Seven Tips for Setting up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio

Bundt Cake

The other day we had the most amazing weather, so we set up a garden art studio…

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

When I was in college I always loved those teachers who took their classes outside on a nice day. So why not recreate that magic with our kids? Did you know that most children don’t spend enough time outdoors?

Why Making Art Outdoors is so Awesome

  1. Being outside is calming, restorative, and resets the mind.
  2. Nature is fodder for the imagination.
  3. Getting messy isn’t an issue.
  4. You can get up water some plants/play/dig a hole, and then return to making.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

I offered my children a few after-lunch options that included reading in the garden, making art outside, and going on a hike. Can you tell that I wanted to spend some outdoors? The weather was that incredible.

My older daughter liked the idea of setting up a blanket on our lawn and helped me hatch a plan to create an art studio picnic. 

Within moments of setting it all up, which took us about ten minutes, the girls were deep into making. At this point I gleefully broke out my new garden sheers and tackled mountains of overgrown plants. Hack hack hack. Things had gotten so out-of-hand in my poor garden, which now looks rather normal, that it initially appeared quite bald as I managed to fill our entire composting bin with greenery.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Meanwhile, I’d pop over to check on the kids periodically and captured 4-year old N as she decorated a big river rock with paint pens. More details on drawing on rocks over here. 

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Her little sister has been invested in painting lately and we knew that she’d enjoy easel painting. If you really can’t get outside, 10 Steps for Easy Indoor Easel Painting will help you bring the magic indoors.

I also have a stand-up easel, but I thought this would be a nice way to have the girls work side-by-side. It was a great strategy until the watercolor jars were knocked over onto the blanket. Ahem, we only own washable paints for moments like this.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Also, this little easel has a tray to hold paint on both sides and I knew both kids would want to paint at the same time. All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon and just the sort of experience that I imagine we’ll invest in all summer long.

Tips for setting up an Impromptu garden art studio

First of all, it’s important to address that you don’t need a sprawling lawn to make this happen. A patio, stoop, or balcony work just fine. The important thing here is to get outside and enjoy some fresh air!

  1. Wear play clothes, aprons, or nothing at all. 
  2. Wait for a warm day.
  3. Keep the materials simple and choose one or two basic projects. We chose watercolors + easel and rock painting.
  4. Have a water source nearby for washing up.
  5. Set up a picnic blanket so that little makers can get comfortable.
  6. Make sure you have a camera to capture these moments.
  7. If you’re painting, lay dry pieces out on the ground to dry. If it’s windy, dry them on a clothesline or indoors.

Outdoors + Kids Resources

Tape paper to the wall for an Instant Outdoor Art Studio

Six Ways to Take Art Outdoors

Start a Family Nature Club with this Nature Tools for Families Toolkit (FREE download) from Children and Nature Network. I’m dying to start one of these, so if you live near me give a holler if you’re interested! The Children and Nature Network is run by Audubon medal winner Richard Louv who wrote the bestseller, Last Child in the Woods. 

If you’re in the Bay Area, get your hands on a copy of Bay Area, Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area by Laure Latham. I just got it and it’s awesome!

A fabulous roundup of ideas for building outdoor forts and shelters for kids, from Let the Children Play.

A question for you…

What one word comes to mind when you think of the last time you spent time outdoors?

Note: This post contains affiliate links, but I only share links to products that I love or that I think you’ll find useful.

Six Ways to Take Art Outdoors

Image: Saltwater Kids

The weather is heating up over here in Northern California, and we’re spending most of our time outdoors. If you’ve been following my dilemma about coaxing my daughter into our garden, I’m thrilled to share that we spent about an hour puttering and potting out there this afternoon, and this was after we spent three hours on a hike through the forest!! In this spirit, I’d like to share some of my favorite outdoor art-making finds, which I hope will inspire you as much as they inspire me! And if you have a favorite artsy outdoor idea, you’re welcome to share it in the comments below!

1. For all the kids who like to mix, brew, sift, and invent: Potion Making from the brilliant Jenny of Let the Children Play.

2. You just can’t go wrong with a vinegar + baking soda concoction, which is why you’ll want to make up a huge batch of Fizzing Sidewalk Paint from Rachel of Quirky Momma. I’m saving this one for our annual family reunion. Fun!

3. Here’s a beautiful twist on the traditional bird feeder from Saltwater Kids. And wouldn’t these make for nice kid-made summer gifts?

4. Do you have tons of roses (and two adorable kids)? Make rose petal fairy perfume from Anna at The Imagination Tree

5. This oversized version of “marble painting” has been on my list since last summer. My daughter was barely two then, but now I think she’d love the challenge of rolling all sorts of balls around in a kiddie pool. Now we just need a pool! From the always inspiring Jean of The Artful Parent.

6. I have a thing for inexpensive, simple art materials, and this one makes me swoon. All you need is a plastic shower curtain, which can be found at dollar stores, and a laundry line or rope+laundry clips. Oh, and paint too! From Pop-Up Adventure Play (private site). Check out this post from A Mom with a Lesson Plan for another way to do this indoors.

What are your favorite outdoor art making ideas?

Sunprints

DSC_0628

I’m in love with the fall season, and now that I have little ones, it’s somehow more fun to break into the pumpkin-pie-goblin-turkey spirit. We “Boo-ed” our neighbors last night, something I’d recommend to anyone interested in generating some old-fashioned community spirit, and my daughter got a kick out of ringing doorbells and running down the street! Ay-ya-yay.

Yesterday we tore into a new bag of sunprint fabric squares that I’ve been hoarding for just the right time, and I can attest that this project is easy, rewarding, and toddler-approved.  On the creativity side of things, this activity presents good opportunities to explore nature, experiment with composition, and discuss the process of developing photographs (a far-off concept for today’s digitally saturated world). Sunprints are technically cyanotypes, a type of photograph made without a camera. The sunprint fabric is light sensitive and produces a negative image when exposed to sunlight or very intense artificial light.

And now that we’ve entered the highly addictive land-of-sunprints, I can see all kinds of potential for printing small toys, fridge letter magnets, stickers, flowers, and other little knick-knacks. I bought the sunprint fabric from Discount School Supply. They come in packs of 25, which made me think how fun this would be for a school group or a big sunprint quilt.

Start with a batch of leaves. We collected ours on a walk the other day, and I’m proud to report that my 2-year old can recognize a maple leaf! She trumps her urban mama in her nature-knowledge every time.

Get your fall spirit on. Note: ambient candle and pinecones :) Open pack of sunprint fabric, being sure to keep all unused pieces in the dark, dark package.

Place leaves on the fabric and set it out in the bright sun for about 15 minutes.

This is an excellent way to reinforce the value of patience!

Rinse in cool water…

…and voila!

Now that the piece is done, it could be stitched onto a bag, t-shirt, quilt, etc. N decided that she wants hers attached to a bag, and I’ll update you on our progress.

What fall projects or traditions are you working on?

This post was is part of the 30 minute challenge. Check out the Moms’ 30-Minute Blog Challenge for more 1800 second posts.

Sticky Autumn Collage

DSC_0741

California has been hit by a heat wave, so staying inside our hot cave of a house is barely an option. Yesterday was full of swimming, a sprinkler run, a trip to the neighbor’s lemonade stand, and hitting a pinata at another neighbor’s house. So cute! Despite the heat, there’s a lot of fall madness in the air — you can’t miss the mountain of gourds and pumpkins piled up at the markets, leaves are turning colors, and my favorite…spiced pumpkin lattes in the coffee shops. Mmmmm…

So, somewhere between the pumpkins and the lemonade stand, we landed on this fall project that involves spending time outside.

We began by pulling out some clear contact paper. I encouraged my daughter to feel its tackiness, and then we discussed the process of collecting leaves and sticking them to the paper. We found an Easter basket and then took a walk around the neighborhood in search of leaves and other flat-ish treasures. This, by the way, is how we landed on the lemonade stand. It pays to get out of the house!

After collecting (and naming!) the leaves, N stuck them on half a sheet of contact paper.

Hey goofball, where did that come from?

She filled in most of the spaces…good for understanding spatial relationships!

And then we smooshed the other half of the contact paper on top of the leaves. This was followed by two more walks around the neighborhood and two more collages. In our books, this activity was a hit.

When we finally came inside, contact collaging continued with magazine cut-outs, post-its, and googley eyes.

Resources

Identification guide for  kids: New England leaves

Nature Detective Leaf Identification Sheet: UK

Leaf Identification Activities

Why do leaves change color?

Finding Nature with Kids

outdoor abacus

Outdoor Abacus. Tot Spot, Children’s Discovery Museum, Sausalito

Although I grew up in the culturally-rich and naturally-poor concrete jungle of Los Angeles, I had the good fortune of having a wild backyard at my imaginative disposal. On the hillside of our rough-and-tumble yard, my parents thoughtfully installed a playhouse filled with nooks and crannies for storing treasures and a magical trap door, hidden beneath a rug, where we could escape into a dirt patch next to an apple tree. We built forts in the overgrown bushes, picked apricots, pears, and plums from our trees, and generally invented our own little universe in the world behind our house.

In contrast, 100 yards beyond our front door lay a busy intersection, replete with a fire station, liquor store, abandoned hospital, and a bar that opened at 6 am and advertised “live girls and pool.” Until I was about eight, I actually thought they had a swimming pool in there, and imagined girls floating around on rafts just beyond the saloon doors. Sigh. Despite our less than pastoral location, having access to a backyard wonderland filled me with a love of nature that one wouldn’t expect in a city child.

Similarly, you may live in a less-than-ideal spot with few options to take your kids on nature walks or let them roam the neighboring creek, and it could be helpful to peek at an idealized utopia of nature-play to seek some inspiration for fostering creativity in the great outdoors.

Playing with Mud and Water

To get us started, in their article, Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Nature (1), playground designer and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining their ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slides…a surprising observation in light of what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (2) and promote competition rather than co­operation (3).” (Play Outside. Public Schools of North Carolina.). Slides and swings are no doubt fun, but children will bore more quickly of these closed-ended activities than they will of open-ended play spaces like sandboxes, forts, ponds, and climbing trees that allow for plentiful interpretations.

Playground designer, Randy White shares a comprehensive and workable list of things that children prefer in outdoor environments. I’ve found that some of these ideas can be implemented on a small-scale, and that inspiration can be found for even the most lacking of outdoor spaces.  These are also great things to look for when searching for playgrounds or preschools that foster creative growth through outdoor play.

Basic Components of Naturalized Play Environments (4):

  • Water
  • Plentiful indigenous vegetation, including trees, bushes, flowers and long grasses that children can explore and interact with
  • Animals, creatures in ponds, butterflies, bugs
  • Sand, and best if it can be mixed with water
  • Diversity of color, textures and materials
  • Ways to experience the changing seasons, wind, light, sounds and weather
  • Natural places to sit in, on, under, lean against, climb and provide shelter and shade
  • Different levels and nooks and crannies, places that offer socialization, privacy and views
  • Structures, equipment and materials that can be changed, actually, or in their imaginations, including plentiful loose parts

References:

(1) White, Randy and Vicki Stoecklin, Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Nature. Early Childhood News magazine, March/April 1998.

(2) Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.

(3) Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.

(4) White, Randy. Young Children’s Relationship with Nature: Its Importance to Children’s Development & the Earth’s Future. Taproot, Fall/Winter 2006, Vol. 16, No. 2. The Coalition for Education in the Outdoors, Cortland, NY.

Resources

Play Outside: Recommended Resources for Outdoor Learning Environments. Inspiring quotes, articles, and research for parents and early childhood educators.

Outdoor Learning Environments. National Clearninghouse for Educational Facilities. A long, detailed list of articles, videos and research on outdoor learning spaces.

Fairy Doors

pa fairy door

Have you ever spotted a fairy door?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Fairy Garden

garden side view full

After a loooooong day of visiting the doctor, driving 90 miles to San Francisco for an expedited passport, a trip to the garden store, and an active playdate with friends, we treated ourselves to a relaxing evening of Fairy Garden Planting. Because, ya know, that’s what some people do after a marathon day. We just got it started and our Fairy Garden will no doubt go through multiple iterations, but I think we’re off to a pretty good start and I wanted to share the results.

At the garden store, my daughter and I spent a lot of time discussing the need to choose small-scale plants, and we worked together to select moss and mini cacti to fill in our tub.  And when we finally got home last night, the enthusiasm for setting the garden up had mounted to such a level that bedtime was delayed by almost an hour!

The Moss — sooooo pretty.  I love this stuff.

Getting Ready to Plant — It’s all about the knee pads.

A Magical View

Completed Fairy Garden

But why?

Imaginative play holds an enormous place in the lives of toddlers and preschoolers, and it seemed like a great idea to bring dollhouse-style play outdoors. For today, we had fun designing and building the garden (a worthy goal in and of itself), and my long-term hope is that my daughter and her friends will find themselves immersed in the magical miniature garden for countless hours of play.  After we set the little garden up, it occurred to me that we could easily extend the garden into other areas of our yard, giving our fairies loads of places to hide and play.

The scale of this garden naturally lends itself to planters and tiny containers, and the Fairy Garden is also a fabulous route to go if you want to set up a gardening experience for your child and you’re short on outdoor space.

Fairy Garden Resources

I’m not sure where I first got the idea to make a fairy garden, but I’ve since found a TON of creative people who’ve made and documented their magical wonderlands for all to enjoy.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Magic Onions: How to make a Fairy Garden:  Fabulous photos of an inspiring oak barrel garden.

Martha Stewart and Julie Andrews make an Indoor Fairyland (Text and 19 minute Video):  This is not a hands-on garden, but seeing Martha and Julie work side-by-side is a pretty rare treat.

Flickr Group: Miniature Backyard Fairy Gardens: Holy cow, there’s a Flickr group dedicated to this very concept.  Loads of ideas here.