Category Archives: excursions

Planning Ahead

Even though my kids have three weeks (too much!) of school left, our minds are on summer. Every summer (and family vacation, and holiday season) I check in with everyone in the family to see what we all want to do.

Bubbles may be simple, but they still captivate my oldest--and me, too!

This works for us for so many reasons: it takes all the pressure off of me as the family planner; it ensures I’m not thinking X is something necessary when really the rest of the family is just so tired of doing X; and it helps us make sure everybody gets to do at least some of what they want.

You see and I saw. Then I see and you saw.

Summer is special to me. I don’t particularly enjoy winter with its dark, cold, snowy, icy days; I operate like a solar cell in the summertime, soaking up what I need to make it through February. Luckily, we live about ten minutes from the beach, and we’re surrounded by beautiful places to visit and explore.

We don't even have to leave our yard to see loads of cool critters, like this guy.

So. We’ve begun our summer lists. (Click to embiggen, and you can see the cute little recycled notebook I’ve written this in here.)

So far we have lists labeled Go, Make, More Make (this is the non-art make), and Do. The list contains plenty of art activities, including some I’ve been waiting until outdoor season to try–I think our deck is a good place to make our own paper, for instance–but it also includes day trips, science experiments, making our own ice cream and lemonade, and lots of beach and coastal activities.

This is part of our rhythm–we get outdoors when we can, here. We take advantage of as much as the season offers, and our list reflects that. If it’s raining, I’ll go for the indoor activities, but if it’s nice, the art posts here may be slim!

If you keep your eyes open, you may find a 4-leaf clover, right in your own yard!

Some other things in the works:

I’m looking forward to the next issue of Whipup‘s Action Pack, which promises to be full of activities just perfect for summer. (You can click on the button on the sidebar to be taken right to the shop page: full disclosure, I signed up as an affiliate to help spread the word.) I’m sure our lists will grow once we get a look at what Kathreen has put together.

Also, G and I will be helping to celebrate Eric Carle’s birthday. You can, too–click on the button to be taken to Kate’s post at An Amazing Child to get all the information.

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What about you? What’s on your summer list?

Punching Tin

Materials: Scrap wood, flashing, hammer, nail or awl

This is sort of a cheat, because I didn’t have to do anything for this except take my kids to opening weekend at a nearby historical homesite. The festivities included an encampment by the Lebanon (CT) Militia, a group of mid-17th century historical re-enactors. We wandered by the tinsmith’s tent, and he invited the boys to give it a try.

I include this here because it would be so fairly easy to replicate at home. The boys are using hammers, nails, aluminum flashing purchased from any hardware store, and scrap wood to place underneath the flashing. The gentleman told us that the pieces of metal were tin with aluminum coating (tin rusts), and could be found at any hardware store.

After the boys got the hang of using the nail, he let them use some shaped awls–one made a short straight line, so you could make a flower, for instance, by surrounding a nail punch with the lines. V immediately began punching out his initials. N began experimenting with the various shapes, seeing what they could do (and also banging so well that twice he nailed his tin sheet to his wood block!).

It was open-ended and process-oriented, with the fun of hammers on top of it. (G, by the way, was invited to try, with my help, but was a bit too unsure–maybe she’ll try at home.) There are some safety considerations–the edges of the tin, he told us, are sharp, so you don’t want to run your finger along it. The back has pokey-out bits. But certainly kids are capable of working safely with it. The tinsmith showed us a candle screen made with one of these sheets with a design punched out. He’d punched a design out on the sheet, then nailed the bottom (one of the longer edges) to a rectangle of wood that acted as a shelf for the candle (or several smaller candles, I guess). A simple yet pretty way to display a finished piece.

We’re going to put the boys’ punched tin sheets in their windows, after they bring them to school to share about their visit–which also included muskets. And pirates. And playing conkers… what’s not to like about an afternoon like that?

Field Trip: Boston Museum of Science

This was not a destination focused on art and creativity, like the other field trips I’ve posted about. And yet, when we took in the newly redesigned area around the Planetarium, I was struck by this close-up image of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

It looks like art, doesn’t it? Maybe a bit Van Gogh-ish, with his wonderful swirls and bright colors? The beauty of the natural world–and the worlds beyond. Love it.

Collaboration!!

Collaboration ’11 opened at the Jamestown Arts Center Friday night. We missed the opening, so we went this weekend to see the boys’ artwork. I thought it would be so exciting for them to see their work hanging on the wall in a gallery setting. It was exciting for me to see it!

V’s painting is in the middle of the second row in this picture. Let’s get closer:

There it is, the swirly tie-dye-like painting. N’s was at the end of a row.

It’s the top one there, the one that’s clearly a tape resist. We were so surprised and delighted to see this hanging next to it:

First place, student division overall! I had to confirm first–the ribbons hang next to the bottom of the picture? So that belongs to his? Yes, I was told, that belongs to his. V immediately congratulated his brother and seemed to harbor no jealousy whatsoever.

I hadn’t mentioned the possibility of awards, although V had read the flier for himself and knew it was a possibility, although probably, he said, unlikely. I don’t want them making art (or doing much of anything, at this age) with a goal towards an external prize, especially given how subjective it is. A different judge could have been looking for something else entirely. I simply told them about Collaboration and asked if they wanted to participate. I’d hoped the process would be about planning and working towards a goal and the excitement of seeing their work on the wall–and it was.

I was also interested in how they approached it. V had an idea of the finished piece and a plan. He told me what he needed, he sketched it out, he painted it, he was pleased, and that was that. N had an idea about the technique he wanted to use–oil pastel AND tape resist with watercolors–and he tried it out. The first attempt wasn’t so successful. The second was closer, but he still wasn’t happy with it. For the third attempt, he went in a totally different direction. He still used oil pastels, tape, and watercolor, but he abandoned his first plan (criss-crossed tape and rainbow stripes of pastels and watercolors) and went with something completely different, which was, I think, much closer to his own style in the end. He was much more engaged while he was creating it, and that was the one he liked. I think he’s proud that he worked until he had a piece he was happy with, because he mentioned it while we were at the art center.

We all enjoyed looking at the other entries too, and I think it opened the boys’ minds (mine, too!) to all the different ways to approach a 12″ by 12″ square. There were three-dimensional pieces (that could hang on the wall), collages, photography. Artists used Lego pieces, candy, items found on the beach. There were deconstructed books, handmade books, paintings, drawings… so much creativity, from people of all ages. And there’s nothing like a room full of creativity to spark more ideas. I’m so glad the boys got to be a part of this!

Field Trip: Metamorphosis

I decided the flu and the lingering coughs had taken too much of a toll on us all for us to travel to see Mo Willems at the Carle Museum last weekend. Instead, we stayed a bit closer to home and went to see the temporary exhibit Metamorphosis at the Blackstone Valley Visitors Center. The Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art (RIMOSA), according to their website, “is a group of imaginative people committed to a single goal: using Rhode Island’s rich resources in the arts and sciences to create a distinctive, highly interactive, informal learning center.” They hope to have a permanent site by 2014.

Turn the cranks and the wooden slats become a wave.

Again, according to RIMOSA’s own text, “[In] the Metamorphosis: Transfer of Energy installation, RIMOSA interprets the flow of energy at Slater Mill from the Blackstone River through gears, cogs, people, and textiles. We want you to experience the energy flow that moves through you and enables our machines to work.”

The gear table is cool.

The signs and the website indicate that the exhibits (and the future museum) are intended for children ages eleven and up, but my three kids, all younger than eleven, found plenty to enjoy. This gear table was particularly fun, although frustrating in that the gears slipped on the table and wall too easily, so your gear chain would work for a few turns and then stop. I imagine part of the process of installing temporary exhibits is working out the kinks and learning how well different pieces hold up to public use.

Light pendulum

The light at the end of that pendulum creates fleeting designs on a photosensitive material. Other exhibits included plastic open-topped cylinders of various heights, complete with rubber flip-flops to use to bang on top of the tubes to create different sounds; huge fabric waves; and a water wheel. Across the street from the Visitors Center is Slater Mill, and the Metamorphosis exhibit is designed to connect to this rich history, in Rhode Island, of work powered by nature and people both.

I’m glad to see an organization combining two disciplines that, I feel, are organically connected yet so often considered to be separate. We’ll be looking forward to RIMOSA’s growth.

Field Trip: RISD Art Museum

Another Sunday, another trip to an art museum. This time, the art museum of the Rhode Island School of Design (known as RISD, pronounced Riz-dee). The purpose of this visit: to see the Impressionist galleries (“Monet and his friends,” as N says, after Linnea) and participate in the Open Family Studio, the theme of which was “Rip, Tear, Fold.”

On our way to the Open Studio we checked out the 20th Century Gallery, where we got to see a Jackson Pollock and a Bridget Riley in person. The Exempla exhibit, which is interactive, has been a hit with the kids every time we’ve visited since it opened. And we all love to visit the big Buddha.

But N very much wanted to visit Monet and his friends.

He got close to see the dabs of paint. He backed away to see the overall effect.

“Me, too,” says G.

These galleries are, I think, my favorite place in the museum. They are so calming to me. It’s not that I don’t like the more contemporary art (I do, very much) or the ancient art, or many, many things in between, it’s just that when I walk into the Impressionist Galleries, I feel like I’ve just taken a deep breath of sweet, meadow-green air.

Ahh.

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Some practical advice for taking children to an art museum:

1. Don’t take hungry (or tired) kids to the museum. It’s about a 45-minute drive for us, so we gave them food on the way and food again once we got back into the car.

2. Know what you want to see. You can’t see it all, not in one visit, anyway. If you feel you must see everything once you’ve paid admission, take advantage of free days or “pay what you can” days, check if your local library has a membership pass you can borrow, or consider buying your own membership. Any of those options take the pressure off on feeling like you have to get your admission’s worth, and when you’re not feeling that pressure, it’s going to be a better visit with kids.

3. If your art museum has times or programs geared towards kids, try to take advantage of those. It was good to balance our looking with some doing. (I wonder if they trained the guards ahead of time? I could tell all those children in the galleries were making some of them twitchy, but they were trying really, really hard not to show it.)

4. Limit the visit length and timing depending on the age of youngest child. We were probably there about an hour and a half, maybe a little more. Get out before the kids start to lose it. We visited in the morning, because that’s the best time of day for a two-year-old. (You will never find me anywhere with all three children in the late afternoon unless I absolutely can’t avoid it.)

5. Remind them not to run and not to touch (unless the exhibit invites them to, as the Exempla exhibit does), but invite them to look and ask questions. If we want kids to grow into adults who value art museums, we need to let them be kids who feel welcome in art museums. I really appreciate the effort RISD is making, with the increase in family programs, to welcome families with children, even young ones.

6. Have fun. Look. Talk about what you see and what you’re interested in, too. Buy some postcards of favorite works on the way out. G brought a postcard of the big Buddha to bed with her the night of our visit.

If you have any other ideas or tips that have worked for you and/or stories about visiting an art museum with a child (or two or six…), please share them in the comments!

Visiting the art museum = happy.

Field Trip: Newport Art Museum

Recently, two exhibits opened at the Newport Art Museum that I really wanted to see, so on a cold Sunday afternoon, we went to visit.

It being a weekend, my husband could come along with us, which certainly helps in the toddler department. For those of you who wonder how to get kids interested in visiting art museums, I have no big secrets. My oldest didn’t want to go and, at first, decided he’d sit on a bench and read his book, thank you very much. He was drawn in in spite of himself.

The first exhibit was Collage Paintings by William Klenk. (I couldn’t find an artist site for him, just his bio on the URI website.) I find collage really exciting because of the possibilities. Incorporating so many bits of found material in so many ways–just fabulously inspiring to me, and I wanted the boys to see the possibilities of collage.

My six-year-old wanted to know how the artist might have cut out the pieces he used, since they were so exact. (My guess is an x-acto knife or other blade of some sort.) Looking very closely, it was possible to discern the order in which pieces were applied to the canvas. For instance, on the collage pictured on the museum’s website, you could see the outline of the red snake under the picture of George Washington. How exciting to get a glimpse into the process of creating the art.

Many collages featured a sort of striping with acrylic.

We talked about how much planning would have gone into these works, so that the layers were exactly as the artist desired. We also identified, pretty early on, motifs that appeared again and again: birds, boats, fish, balls, butterflies–we found them throughout the gallery. It became like a treasure hunt: Look! Another butterfly! Three in just this one collage! G enjoyed pointing out all the fish. We looked at the collages from a distance and noticed how some images seemed to float in front of the background more when viewed from farther away. You notice different things with a longer view.

I can’t wait to collage with the boys!

The second exhibit we went to see was Artist Books and Etchings by Marian O’Connell. I would be very happy in a life that involved making handmade books all day. I began to try some here and there and then had G, but I plan to get back to it, and this exhibit, too, was very inspiring. As I wandered around the small gallery I marveled at all the hours of work that was surely represented there. Just making a simple bound book used to take me enough time that I haven’t even attempted it since G was born. Time like that, I can’t foresee having anytime soon.

Isn’t that gorgeous? And it wasn’t the most impressive piece there–I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. As I looked more closely at a book containing snow-related images, I surmised that the artists’ children are all grown, and when I went to her website, I realized her youngest is about my age. This is also inspiring–I’ve always felt that it was okay to fit my own creative needs into the corners of my life, around my children, while they’re young, because there would be an opening later on. And look, here’s Ms. O’Connell’s example!

The boys, meanwhile, also really liked the books. We share a fascination with blank books and manipulating paper–perhaps it’s genetic? The etchings from the books were also displayed on the walls, which was nice, because it can be hard to see all the artwork in a book you can’t touch.

After visiting those two exhibits, we walked through the rest of the galleries. We probably spent between an hour and an hour and a half altogether, which is just about right with three kids including a toddler. Enough time to enjoy the museum, and not so much time that it becomes overwhelming. This was my first visit to this museum, but I suspect we’ll be back for future exhibits.

Field Trip: Eric Carle Museum

We took advantage of a day off from school this week and headed to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.

It’s far enough away (about 125 miles) that it’s a treat to visit, as well as an entire daylong venture. First, we visited their art studio. The current project is making instruments from a variety of found objects.

I think found objects have the potential for becoming quickly overwhelming. It works here because they set out a limited supply of each type of object and because the goal was specific: make an instrument. My six-year-old seemingly effortlessly came up with something that made noise in multiple ways. He taped two metal jar lids together with beads on the inside. On top he taped a small metal canister with ridged sides, which make noise when he rubs a coffee stirrer against them. Also, you can press down on the ridged metal piece to make a pop! noise with the metal jar lid.

Even my two-year-old could participate, though. I’d begun fiddling around with the materials, placing some beads in a plastic bottle cap and taping another cap on top. She had me untape them, she added some beads, and then she tested the sound. She had me untape so she could add beads several times, until she achieved whatever result she was aiming for, and then she happily shook her instrument all over the place.

We also visited the exhibits, of course, although this got challenging, as my daughter was in a squirmy mood. We especially liked the Monsters and Miracles exhibit, and I particularly like when a preliminary drawing is exhibited along with the finished illustration. I pointed this out to my six-year-old. “See how he made a sketch first, to think out his ideas? He probably made lots of them. And when he had it the way he wanted it, then he did a finished one with color.”

“Like we did with the sunflowers,” he said. Just like with writing, unless we make sure to point it out, children don’t know that the finished artwork isn’t the artist’s first attempt.

The museum also has a great library, full of picture books, and an equally great bookstore. We always pick out a book or two that we discovered in the galleries. This visit our gallery-inspired books were Kibbitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me by Simms Taback and Rotten Island by William Steig. We read Jonah and the Two Great Fish by Mordicai Gerstein while in the Monsters and Miracles gallery, but I couldn’t find it in the bookstore. It may end up in a Christmas book order, though, because we all really enjoyed it.

While at the Eric Carle Museum, we are led to books through the illustrations, and viewing the exhibits reminds me to pay even more attention to the illustrations in our favorite books, both in how they were created and in how they make the book a whole.

Inspirations from our visit are percolating, and will find their way into future projects, no doubt.