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?

Contact Paper Suncatcher

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Since making Sticky Autumn Collages a couple weeks ago, we’ve been addicted to contact paper. And thank goodness for that because I needed some serious validation for buying seventy-five feet of the stuff!!  Despite the semi-gloomy weather, we could not be stopped from making art with the word “sun” in it…this is a strong activity for even a rainy day. In fact, it’s a good indoor project that may even thrive with a side of hot apple cider and pumpkin bread.

Inspiration: Suncatcher Collage, created by visitors to the Children’s Discovery Museum (San Jose, CA), 2010

Materials:

  • Clear Contact Paper
  • Painters tape, Paper Tape, or Masking Tape
  • Pre-cut pieces of Tissue Paper

I cut a large piece of clear contact paper and taped it securely to the floor. N didn’t need a lot of encouragement to walk on it because this is just inherently fun and feels weird. Lots of giggles or gasps. I credit MaryAnn Kohl with this idea.

Then we stuck the tissue shapes to the contact paper. The contact paper is super-sticky, so once the tissue is down, it didn’t come back up again. For reals.

N got into this, and especially enjoyed folding and crumpling the tissue before placing it on the sticky paper.

While I finished adding all of the pieces, N took a yoga break. Of course. Then we removed the tape and stuck the contact paper directly to a window. So pretty.

When the Suncatcher was done, I got a request for “Contact Paper and Play Dough.” How could I refuse?

Turns out the play dough doesn’t stick. And then, N wanted to know what would happen if she sat on the contact paper. She came up too. Whew!

Somehow, this all morphed into making play dough snowmen with “many teeny-tiny heads.” I love the stream of conscious that guides children from one moment to another. You never know where you’re going to end up.

Do you have a favorite activities that includes contact paper?

Flour and Water

table from above

We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Sponge Stamping

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In the days leading up to the arrival of Baby I, I spent a lot of time in our garage in search of baby clothes, the car seat, and other long forgotten baby paraphernalia– and along the way I found a box of sponges shaped like letters, hearts, and flowers that I’ve been hauling around since my early art teaching days.

Inspired by my find (and, frankly, thrilled that I could finally justify keeping all this junk to my poor husband), I set up a bowl of red and yellow paint, put out some paper, and showed my toddler how to dip the sponges in paint before stamping them on the paper. The project is incredibly simple, and managed to hold my child’s attention for almost, er, ten minutes. In giving her two warm colors I thought it would help her focus on how the sponges work with the paint, but in hindsight, having a few extra colors may have sustained her interest longer. All said, as a first sponge stamping experience I’m pretty pleased with how it all played out.

Stamping N’s and Hearts.

I showed N  how to dip the sponge in the paint and both smear and stamp it on the paper. She opted for stamping. I always do my demonstrations on my own piece of paper to allow her the freedom to create her own work without my influence.

Thick, wet, stamped paint.

I think I picked up these sponges at a dollar store, which might be a good place to forage for something similar. My neighbor Stephanie had us over for sponge stamping, and she used make-up wedges. What’s so great about these is that they’re dense like foam, and hold their shape nicely in the cluthes of little hands.

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.

Salty Sprinkles

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Since last week’s Glitter-Fest 101, mounds of paper have been magically turned into sparkly creations — and my husband and sister have even jumped in on the glittering action. I actually overheard my husband say, “glitter is fun!” In all fairness, I think he was commenting to our 2-year old on how much he was enjoying their time together, but still! The only one who’s been overwhelmed by the glittering extravaganza has been my vacuum cleaner, who was recently given a raise for all of his hard work.

To foster the glittering fad, which (for my child) stems from a love for shaking sprinkles of any kind, I came across an idea for making my own glitter from salt. It’s not exactly the same as the wonderful shiny metallic stuff, but it fulfills the joy of shaking interest, it’s always fun to play with a new material, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of making our own art supplies.

What’s the Hook?

  • Kids will enjoy the process of making their own art material.
  • Making homemade art supplies can be fun, economical, and teaches children that art can be made from just about anything. I hear my daughter say “let’s buy it!” way too often, and it’s nice to think about future conversations that are infused with “let’s make it” instead.
  • Playing with new materials opens children’s experiences and world views up to new possibilities.
  • It’s easier to clean up than traditional shiny glitter.
  • If you use the salt/food coloring recipe, it’s completely non-toxic.

Materials

  • Salt
  • Food Coloring or liquid watercolors. I used Colorations Liquid Watercolors because I had them on hand, but I hear that food coloring works well too…and many of us have some tucked away in our kitchens. If you’re considering the watercolors, I think they’re worth investing in for other projects too:  they’re reasonably priced, washable, and the colors are rich.
  • Mixing bowl and spoon
  • Plates or cookie sheet for drying the “glitter”
  • Shakers. I found some salt/pepper shakers in a dollar store. Cocoa and parmesan cheese shakers would do the trick too.

Directions

Pour the desired amount of salt into the mixing bowl or cup.

Add a few drops of food coloring/watercolor to the salt and mix until the salt is evenly covered.

Pour the mixture onto a plate and allow it to dry. This should take a couple hours. If you want to expedite the process, pour the salt mixture onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Once dry, break up the clumps of salt with your fingers or the back of a spoon.

Pour glitter into your shakers. Another option is to pour into a bowl so that your little artists can scoop it onto their art with spoons.

Enjoy your new, homemade glitter!

Glitter, Glitter Everywhere

glitter group

Okay, I’ll be honest. If you want to keep your home clean or you have a fear of “the mess,” this may not be the post to read. Today we played with glitter, and the stuff can get everywhere!  The initial plan was to use some glitter glue, but as I squeezed the bottle for our trial run, a crack in the bottom of the bottle split open, causing a mound of glitter glue to ooze all over my hand. So, with a glitter-eager toddler awaiting this highly anticipated moment, I was obliged to pull out some shakers of real glitter and the show went on.  The upside here, for anyone who’s feeling less than enthusiastic about embarking on a glitter activity after reading my report thus far, is that N LOVED playing with the stuff. And, if you choose to go the glitter glue route, there’s barely any mess at all.

We had some doilies left over from our Doily Drawings so we used them as the substrate, but any 2-D surface will do. Actually, the holes in the doilies posed some glitter-shaking problems, and I’d probably shy away from them next go around (although there is something pretty about lacy doilies and shiny glitter). With a two-year old, there’s only so much you can do with glitter, but if you have older kids, you may like to try making glittery fairy wands or glitter leaves. And if YOU are giddy for glitter too, Martha Stewart has a whole slew of Halloween glitter activities that will keep you busy for the next few months. Finally, if your child likes glitter like mine does, it’s a great embellishment for just about any art activity. Think of it as an art accessory.

Anyhoo, here’s what you need if you want to get your glitter on:

The Creative Hook

We did this activity for a few reasons.

  • My daughter had yet to use glitter, and the novelty of a new materials posed all sorts of opportunities for exploration.
  • The steps involved with working with glitter are somewhat involved, and the process requires patience and focus.
  • My initial plan was to use glitter glue and then introduce the glitter shaker on a subsequent day, but the plan fell through. The reason for this is that I’ve noticed my child is bonkers for shaking things out of littler containers (candy sprinkles, parmesan cheese, cocoa, cinnamon, etc.) and it was apparent that shaking glitter would be a natural extension of her current fascination with shaking and sprinkling.
  • The visual payoff can be striking, and kids may be wowed by the shimmery effect of the glitter.

Materials

  • Glitter-Glue or Glue & Glitter Shakers. You can find glitter in craft stores, and I’d recommend buying stuff that’s specifically in the kid section because it’s less likely to be super fine and/or toxic. Buy a few colors if you can.
  • Paper
  • Plate, box, or trash can for shaking glitter into

Directions

  • If you’re using glitter glue, show your child how to use it, and let him or her explore how the material works.
  • If you’re using glitter AND glue, show your child how to squeeze glue on the paper, gently shake glitter over the glue, and then shake the extra glue off and onto the plate or into the trash can.

Please join the conversation…Despite the comment instructions below, there’s no need to register to add a comment!

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!

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.

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.”