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!

Creative Cooking

rolling out dough

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!

One Color at a Time

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I was talking to a friend at the park today about things that keep parents from setting their kids up with art projects.  The list isn’t too much of a surprise, and you might even have your own bullet points to add to this (please share if you do!):

  • The house/table/furniture could get messy.
  • Clothes will need to be changed, washed, or thrown out.
  • It requires too much facilitation.
  • I’ve seen shitmykidsruined.com, and there’s no way I’m allowing Sharpies in the house!
  • I just don’t have the patience for it.

Fair enough. Art projects are not for everyone, but after today’s convo I’m on a new mission to also share ideas that are easy on the parents’ will, time and emotions. In my own effort to tackle some of these issues, N’s little art table is always covered in plastic (our dining room table, pictured above, is an old high school table that came with expletives carved into its legs — so no worries there!), we have aprons for painting and cooking, paints and markers are usually washable, and messy projects are often taken outside.

A couple days ago we embarked on a little color-mixing activity that is SO surprisingly clean that my 2-year old asked, “Why is my hand not dirty? Is my hand dirty?” All you need are some squeezable paints (tempera or acrylic — makes no difference) and a zip-lock bag with a good seal. This last part is critical!

Steps

  1. Set out your materials: zip-lock bag and 2-3 paints
  2. Open the bag or have your child open the bag. My daughter wanted to hold the bag open.
  3. Squeeze ONE color into the bag. My daughter really wanted to do this step, so we traded bag for paint. This became an exercise in restraint (for her) when I found myself saying, “Just squeeze it a little bit…like toothpaste. Not too much.”)
  4. Zip the bag up
  5. Hand it to your child to experiment with, mush around, squeeze, etc.
  6. Once this has run its course, add another color and then zip it up again. I used this as an opportunity to teach color mixing by saying, “First we put blue in the bag. What color do you want to add next?  Okay, yellow. What color will we get when we mix blue with yellow?”
  7. Young children will be interested in the sensation of smooshing and mixing, and older children may be interested in “drawing” into the paint by pushing down on it against a hard surface like a table. We tried this, but it was a solitary sport for mom.

After playing with “clean” paint for a few minutes, N was jonesing to actually paint, so I carried the “one color at a time” idea over from the first project into what you see in the photo above. She picked the color she wanted to begin with (yellow), and then chose colors to add, one at a time.” The first painting was yellow/blue, and the second was yellow/blue/red.

After that, she was done.

Wonderful Whiteboarding

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If you’ve been following me, you probably know that I love introducing my daughter to a variety of media.  When I went on maternity leave a couple years ago, this little dry erase board came home from the office with me, and it’s now a spot where N can freely draw while we brew our morning coffee and heat up oatmeal. We also have the Ikea easel, which has a dry erase board on one side, and this moves freely between N’s bedroom and the living room.

Creative Connection

Dry erase drawing is great because it’s temporary, easily wipes up when a drawing is complete, and the pen moves across the smooth whiteboard surface in a fashion so different from markers.  Watching my daughter draw in this medium, I see that her ideas flow freely, one idea emerges into another, and when she’s done, a simple swipe of the eraser allows her to begin all over again.  It’s like brainstorming at the toddler level!  Plus, on a large scale, drawing on a white board is a lot like drawing on a wall — without the cleaning nightmare associated with all of that.

(Photo: Fast Company)

Related to this, my husband, Scott, happens to co-direct the Environments Collaborative (i.e. he designs the interior spaces) in the incredibly creative Stanford Institute of Design, where dry-erase boards hang freely in place of walls (see photo above). They even have an entire room (called the White Room – surprise, surprise!) dedicated to whiteboard-style brainstorming.  My daughter BEGS me to visit her dad at work, and while I know it’s because she has a huge heart for her dad’s affection, I assume that part of this longing must also have something to do with the endless supply of post-its and sea of whiteboards that stretch from one end of the building to the other.

Drawing at the d. School

Cleaning up our mess. so we’ll get invited back!

Making it happen

Drawing with dry-erase markers was introduced in our house when my daughter was about 18 months, but it didn’t really become a favorite activity until she was almost two and could easily open and close the markers and erase her markings without assistance.  While whiteboarding on a big canvas can be tons of fun, you don’t need wall-to-wall dry erase boards to make this happen.  In fact, just the other day I picked up a $2 board that’s about 12″ x 16″ in the school supply section of Target that will be perfect for dry-erasing on-the-go.  For the more ambitious-minded, there’s a company called IdeaPaint that sells a paint product that can turn virtually any surface into a whiteboard. Here’s a little inspiration from their website:

And finally, it will take a bit of hunting, but you can also find nontoxic dry-erase markers, such as these from Expo. Have fun drawing on this glassy surface, and please share your whiteboard drawing/brainstorming/creating/exploring tales!

Fairy Doors

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Have you ever spotted a fairy door?

Once you see one, your radar will be attuned to them like it might be for ice cream on a hot summer day or your favorite jeans at a basement sale.

We’re blessed to live near the a fantastic children’s library,and my daughter and I made a trip there just before heading off on vacation.  She has a thing for scanning books, and I like that we can be boisterous without ticking anyone off.  After dropping off some books, we wandered back into the toddler area, which is when I happened to spot the fairy door.


Huh? It was this cute little door, stuck to the wall, with no fan-fare or explanation…simply a little door.  And then I remembered seeing these little doors in other places…which prompted me to dig around and discover that there is a whole world of fairy door people out there, building little getaways for fairies in the most unexpected places.  There’s even a shop that just sells fairy doors. Brilliant!

It turns out that Ann Arbor, MI is so rich with fairies that you can take a self-guided tour of all the fairy sites, a very popular activity according to folks who’ve reviewed it on Yelp.

As an example, in the Folk and Fairytale section of the Ann Arbor Library there’s a little fairy home that’s truly inspiring (see photo above).

Okay, fairies may be cool, but fairies = creativity?

After posting last week about fairy gardens, this seemed like a nice follow-up on where the fairy garden idea could go.  This is all about building and supporting imagination and encouraging children the think creatively. I have some friends who build elaborate leprechaun traps with their school-age children every St. Patrick’s Day, an activity that involves a lot of planning, building, imagination, and invention. And then there’s the added benefits of spending quality time with their children and bolstering fun family traditions. If you choose to plant a garden for gnomes, install a fairy home, build a leprechaun trap, or leave lettuce for Santa’s reindeer (our newest family tradition), you’ve instilled your child with the idea that anything imaginable can be invented and created. And they will also experience a sense of playfulness that has the capacity to stick with them for life.

Itty-Bitty Airplane Art Kit

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We’re on the road!  Well, truly, we were on the road, in the sky, on the ground, in the sky, on the road again, on a boat, and finally, finally, finally grounded on a rustic island in Mexico. Sweet summer!  I didn’t think I’d have internet access, but low-and-behold, we live in a w-ifi world and I’m somewhat connected!  So, my posts may be a bit spotty, but I’ll try my best to add some fresh material while we’re away.

To expedite our trip through customs (and save my pregnant back while someone demands that I carry her – I’m not disclosing any names), we whittled our bags down to just carry-on luggage.  Can you believe this?  This has never happened to me in my life as a parent, and now that I’ve figured out the formula it will be hard to go back.  The trick, I believe, lies in the minuscule summer wardrobe (no bulky sweaters and jeans!) and having one child who doesn’t require a gazillion gadgets to keep her happy and healthy. On our last trip I packed an enormous bag FULL of entertaining toys, art materials, games, and videos, which was great – believe me – but this time around we didn’t have someone waiting for us on the other side with open arms and an oversized car.  So, armed with a goal of being judicious, the Itty-Bitty Airplane Art Kit was born.  I’m not claiming uber-novelty here, but it was highly functional for the flight, and has been entertaining my daughter since we’ve arrived.

Here’s what you need

  • Gallon-sized ziplock bag
  • Assorted Pens, Pencils, Crayons
  • A Variety of Paper
  • Glue Stick/s
  • Stickers, organized in a snack-sized ziplock
  • Any other must-haves that your child adores

Make a Paper Book

I wanted to bring a bunch of paper, but because I didn’t have the space I folded about 8 sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 paper of various colors in half, and then stapled the “spine” to create a few sketch books.  Very easy for on-the-go drawing.