Category Archives: kids out of the studio

The Week’s Work

I don’t feel I made much progress with my own making this week. The first part of the week I felt sluggish and like I wasn’t focusing well, and the second part was busy–so busy that I’m joining in with Dawn’s Making + Listening link-up three days late. Nevertheless, we’ve been making things here.

My oldest made a zine to fulfill a class project. I used this as an excuse to finally buy a long-reach stapler. His only supply request was a non-photo blue pencil (because you don’t need to erase your lines after inking; it doesn’t show up on photocopies). I want to make zines too!

I finally finished my Tang in green wool (so perfect for this time of year…um, not!).

It needs a rinse and block, but my utility sink, which I thought would work so nicely for washing handknits, is full, as always, of drying paintbrushes and paint splotches. I won’t wear this for a few months anyway, and perhaps I’ll remember to do a post with modeled shots when I do…

My daughter made me a cardinal sitting in a nest.

This was all her own idea and execution. She asked for my help reaching the red and green card stock and then set to work with scissors and tape, cutting the shapes out herself. (She used the large circle hole punch for the head and feet.) She ran back and forth to check the bird poster hanging on our wall, the one that includes a cardinal. She was detailed about the feet, wasn’t she? That’s one of the bits she double-checked with the poster. This is so authentically a four-year-old’s creation. I adore it.

I also helped my daughter make more goat note cards.

These sets are already claimed and paid for, and we need to make more to fulfill more orders. I’ll talk more about her work in a future post, but for now I’ll say that I’m so pleased she is having success and so grateful to the communities (both online and in real life) that are helping her achieve that success. My daughter never doubted her plan would work, and I’d do well to observe and learn from the confidence of this four-year-old.

Speaking of which, she also made it to the top of the rock wall at her brother’s school fair today.

Climbing to the top.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo that shows the wall in its entirety so you can see how tall it was. It was really, really tall.

At the top.

It was a little hard to look at my last baby dangling from a harness at the top of that thing, but she was so excited to try and so determined to get all the way up; of course I cheered her on. She drew a little bit of a crowd. A rock-climbing gym recently opened nearby (this was their traveling wall), and I don’t think we’ll be able to keep G out of it.

As for the listening portion, my husband was away this week, so while I wove ends into my sweater and tried to embroider (that being the project I haven’t made much progress on), I watched and listened to Merlin. I have four episodes left to go in Season 3. The younger kids finished listening to The Phantom Tollbooth and The Arabian Nights as I read them aloud. And, because we met friends at the zoo this week, we of course listened to Tom Paxton’s Goin’ to the Zoo on the way. This is such a great CD of fun songs. We all like it.

I hope you are in the midst of an enjoyable weekend, with some time to make and listen to whatever makes you happy.

Running Running Running

My husband’s been away most of the week. I’ve had the typical dose of solo parenting challenges (and a nasty head cold). He’ll be back later tonight. This afternoon, we went to the beach for a bit of autumn sunshine.

It was really windy though. Really windy. And the sand was blowing right at preschooler height, and it stung! My daughter said she didn’t like the wind so we switched directions and climbed up to the pavilion. I figured we’d look at the view and salvage the trip, but when we got there, we realized an empty off-season pavilion is just begging to be run on.

And so we did, all of us. Into the wind, and with the winds at our back. “Put out your flying arms,” directed my daughter, and I did. A half hour of running back and forth, with the ocean in sight on all sides.


Back to a Transitioning Space

After two months away, I’m still not exactly sure how to approach this space, except that I plan to broaden the scope to include more than just art topics. We’re transitioning into homeschooling here, something that comes, overall, as a huge relief to me. This space seems to be the best place, for the time-being, to share our life-learning adventures. Blogging is still just a hobby for me, so I don’t have the time or energy right now to figure out if I want to change the hosting service/domain/web address…I think it’s best, anyway, to see how it all evolves. I’ll work on updating the pages and adding new ones as time allows.

In the meantime, we’ve had sun, sun, and more sun here, and we’re enjoying our usual summer activities. Our summers tend to focus on exploring the environments we like best: where the ocean meets the land. So there is a lot of this sort of thing going on:

In the salt pond, early morning

We like to visit our favorite rocky shore to explore tide pools, too.

The sea star population is down this year, and the invasive Asian shore crab is seemingly everywhere. Fortunately there are still plenty of hermit crabs, a favorite of ours.

Little hermit crabs

We are balancing our day trips and beach days with lazier days at home, with lots of time to relax, too.

Summer reading at its best

It’s a good rhythm, for the most part, one I was sorry to leave behind when school began last fall. I’m looking forward to carrying more of this peaceful rhythm through the year than I was able to last year.

Meanwhile, I hope you’ll come along on this transition. I plan to share what we’re doing and the resources we’re using and where my heart lies when it comes to education…as well as continue to share any art-related adventures and inspirations along the way. And I hope you’re having a fabulous summer so far!

Working With Found Materials

I recently purchased Beautiful Stuff! Learning With Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini. This is not a how-to book; it’s a documentation of how the authors and teachers worked with early childhood students, in a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom, collecting and exploring found objects. As the authors say in the preface,

Rather than focusing on the creation of products, this book is based on observation and recording of children’s and teachers’ processes.

Fabulous. That’s what I try to do, too. I bought this with our natural collections in mind–mostly rocks and seashells–although the book covers all found materials, mainly recycled, and not just natural ones. Our collecting really ramps up in the summertime.

kids + nets + salt pond = summer as it should be

Documenting is an integral part of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Here, the authors share the process of collecting and organizing the materials, exploring them, and working with them.

The kids are involved in every step. The first chapter begins with the authors acknowledging that it’s “crucial” to involve the kids and parents right from the beginning, thus with the collecting. Anyone who spends time with children knows they are natural collectors anyway. N picks up rocks everywhere. I find acorns in pockets, sticks on the floor, and G’s buttons absolutely everywhere.

We did not collect these jellies. We just observed them and let them go.

The kids in the book collect, clean, and categorize their materials. They spend time getting to know these items. How many ways can you classify something? They sort by material, by color, by shape. They work with them in temporary ways and in more permanent ways. They re-create self-portraits using found materials, they create 3-dimensional pieces, they study blue and circles and metal, with materials and through drawing and in paint.

The latest haul, rinsing in fresh water

It’s impossible for us to visit the beach without bringing back treasures, and we visit the beach at least weekly in the summertime. (The crabs in the left-hand bucket, by the way, were dead when we found them. They were supposed to be left behind, but G slipped them in.) On the way home, N was considering what we could do with some of our items–we can make rubbings of the Irish Moss, we can try printing with the underside of a crab (although, he pointed out, the paper might smell bad afterwards), we can make rubbings of scallop shells, with all those wonderful ridges.

Beautiful smooth purple piece of clam shell

I also collect at the beach, and I’m fond of the small polished pieces of broken clam shell. This visit, I found several purple pieces. (The bits that became the most valuable wampum, N pointed out. See here; scroll down to #9.) Aren’t they beautiful?

The main idea to take away from this book, I think, if you’re looking for just one, is that collections are not necessarily meant to be displayed and looked at, or, alternately, turned into some end product in order to have value. They can be living, breathing things, to be touched, to be rearranged, to be worked with. We have, literally, buckets of quahog shells, and I’ve been thinking they need to come inside and take their place on the shelf next to the tree blocks. Some of our rocks need their own basket on the play shelves as well (some live in the sandbox). Some items (oh-those-purple-pieces!) may become works of art to be worn; others may find their way into collages or sculptures; others we may love so much we give them a place of honor on the shelf for a while. But the best collections of found items, I think, are dynamic, just like the children who collect them.

Note: This particular beach is a barrier beach. We found most of the rocks and clam shells on the ocean side; we found living (and dead) crabs and jellies, as well as oyster and scallop shells, in the protected salt pond. It’s a fantastically neat place.

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.


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


Spring has finally decided to make an appearance here in Southern New England–the wind stopped and the sun came out all at the same time, and while I’m sure we’ll get into a groove of inside/outside and art activities suited to the out-of-doors, right now we’re too busy just plain being outside without coats on.

There are rocks to turn over

And critters to investigate

(that’s a red-backed salamander, in our yard)

and the driveway needed to be painted with sidewalk chalk soaked in a puddle.

Dear Spring, we hope you stick around for a while!

Free-Range Creativity

It’s school vacation week. The weather is meh. I’m not sure my toddler slept at all on Monday night. As a result, I wasn’t up to even getting out of the house yesterday. Before much of the morning had progressed, N had created this:

The people and animals are crossing the bridge. There’s water under the bridge–see the boat?

See the waterfall, cascading from the couch into the stream?

That’s another view of it, as it flows over some rocks. The stream then continues into a river (using larger blankets) into our blue circle rug, which became the ocean, complete with a whale.

This isn’t the first time he’s done this. Once again, we left it up all day, so Daddy could see it when he came home from work. Periodically he’d add to it, until there were gnomes and hamsters also crossing the bridge, along with a chicken and another pony. (The felt board was his second try at a bridge, after the pillow kept falling.)

I’m a big proponent of kids amusing themselves. This blog shows just a snapshot, of art activities that we do together, but, like most blogs, it doesn’t tell the whole story. My kids spend time filling their own time, too–an ability that I think is a crucial component to becoming a successful adult.

While I’m here, I keep meaning to share these photos, of V excitedly taking apart a small kitchen digital scale that ceased to work. I handed it over to him so he could explore it.

We have a small space heater that no longer shoots out warm air. It’s next in queue for V’s screwdriver. 🙂

Random Acts of Creativity

Shall I call them RACs? Aren’t they fun? One morning last weekend, N came upstairs for breakfast holding a Lego creation in his hand. Inspired by something in his Lego Club, Jr. magazine, he’d decided to create an animal out of his head. After trying out several ideas (and apparently working for quite a while after waking up early), he settled on this crocodile.

His mouth opens and closes on a swivel. He’s wicked cool, as we say in these parts.

This morning, I came home to find this:

N was home sick from school, but feeling better than he has been. While his dad worked from home, N built a structure with the element blocks. I love hearing, “Wait till you see what I built!” I also love digital cameras, because it makes it so easy to take pictures of the kids’ creations, which, in turn, makes it easier for them to let them go and build new ones.

What random acts of creativity have your kids (or you!) been up to lately?


My boys go back to school tomorrow, and I’m not ready to let them go! We had a lovely relaxed week. There was time for this

Painting in the studio

And time for this

Don't mess with the Lego set-up...

And this

Pattern blocks

And time for this

The beach in winter

Which led to this.

A winter nature table

In other words, lots of unstructured time that the kids could fill by doing what they wanted—reading, creating with Legos, getting outside. One morning the boys tried to launch a toy car from the arm of the futon to the table, trying to build ramps to help. Another day, the two youngest tried to see if they could pile up enough pillows and big, squishy blocks to reach the ceiling. The TV didn’t go on once all week. This wasn’t necessarily my plan—if the boys had asked to watch a DVD or two, I probably would have said yes—but they never asked. (When it’s just me and G at home, the TV doesn’t go on unless I’m sick and in dire need of fifteen minutes on the couch.)

At the beginning of the week we vaguely discussed going to one of the many nearby museums or nature centers or aquariums to take advantage of the activities scheduled to fill school vacation week, but when it came right down to it, nobody wanted to leave the house or get up at a specific time or get dressed on a schedule. (We did go to the library once, but only to pick out books, not take in a program.) So we ended up with a glorious week of unplugged creative child-led activities.

Coming up this week, posts on how we turned V’s art into a stamp and the week’s painting activities. In the meantime, for fellow New Englanders, here are a few upcoming events we’re excited about:

Mo Willems at the Eric Carle Museum on March 27. (Not familiar with Mo Willems? See here!) March 20th is the 3rd Annual The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day; I think I’ll be planning something for us to do at home.

Collaboration ’11 at the Jamestown Arts Center. Drop-off is on March 29, and the exhibition is from April 1-28. Everyone is welcome to participate.

The return of The Big Draw at the RISD Museum on April 30.

Any upcoming arts-related events in your neighborhood (or beyond?) that you’re excited about? Share!

Open-Environment Play

(If my goal is to support my children’s creativity–and that is most definitely my goal–then this takes place not just in the art studio but in all we do. So occasionally I’ll post some other examples of creativity. These will be labeled kids out of the studio.)

A discussion over at Kidoinfo led me to this article, where I learned that a better-sounding term for what I’ve always called “stupid plastic toys” is closed-environment toys. Those are the toys that are supposed to be played with in a particular way. Conversely, “open-environment” toys would be the ones that allow the kids to make the decisions and direct the play. I don’t like the closed-environment toys, and I try not to let them sneak into the house. When they do, I try to sneak them back out again.

There are compromises, to be sure. We have one of those battery-operated hand-held Simon Says games referenced in the article; we bought it a few days before driving to Canada for vacation, and it lives in the glove compartment of the car, along with the travel bingo set and the travel tangrams. We are venturing into the world of Nintendo DS, ever so cautiously, with our oldest. But above all other toys, I love the open-environment playthings and the many, infinite ways they can be transformed in the hands of a child.

Home sick from school earlier this week, my six-year-old brought out the play silks and the tree blocks. Working with his younger sister, he set the scene and populated it with the bunny family and the gnome family (the latter made from wooden peg people wearing the little sweaters and gnome hats I knit them).

He built the bunnies and gnomes a house.

He brought out the pattern blocks and built them some furniture. Here is a close-up of the kitchen, with the Mama Bunny cooking at the stove.

The brother and sister bunny went out to play on the bridge.

After these pictures were taken, he used more pattern blocks to add flowers to the field and lily pads to the water. I’m not sure how long he worked on this–at least an hour, probably close to two. It wasn’t my idea, it wasn’t my suggestion, and I stayed out of it completely except when he came to show me his creations. The materials were all on the shelves, and this particular morning, they were his medium. While the kids have built homes for the gnomes with the tree blocks before, this is the first time he’s created such an encompassing environment and the first time he’s built furniture.

It stayed up all day (quite an accomplishment, considering there’s a toddler in the house), and he was okay with cleaning it up before dinner, because he can look at the pictures any time he wants. And I couldn’t resist documenting his creativity.

What are some of your favorite “open-environment” playthings?