Organizing Art Supplies: Day Two

coatclosetbefore

This is the second edition of a new series where I’m sharing my messy spaces and process of organizing as I strive to build a more beautiful, accesible, and relaxing space for living and creating (here’s the first post). My friend and professional organizer, Jillian, is spearheading this project — it helps to have company — and this week we tackled so many things: art supplies, coat closet, office supplies, and toy bins. I’ve taken at least three trips to the thrift store (sad…I’ve lost count…shows you how badly I needed to go through this!) and I’ve learned so much about myself and my home along the way!

For our first project, we tackled these catch-all drawers that are home to mailing supplies and office materials. Now everything has a home. Ah, breathing sigh of relief. If you’re planning to join me with your own urge to purge, I recommend beginning in a small area like this. It won’t overwhelm you and you’ll have results in super-quick-no-time. The strategy, really, is to toss/donate/sell anything that you won’t use or have duplicates of. And it helped that I already had the drawer sorters. You’ll need little boxes or sorters to keep small things in their own tidy areas.

I realize now that I’ve been cleaning and organizing AROUND my clutter, which takes so much time and effort. Effort to clean, effort to find things, effort to put things away. It boils down to the plain fact that we have too much stuff, so this first step has been all about clearing the clutter. And once the clutter is gone we’ll have room to dream up fun ways to maximize our space.

Here’s a good example:

Eeek! Overstuffed coat closet!

If your first thought isn’t “Horror,” it could very well be, “you live in California; Why on earth do you have so many winter coats?!”

The same closet, looking down. This may actually be the worse view of the two.

We use the closet for a lot things, but it’s time to clear it out so we can find the best way to use it. Jillian suggested that once it’s empty it would be a great place to it to store our art-making supplies, which is why I’ve been pinning all of these fab art storage closets. Yes to that!

I think N overheard this conversation because the next day she and her entourage set up shop in the now almost-empty closet. They sat there in their self-proclaimed art studio, happily tinkering away with newly-found rolls of paper and markers. This process is hard and time-consuming, but I can already see that it’s worth it!

Have you been inspired to purge? What do you do with all that stuff?

Are you challenged by space limitations? Do you struggle with having too much stuff? Have you succeeded at paring things down, and have a space that inspires you?

What MaryAnn F. Kohl Can Teach Us About Fostering Literacy Through Art

snowday2

Today I’m excited to be joined by the ever-inspiring children’s art book author, MaryAnn F. Kohl. MaryAnn’s books helped me prepare lessons in my teaching days and have since become dog-eared favorites in my life as a parent. I now own eight of her books and constantly turn to them for ideas. Because MaryAnn is so prolific (full list here, on Amazon), we thought it might be fun to spotlight one of her books as an introduction to her work.

And…it happens to be MaryAnn’s birthday today! Happy Birthday, MaryAnn!


RACHELLE: Welcome, MaryAnn! As you know, I’m a huge fan and your book, First Art for Toddlers and Twos: Open-ended Art Experiences, was the first place I looked for inspiration when my older daughter was old enough to draw. We’ve been having fun trying different activities from your book, Storybook Art. A lot of the books are traditional favorites, while some are new to me. How did you choose the books that are included in this book?

MARYANN: Storybook Art was a joy for me to research and write. Choosing books was at the same time both easy and challenging, because I knew which books would have great art connections for kids, but how to choose 100 or less? As I sorted and chose, I was looking for a wide mix of art styles created by the illustrators, as well as a variety of art experiences for the children. I wanted to be sure I had a good mix of paint, crayon, sculpture, photography, and so on. And of course I had my favorites that I simply could not leave out, like Ezra Jack Keats’ Snowy Day and Leo Lionni’s Fish is Fish. Everyone who knew I was working on the book had a favorite and begged me to include each one! Definitely challenging.  When all was said and done, I arrived at 100 books and their illustrators selected in four categories (the four chapters): Paint, Draw, Cut & Collage, and Craft & Construction. I was pleased with the balance and only had to omit a few of my very favorites, but perhaps another book one day? I spent hours and hours in our public children’s library so I could see the real books up close. One of my favorite parts of writing the book was interviewing illustrators and getting quotes from them about why art is important.

RACHELLE: It’s evident that a lot of time and research went into gathering biographies and details about the illustrators’ artistic processes. How do you hope parents or teachers will use this book?

MARYANN: I offer the details in Storybook Art to parents so they may choose how much their children may be interested in knowing, and how much to share with them. Some children will be fascinated by the quotes and lives of various illustrators, and others will be more interested in just getting on with the art. Parents often introduce a little tidbit of information at one reading, and maybe a few more details at another reading. Whatever is comfortable each parent and child is what works best. I hope that parents will find picture books that their children enjoy, then explore the art project that relates to that book, and then, most important of all, re-read the book again (and again). Parents will find that after their children explore the art projects, they will be more interested and more finely tuned to the details of the illustrations and the story when read a second and third and fourth and however many times.

RACHELLE: How can the process of following up a story with an art project contribute to a child’s language skills? (Sharing some photos of our experience with Watercolor Snow Collage: Ezra Jack Keats).

MARYANN: Picture books rely heavily on their illustrations, their art, if you will. Connecting picture book art with children’s own art connects children to their books. When a child has a personal connection (in this case, through hands-on art experiences) to a book, that book becomes more deeply appreciated, the story more deeply comprehended, the language more readily remembered, the illustrations more finely noticed. So much of learning to read is hearing a story and finding a personal connection. If art is a connection, it’s just one more way for children to become attached to their books in a personal way, with all the benefits that go with it.

A few are:

  • When we surround our children with books, and therefore with words and language, we are giving them meaningful vocabulary they will add to their use and understanding.
  • The conversations we have with out kids about books increase their listening and communication skills.
  • Including body language like facial expressions and clapping or other movements, helps get the words into the children’s bodies, and therefore will be remembered.
  • Children will often retell stories, or make up new stories inspired by their favorite books.
  • We’ve all seen kids who memorize a book word for word, or at the very least know which words are next in the sentence before you read the words … all this long before they can actually read. This is a sign of a budding great reader!
All these are amazing language skills that will launch a child into reading when he is ready.

A little story: I remember at one point in my teaching career, I was talking to my kindergarten class about all the details of forest animals, just talking and talking, and this little boy raised his hand as he threw up his hands in the air with an exasperated look on his face, “….and rain makes applesauce!” He was referring to the chant from the book “Rain Makes Applesauce” that we had read in class, and letting me know I was just going on far too long with far too many details about forest animals. That one made me laugh! Kids will transfer phrases and words from their books into their lives, a connection transfer that makes those brain synapses just snap and sparkle! When this happens, you know that language has taken root in your child’s mind and heart, and will expand his creative thinking as he grows.

RACHELLE: What are your favorite illustrators and activities from the book?

MARYANN: My favorites vary from day to day, and from child to child. Whenever a child is inspired and excited about a project, then I become equally excited, so my favorites change often! There are some projects in Storybook Art that are sure winners for just about every child. For example, most kids really enjoy “Cat & Mouse Prints” that go with Wanda Gag’s classic “Millions of Cats”. They enjoy making “millions of prints”! another one young children love is Robert McCloskey’s “Blueberries for Sal” followed up with “Blue Fingerdots, which is simply making a painting with a finger dipped in blue paint, or better yet, blue dots art made with actual blueberries.

One of the biggest surprises to me was a book that I added at the very end of the writing process because my daughter, Megan, requested it: Dare Wright’s “The Lonely Doll” with the project “Portraiture”. In this activity, children set up toys in various poses and scenes, and then photograph them, just as Ms. Wright did with her doll Edith and Edith’s companion Mr. Bear. Kids tell me this is one of their most favorite projects of all, and it’s fascinating to see the stories they put together through their photographs and scenes. I had no idea until I started doing portraiture with kids of all ages of the depth of creativity and concentration that would unfold. What a joyful discovery!

RACHELLE: I’d love to hear about your writing path. Can you tell us what influenced you to begin writing books and what you’re working on now?

MARYANN: When I was a little girl, my dad owned a bookstore and brought home a Little Golden Book or other storybook for me weekly. My parents read to me every night, and during the day I read and re-red those books, often incorporating the stories into my make-believe and pretend play with my dolls or into my crayon drawings.

When I was a little older, my dad managed a huge printing and book bindery, and I would spend a Saturday morning with him at his “office”. He would send me off to wander the shelves in the warehouse and find any books that interested me to bring home. His bindery did library bindings for every publisher in the USA, so the choices were magnificent! Little House on the Prairie was one of my best discoveries. It was pure luck that I found the series because no one had ever shared these books with me — not my teachers or the town librarian — and I loved the stories. Books were one of my most important activities as a child, along with my crayons and scissors, and my bike. Books remain important to me, and were clearly important in how I raised my children.

I mention this, because growing up with books the way I did made me want to be an author. I always knew I would be one some day. I was in no hurry. I knew it would come about at some point. And here I am, 20 books later, with plans to write fiction for children who love “chapter books”. Right now I’m working on another activity book called “Great Composers for Kids” with my musical theatre writing daughter, Hannah. We’re coming up with some wonderful projects to help kids connect to the classical composers and their lives and music. It’s very exciting!

When my kids started school, I decided to use the time when they were in school to write a book of art activities. I’d noticed that at the time no books existed, so I gathered my favorite “independent art ideas for kids” in a book called “Scribble Cookies”, now called “Scribble Art”. I self-published it with no clear idea of how to really do that, 27 years later, here I am! Scribble Art became an immediate best seller, and it’s still my favorite book of all the ones I have written.

RACHELLE: You shared that your own girls are all grown up and have turned out to be amazing grown-ups. I’m so curious to know what your own home was like when you raised your children. 

MARYANN: My home was not unlike the ways yours looks and what you do with your children, though perhaps mine was not quite as magnificent in scope. I wanted my kids to have an imaginative childhood, so we always had art projects going on in our kitchen, lots of make-believe and storytelling, acting and pretending galore, costumes, dance, and singing. Making up songs was a big part of what we did together — just something that we enjoyed. My two daughters loved“Little House on the Prairie” on television and rarely missed an episode. They loved Broadway musicals like Annie and Fiddler on the Roof and great classic fairy tales to listen to like The Little Mermaid (not Disney) and Snow White and Rose Red. Much of their creative play was based on these stories and shows.


And now, my oldest daughter, Hannah Kohl, is living in New York and working on Broadway as a musical theatre writer and producer. Her first professional children’s musical opens in January at the The Chicago Children’s Theatre based on Brian Selznick’s book, The Houdini Box. (Yes, I’ll be there for opening night!) Selznick is the author of the Caldecott Award winning book, Hugo Cabret, now an amazing beautiful movie called Hugo. I’m sure our love of books and fairy tales, etc. paved the way for her to seek theatre as a career.

My younger daughter, Megan Kohl, does serious theatre performance in Chicago, and to our delight, was recently seen as the K-Mart witch in their national Halloween commercial. The most fun she’s had commercially was taping a travel DVD for Disney Resorts where she walks through the parks giving hints to parents about how best to enjoy the various Disney experiences. You can order the DVDs for free from Disney Resorts. Sing up here: http://www.disneyvacations.com/dv/en_US/VacationPlanningDVD/index   Watch for Megan!

RACHELLE: What books and blogs inspire you?

MARYANN: I follow many amazing blogs, and of course TinkerLab is one of tip top favorites! If I were to list several, they would not surprise anyone because I’m sure your readers follow them too: The Imagination Tree, NurtureStore, Chocolate Muffin Tree, Pink and Green Mama, Crafty Crow, Childhood 101, and The Artful Parent are some of the best that come immediately to mind. I am inspired and amazed at what young mothers are doing with their blogs and their fabulous photographs of kids in action and their wonderful artworks and adorable crafts. I am sure I would have been a mommy blogger if that technology had been available to me when I was raising my kids.As far as books that inspire me, I have shelves full of activity books and love them all for different reasons. I continue to especially enjoy Kim Solga’s“Paint!” and “Draw!”, books filled with open-ended art ideas and great illustrations and photos. I also like the more focused books put out by Chicago Review Press, like “Monet and the Impressionists for Kids”. All the DK books are beautiful! A little series I like for young children in board book format is called “Mini Masters” by Chronicle books. If you look for these, check out “Quiet Time With Cassatt” by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober.

RACHELLE: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

MARYANN: I invite your readers to join my mailing list at www.brightring.com. I’ll send out a short newsletter, the ArtsyKidsNEWS, once a month with a great art activity and other bits of news. Also, I encourage your readers to visit the Barnes and Noble website where 15 national experts have been selected to write articles about various parenting and child related issues from infancy on up. My current articles there are all about art and child development, and perhaps will be of interest. My specific articles are here: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/maryann-kohl-importance-of-art/379002442/ My blog might be of interest too, at:  http:www.maryannfkohl.typepad.com/blog/

Lastly, I’d like to remind everyone that art for kids doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive or fabulous every day. If you give kids blank paper and crayons, you have given them the best possible. Did you know kids who draw frequently uninterrupted by adults do better in academic subjects? It’s true! The important thing is to allow kids to create in their own ways. Relax and enjoy art with kids. The benefits are tenfold.

RACHELLE: Thank you for joining me today, MaryAnn! Talking with you is always such a pleasure!

What are your favorite storybooks? How have you been inspired to spin books into art project?

 


GIVEAWAY

MaryAnn has graciously offered to share a copy of Storybook Art with one lucky readerReaders who leave a comment by Monday, January 30, 2012 at 9 pm PST will be entered to win. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. Only open to U.S. addresses. The winner has been selected. Thank you to everyone who entered!!

 

Self-serve Valentines for Kids

valentine box

I’m working on a project with the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum, and one of the ideas we’re playing with is to create a buffet-style selection of materials for children to choose from in our DIY art zone. I’ll share some of our activities with you soon, but in the meantime I thought you might like to see how this strategy has manifested itself in my own home.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner and a love for all-things-holiday in our house, I set up a smorgasbord of hearts, flowers, silk flower petals, shiny wrapping paper, doilies, stickers, and glue. Each clear container is filled with a thoughtfully-selected material as an invitation to make, play, and create. Oh, and invitations can be accepted or ignored. I always try to pay attention to how these things play out because, of course, I want my invitations to be accepted!!

I barely captured any photos of my 3 year old making art because I was busy cutting paper and helping Baby R. But she made a Valentine for her sister and one for me. She draws her “M’s” upside down, so my name is spelled “WOW”… isn’t that great!? N stuffed the Valentines into her light-up Hello Kitty mailbox (the hand-made Valentine box we threw together last week truly couldn’t compete with this one!) and we opened our little parcels of love up at dinner.

All in all it was a success, and I look forward to sharing more of these invitations with you soon.

DO YOU SET UP INVITATIONS TO PLAY AND CREATE? DO YOUR KIDS MAKE SELF SERVE VALENTINES? DO YOU THINK THIS STRATEGY COULD WORK FOR YOU?

Join the Next Creative Challenge

www.kiwicrate

One year ago I started this series of Creative Challenges with a toilet paper/loo roll challenge. The series began on a small scale and has grown along with my blog to include a generous sponser [Kiwi Crate] and a host of talented bloggers and non-blogging friends who focus on process-oriented projects with their children or students. The challenges are bi-monthly, and we have some exciting materials to look forward to playing with.

Upcoming Challenges – Mark your Calendar!

  • February 6 – Paper Bags {Next Challenge!}
  • April 2 – Egg Cartons
  • June 4 – Flowers
  • August 6 –  Milk Jugs or Cartons
  • October 1 – Dried Beans or Seeds

How to Join

    • Make: Projects should be child-directed, but grown-ups are welcome to join in the fun if the mood strikes! Use at least one paper bag, along with any other materials of your choice. See the last challenge, Magazines, for inspiration.
    • Share: Come back to Tinkerlab on or after February 6, 2012 and attach a link to your blog or a photo from your experience, along with a description of what you and/or your child/ren did, in the comment section of the challengeIf you have a blog, you can also add your project to the linky party. The challenge opens up on February 6, and will remain open indefinitely
    • Pinterest: After you submit your post or photo/s, we will add you to a Paper Bag Creative Challenge Pinterest Board, where it can serve as inspiration for others.
    • WIN!!: The Pinterest Post with the most “reposts” by 9 pm PST February 29, 2012 (leap year — yay!) will win a $100 VISA gift card and three-month subscription to Kiwi Crate, courtesy of Kiwi Crate (subscription is only available to U.S. participants). Participants are welcome to encourage friends and readers to “repost” their links.
    • Are you a blogger? Let your fans know about the challenge and grab our cute lil’ button to share it on your blog.
Tinkerlab

Inspiration

Are you Ready to Join Me?

  • Start thinking about Paper Bags. Collect them from your market, raid your lunch sacks, and show your kids pictures of upcycled paper bags and see what they’re excited about.
  • February 6 is two and a half weeks from now, which should give us all plenty of time to tinker, play, and then share.
  • Tell your friends about the challenge. Host a creative paper bag play group. Share a link to the challenge on your Facebook wall.
  • Show up on February 6 with your documentation! I can’t wait to see you then!!
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Special thanks to our sponsor:

Symmetrical Butterfly Prints

butterfly images.001

When my 1 year old naps, my three and a half year old non-napper and I like to pull out some of our favorite messy materials that don’t normally surface when baby hot-hands is awake. The other day N wanted to paint, and we ended up making butterfly rorschach paintings. BTW, every time I have to spell that word – rorschach — it stumps me! Anyone else? We called these butterfly prints, which may have some bearing on why my daughter made at least thirty of them! And I should say that I was recently asked to lead an activity at her preschool, and THIS is the project that N wants me to bring in. Not that I’m trying to sell anything, but how’s that for an endorsement?

The set-up was really simple. I squeezed four colors of tempera paint  on a plate (I always try to limit the palette — fewer choices enable children to focus more on the process and feel less overwhelmed by materials), she picked her four favorite paint brushes (these happen to be from our watercolor sets), and I gave her a stack of white copy paper (the thin stuff). She had an extra sheet of paper to rest the dirty brushes on — her idea!

I suggested, in the most open-ended way possible, that she could paint on one half of the paper or the entire paper — it was up to her — before folding the paper in half. She had her own ideas, as kids often do, and once she made the first print she turned into a printmaking powerhouse. Crank. Crank. Crank.

The fun reveal!

Ta-dah! So cute, she actually said, “WOW,” after the first print opened. Not so much the following prints, but it was clear that she loved the process.

The experiments included lines, dots, overlapping colors, and even a couple diagonally-folded papers.

Do you remember making these when you were a kid? I loved these, and it’s evident that it’s a timeless wonder. If you have or work with older children, this activity is an excellent way to introduce symmetry. For a few more related ideas, Frugal Family Fun Blog has this idea for teaching symmetry with butterflies (I always enjoy how happy Valerie’s kids are in her photos), and Mom to 2 Posh Lil Divas shares two more ways to teach symmetry with butterfies + a handful of book suggestions.

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

Is this your first time here?

Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Kiwi Crate: Hands-on Projects Delivered to Your Home

Kiwi Crate Review spinning tops

kiwi crate

Have you heard of Kiwi Crate? I’ve had the pleasure of knowing this smart, forward-thinking start-up since its early days, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to be associated with them.

I’m a DIY-kind-of-gal, but I also recognize that a lot of my readers don’t have the time to make everything from scratch. And that’s where Kiwi Crate comes in. For $19.95/month, Kiwi Crate delivers a set of thematic hands-on projects (ages 3-6) that even I can’t help but swoon over.

When the charming + thoughtfully packaged crate arrived, N was eager to dig in to all of the three projects. At once. And it took everything in me to curb her enthusiasm and slowly work our way through the crate.

The crate I’m sharing today happens to be about color, but the variety of themes will keep you and your kids interested as they vary each month from Dinosaurs to Outer Space (see this beautifully photographed review for a peek at both) to Gardening. Fun!

As someone who once wrote and designed lesson plans for art museums, I’m impressed with how Kiwi Crate has designed their packaging. The instructions are simple, clear, and well-illustrated, and the materials are wrapped up beautifully like a box of gifts. Since N was beyond excited to open the box and wanted to get started right away, I guess that says it all.

Project #1: sun catchers with colorful transparent plastic.

Sun catchers were already a popular activity in our home, but Kiwi Crate took it to another level with pre-cut mat board frames and contact paper, cut-to-size. The set-up was easy, clean up was a snap, and once N was done her sun catchers were ready to display. She enjoyed propping up and admiring her handiwork as we worked on another project.

Project #2: Color-mixing spinners.

The spinners they included are made of wood and far more beautiful than anything I’ve been able to find.  They included pre-cut circular paper discs and a full marker set for her to decorate.

Her spinners, ready to go!

Color mixing at work! This was by far my daughter’s favorite project.

Project #3: Bleeding tissue paper bag

While N’s excitement for the crate could have blown through all the projects in one sitting, I saved this for another day. This sweet little kid-sized cotton tote came as a bonus project. The instructions asked us to soak it in water, lay squares of pre-cut bleeding tissue paper on the bag, and add more water to transfer the ink from the tissues to the bag. We let it dry overnight, and had a nice little tote bag for storing our park snacks in. A couple weeks after making this, I had an event at Kiwi Crate. N ran to get the bag, telling me that I had to carry my wallet and keys in it so they could see how we made it. Awwww. They were impressed.

If you’re looking for an experience-based, process-oriented gift for a child in your life, or thoughtfully curated projects that can save you planning time, Kiwi Crate subscriptions are 3, 6, or 12 months and shipping is free. And I just noticed that if you sign up for a year, you get one month free!

Kiwi Crate also has a Blog and a Facebook page that are both worth following for more good ideas and company updates.

What themes would you like to see in a Kiwi Crate? Could you go for a little Kiwi Crate magic?

Note: I’ve been an advisor to Kiwi Crate since May 2011.

Sensory Play with Tapioca Pearls

boba in milk

Have you ever had Boba Tea or Pearl Tea? You know those chewy, soft balls that sink to the bottom of milky tea that you suck up through a fat milkshake straw? The drink originated in Taiwan as a novelty for children, and has since taken the world by storm with bubble tea houses popping up everywhere. I have yet to be converted to boba, but I when I spotted a bag of multi-colored dried boba in one of our Asian markets, I saw the opportunity for play and exploration.

To read more, I’m writing over on the Kiwi Crate Blog today about our sensory boba adventure.

What do you think about tapioca pearls as a food or art material?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime.

 

Last Minute DIY Gifts To Make With Kids

diy gifts with kids

Okay, so we’re down to the last holiday minute, and if you’re in need of a little something for your lovely neighbors or visiting cousins, this might just do the trick. My 3.5 year old actually helped me make everything here (in various ways), you might already have all or most of the ingredients/materials, and these won’t take you all day to pull together.

diy gifts with kidsDIY Project #1: Activity Bag

My daughter decorated some paper lunch bags with bits of wrapping paper and markers, and we filled them with a couple activities + a tape measure.

Activity One: Make an Ornament. I folded a piece of card stock in half, typed (with this typewriter) “Make and Ornament” on one side (you could also stamp, print, draw this on, etc.) stapled up the sides, and attached an example of the activity to the side with a piece of clear tape.

diy gifts with kidsWe filled the envelope with a small baggie of assorted beads (from a few big bags that we sub-divided) and four pipe cleaners that I prepared with a little bead-stopping loop at one end.

diy gifts with kidsActivity Two: Make a Snowflake

diy gifts with kidsI prepared an envelope the same way, with typing, stapling, and filling. This time we placed a short stack of colorful tissue paper circles and a few pre-made snowflakes in the envelope for inspiration. I didn’t have time to write up directions, but hopefully everyone remembers how to make a snowflake. Most people don’t have circular tissue paper on hand, and a little stack of flattened, round coffee filters or squares of upcycled magazines would also do the trick. I love this tutorial for making snowflakes from squares of newspaper squares, from Maya Made.

diy gifts with kidsDIY Project #2: Sugar Scrub

This is a nice way to spread some pampering cheer that will shine away rough wintery skin, and they couldn’t be easier to assemble. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Glass Jar with tight-fitting lid
  • Sugar
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Essential Oil in your favorite smell
  • Decorative Fabric or Paper
  • Paper Label
  • String or Rubber Band
  • Small wooden spoon (optional)

Collecting my materials was the most time consuming piece of this project. I found the jars and wooden spoons at Daiso, a Japanese dollar store that rocks my world, and the essential oil was from Whole Foods. I used grapeseed oil (Trader Joe’s) because it’s virtually scentless and has a long shelf life, and I included a wooden spoon so that my friends can scoop out their scrub without adding bacteria into the jar. It’s not really necessary, but I think it’s a nice touch.

diy gifts with kids

I wish I was more scientific about this, but I’ll tell you how I made it and hopefully it will make sense. I filled 1/4 of the jar with sugar, added enough grapeseed oil to coat it, and then mixed it well. Then I added sugar to the 1/2 way point, added more oil, and mixed it again. I repeated this until the sugar-oil mixture was about 3/4″ from the top. I added a little more oil so that it floated on top of the sugar, making the whole mixture easy to stir. Once it was nicely blended, I added about 30 drops of grapefruit essential oil. Basically, I added the essential oil, smelled it, and then added more until I was happy with the strength of the smell. I thought about using lavender, which I also had, but the grapefruit smelled so refreshing and it complemented the green fabric.

Lastly, I covered it with a circle of fabric (traced with a bowl), secured it with a rubber band (to hold that heavy spoon on tight), and wrapped a gift tag on with some baker’s twine.

diy gifts with kidsDIY Project #3: Pecan Chocolate Turtles

These are so simple, absolutely delicious, and I made them with both my 1-year old and 3-year old. My one year old exercised some fine motor skills by unwrapping the candies, while my 3 year old placed them on the pretzels. It was assembly-line cooking at its finest! They won’t disappoint you, I promise! I found the recipe on All Recipes, and if 5 stars out of 855+ reviews doesn’t tell you how good these are, I’m not sure what will :)

Ingredients

  • Small Pretzels
  • Rolos (Chocolate-covered caramel candy)
  • Pecan Halves
The recipe can be found here: Pretzel Turtles on All Recipes
When they finally cooled (this part took a while, maybe 2 hours), I wrapped them up in wax paper and sealed them with a sticker.

What are your favorite DIY gift ideas?

 

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Microwave Marshmallow Experiment

microwave marshmallow experiment

Have you heard of the microwave marshmallow experiment? It’s really simple and a fun way to explore how the volume of gas expands a marshmallow as it heats up. My kids also enjoy this experiment because it mixes science (+ fun) with a sugary treat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Microwave Marshmallow Experiment Supplies

  • 4 (or more) Marshmallows
  • Paper Towel or Microwave-safe plate
  • Microwave
  • Paper to jot down observations (I’ll share my 3-year old’s observations in italics below)
For this microwave marshmallow experiment, we’ll microwave three marshmallows for different periods of time, and then  compare what happens to the marshmallows as they heat up, and then cool down again. This is an engaging way to involve children in scientific observation and discovery, it raises lots of questions, and doesn’t require a lot of prep or clean-up. Are you with me?

Step One

Microwave one marshmallow for 10 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare it to an uncooked marshmallow and describe how it looks. How does it feel?

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabObservation: It’s small, shorter than the other marshmallow, but fatter. It’s gooey.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Two

Microwave the second marshmallow for 30 seconds and remove it. How does it compare with an uncooked marshmallow? What happens to it as it cools?

Observation: It’s a little bit larger than the other one. It got dry as it cooled.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Touching the second marshmallow.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Cool, a little hole showed up in the middle after it cooled down a bit.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Three

Microwave the third marshmallow for 50 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare to and uncooked marshmallow right away and after it cools. How are they different? How does this marshmallow feel?

Observation: It’s huge and wrinkly and dry. It’s brown. That means it burned. That means it’s good to eat. Crunchy to eat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabYou can see all three marshmallows here. We noticed that the 30 second and 50 second marshmallows got hard and crunchy as they cooled, and N decided to taste them for a flavor comparison.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabThe 50 second marshmallow was brown, crunchy, and caramelized. Have you ever tried astronaut ice cream? It had a similar texture.

The science behind the activity is explained clearly over here at The Exploratorium. In essence, the volume of gas in the marshmallow increases when the temperature increases, and then decreases as it cools down. The Exploratorium suggests not microwaving marshmallows for longer than 2 minutes, less you want a dark, stinky, burnt mess on your hands.

This project was inspired by a book we found at the library: Kitchen Science Experiments: How Does Your Mold Garden Grow?

Have you ever microwaved anything and been surprised by the outcome?

 

Do-it-Yourself Clay Menorah

air dry clay menorah with kids

air dry clay menorah with kidsWe celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our home, so, as some might agree, our children get the best of both worlds! But it can also be a tricky mash-up of cultures, but I guess it makes sense to my kids who know nothing else. The other day we discovered a new-to-us A-mazing teacher supply store, and came home with a 2.5 pound bucket of Crayola Air Dry Clay to make our very own menorahs. It cost just over $5, and I cannot recommend this clay enough. It feels just like the clay you throw pots on, and my kids were enthralled by the texture. So unlike play dough, and it has the potential to make long-lasting objects.

air dry clay menorah with kidsN’s cousin gave her a homemade menorah a couple years ago, so this one is a return gift-in-the-making. We started with a mound of clay, rolled it out with our new rolling pin, scored at a Waldorf school winter festival, and poked a candle into the clay eight times. N placed one of our menorahs on the table as inspiration. Menorahs hold nine candles, eight for the eight nights of Hanukkah, and a ninth called the shamash (meaning “attendant”) that lights the other candles.

air dry clay menorah with toddlerMeanwhile, my 15 month old got into the clay spirit. She’s been copying everything her sister does, and after seeing this magic, I wished I had given her a bigger piece of clay to play with.

air dry clay menorah with kidsTo make room for the shamash, we decided to build a little mound by making a ball of clay, scoring both sides of where it would connect with hatch marks, and then pressing the pieces together.

air dry clay menorah with kidsWe used a little water and a popsicle stick to smooth out the edges. I read that if there are cracks in this clay it can fall apart once dry, so we were sure to smooth all those cracks right out with water.

air dry clay menorah with kidsAnd then N decided to use a wooden stick to poke a pattern of holes all over the menorah.

air dry clay menorah with kidsAnd a hole for the shamash.

air dry clay menorah with kidsBaby Rainbow didn’t want to be left out of the fun, so she got a small pot of water and loved playing with the goopy clay.

Now we have to let the clay dry for 2-3 days before painting it. If you’d like to join us and make an air dry menorah too, you should be able to find Crayola Air Dry Clay at Target, Walmart, Office Depot or on Amazon for $5.99.

So far, I love this product, and I think we’ll make handprint ornaments with it tomorrow!

What are your family’s favorite (new or old) traditions?

Seven Ways to Make a Gingerbread House

gingerbread house from scratch

Seven ways to make a gingerbread house | Tinkerlab

Have you ever made a gingerbread house? 

Last year, my 2-year old and I made super simple graham cracker gingerbread houses. I’m not even sure if you can call them gingerbread houses since they were made from graham crackers. Hmmm.

But making a real, bonafide gingerbread house: this was new territory for me, and I wasn’t prepared for how much trouble I would have with it.

After a few tears were shed and lessons learned, I thought I’d share my experience and a host of others so that you won’t have to go through the growing pains I went through.

pressing the Gingerbread house dough

Use a gingerbread house mold

To make our house, we started with a Gingerbread House Mold similar to this one.  You simply make the dough and then press it right into the mold. Brilliant!

To make it even simpler, we made a batch of gingerbread with the recipe from the Trader Joe’s gingerbread baking mix. So easy.

My kids enjoyed pressing it into the mold and my 3 year old helped pop the cookies out once they cooled. So far, so good!

Gingerbread house candy

 

Candy Toppings for Gingerbread Houses

While the dough was cooling, we went candy shopping! Mmmm. This may have been the funnest part.

Since this was mostly new to me, I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations and they had the BEST ideas (clearly, my fans are professionals).

Gingerbread house

Are you ready for this?

Candy for Gingerbread House Decorating:

  • gumdrops
  • M&M’s
  • marshmallows
  • mini candy canes
  • rainbow nerds
  • dried fruits and nuts
  • life savers
  • ribbon candy,
  • colored frosting
  • gingerbread men/trees to add to scene
  • pretzels for a fence
  • sweet tarts and those candy necklace candies
  • Christmas Captain Crunch with tree shapes
  • star shaped cookies from Trader Joe’s
  • skittles
  • jellybeans
  • cut out fruit strips into shapes
  • gingerbread shaped marshmallows
  • tootsie roll for a chimney, Pretzel squares for windows
  • crystal like sprinkles for a special touch of snow
  • sifted powdered sugar and cotton candy to look like snow
  • Twizzlers
  • red hots and mint
  • swirled red and white mints.

Gingerbread house frosting

I made a batch of royal icing, the same way I made it for our gingerbread cookies, but I added a bit more powdered sugar to thicken it. Traditionally, royal icing is made with egg whites, but because I knew my kids would lick their fingers I opted to go with this meringue powder version instead.

RECIPE FOR ROYAL ICING

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

Gingerbread house kids table

I made individual houses out of graham crackers for our neighborhood friends, and we all worked on the big house as a collaborative project.

Gingerbread house graham crackers

Oh, we ran out of graham crackers, which is why some of the houses have this funky shape. Sigh. Maybe next year I’ll be more prepared!

Thankfully, our friends didn’t let on if they minded. We’re lucky to have such kind neighbors.

Six More Gingerbread House Ideas…

Graham Cracker House on a Milk Carton

This is the recipe my friend made for our toddler play date last year, and it was perfect for little ones. I know my friend had a hard time collecting milk cartons for all the children in our group, but once you gather the milk cartons, they’re easy to assemble. From Martha Stewart.

Gingerbread house with milk carton base

Gingerbread House from Scratch

Mama Smiles shows us how she made her house with a toddler (no small feat!) from scratch!

 Gingerbread House from Graham Crackers

Caked Alaska shows us how to make a beautiful graham cracker house (unlike my ramshackle shanty town houses). And this post from Kelley Moore is also lovely.

gingerbread house from graham crackers

Tiny Gingerbread House Perched on the Rim of a Mug

Oh my goodness! These are most definitely not for making with little kids, but what a show stopper! Couldn’t resist sharing these beauties from Not Martha.

Gingerbread House from a Kit

Or, take the easier route with a store-bought kit. A Spoonful of Sugar Designs shares their Ikea kit. Lovely.

Matzo House

Not exactly gingerbread, but we made these jelly bean matzo houses earlier this year and I couldn’t resist sharing, just to show that with some icing and candy, you can turn just about anything into a house.

Matzoh gingerbread house

Your turn! What’s your favorite way to make a gingerbread house?

Note: This post may contain affiliate links

 

Drizzle + Paint Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread cookies with kids

Mmmm, gingerbread cookies. After making our salt dough ornaments (and having one of our friends try to eat one…yikes!), we thought it was high time to make real, edible cookies. My mother-in-law’s gingerbread recipe is truly the best one I’ve tried, but when I discovered that the Gingerbread Cake and Baking Mix from Trader Joe’s could be adapted to make cookies, and all I had to do was add an egg + butter, I was sold.

We rolled out the dough, selected our favorite cutters, and cut our shapes. If you’ve never made gingerbread cookies, give yourself an hour to chill your dough before you plan to work with it. Even with refrigeration, the dough is pretty sticky and required a fair amount of flour to keep it flexible and off the counter.

I filled a piping bag with royal icing (dry hard icing). My MIL uses more of a buttercream frosting, which is delicious, but I thought we’d have some fun “painting” with the royal icing. Most of the royal icing recipes you’ll find ask you to make it with raw egg whites, but I wasn’t comfortable with that, especially since I’m feeding these sugar bullets to kids! Instead, I used meringue powder. I happened to have some in the pantry, but you can find this at specialty groceries and Michaels craft store (so I’ve heard). And low and behold, it can be found on Amazon.

Recipe for Royal Icing

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

I fit the disposable piping bag with a small, round #4 tip, gave my daughter a few suggestions on how to hold and squeeze the bag, and let her go to town. We started with white icing, and then I mixed the remaining icing with all natural yellow food coloring on my daughter’s request.

Once the icing firmed up, we moved the cookies to a nice, clean plate where we could admire our handiwork.

And eat some cookies.

Mmmm, I hate to say this, but these gingerbread bites rivaled those from the original recipe.

I picked up three more boxes today. Yum yum.

Next up: Ginger Bread Houses!

What are you baking for the holidays (with or without the kids)?

Feel free to add a picture with your comment!