Found Object Art | Junk Critters

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

I’m a huge fan of breathing new life into long-lost materials, and I’ve been making found object art pieces like these since I was a kid.

Last weekend my friend, Danielle, and were in Napa to lead a fun, fast-paced Maker Session at the California Association of Museums annual conference.

For our workshop we brought these cool hands-on maker kits that my kids oohed and ahhhed over before I headed off to play in wine country.

Maker Kits - Tinkerlab.com

The kits carried similar materials, but the nature of collecting found objects meant that each maker box was unique. I’ll share images from the workshop with a close-up on how adults interpreted these materials shortly, but I thought you might be interested in seeing what kids made of these.

My kids were my prototype testers, after all.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Collect your junk supplies

Before the boxes were even filled, we experimented with some basic materials like ribbon, wood scraps, fabric swatches, paper baking cups, markers, and plastic party beads.

You’ll need:

  1. Junk
  2. Something to cut the junk (scissors)
  3. Something to attach the junk (glue gun – Amazon link to our favorite one)

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Invest in a low-heat glue gun

There are always people who gasp when they see kids handling hot glue guns (maybe that was you…no worries) and I’m here to tell you that kids are capable of using glue guns.

Here are a few glue gun tips for kids:

  • Use a low-heat glue gun like the Cool Shot (Amazon link). I’ve been using this model for years, and it’s fabulous. If you spend more than a few seconds touching the tip you could theoretically burn yourself, but I have yet to see this happen.
  • Explain the glue gun rules to your child ahead of time: don’t touch the tip, try not to touch the hot glue with your bare hands

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Add some eyes

My 3-year old worked on this one. She added goggly eyes to make it come alive, but of course you could draw eyes on or cut eyes from paper. Googly eyes are an awesome invention, and truly animate anything they’re stuck to. We have a pair on our stapler, and “he” looks like a little alligator.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

We foraged the recycling bin for more objects and had some fun with building blocks and pom-poms: all stuck on with the miraculous glue gun.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Share your found object art critters

When you’re all done creating, put your critters on display, play with them, take photos of them, carry them on a walk and take photos of them in different places. The options are endless. More sharing ideas:

Share on Facebook

And if you’re really brave, snap a photo and share it with me on my Facebook page!

Instagram

When I was at the conference we asked participants to take a photo of their critter and tag it with #tinkercritter. Here’s on example. I love it! Go check out their critters and upload your own to Instagram. Don’t forget to tag it with #tinkercritter!

More Found Object Art

This cool Pinterest board from Mary Briden

Louise Nevelson painted on assemblages made from wood scraps in the 1950’s.

Joseph Cornell made these gorgeous diorama boxes that were filled with all sorts of curious ephemera.

Sugar Cube Sculpture

sugar cube sculpture

We made sugar cube sculptures. What a fun and surprising lesson in building, painting, and dissolving!

Materials

  • Box of sugar cubes
  • Glue bottle
  • Sturdy base to glue onto
  • Paint in squeezy bottles

Boxes of sugar cubers were harder to find than I thought, but I ultimately found them at our big supermarket (and bought 2!). We used scrap wood for the base, basic Elmer’s school glue, and Nancy Bottles for the paint.

I suggested that we could build a sculpture with the sugar cubes, and presented N with the materials. That’s all she needed to hear before she began to glue the cubes onto the panel.

And stack them up tall.

You can see that this isn’t the strongest structure in the world!! I filled some Nancy Bottles with watered down BioColor paint, which my daughter then squeezed all over the sculpture. Because the water acted as a dissolving agent, if I were to do this again I’d use straight-up paint without the additional water.

It’s looking a little patriotic, no?

And it end up in this beautiful heap of swirly, melting color. Not exactly what I imagined when we started, but it did lead to some wonderful conversations about dissolving. We only used about 1/10 of the sugar cubes to make the sculpture, so why not set up a dissolving experiment with the rest of the cubes?!

The next day N turned the remaining cubes into sugar water in under five minutes. It was quick, but what a great lesson and experience!

What are you or your kids building with?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime, Childhood 101

Gumdrop Sculptures

provocation

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.

 

Colander Sculpture

look underneath

This surprisingly fun sculptural activity kept my 33 month old engaged for a long while. And the added bonus is that it’s also great for strengthening fine-motor skills, making color choices, and developing spatial understanding by making sense of the exterior and interior of an object.

The set up

A handful of pipe cleaners and a colander on a low table.

N wasn’t sure what to make of it at first and asked me to play with her. So we sat down together and I started poking the pipe cleaners in the holes.

Ahhhh, now she gets it. Once the ball got rolling I stepped back to let her explore on her own.

This is so much fun!

Once the top was “full,” she started working on the sides.

Colander Sculpture for Kids | TinkerLab.com

And then she wanted to know what was happening underneath the colander.

After working on this for about 20 minutes, N figured out that she could loop the pipe cleaners and stick both ends into the colander. Cool.

As of late, my daughter has shown a huge interest in building and sculptural activities. Maybe you remember my last post when she rejected the easel? So I’ll continue to continue to support this growing interest of hers and see where it takes her…and you can probably expect more sculptural activities here in the upcoming weeks.

While I can’t remember where I first saw this idea, if you’d like more pipe cleaner-colander inspiration, Anna and her daughters at The Imagination Tree did a similar project where her older daughter incorporated play dough into the sculpture! She packages this and other similar, stimulating activities as “Discovery Boxes,” which you can learn more about here. And if you don’t have pipe cleaners at home, but you do have straws, she also offers a Straw Discovery Box that is a super alternative.

This post was shared with We Play: Childhood 101, Skip to my Lou

Recycled Sculpture

really tall

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!