Improvised Caution Tape

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My daughter is FASCINATED by caution tape. It all started about a month ago when we walked past a building that was surround with the stuff, and I was barraged with questions like: Why is there caution tape there? Who can go over there? What happened? How did the fire truck get in the building? Why is that man behind the caution tape? Why can’t I go behind the caution tape? And so on. And ever since, her radar is attuned to caution tape like mine is attuned to drive-through coffee shacks (which are way too few and far between!)

So, one fine Sunday morning, she and my husband decked out our house with their version of caution tape. While I bought this tape with more traditional art projects in mind, I’m impressed with how they interpreted it as a medium for blocking off areas of our home. When this all got underway I was thankfully on the right side of the tape, as I was told that the other side was only for “workers only” and I wasn’t permitted to pass. Toddlers and their rules!!

In case you’re wondering, this is what she was stockpiling on the other side of the tape.

This simple play-acting game kept her entertained for close to an hour, which I attribute to paying attention to her interests, one of the first posts I wrote about back in May. While we could have purchased a head-to-toe construction worker kit like this, she got into the spirit of it all with simple yellow tape and orange paper repurposed into caution tape and cones, and it didn’t cost us a dime. Kids are awesome like that. And who needs a yellow safety vest when you can wear a pink tutu? (Bet you didn’t realize you bought her a construction outfit, Auntie Danielle!)

With rainy (and maybe where you are, snowy!) days ahead, I plan to look for opportunities to support my child’s interests using materials that we already have on hand. Or none at all. This afternoon we laughed through an improvised outing to a friend’s house to pick up stickers, using nothing but our bodies and voices. What a great way to pass an otherwise dreary afternoon!

How have you supported a child’s interests with a creative use of materials? What improvisational games have you found yourself playing?

Why Creative Thinking?

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What will our childrens’ future look like? The world as we know it is changing so rapidly that it’s almost impossible to know what it will look like in just five years, let alone thirty. I saw the movie Social Network this weekend, and was reminded that Facebook has only been around for about five years. I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember my life before its existence. I vaguely remember getting family updates on all my extended family through my parents or those epic 2-page holiday letters, and now I find myself stopping my mom to say things like, “…and did you know that your best friend is about to become a grandma?” She didn’t. True Story.

And this is why it’s so important to foster creative thinking in today’s youth. It’s not enough to memorize historical facts, ace a multiple choice test, or correctly identify all of the elements in the periodic table. I’m not knocking these tasks, but if we want to our kids to thrive, and *gasp*…compete, in the unknown world of the future, they’ll need a lot more than good memorization and “passing the test” skills because we don’t know exactly what kind of information they’ll need. Sure, we can guess, but what will serve them best are the abilities to think independently, be open to new ideas, be inventive, apply their imaginations, suggest hypotheses, and search for innovative solutions.

Take less than two minutes to watch this adorable video that advocates for creative thinking skills in the classroom.  If you’re a parent or teacher, ask yourself if your school is doing everything it can to support the aforementioned skills.

How is your school or your child’s school fostering creative growth?
What skills do you think are important for today’s children to develop in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world?

 

Tissue Paper Collage

Back Camera

I have a child who rarely smiles for the camera and doesn’t seem to appreciate a mom who wants to document everything (she’ll thank me when she’s older, right?). When bribed with something along the lines of cupcakes, I may have some luck, but I usually hear comments like “put your phone down!” and “Mommy, no pictures! Make art with me!” Sooo, when I snapped this picture at the end of a recent art moment, I thought to myself, “hey, we must have hit art project gold here!” In hindsight, I think she was wowed by the idea of camouflage (more on that later), but why not start a blog post with a smiling kid, right?

What you will need:

  • White glue and Water
  • Small pieces of tissue paper. I cut mine into little irregular rectangles, but any shape will do. Ours is the “bleeding kind” from Discount School Supply, but if you’re scrounging around for materials for a project you’re doing RIGHT NOW!, see if you have any stashed away with your gift wrapping. Basically, you want really thin paper that will easily soak into the glue. My daughter called this “booger paper,” presumably because we use tissues to wipe noses. So funny.
  • Paper to use as a substrate
  • Thick paintbrush
  • Containers to hold glue and tissue papers

Mix a little bit of water with glue to make a paintable paste. Liquid starch will also do the trick.

Mix the glue and water together. I thought our brushes were clean, but it appears that the glue soaked some purple paint out of the bristles. No worries — we happen to like the color purple, and it added a nice splash of color to the paper :)

Paint some of the glue mixture on the paper, and then stick pieces of tissue paper on the glue. Encourage layering. The piece in the foreground is where I demonstrated the process, trying to keep it simple and not too prescriptive.

Selecting pieces of tissue — creative and critical thinking at work!

The project evolved into making “teeny weeny pieces of art.”

And then we opened a factory.

Surprisingly, this is what cracked her up. She glued a piece of white tissue to the paper, which of course disappeared. We talked about camouflage, and how we can’t see white paper when it’s glued to another sheet of white paper because they “match.” With Halloween around the corner, I placed an orange tissue paper on top of one of our pumpkins, to show that this phenomena occurs with colors other than white. And then the laughing started. So, in case you were wondering, camouflage is pretty funny in the mind of this 28 month old!

Homemade Stickers

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After sending our 4 year old friends Josie and Callie some stickers a few months back, they reciprocated by sending us a few sheets of mailing labels to make our own stickers. Brilliant!  Stickers have long been popular around here, they’re fun, and they seem to make their way onto everything from lunch bags to birthday cards. Making stickers from mailing labels is an easy spin on everyday drawing, more imaginative and less expensive than pre-designed stickers, and the perfect activity for kids who like drawing AND stickers. Since receiving our label sticker gift, we’ve stocked up on more sheets of these, and added them to our self-serve paper basket. If you decide to open your own homegrown sticker factory, pretty much any sort of blank office stickers should do the trick.

It was a very cool moment when I realized she could see the perforations of each sticker, and made each rectangle its own element.

N is going through her circle period!

Peeling off and adding stickers to a sheet of paper.

The final product.

I’ve noticed that N has tendency to layer papers and stickers in her art, so I also used this as an opportunity to talk with her about layering. I would say things like, “I see you’re putting that sticker on top of the other ones. You’re making layers. Can you say ‘layers’? Can you say ‘I’m layering the stickers’?”  She gets into this kind of “repeating me” discussion, and it works for us a good way to teach and reinforce new vocabulary words and sayings.

Do your kids love stickers too?

What kind of sticker projects are happening in your home or school?

Beans are for Gluing

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Unless they’re refried and smothered in guacamole, my daughter is not a huge fan of eating beans. But, when given the opportunity to glue the little suckers to a piece of paper, the very same beans are her friends. After spending way too much time grazing the bulk bins on a recent trip to the market, we filled up a bag with a colorful potpourri of bean soup for art making, of course.  This simple little activity is a great way to extend gluing, glittering, and collaging activities. My kid adores glue, so this one was bound to please.  And for the last week, a bowl of beans has graced our art table for spontaneous moments of bean art.

The Creative Hook

  • Picking up little beans builds fine motor skills
  • Making art with non-art materials teaches kids to think outside the box
  • Problem-solving skills will be encouraged as children make choices about where and how to place the glue and beans

Materials

  • Beans
  • Paper
  • Bottle of Glue

Directions

  • Offer your child a piece of paper, bottle of glue, and a bowl of beans
  • If gluing objects is a new activity for the child, demonstrate — on your own sheet of paper — how to squeeze the glue and drop beans in the glue puddles. Otherwise, let your child have at it.

Follow up

My daughter made two bean pictures the first day we made these. When I thought she was “done” with her second piece, I was surprised to watch her make the decision to coat each of her beans with another layer of glue “to make them disappear.” Very cool. And then, a couple days later, I was was reminded of the importance of making creative activities and supplies accessible when she walked over to her table to make bean art just minutes after waking up.

Extension for School-Age Kids

If you have older children, they may enjoy making a bean mosaic like this one from Frugal Family Fun Blog or this one from Disney’s Family Fun.  And here’s an edible version, using jelly beans, which is definitely for the older crowd. My child would just spend the whole time eating, and none of the beans would make it into the art.

Egg Carton Painting

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If you grew up in the United States, there’s a good chance that during your childhood you made some version of an egg carton craft: think lady bugs with pom-pom faces and googly eyes. On this page alone, I counted 47 craft projects for preschoolers that begin with egg cartons!

What N and I embarked on is more of a free-painting project, sans pom-poms, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes. It takes the open-ended painting experience from the easel to the egg carton, and offers children an opportunity to think creatively and independently. I’m big on using non-art materials for art-making, and this definitely fits the bill.  Recycling materials teaches kids that anything can be used for art, and we’re only limited by our own imaginations. In addition to all of this, the textured, bumpy surface of the carton is a new form of tactile exploration that offers new challenges to kids used to painting on 2-D surfaces. And, if you set this up on your kitchen floor, as we did, this is a flexible activity for homes with limited art-making space.

Time

10 minutes for set-up and clean-up. 10 – 45 minutes for the activity.  At 2 years old, my daughter spent about 10 minutes on this.

Materials

  • Cardboard egg carton/s
  • Tempera paint (acrylic will work too)
  • Fat brushes. We like round, fat brushes like these.
  • Palette or paint cups. I like to squeeze paints on a plastic-coated paper plate or plate covered in foil.

Steps

  1. Save your cardboard egg cartons. We eat a lot of eggs around here, so this wasn’t too hard.
  2. Cover your work surface. I covered a large area of our kitchen floor with a paper grocery bag that I cut open.
  3. Set up materials. I limited our palette to two colors, which my daughter enjoyed mixing.
  4. Give your child the egg carton, and see what he or she comes up with.

Egg Carton Extension

I found this very cool idea on Giggleface Studios for making an egg carton nature/object collecting box. While my daughter is probably a bit young to fully enjoy this, I imagine it would be a crowd pleaser for kids over 3. And you can see all of the photos that relate to this project here.

Creative Cooking

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!

The Creativity Crisis

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

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

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

Highlights from the Article

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