beautiful heap of swirly, melting color. Not exactly what I imagined when we started, but it did lead to some wonderful conversations about dissolving. We only used about 1/10 of the sugar cubes to make the sculpture, so why not set up a dissolving experiment with the rest of the cubes?!

The next day N turned the remaining cubes into sugar water in under five minutes. It was quick, but what a great lesson and experience!

What are you or your kids building with?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime, Childhood 101

Maker Faire + DIY Design

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We went to the Maker Faire this weekend, a DIY design/technology/creativity festival that attracts everyone from crafty sewing upcyclers to techie hackers to wide-eyed families looking for a creative outing. It was such an inspiring event, full of tons of TinkerLab-style making, that I thought I’d dedicate the week to Maker Faire talent. I gathered tons of good projects for you, and I hope you’ll enjoy the eye-candy that I have in store for you!

Shortly after walking through the main gate, we were greeted by a giant generator-powered electric giraffe. Its maker, Lindz, scaled a small kit robot up to this grand scale that reaches 17′ when its neck extends…and it was a show-stopper for sure. If you’ve ever been to Burning Man, you may recognize her, and you can read more about her here.

Here’s a peek into what makes her work. I have no clue, but I did loved seeing all of the colorful wires and appreciate the hours of welding involved in making this animal go.

Right around the corner from the electric giraffe was a pop-up tinkering studio that was designed to show how simple and inexpensive it can be to set up your own tinkering space. I love how they set up all their pliers on a folded piece of cardboard.

Inside this studio was a 5-minute LED Throwie project sponsored by Make Magazine. This would be a really fun project for kids older than five, but my 3-year old got into the spirit of it…especially the throwing part! LED Throwies were invented by the Graffiti Research Lab as an inexpensive and non-destructive way to add color to any ferromagnetic surface (street signs, for example).

The materials are simple and can be found at Radio Shack or similar stores.

You’ll need

  • a 10 mm diffused LED
  • a rare earth magnet
  • a lithium battery
  • tape (masking or packing will work)

LED lights have a long and a short side. Attach the long side to the (+) positive side of the battery. Squeeze hard to make sure the light works. If it’s a go, take a 7″ long piece of tape and tape the LED around the battery one time. Then continue wrapping the tape around the magnet until you run out of tape. Here’s a really clear tutorial,with costs (about $1 per Throwie), from Instructables.

Your throwie is now ready to be tossed at something magnetic, maybe your fridge? The Throwie should last about two weeks. And when the battery expires, don’t forget to dispose of it properly.

What else could you do with LED lights or throwies?

Dry Ice Experiment

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Dry ice is a favorite mysterious Halloween material, perfect for spooking up a witch’s cauldron, but did you know that you can experiment with it too?

Dry ice is so cool (couldn’t resist!), and makes for a fantastic (ventilated) kitchen or outdoor experiment. Have you ever worked with it? The big caution is that you don’t want to touch it less it burns your skin. Got that? So it has to be handled with tongs and/or insulated gloves.

Read up on  the cautions of using dry ice before proceeding, and always use your best judgment. I went through all the warnings with N, and the dry ice earned a great deal of her respect. She kept asking questions about how ice could burn us (it wouldn’t make sense to me either if I were her age), and was very curious about how it “smoked” on its way from our porch to the kitchen.

In case you’re wondering, I think it’s smart to introduce kids to “dangerous” things. They’re naturally curious about how the world operates, and given the proper instructions and parameters these introductions can give them a good foundation for critical and creative thinking. Have you heard of the The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls? I have a copy of the latter that I know N will love when she gets to be a bit older.

I found the dry ice at our supermarket, and asked the manager to help me pack it up. They come in big bags (perfect for cooling a fridge full of food, but far too much for this experiment), and I understand that they may break smaller pieces for sale…it sells by the pound at our market. To do this experiment, we used two pieces, each the size of a button mushroom.

I filled the bottom of this metal travel mug with about a cup of warm water, and dropped a piece of dry ice in with kitchen tongs. The ice makes a surprising sound when handled by the tongs!

The smoke is perfectly okay to touch.

And blow.

Then we got fancy. N squeezed some dish soap into the mug.

Surprise!

And it got even more exciting with the addition of red food coloring.

And green, blue, and yellow food colorings, too!

This project is great for encouraging curiosity, setting the groundwork for scientific investigation (observation and experimentation), and building creative confidence. A+ in my book!

The Science behind Dry Ice

Dry Ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which dissipates into carbon dioxide gas when it melts. It’s called Dry Ice because it turns directly into a gas from its solid state, without ever becoming a liquid, and therefore there’s no puddle of water in its melted state. This process is called sublimation. Also, Steve Spangler Science is my new best friend, and it’s where I gleaned tons of good information for this post. If you like science experiments, do check this out.

More Ideas from Tinkerlab

Get more Halloween ideas on my Halloween Pinterest Board.

If you enjoyed this post, follow us on Facebook for more child-centered experiments and explorations.

Halloween Countdown Paper Chain

Draw Shape Monsters: Each one is different!

No-carve Decorated Halloween Pumpkins 

Little Fabric Hanging Ghosts

Drippy Slimy Gak

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Late last week we made a batch of slime called Gak – see this post for the recipe – and it’s been a huge success with my almost 3-year old. On day one, N experimented with various ways of interacting with it (rolling, stamping, cutting, pulling), and was excited to introduce her dad to Gak the next day (he loved it, too…it’s really fun stuff). Later that day she wanted to revisit it with her play kitchen tools. We talked about its drippy, viscous nature and thought it would be interesting to test it out in the play colander.

After it sat in it for a few moments, her grandmother lifted it up for us to observe. It began to drip through!

The drips came slowly, so we rigged this pot holder from some CD cases that we painted (post on this crazy activity is coming soon!) in order to watch them come down.

And then we sat back and enjoyed the show. N cut a few blobs off with her little-kid knife before the whole thing “timbered over.” Ha!

Gak is pliable and plasticy, and we also tried our luck at blowing bubbles into it. To do this we took a small piece of Gak, smoothed it out into a disc shape, and then pulled it around the end of a straw before blowing into it. Finessing it took a little practice, but it worked! N wasn’t able to wrap the Gak around the straw herself, but she did enjoy blowing bubble after bubble.

Next time we bring out the Gak, it would be fun to test it in a variety of porous objects. Can you think of any other tools or materials that could interact with Gak?

 

Flubber Gak Slime Exploration

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This SLIME recipe has been on my to-do list ever since reading about Amy’s The Great Slime-Off on Child Central Station. Amy shares two different recipes: the first calls for liquid starch and the second calls for Borax. I looked all over town for liquid starch and it was nowhere to be found. Is it prohibited from the State of California? But the second recipe was totally doable, and felt a bit like fate because N’s nursery school made up a big batch of it last week, which was right after I read the Ooey Gooey Handbook from cover to cover. If you’re into this sort of thing, this book is fabulous! And you can follow Ooey Gooey on Facebook for loads of good information.

This particular slime is also called Flubber, Gluep, Glurch, or Gak, and it’s made from glue, water, and the tiniest bit of Borax (a mild powdered laundry soap).

Borax is soap and it’s toxic, so please use your best judgment and common sense if you choose to use this with young children.

We used half of this recipe from Steve Spangler Science, and the part that gave me the most confidence is where he says “the measurements don’t have to be exact.” Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief with me! This site also has a wonderful description on the science behind the recipe.

I wasn’t sure how messy this would get and set the whole project up in our big mixing tub. We began by squeezing an almost-full 4 ounce bottle of glue into a glass bowl. Then we mixed in 1 1/2 bottles of warm water to the glue. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of glue and 4 ounces of warm water…do you see how fast I went off-recipe!! But like Steve says, the measurements don’t have to be exact and it worked out just fine!

N added red food coloring and mixed it into a lovely shade of pink.

Then we mixed 1 teaspoon of Borax into 1/2 cup of water, and slowly added the solution to the glue mixture…

Until the slime started to come together. We did not use all of the Borax solution.

At first it was really wet and gooey.

And stringy and sloppy.

And then it started to pull together.

Until it was one easy-to-work-with mass of slime that could be pulled apart and manipulated…to some extent. Because really, this slime has a mind of its own.

N requested a muffin tray with the idea that it would make nice little cakes. Can you believe how viscous and pliable it is?! Completely different from play dough, and absolutely inspiring to little miss curious.

We often roll out our play dough, so she gave that a try and complained that it didn’t work. Good experiment!

Next she tried cookie cutters. Also a bust.

But the scissors…oh, the scissors were so much fun and completely rewarding with this medium.

Come back tomorrow for more Gak play!

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When you’re done using your gak/flubber/slime, you can store it in a sealable container or Ziploc bag for about 2 weeks (when it may start to smell!).

If you’ve made Gak, or if you try this at home, please feel free to add your photos or links in the comment area. I love to see your ideas!

This post is linked to We Play, It’s Playtime!

 

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Soap Making Experiments

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We made soap wrapped in hand-painted paper for Mother’s Day! I’ve never made soap before, so this was a fun experiment for us all.

First: Hand-painted paper…

Materials

  • liquid watercolors
  • assorted paintbrushes
  • pipettes
  • a big sheet of watercolor paper to cover her work area
  • small pieces of heavy, absorbent tissue paper that came with some packaging in the mail
  • scissors
  • large sheets of newspaper or newsprint for completed paintings to dry on
  • containers for paint

N squeezed watercolor onto the larger paper so that she could absorb it with the smaller scraps.

A while ago we talked about papers that can absorb paint, and she knew right away that she wanted to test out tissue paper, paper towels, and Kleenex. Sweet! She also requested those tongs up there for picking up the wet papers.

Next: Soap Making…

A few days later, we got our soap-making experiment up and running. I wanted to use an organic soap base, but couldn’t find any on short notice. And you’ll see in a moment why I opted to go with two glycerin soap bases that they sell at Michael’s: Shea Butter suspension soap base and Olive Oil suspension soap base. We broke the base up into pieces and microwaved it for about a 1.5 minutes. Clear directions are on the box. This could also be heated in a double broiler.

Once melted, we added some Lavender essence and oatmeal and mixed it up.

To keep bubbles out of the soap, N prepared the molds (also from the craft store) by spraying them with rubbing alcohol. Adult supervision with rubbing alcohol is obviously recommended!

We stuck rubber stamp-like pieces to a little bit of soap (to keep them from sliding around), and then I poured the soap mixture on top. In subsequent batches I didn’t bother “gluing” the stamps down, which improved the appearance of the soap.

Waiting for it to cool is the hardest part! But to keep our spirits high, this was a good time for lunch. Oatmeal, of course!

Aren’t they pretty?! The two cupcake-looking soaps you can see way back there came out of some silicone food containers.

I thought that I could take a bar of vegetable glycerin soap from Whole Foods and give it the same treatment. What do you think? I should have known better since I’m familiar with the Microwave-Ivory-Soap-Experiement, which is something to try on another day. It puffed the soap up into a stiff cloud…pretty to look at but useless for soap-making.

Then it was time to wrap them up.

Good real-world practice with tape cutting, folding, and wrapping.

We had a play date with our friends from Paint Cut Paste today, and N made these two especially for them (she knows how much they like rainbows!). And the rest are for N’s two grandmothers.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful, nurturing, intelligent, kind, selfless, and inspiring moms!! Moms are amazing!

This post was happily shared with It’s Playtime, Tot Tuesdays

Pitched Roofs

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Our neighbor’s house had a leaky roof and the handy man came for a visit. This peaked my daughter’s interest and she wanted to know why. If you’ve had a small child living in your home, I’m sure you’re familiar with this barrage of non-stop questions that keep coming even if you’ve already answered them…at least three times: Why is the plumber here? Why is their roof leaking? Why does he have a friend with him? Why do they have a ladder? Why aren’t they fixing our roof? Is our roof leaking? Why is their roof leaking?

It turns out that they have a flat roof, and we have a pitched roof. Not that it really matters, of course, as any roof can leak, but flat roofs seem to be more prone to collecting water than pitched roofs, and there I was explaining this to my 33 month old. My explanation began with the illustration you see above, which I sketched onto our chalkboard. I drew the houses and rainclouds, and then demonstrated how the rain falls differently on the two roofs. I checked in to see if this made sense to her (it didn’t), so I moved on to building a 3-D model.

We found some cardboard in our recycling bin and got to work crafting two structures: one with a pitched roof (our house) and one with a flat roof (our neighbor’s house).

And then we ran a little experiment by placing them in the sink and running “rain water” over them. The water rolled right down the sides of the pitched roof and puddled up on the flat roof. And then, finally, she got it!

A surprise preschool lesson on roofs, science, plumbers, and architecture!

What surprise lessons have you taught lately?

Traveling Magnets

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While we make a lot of art in our home, I cherish any project that develops creative and critical thinking skills. I’m attracted to fun activities with an experiential twist, and I’ve noticed lately that we’ve been dabbling in the worlds of science, literature, and dramatic play, as much as we have in that of art. For this simple experiment, we explored how magnets can travel through water and glass, speculated on how we could get the magnets out of the jar, exercised fine motor skills, had to problem-solve in order to figure out how to get the paper clips out of the water, and experienced moments deep concentration (my favorite!). And if you look closely, you’ll notice that N had to put her treasured lollipop down in order to play. A sure sign of child approval!

First, N picked up some paper clips…

And dropped them into a jar full of water. Then she used a strong magnet to pull each of the paper clips up the side of the jar.

Got it!

I’m learning that my daughter likes to try new things, figure them out, and then move on to the next thing. So she was highly engaged with this for the first three of four paper clips, and that was it. While I would have loved to see some sustained attention, it’s always nice when these short-lived activities are also incredibly easy to set up. In this case, set up was a snap (jar + water + paper clips + magnet) and clean up was next-to-nothing.

And we learned that magnets can travel through water and glass!

Two thumbs up from the child and the mom!

Special thanks to Amy at The Wonder Years for the inspiration!

What magnet games do you like to play?