Taped Trees from Observation

My older daughter, 3 year old N, likes to look through my library or “read” blogs with me and pick out activities for us to work on. I love it when this happens because then she’s self-motivated to work on a project, it supports my philosophy of educating children through an emergent curriculum, and cuts back on those “failed” activities. I was doing some research for a project I’m working on and stumbled upon a British early childhood education site when N spotted this activity (I want to give credit, but the link was lost). This is a wonderful exercise in observation and it doesn’t require a lot of materials or set-up…my kind of project!

Materials

We began by looking at a tree outside the window to observe and discuss the lines and scale of the trunk and branches. I loved how N’s eyes continuously darted back and forth between the tree and her paper. I suggested that she start with the trunk, so she chose black tape to make two vertical lines. I thought she might be representing the width of the trunk in relation to the branches, but I asked her about it before jumping to conclusions.

She responded that there were actually *three* trunks and still had one more tape stripe to make. Our little tree is propped up with support posts — she was so observant!

Her eyes moved back to the tree so she could take in the branches and leaves. At this point we went outside to get a closer look before returning indoors.

She added leaves in a bounty of colors, saying, “I bet you’ve never seen PURPLE leaves before!” As an aside, we went to the plant store later that week and bought a plant with purple leaves. She was impressed.

This project worked especially well with my daughter because she was able to articulate an image of a tree without having to draw one (something she’s not yet able to do). And it would be an appropriate project for older children as well.

Do your kids like to play with tape too? What kind of tape do you like to use?

Photo Documentary with Kids

Taking time to look closely at the details of life is a skill that comes naturally to many of us, and worth fostering in children who can run like the wind. When we pay attention to details, we develop a healthy curiosity of the world that surrounds us, make comparisons, and notice nuance. And all of these good things contribute to creative and critical thinking. If you’d like to help your child sloooow down, pay attention to details, and smell the flowers (literally!), you could try this fun and interactive photo documentary activity. Your child could take all of the photos or direct an adult to, as mine did!
A few nights ago, the girls and I walked around the neighborhood just before bedtime while my husband cleaned up the kitchen. Lucky me, right?! N, my oldest, truly stops to smell the flowers (it’s a skill we’ve been working on!) and collected all sorts of treasures along the way. When we finally arrived home, we were welcomed by a joyful sidewalk chalk drawing. What a surprise! N and her dad talked about the ephemeral nature of the drawing and how it would probably be gone in the morning, a victim of the sprinklers. So, she asked my husband to take a picture of it….

She enthusiastically shared details with her dad about the walk-adventure we just took, and invited him to join her on a bike ride along the same route (a brilliant bedtime procrastination move if you ask me). And he bit!

So off they went. He brought the camera, and she asked him to take photos of things that she wanted to remember later on…

The first photo: Fuzzy Yellow Flowers

Rainbow Lantana. Did you know that Lantana is poisonous? I love this plant, but with a baby piranha in the house I recently pulled it all from my garden.

Pink Flamingos. What 3-year old wouldn’t stop to check these out?!

Garden Rocks

Green Bamboo

They circled the block and returned home. Happy, tired, and ready for bed!

How do you help your kids slow down and smell the flowers?

Do you have a favorite walk or bike ride ritual?

Mini Paintings

Do you recognize these materials?

I’m big on repurposing found objects into art, so when I found a plastic slide sheet from my pre-digital days I couldn’t bear to throw it out before giving it the ol’ arts and crafts makeover. If you’re not familiar with these, they’re essentially sheet protectors for slides. I showed the sheet to N with the suggestion that we fill it with mini paintings. She liked the idea, and got busy collecting markers while I chopped watercolor paper up into little squares.

Materials

  • Watercolor paper, cut into small squares
  • Markers or mark-making tool/s
  • Liquid Watercolor Paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Covered Work Area

N wanted to color each of the squares with red marker. Cool!

She started off slow but steady, and I think when she realized just how many squared were ahead of her, her momentum picked up and the drawings became quite sketchy.

A full tray of watercolors was left over from another project, and while there was a rainbow of color to play with, she stuck to violet. She had a plan!

I was amazed by her diligence, and thought she’d certainly make it to the end. But with two squares to go, she called it quits and asked me to help her finish. I’m partial to keeping my hands out of children’s art, but N often begs me to collaborate with her so I helped her complete the project.

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I encourage you to look around your home for objects that could be repurposed into art. My heart melts when I hear N say, “Let’s turn this into art!” And this happens often! While store-bought art supplies certainly have their place, sourcing materials from the environment is a wonderful lesson in recycling, resourcefulness, and creative thinking.

Happy Hunting!

Cookie Sheet Monoprints


When I discovered printmaking after college, I learned how to make everything from intaglio prints to screen prints. I simply adore working in this medium!! Children and printmaking haven’t been an easy combination for me — the inks can be toxic and the materials can take over a space, but I’ve been taking every opportunity I can to bring printmaking down to my child’s level, and each of our printing sessions has been engaging for both of us. There’s so much magic in pulling prints — if you haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to give it a go. I’ll add links to our other printmaking projects at the bottom of this post.

Monoprinting is a lovely combination of printing and painting. Printmaking is usually defined as a images made in multiples, and monoprints are the exception as each “print” is one-of-a-kind (“mono” meaning “one”). These prints are ridiculously easy to make — you just need a little bit of table or floor space to store the drying prints.

To make these prints, we started with:

N chose a green and blue paint combination. I squeezed a little bit onto the cookie sheet (you can always add more if it’s needed) and she moved it around with the brayer.

I placed a cup of Q-tips on the table for easy access.

Then she used a Q-tip to make marks in the paint. I’m interested in giving my daughter full control of her art-making experiences, and would only step in to smooth the paint or help remove/add paper. I believe that taking on the role of facilitator encourages her creative confidence.

She pressed paper down to pick up the print.

And peeled it back to reveal some printing magic!

So many patterns and shapes were explored.

And of course, no painting activity is complete without the requisite hands-in-the-paint experience!

I often get asked “what do you do with all that art after your child makes it?” If only we could keep every piece! But my house is small and I can’t keep a lot of stuff around for very long. A lot of it gets recycled, a few key pieces are saved in our archive box, most of it is photographed, a few pieces make their way onto our fridge or walls, and the rest gets turned into gift wrap, presents, or cards. Because we used thin paper to make these, they were perfect for cutting up and glueing onto thank-you cards with a glue stick.

More printmaking projects on TinkerLab

Bubble Wrap Prints

Sweet Potato Prints

Abstract Prints using Foam Trays

Sink Mat Prints

Printmaking around the Web

Nature Prints in Sculpey: The Artful Parent 

Leaf Print Garden Flags: Paint Cut Paste

Printmaking with Toys: Childhood 101 

Pool Noodle Printing: The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Watercolor, Leaves, and Saran Wrap: A new way to Make Leaf Prints: The Artful Parent

Glue Prints: The Chocolate Muffin Tree 

This post is shared with It’s Playtime 

Shopping for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

This magnificent butterfly finds a little heap of dirt and sits still on it; but man will never on his heap of mud keep still.  — Joseph Conrad

Did you know that yesterday was International Mud Day? One of my fondest childhood memories is pretending to feed my friend Alexandra’s cat the ooey gooey mud pies we made in her garden, and my hope is to instill my own child with a similar joy for mucking around and being comfortable in nature…and mud, even!

I wrote about our new Mud Pie Kitchen two weeks ago, and since it’s still a popular place to hang out I thought we could move into phase two of our kitchen remodel and talk about mud pie kitchen accessories.

This, of course, involved an educational trip to the Goodwill for some new tools and appliances and N was eager to go.

Thrifting for Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

My two little kids and I scooted quickly past the fragile knick knacks and dishes (phew!), and made our way to the metal and wood aisle. N picked out everything you see in the basket while I acted as her guide, making suggestions and occasionally vetoing her choices (she really wanted that pizza wheel up there, which was smartly taped off).

The biggest score was a pink and blue plastic toy called the Fluff Factory, which you can see buried in her basket. It was reminiscent of a meat grinder, and I couldn’t wait to find out what its original purpose was. It turns out that it’s used to fill teddy bears with fluff. How awesome is that? N had no idea of its purpose, but she saw potential in it and I love that even more!

 

Setting up the Mud Pie Kitchen Accessories

When we got home there was the requisite costume change into the tutu bathing suit (for her, not me) before unveiling the new pots and pans. And while these new goods were for our MUD pie kitchen, it was all water play without a speck of mud in sight. N loved her new coffee pot (just $3!), kid-sized REAL frying pan, and of course, the Fluff Factory. To accomodate our expanding collection of dishes and such, we added some more counter space, which helped tremendously.

She spent the rest of the afternoon pouring water and dropping flower petals into the little factory and turning the crank to push the water through. Problem solving at its finest. Oh, and maybe next time we’ll actually play with mud!

Mud Pie Kitchen Accessory Ideas

  • Crates
  • Old Tables
  • End tables (they can act as stoves and fridges)
  • Wooden spoons
  • Small pots and Pans
  • Shiny Dishes
  • Jell-o molds
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Buckets
  • Large Tub (to act as a sink)
  • Nearby hose

Mud Pie Kitchen Accessory Tips

  • Shop for materials at a second hand store. You never know what you will find, which can help you (and children) see the potential in surprising objects.
  • Involve children in the design of the kitchen. Purchasing her own kitchen supplies raised N’s eagerness to use them. She talked about playing with her new pots all the way home and couldn’t get into her bathing suit fast enough.
  • Include interactive Tools that can work like appliances

See our Mud Pie Kitchen Series

How to Set Up a Mud Pie Kitchen

Mud Pie Kitchen Ideas

 

Drippy Painting

My daughter lurves squeezing just about anything (including her sister’s “plump little cheeks,” as she says it), so when I saw this gorgeous post at Childhood 101 I was inspired to pull our squeeze bottles out for a painty afternoon. I purchased the bottles (Nancy Bottles) from Discount School Supply, but clean shampoo, ketchup, or similar bottles would also work well. In fact, a variety of bottles would be a playful painting experiment!

Our easel was set up in a funny spot between the dining table and a wall because I found that moving it around the house and yard makes it much more appealing to my daughter. Without this movement it becomes a stagnant piece of furniture and won’t draw her in. If you’ve faced this phenomena, Jean at The Artful Parent wrote a wonderful post on this topic called 6 Ways to Encourage Continued Interest in Your Children’s Easel.

Set Up

  • Cover the floor with a drop mat or large pieces of paper, taped to the ground.
  • Fill your easel with paper
  • Fill bottles with tempera, Bio Color, or acrylic paint. We used tempera, which is great for process-based work and it isn’t archival. If you plan to work on a canvas, acrylic paint would be a better way to go.
  • To create coherency, choose a palette of colors that work well together.
  • Optional: Add paint pots and brushes for adding additional mark-making

Without actually squeezing the bottle on the paper, I described the process to my daughter. I tried to be somewhat vague so that she could explore the medium freely. She’s used these bottles numerous times and got right to work.

Once she squeezed as much as she wanted, N picked up a brush and added some brown paint strokes over the drips. She seemed to enjoy the proces of blending colors to eradicate some of the drips.

And then she enjoyed the process of smearing more of the drips together into beautiful mixed up smudges of color.

Because of the splat mat, clean-up was surprisingly simple. While I should have wiped down the easel soon after the painting session, I waited half the day and our easel still sports reminders of this project. But it reminds me of a fun afternoon, and I like the way it looks!

If your children like to drip paint, here are some other paint dripping projects that we’ve tried out:

Salt and Flour Paint (age 2 1/2)

Squeezing Paint (age 2 1/2)

Sugar Cube Sculpture (age 3)

Funnel Painting (age 33 months)

Drippy Gravity Painting (age 2 1/2)

What do you think?

Interview with Lisa Chouinard from Feto Soap

lisa chouinardI’m excited to be joined today by soap artisan Lisa Chouinard who hand makes small batches of soap from her shop, Feto Soap, in Austin, Texas. We made soap last month for Mother’s Day, so when I recently learned about Feto Soap at the Maker Faire, I thought it would be fun to glean some tips from a soap master on making soap with kids!

 

::Three TinkerLab followers will have the chance to win Feto Soap gift certificates at the end of this interview.::

feto soap offerings

Can you tell us about your background and what led you to start Feto Soap?

I started making soap in the summer of 2003 as a hobby while I was working at a tech support job and was posting pictures and instructions of my projects to online craft forums. Many of the people weren’t interested in making their own soap, but they liked my soap and asked if they could buy what I was making. A few months later I started Feto Soap. In the beginning my goal was to make enough money to keep in supplies (so I could keep making new things). I met and exceeded that goal a few years ago and am in the process of making new goals, defining myself and my company.

Can you talk about your experimentation process and how you come up with your recipes?

In the beginning I would just make soap with whatever I had on hand (I bought many different materials to work with) to see what I could come up with. When I started out what I envisioned didn’t always translate to what I was making. Here’s an example: I was trying to make a soap light purple to match the fragrance called “relaxing” and it came out blue-veined instead when I added heat and clay to it. It came out beautifully even though it was not what I had planned. I had a naming contest for the soap and the winner received the bar they named. (Avocado Clay Spa) Now most of my ideas come out closer or exactly how I visualize them, but only because I’ve done a TON of experimentation at this point.

oakmoss sandalwood handmade soap

Have there been any experiment disasters?

Yes. The first few times I attempted to made soap from scratch I was impatient and inexperienced, so I didn’t get my temperatures right, resulting big caustic mess! (and no soap) Thankfully I didn’t let that stop me and I tried again and again until I got it right. Here’s a picture of soap I mistakenly added honey too while it was cooking (resulting in “burned” soap).

honey hot process

Where do you get your inspiration?

Some of my inspirations are food and candy. I saw lemon bars in the case at the local cafe, and the gears in my head started whirring… I have a square mold, lemon fragrance & powdered sugar… I can make Lemon Bar Soap! Another time this happened chocolate mints arrived at the end of a meal. I went home and made Chocolate Mint Soap with peppermint essential oil and added cocoa powder to my chocolate soap.

You run soap-making workshops that attract a lot of kids and families. What do people seem to enjoy about soapmaking?

People like making things. Melt and pour soapmaking is an easy and accessible medium. There’s no one who can’t do it, and it’s quick! You don’t have to have a practiced skill (like to be able to draw) and you can create a little piece of usable art in under an hour!

What tips do you have for those of us interested in setting up our own soap-making experiments at home or school?

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on molds for soap. My first loaf mold was plastic packaging that was either going to be thrown away or recycled. When you repurpose something that wasn’t a soap mold and turn it into a soap mold, it’s called a “found mold” You can use yogurt and other plastic food containers, jello molds, candy molds – they just need to be plastic, silicone and flexible. (not metal) You can also use milk cartons. You might have to cut them away to get the soap out. After you figure out what can be a soap mold, EVERYTHING starts looking like a potential soap mold.

honey bear soap

Will you share some of your soapmaking tips?

  • Not sure how much soap will fit into your mold? Fill it up with water and pour into a graduated measuring cup.
  • Want to get rid those pesky bubbles that came up after you poured your soap into the mold? Fill a small spray bottle up full of rubbing alcohol. Immediately after pouring the soap into the mold, spray the top once or twice to break the surface tension of the bubbles.

More tips and resources here: http://fetosoap.com/blog/soapmaking-tips/

Making soap at #makerfaire!

How was your creativity encouraged in childhood?

I was always surrounded by books and musical instruments, so my creativity was encouraged by reading and playing music. I day dreamt a lot and I think that was influenced by all the books I had access to read.

What are you stumbling on that feels important or exciting?

Soapmaking suppliers are beginning to acknowledge the need and desire for more natural products and making something called natural fragrance oils. Before, if you wanted to scent a product with something like Dreamsicle, your only choice was a fragrance oil, which was usually synthetic and not natural. I’m glad natural choices are available and am working on replacing my fragrance oils with natural alternatives when they are available.

Anything else you would like to add?

I can’t wait for the next Maker Faire to make soap with you all! I have applied to World Maker Faire and will announce it on my blog as soon as I know! http://fetosoap.com/blog

Thank you Lisa! It was fun talking with you today.

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Giveaway!!

Lisa is giving away $6 gift certificates (enough to buy a soap-making kit or bar of hand made soap) to three lucky readers. To enter, leave a comment by Wednesday, June 29 at 8 pm PST. Winners will be notified by email or Facebook.

Extra Entries:

  • Like TinkerLab on Facebook and leave a comment on the TinkerLab Facebook wall.
  • Share this giveaway in your Facebook status and leave the link to your profile.
  • Blog about this post with a direct link pointing to this giveaway. Leave me a link so I can check it out!

Face Collage for Scribblers

When I was an art teacher, the youngest age group I worked with was Kindergarten so I rarely had the chance to witness a child’s transition from scribbling to representational drawing. My three year old daughter is at the precipice of representational drawing and it’s an exciting place to be, but she can get frustrated that she can’t create what she imagines (which is often!) and frequently asks me to draw things for her. This can be tricky because it goes against my belief that children should find their own way with visual representation and I’m often reluctant to draw things for her.

This project was born from a need to manifest her vision while also matching her abilities, and would be appropriate for children on the verge of creating representational drawings as well as those who draw realistically. Links to information about stages of artistic development at the end of this post.

I cut circles, rectangles, half circles, and some organic shapes from colorful recycled pantry boxes and spread them out on the table for my daughter to choose from. N chose a light blue oval for the face shape (also pre-cut), glued it to a 9 x 12 sheet of paper, and selected pieces to represent the parts of the face.

Facilitating and Asking Questions

I acted as a facilitator and if she seemed stumped I would ask questions such as, “What part of the face is next to the eyes?” “Ears? Okay, can you find a shape that could be an ear?”

I tried not to guide her decision-making and made room for her to adhere the pieces in the way she envisioned it, even if I didn’t think it was “accurate.”

She added the eyes (on top), nose, ears, orange cheeks, a mouth, and an aluminum foil philtrum (the area between the mouth and nose!). Did you know it’s called a philtrum? I didn’t!! I thought she was adding a mustache on top, but she explained that it was just a ribbon! Always ask before making assumptions!

She wanted to make curl the ribbon into a circle and I helped her glue it together. I enjoyed watching her vacillate between reality and imagination in one sitting.

When she finished the first picture she moved on to the next one (after a costume change, of course!), and this time it was all about the imagination — no faces involved!

Resources

  • For more on the developmental stages of children’s drawings, Viktor Lowenfeld is the last word on this topic and you’ll learn a lot about it here.
  • For even more from Viktor Lowenfeld, you could read this seminal book from him: Creative and Mental Growth. I just bought a used copy for myself for just $7!

How did your children make the transition from scribbles to representational drawing?