Growing Big Ideas

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“Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.”

-Kevin Kelly, Futurist and Author of What Technology Wants

We had a big pile of CD cases, just waiting to be repurposed into…something! BioColors paints are known for their plasticity (they don’t crack like tempera), and I thought it we could have some fun squeezing them into the cases, sealing up the holes, swirling the paint around, and then maybe peeling the paint out. That’s where my idea began, anyway. But this isn’t about me.

N loves to squeeze stuff, and enjoyed pouring paint onto the plastic jewel cases.

We worked with limited palettes to avoid that big mushy mix of brown that comes when all the beautiful colors get mixed together.

N asked for “just red and white, because it makes pink,” and also wanted to add some sequins to the mix. Pretty.

We put about five of these painted jewel cases up to dry, and then N revisited them the next day — on her own accord — with fresh ideas in mind.

Like grown-ups, children need time for their thoughts to muddle together, brew, and then emerge into something bigger. It’s important to keep in mind that good ideas have long incubation periods (see Steven Johnson’s TED Talk, below) and we shouldn’t expect kids to come up with big ideas on the spot —  these things often take time to grow. And to properly give children opportunities to innovate, it’s helpful to present them with open-ended activities that can blossom beyond an initial plan.

If you’ve been following along, you may remember N’s growing interest in pitched roofs from when we made Gumdrop Sculptures and created a cardboard Pitched Roof for a water-flow experiment. The next day…

She opened a case, spotted the pitched roof connection, and said she wanted to make a house. I recently noticed that she’s had a hankering for building things, but this blew me away and was a far cry from where we started the day before. She needed some structural assistance from her handyman/contractor/dad, who was happy to cut tape and generally hold things together. Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about the teamwork involved in building structures, and it seemed that she enjoyed the real-world connection with her own team of workers holding up windows and such.

She then requested some siding material, which her handyman cut to her specifications. And thank goodness, or else the squirrels might come in! As my daughter approaches her third birthday, it’s amazing to see her mind take on more complicated tasks and ideas, and I look forward to seeing further down the path of discovery through her eyes.

Resources:

Author Seth Godin created this loooong list called Where do ideas come from? It’s brilliant and easy-t0-read.

Author Steven Johnson talks about how ideas are networks in his TED Talk: Where Good Ideas Come From

Steven Johnson writes about the importance of open innovation platforms in The Genius of the Tinkerer in the Wall Street Journal.

This post is linked to We Play, ABC and 123, Tot Tuesday

What do you think it takes to grow a big idea?


Gumdrop Sculptures

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The provocation: A bowl of gumdrops and a handful of toothpicks.

The first question: “Can I eat these?”

Oh yeah, I guess they do kind of look like a snack.

The second provocation (after we each ate a gumdrop, just to get that elephant out of the room): A square base of four gumdrops, attached together with four toothpicks, and one more toothpick sticking straight up out of the base.

And with that, the race gates opened and the horses were off! Without saying another word, N quickly understood the challenge and got right to work. And what small child on a minor sugar high wouldn’t be excited to work with colorful toothpicks and rainbow-colored gumdrops?

Notice little sister in the background. I promise some baby-related activities one day soon.

A few months back I set up a similar provocation with marshmallows and toothpicks, and while we were able to build some simple structures, it was a small flop. It’s easy enough to pierce the marshmallows with toothpicks, but they don’t do as good of a job holding a complex structure together. I also tested jellybeans, but the hard candy surface wasn’t forgiving enough. The gumdrops are really malleable and my daughter didn’t need too much of my help manipulating them. So empowering!

She decided this structure was a cable car — we live near San Francisco, after all — so we found a couple passengers interested in taking a ride.

After she built this form she exclaimed, “It’s a pitched roof!!” Ah, I love witnessing the transfer of knowledge. You never know when these moments are going to hit, and it’s so fun to be there when they do.

And this is what she accomplished before it was time to get dinner ready. After dinner she and her dad kept working on these, and then there was more building the next day. As the structures got bigger and more complex, we talked about the strength of triangles, which added a a new dimension to what she was able to build. Stay tuned for day two!

More on the science behind this project can be found through one of my very favorite sites (and places to visit), The Exploratorium: Geodesic Gumdrops.

 

Rubber Band Painting

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One of the almost-weekly segments of this site is called Creative Experiments, and last week’s experiment was to create something with Rubber Bands. Danielle and her daughter Simone were the first to participate with their Elastic Project, which you can view on Danielle’s blog. I love how they hung the piece from the ceiling. I’ve had rubber bands on the mind all week, and thought I’d make a fun paintbrush out of them. To make it, I secured about six rubber bands of roughly the same length to the back of a paintbrush with another rubber band, wrapped tightly. Now, keep in mind that this is an experiment, and sometimes experiments don’t go as planned!

To get the new brush into action, I pulled our easel out of hibernation because N lost complete interest in it a couple months ago (and it takes up way too much real estate to go unused). When she woke up from her nap she took one look at the easel and immediately complained that the paint pots were missing their lids. Where was that “I missed my easel and I’m so glad to see it again” enthusiasm I had hoped for?! I should probably back up and say that 90% of the time she wakes up from her naps grumpy, but still!! Once she settled into being awake, she said she would paint with the caveat that we collaborate, but she wanted nothing to do with the super neat-o rubber band brush that I made. That’s fine, of course, but I hoped that at least the novelty of it would appeal to her.

So, up there you can see her yellow marks surrounded by a few red rubber band painting marks made by yours truly. The texture created by the brush is pretty random and silly, and I imagine that a child inclined to paint at an easel (unlike mine. sniff, sniff), would probably enjoy testing one of these out. When I was her age I adored easel painting, so this obviously comes as a surprise. But I also know it can’t hurt to keep offering the materials, and if one day she’s ready they will be there for her. There it is: Rubber band experiment 1.0.

Have you been surprised by your child’s distaste for something you really enjoy?

Making Chocolate Lollipops

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Welcome Spring and Hellooooo Rain. This past weekend it poured. All weekend long. So we stayed in and made the best of it by inventing all sorts of rainy day activities like playing with our new chocolate lollipop molds.

Recipe

  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of butterscotch chips. (N isn’t super fond of chocolate, and we hoped that the butterscotch would make the flavor more palatable for her.)
  • Assorted decorations (sprinkles, colored sugar, nuts, dried fruit, etc.)
  • Lollipop mold and sticks. These are very inexpensive, but in their absence, you could make free-form lollipops like these from She Is Dallas by simply dropping a dollop of chocolate right down on waxed paper and then adding a popsicle stick or straw while the chocolate is warm.

Before we began, we made guesses about what might happen to the chips if we heated them up. This was a fine little science lesson in how chocolate turns from a solid into a liquid at a high temperature. After semi-melting the chips in the microwave, we stirred the mixture until it blended smoothly and then dropped/poured it into the molds with a teaspoon. Since I’m working with a preschooler, I didn’t want to bother with tempering the chocolate. Sticks were added and it was ready for decorating!

I handed the whole thing over to N so she could work her two-year old magic on the lollipops.

N adores sprinkles of all sorts, and while I half-expected to witness a grand dumping of the candies, I was surprised by her restraint. Especially on the cooped up rainy day that it was.

The tray found its way into the fridge for what seemed like FOREVER, and then we popped them out.

Yummy!

Well, yummy until you’ve had too much of a good thing. Lucky for me, my child isn’t a huge fan of chocolate and just about gagged after the first big bite. Just so you know the true story here, I tried the lollipops myself, and they really were good.

And this is further reminder that with small children the process far outweighs the product!

The day that we made these, I asked my Facebook Friends what they were creating, and I am inspired by all of the creativity.  See for yourself!

  • A homemade pizza for my family!
  • Cookies!
  • happiness
  • I drew a big road, loads of turns and rotaries Also filled with homes, gas station, supermarket, the works. Taped it to the coffee table, it provided hours of entertainment on this rainy day.
  • playscapes, the beginnings of our spring nature table, and lemon risotto
  • it was a beautiful day, so we hit the zoo, and went walking in a neat part of town for hours! we made box lunches, and made smiles! seeing an old friend and her new baby seem to create good moods!
  • A new appreciation for art for Lili- went to the cantor center and she loved it!
  • My lil one made Holi cards with leaf and petal printing and decoupage. Holi, is a festival of colours, peace and brotherhood – here in India. :)
  • At playschool today it was pouring rain so we made some suncatcher rainbow collages and had story time whilst listening to the rain!

What did you create today?

This post was shared with Kids Get Crafty

Funnel Painting

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This was inspired by an idea we found in Mary Ann Kohl’s Preschool Art. I know I’ve said this many times before, but Mary Ann’s books are brimming with creative and engaging projects, and each of mine are dog-eared in a million places. We used materials that we already had around the house — low threshold projects are my cup of tea! — and the set-up is really easy. The other thing I loved about this activity is the SCALE of it — I knew my child would be captivated by swinging a paint-filled funnel across a huge sheet of paper! Now that we’ve done this, the only drawback I could see was doing this indoors, as my daughter wanted to swing paint in every possible direction, turning me into a mini-general who curbed her enthusiasm more than I like to.

To make this happen, we used:

  • A curtain rod
  • String
  • Funnel
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Paint
  • Tape
  • Chairs to suspend the swinging funnel

My daughter helped me tape a big sheet of paper to the floor. We noticed that it wasn’t long enough, so we added some more. I could tell that the paint would come pouring out of the funnel, so I taped off the bottom of it to make the hole a bit smaller. I wrapped some string around the funnel, and taped it in place. Then I looped the string over the pole.

Ready, set…

GO!

After a few easy-breezy swings, N wanted to give the poor little funnel some heavy-duty pushes, which would have been fine if we were outdoors. After mopping up the fourth or fifth puddle of paint off my floors, we called it quits, but we’ll definitely be taking this activity outside in the near future. I can also envision sand in the funnel over a sandbox, or rice over a (really big!) sensory table.

Do you have any other ideas for funnel swings?

Spring Sink Mat Prints

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I spend a lot of time at the hardware store. And last week I spotted this flower mat — the Blumz Sink Mat! — I love that exclamation point! — It’s an exciting sink mat! — and it looked like something that could be fun to print with!

In honor of Spring’s inevitable arrival (yes, it WILL get warmer) and St. Patty’s Day (I married a “Doorley”, after all), we used green and yellow paint. The green is Biocolor and the yellow is tempera, for no other reason than that’s what was handy. Oh, and wait ’til you see the Leprechaun at the end of the post…

I also found a bag of ten foam brushes for one buck, so the luck of the Irish was clearly with me. I covered the work space and then my daughter painted the mat with our fresh Spring palette.

And then we added a sheet of paper, pressed it down with the palms of our hands, and pulled our first print.

Ooooooooh!! This was an experiment that worked!

We pulled three prints, which frankly was more than I had bargained for, and then the real fun began! If you followed our Jello experiment, you’ll recognize a common thread here…

And maybe you picked up on the addition of an apron. I love that focused expression.

There’s a leprechaun in my house!

What we used to make it happen:

  • Rubbery plastic sink mat
  • Paint
  • Foam brushes (roller brushes or wide brushes will also work)
  • Paper (I like the 80# sulfite paper from Discount School Supply)
  • Palette (Dinner plate covered with foil)

How are you getting ready for Spring? And have you printed with any unexpected materials lately?

Happily shared with Kids Can Craft, Made by you Mondays, Marvelously Messy

Recycled Sculpture

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How to make a recycled Sculpture with kids

What you see here is one of the most successful art projects that’s hit our household thus far. And it was free! What was the allure?

  • Working on a large scale
  • Low heat Glue Gun.
  • Piles of imagination-building materials
  • Collecting objects
  • Autonomy with decision-making
  • A novel project.

Supplies for Recycled Sculpture

  • Recyclables
  • Low-heat glue gun. We use the Cool Shot – it’s fantastic for little kids and we haven’t had an incident yet. Be sure to get a few packages of extra glue sticks too.
  • Paint (optional). We used washable tempera, which is great for enjoying the process, but will not last over time (it flakes off). For paint with a more permanent bond, use acrylic paint.
  • Paintbrushes (optional). These brushes from Melissa and Doug are nice for preschoolers.

It all began when we unearthed these very cool cardboard pieces that protected our new ice-cream maker (mmmm, thank you again danielle and dave!). So we decided to paint them. This carried on for a few minutes and then we moved on while they dried.

Collect some Recyclables

 

Later on, we started an art-recycling bag full of more materials to paint. But the pile kept growing and growing until I guess the materials were suggestive of a new idea altogether…

Stack and Build a Sculpture

Building!! It quickly became a challenge to balance the boxes, tubes, and bottles without toppling it all over.

Making it really, really tall. You can see the painted ice cream box piece way up there. And then the fun part…

I bet you saw that coming :)

And then, finally, we glued pieces together to make a more permanent sculpture.

 

Glue Gun Tips for Kids

This is where you get the low-heat glue gun out and share a few tips on safe handling:

  • Don’t touch the tip of the glue gun
  • Don’t touch the hot glue right after it comes out of the gun.

Attach the sculptural pieces together

The learning opportunities were so rich: we talked about sculpture as dimensional art, learned about how a glue gun works, made compositional choices, and embraced decision-making skills through the selection of objects.

Although I used a low-heat glue gun (these are amazing for kids), I still manned the gun and N told me where to glue. It was great! She would select a piece and then decide where she wanted it. There were a few moments where we collaborated to discuss placement, but she was mostly in charge. You can see her pointing to where she wants that toilet paper roll glued down.

In fits of inspiration, she bolted in and out of the room to find more treasures for her sculptures. I especially like that red ribbon. Don’t you? Oh, and if anyone ever wondered what we eat in our house, wonder no more!

We made three of these sculptures that afternoon, and got very good at working with the variegated materials. Throughout the week, N collected sticks and other natural materials during our walks and would say, “Let’s take it home to make art with it!” I love this kid!

How do you or your family like to use recycled materials? Feel free to add a link or photo in the comments section!

Winter Gardening

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Although it’s winter, we were hit by a glorious warm spell about a week ago and I was overwhelmed by the planting bug. Now that the rain is back, what’s especially timely about this activity is that it’s all about bringing the outdoors inside. So, for my snow-bound friends out there, this easy gardening project may make you almost believe that Spring is right around the corner.

We started with a bag of wheat berry seeds that I got from a local farmer. You can also find them at just about any health food store. These are the ones they use to make wheatgrass, and I chose them because I heard they grow fast. This is no joke, they sprouted up almost immediately, and the grass was 7″ tall after just one week!

Day 1

We soaked the seeds in water overnight (about 12 hours), and then dried them out for another 12 hours.

Day 2

I poked drain holes in the bottom of a clean clamshell salad container (go recycling!!) and then filled it with some organic seed starting soil that I found at our neighborhood Hardware store. I love this little store, and all of the good people who work there. Is your hardware store the same?

Filling the container with soil and watering it really well. The spoon is for mixing. This may have been THE BEST part of the activity for my two and a half year old. Following this picture, there was dirt EVERYWHERE!

Filling little biodegradable pots (similar to these) with planting soil, and moistening the pots really well. Once the seedlings are strong, the whole container goes right into the ground. I’ve since found tutorials for making our own seedling containers from newspaper and cardboard egg cartons. They look really simple and incorporate recycled materials! Needless to say, I can’t wait to try both methods next time around.

N distributed the seeds amongst the pots.

So that you could barely see the soil.

And then watered them. I think the seeds can sit right on top of the soil, but I covered them lightly with a little bit more dirt.

She distributed the extra seeds all over our sad winter garden, hoping some of the seeds would catch. We watered our indoor seeds for one week, this is what our garden looks like…

Day 7

I swear, I’ve never seen anything grow this fast! We sprayed twice a day, to keep the soil nice and moist.

And often got impatient, and far preferred POURING water on our plants.

So I devised this much more elegant solution.

I just discovered that the fabulous Marie at Make and Takes experimented with growing grass in tons of different pots and planters — lots of good ideas there for planting pretty grass.

Now the big question — what to do with all of this wheatgrass??

Has anyone had luck feeding wheat grass juice to a toddler?

Even Toddlers Can Sew!

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Like most parents, I’m keenly aware of my child’s strengths (and weaknesses, but we’re not going there today!), and N happens to be one of those people who is comfortable with fine motor activities. So, I thought it was high time to give her a little sewing project since she seems ready for it. This easy sewing activity came together quickly using materials that we found around the house. I’m not sure where I first got this idea from, so I’ve gathered a bunch of good resources for you and added them at the end of this post. It’s very likely that each of these fine blogs has played a role in this project, and I humbly add my version to the mix.

Here’s what we used to make it happen…

  • Cardboard Box (recycled from a package)
  • Mesh from a bag of sweet potatoes
  • Stapler
  • Scissors
  • Exacto knife
  • Embroidery Needle (They’re big, with big eyes, and perfect for small hands. You can also get them with blunt tips.)
  • Embroidery Thread (yarn would also work well)

I cut the cardboard box using scissors and an Exacto knife. If you don’t have an Exacto, you could most likely use scissors. The piece of mesh is about 1.5 inches larger in width and length than the piece of cardboard, and we pulled it taught and stapled it down.

We had lots of colors to choose from.

 

I gave a brief demonstration on how to pull stitches through the fabric and then held the frame while my daughter practiced her first stitches. The mesh was super for this on multiple levels: it’s strong and could withstand a lot of tugging, and it’s “transparent” which allowed N to really see what she was doing.

 

A little practice and then she was on her own. She picked up on it pretty quickly, although she wasn’t the least bit interested in following any dusty old sewing rules, and happily wrapped her stitches around the frame.

Thanks for all the comments. Congratulations to lucky #14…a winner has been selected!

Jell-O Excavation | Sensory Play for Kids

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We had fun excavating Jello today…

I placed little toy animals in a bundt pan full of Jello, and then refrigerated it overnight. This afternoon, it was open for investigation.

Hmmmm, feels kind of funny.

“How can I get the animals out?”

“With a knife!” A butter knife, of course.

Because the allure of plain ol’ Jello would only go so far, we added the bottles of colored water for fun.

Pouring water all over the excavation site.

Little fox, trapped in colorful Jello.

Scooping and mixing the slimy concoction. Despite my art school background, I had no idea that lime green and magenta watercolors would mix together to make blood red (!!), and I’ll spare you from some of the more gory-looking snaps. After I guffawed at the mess, my daughter asked me what “gross” means. This was clearly a rich vocabulary lesson as well.

After freeing the animals, filling the water bottles with Jello was a whole other adventure. Thanks to Time for Play for the inspiration!

Supplies: Jello Excavation

I used one box of Knox Gelatine (there are four bags in one box), and followed the directions on the back of the box. If you’d rather use vegan (gelatins-free Jello), this product from Jeannie Prebiotics looks great.

How to set this up

I poured a cup of cold water directly into the mold, sprinkled all four bags over the water and let it rest for one minute. Next, I added three cups of hot water and stirred it up. Then the animals were added. I placed it in the fridge to set, which takes three hours. To free it from the mold, I ran hot water over the back of the bundt pan for half a minute and the whole thing slid out. You could also spray the mold with cooking spray.

Have you played with Jello? Share a story or add your photo into the comments!

 

Vinegar and Baking Soda

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Have you tried the baking soda and vinegar experiment with your kids yet? 

Yesterday N skipped her nap and requested “gooey flour and water” for her quiet time activity.  Did you hear me sighing? I sort of had “read books” or “play with a puzzle” in mind, but I guess that would be too much to expect when we rarely sit down and work on puzzles during non-quiet times, right?

I had a million little things in the hopper, but it seemed like a reasonable request. So, there she was, inches deep in flour, salt, water, and white vinegar. With its clear color and acidic smell, the vinegar gave this sensory project an elevated feeling of alchemy. She liked the smell of it, then tasted it, and then tasted everything.

As I was sitting there watching this serious game of ingredient exploration unfold, I remembered the ol’ vinegar and baking soda trick! So I brought out the baking soda and asked innocently, “would you like to add some baking soda into your cups?” Of course she said “yes,” and her reaction to the merging of the vinegar and baking soda made missing a nap totally worthwhile.

First she add baking soda to all of the cups and then she poured vinegar on top of the baking soda. We played this game in both directions: adding vinegar to baking soda and vice versa.

After depleting my white vinegar reserves, she begged me for more. (Hey! This project is a winner!) Since I was also sort of curious about how the other vinegars would react to the baking soda, I reluctantly handed over my red wine and balsamic vinegars. They each bubbled, but had slightly different reactions.

Happy experimenting!

Happily shared with Childhood 101

Tracing Circles

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Some of you have mentioned that you’re building up ideas for foul-weather-indoor-play, and I’ve got something for you that requires very little preparation and can be pulled together with materials that we all have on hand.

Materials

  • marker/pen/pencil
  • paper
  • tape
  • cups

I taped a sheet of paper to the table and showed N how to trace around a cup. I’m in love with blue painters tape, and can hardly imagine what we’d do without it. I wasn’t sure how this activity would go…would she find it too simple, boring, thrilling, or challenging? Turns out it was a good challenge for her, as she requested cups and markers for more tracing the next day.

And as you can see from her circles, this involves a lot of fancy handiwork, small motor skills, and hand-eye coordination for wrapping the marker all the way around the cup. I think my child is inherently right-handed, and it’s interesting to see her draw with both her right and left hands in order to draw all the way around the cup. Good problem-solving!

If your child enjoys this, a good extension would be tracing cookie cutters, tape rolls, food storage containers, etc.  Even better…ask your child to think of other objects to trace. And if you move away from tracing disposable things, shift from markers to pencils. A good lesson in preservation!

What are your favorite simple rainy day activities?