Category Archives: preschool & up

Project Shelf

Inspired by Kate at An Everyday Story, I cleaned off an existing shelf in the living room in order to display some project creations.

I already talked about G’s map of Egypt and N’s cartouche and cat statuette, in the claywork post. I’m happy to report N’s cat stayed together just fine; we had to glue one paw back on. I haven’t talked about G’s mummy or the pyramid, which she created after the mummy, because that’s where mummies go. No matter the mummy and pyramid aren’t to scale; not the point. She cut out the base and triangles (using guides), let them dry, and then glued them together. It’s all a bit fragile, but it’s a pyramid. N also has plans to make a pyramid, but I needed to get more clay (which I did, over the weekend), and now I’ve commandeered the art table for a day or two to sew a Halloween costume. (We are challenged by needing to share project work space.)

The mummy was created early on in our project work, beginning in early September, and despite all good intentions I haven’t shared about it yet. When I told the kids my job was to make sure they had the materials necessary for their work, G jumped right on that. One morning she told me she had “a mummy in her head” and she would need paper, drinking straws, and paper towels. I provided these, and she asked for other items as the need arose.

Working on her mummy

She drew a sad face on her mummy. “He’s sad because he’s dead.”

(It’s hard to photograph white against white, and I used my phone for some of these.) When her mummy was complete, which took time as she worked out how she wanted the various pieces (including the straws; they’re in there too) to go together, she used the paper towel to represent linen wrappings.

During a later session, she painted and colored the squares that she then attached to both sides of the paper towel wrapping–you can see that in the first picture. This represents the paintings on the coffins.

Is this an artistically accurate modeling of an Egyptian mummy? Not at all. Does it demonstrate that this three-year-old understands what she’s been studying? Absolutely. I am blown away (again!) by the way in which she has translated her learning into her own project representation.

N’s planned pyramid will be too big to fit on the project shelf. We’ll have to come up with some other way to display it. My kids are used to seeing their creations displayed around our house and on our walls. I have many, many of their artworks (and my own) framed and hanging. They didn’t react in any particular way to seeing their project creations on the shelf, although my son did point out to his brother that I’d cleaned a shelf off just for them. I think they all consider the house their own gallery, as I have a high tolerance for random stuff taped to the walls–they do their own displaying, too. I think that’s a good thing.

There is a lot I’m not doing–dedicated display or bulletin boards for project materials in individual work spaces (which we don’t have) would be great. I’m not so good about scheduling in blocks of project time on multiple days per week. But I’m doing what I can, and as is often the case, it turns out that that is enough until I can do more.

{PBH} Identifying Interests

My daughter was very direct in saying she wanted to learn about mummies (and I do have more to show you on that project), but I’d observed her interest in maps and, in fact, jotted that down as a possible project topic before she informed me she’d be studying mummies. As you saw, her map-making interest found its way into her mummy project (her 3-dimensional map of Egypt in this post). I think–but am not sure–that we may be winding down on Egypt here. Meanwhile, my daughter has been drawing maps.

Map by G, age 3

Her maps are of her pretend park; she has been playing a “park game” with our blue rug as a pond and the play tent as her camp site.

Map by G, age 3

(I can’t help it–I adore the trees.) I think this interest in map-making is quite common at this age; at least, all my children have drawn make-believe maps. Because this interest of hers has been present for a while now, I am doing my own research at the moment, seeking ways to encourage and support it. To start, I borrowed Mapmaking With Children by David Sobel from the local university library. I’ve requested a couple of children’s books relating to maps from our local library, to simply have around and share. I’ve only just begun reading the Sobel book, but it’s fascinating. I’ll keep you posted!

So how and why am I focusing on her interest in maps? After all, she has told me she wants to learn about space, dinosaurs, fish, the sun…really, she has jumped on this “project” idea and wants to take advantage of it! And she has not told me she wants to learn about maps. However, maps is what she does. She draws them, she looks at them, she asks about them. It’s where she is quietly focused–her attention is already there, and that’s why I feel it’s a deeper interest that can support deeper investigation. I am watching what she does, rather than just listening to what she says. When presented with the whole wide world to learn about, she’s listing everything in sight, and no wonder. It’s all so interesting. But I want to brush away the surface and see where she places her focus. That’s the best I can do in explaining how to identify an interest that will support a deeper project.

{PBL} Claywork in the Egypt Project

I hope I can do this morning’s project time justice in this post. Way back when at the start of this project, my eight-year-old, who internalized a different meaning of “project” from school, decided he’d make a pyramid. I worried he’d jumped to this, that he was approaching this backwards, and we talked about it some, but I also figured I’d let this ride. We picked out some air dry clay and he worked with it a bit to get a feel for it. We talked about how he might want to make a model of a pyramid to make sure the different pieces fit together. (Ok, I talked. A little.) We continued to read about Egypt and the other topics he’d mentioned besides pyramids–King Tut, gods and goddesses–and we visited the MFA, which sparked more interests.

Earlier this week, I hung up the hieroglyphs poster I purchased in the museum gift shop and left out the hieroglyph stencil on the art table. My son was excited to come across this and immediately drew his name in his project notebook and surrounded it with an oval to make a cartouche. This morning he decided to use the air-dry clay to do the same thing.

Using the stencil in clay.

Using the stencil in clay.

Here is his full name, before he cut out the oval:

hieroglyphics in clay

Knowing his interest in the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt, I made sure to point out the statuettes when we came across them in the museum. I wondered if he’d want to try to make one out of clay? I hadn’t taken pictures of any of the statuettes, but we do have several books on Egyptian mythology out from the library, and he looked through those for pictures. He decided he wanted to try to make a cat statuette.

Cat statuette in clay, drying.

Cat statuette in clay, drying.

Although he has played around with this clay before–just exploring, to see what it does–this is the first time he’s tried to make something like this, with different parts. He began by trying to carve out from a chunk of it, then switched to making pieces separately and joining them. I showed him how to scratch the surface of the clay at the join and moisten it, but I’m not sure how well this will hold together. I probably would have worked more of it in a piece, but we’ll see how it goes as it dries. I made sure to tell him: we have plenty of clay. If this first attempt doesn’t end up the way you’d hoped, you can try again, using different methods. That’s how you’ll learn how to get the clay to do what you want.

While all this was going on, my daughter was working with Model Magic, which is what she’d picked out when we went shopping for clay-type stuff. She’s been cutting out pyramid pieces for her mummy (which I haven’t even posted about yet!), but they weren’t dry yet–not that I think Model Magic gets really dry, not like the clay, but it was definitely still not-dry. So she began, rather without much notice from me, to work on…something. I figured she was just, you know, playing with the Model Magic. Occasionally she’d ask my help in cutting a chunk off or she’d ask for a certain tool. I was playing with a water-soluble graphite stick in my notebook and puttering around the studio area, not really paying attention. And this is what she ended up with:

G's map of Lower Egypt in Model Magic.

G’s map of Lower Egypt in Model Magic.

She made a map of Lower Egypt out of Model Magic. Now, you probably can’t see it, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is she sees it. She pointed out the Nile River, and a boat on a hill, ready to sail. She made a couple of small mummies and put them near a statue of a dead person who is not a mummy, probably influenced by a statue we sketched at the MFA. She worked on this for at least an hour. I’ve already noted her interest in maps and mapping and had considered it as a possible project area before she informed me she’d be studying mummies. Lately she’s been asking me to point out Egypt on our wall map of the world, and she’s seen the map of Ancient Egypt plenty of times in books. Now I am thinking I need to find a larger map of Ancient Egypt that I can hang up for her.

In some ways, when these convergences happen, when the kids are following their own interests and clearly doing such deep work, I’m tempted to think that project-based homeschooling is almost cheating on my part. It seems so easy! Then I remind myself that I am doing quite a bit of work documenting, paying attention, providing materials, connecting dots, reminding the kids what they wanted to work on (more so with my son, who is still deschooling; my daughter tells me all the time what she wants to learn next and what she needs from me, step on it, Mama!). I write myself lists so I don’t forget what I need to do. And I still feel like I’m not keeping up.

But a morning like this? So, so sweet.

Sticky Notes and Washi-Style Tape

I will, at some point, get myself together enough to write about our typical day, but at the moment, my body is protesting the dual demands of getting one child up and off to school and then homeschooling the other two by getting sick. The days are long. Not long as in tiresome and dragging, but in the sense of beginning early and ending late. So I have a nasty head cold.

Meanwhile, I have been reminded daily–hourly, sometimes–that eight years old is still squarely in “early childhood.” My almost-four-year-old and my eight-year-old enjoy many of the same activities, and my son is, I think, getting a chance to recoup some of that lost time from last year. Among other things, they’ve been enjoying the washi tape stash. I admit, after a bit I removed my own authentic washi tape that I ordered in small quantities from Etsy, but the less expensive version from Target is all theirs. (Thank you, Target. You can find this in the office supply section, about $5 for packs of four rolls.) After we bought some square sticky notes from Job Lot, my son decided to combine them.

It’s hanging in my kitchen, brightening the (very early) mornings. (And lunch times, and snack times, and dinner times…I spend an awful lot of time in the kitchen.) My daughter eventually combined sticky notes with washi-style tape, as well as with stickers and drawing, but I don’t have any more photos because, quite frankly, my head is clogged and I forgot.

Review: Art Lab For Kids

Note: I purchased this book myself via Amazon. All views are my own.

When I ordered Drawing Lab, Amazon suggested I might also like Art Lab for Kids by Susan Schwake. I was skeptical. I don’t much differentiate between art activities for kids and those for adults; my kids (especially my older ones) and I use the same quality materials and do the same activities, so I’m a bit wary of “for kids” books. But eventually I ordered it anyway. Turns out, this is the book I wish I’d had a year and a half ago.

I began this blog because I wanted to make creating art together with my children a regular occurrence. I wanted to make use of the space we had and introduce my kids to different materials and techniques beyond the usual art supplies that were always available to them. I was hoping I could find a more or less sequential presentation of art activities–not crafts–that covered the basics (drawing, painting, printmaking) all in one place, so that I could gather materials and follow along without having to re-invent the wheel. I didn’t find that. Instead, I pulled together ideas from various sources, my own experiences, and my own head, and decided to document them here for my own use and anyone else’s, if anyone else was interested. But if I’d had this book, it would have done nicely.

The Lab series of books all present 52 “labs” or lessons in the chosen subject matter, so if you chose, you could proceed through the book using one lesson per week. The Units in this book are Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media. Theoretically, you could start anywhere. Pick and choose what interests you and your kids the most. But if you’re looking for a book to lead a group, or to build a homeschool art plan around, or to get started with family art making (like I wanted to do), this would be a great guidebook. Although the title says “kids” right in it, the activities look interesting and inspiring to me, too.

The first unit deals with setting up a studio. I suspect this section will look overwhelming to many, especially if you are new to the world of art supplies. She lists everything needed for all the units–you don’t have to have it all! I’d suggest figuring out the first few lessons you might want to start with, and gather those supplies. (Quite frankly, it’s a little astonishing how many of these items I have in my basement already.)

I think we’ll be working our way through many of the activities in this book, all of which meet my desire for open-ended art experiences for my kids and myself. I love books as resources. The Internet is wonderful, but it’s also huge. Trying to piece together ideas from here and there can be overwhelming, and it’s great to have everything all in one place–to let someone else plan the lesson and just follow along and have fun.

Further links about Art Lab For Kids:

Author Susan Schwake’s website
Art Lab For Kids website
Guest post on Whipup
Review on Maya*Made

Experiments With Natural Dyes

Dyed with onion skins (with some sticker resist)

Last year we painted wooden eggs for Easter, but my youngest has since outgrown her egg allergy, so we were back to decorating real eggs this year. However, I wanted to get away from the fluorescent, fake colors. I’m the one who eats most of the eggs, and the food coloring dye that leaks onto the egg white always gives me pause. So this year we experimented with natural dyes.

Way back when, in the dark times before the Internet, I experimented with natural dyes while working at a summer day camp. A group of kids and I tie-dyed t-shirts using dye made from beets and blueberries. (We’d been learning about local Native American tribes, so I’m thinking, but am not positive, that I found these dye suggestions in my research, which would have taken place in the library, with books.)

So that’s where I began with Easter egg dye, and I added in onion skins after reading this post. That blogger boiled the eggs along with the onion skins, but I was a little hesitant to give my three-year-old a raw egg to wrap, so I decided to make the dyes separately and dip already-boiled eggs into the dye. There are lots of tutorials on this–such as here (via KiwiCrate) and here (via Craft)–but it looks like many dyes need a long soak, even overnight. I wanted something the kids could see working rather quickly.

The two orange eggs were dyed in onion skin dye. The reddish one at the front is from beets, and the bluish one at the back is from blueberries. The blueberry dye and beet dye looked almost exactly the same in liquid form, but as the blueberry-dyed eggs dried, they became bluer. For all of these, I boiled and then steeped the dyeing agent, then strained the liquid through a wire mesh strainer and added a splash of vinegar as a mordant.

Dyed with blueberry dye

A couple of days later we tried spinach and red cabbage as well. These weren’t as successful. I think the red cabbage would have required an overnight soak, and something interesting happened when I added vinegar to the strained spinach dye. First off, I didn’t need to-spinach contains its own acid, oxalic acid, which is strong enough to act as a mordant all on its own. When I added the vinegar, the liquid, which was a dark green-gold color, lightened into the color of lemonade–and had no effect on the color of the eggs. I’ve been searching for an explanation (what reacted with what?) and haven’t found one yet, so if you know, please tell me!

The Easter Bunny usually leaves my kids little rhyming clues as to where their baskets are hidden. This year, my oldest mentioned he hoped his clue was in code.

Cracking the code

I used a simple number/letter substitution, but I began at “N” as “1.” I helped him work through the first word, which was three letters, using logic to figure out where the vowel probably was (in the middle) and going from there. Then he was off and running. Every year, the Easter Bunny has to get a little smarter…

Have you experimented with natural dyes? What worked best for you?

Ready for the Art Show

Both my boys wanted to enter the art center’s collaboration show, like they did last year, again. G also painted a canvas, but she’s not sure on whether she wants to let the art center borrow it for a whole month. We’re going to bring it along when we drop off the others, in case she changes her mind. Here they all are together (click to see slightly larger):

Each canvas has both sprayed watercolors and liquid acrylic, some brushed, flicked, or dripped on and some printed with various materials–wine corks, sponges, and the like. The top right one (my oldest son’s) also has some dripped black ink. This sort of painting is definitely out of his comfort zone; he likes things to be planned. Once he got into it, though, he even said (in an amazed sort of voice), “This is really fun!”

The top left canvas (my younger son’s) has a couple layers of workable fixative sprayed on. He really puddled the watercolor, and the canvas isn’t really made for that. Plus, it seemed to have a different sort of finish than the other two–same type of canvas, but a different brand. There were tacky spots that just weren’t drying, but the fixative seems to have solved the problem.

The bottom one, then, is my daughter’s. I have to admit, a layer or so back she had some sponge prints that are obliterated now by her brushstrokes, and I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and let her explore the process. She decided when she was done, and I like it now, too, although, again, whether I like it isn’t really the point. She likes it so much she’s not sure she can let it out of her sight for a month.

We’re excited to drop them off tomorrow!

Spray Bottle + Canvas

I just had to take a photo of the art table after my oldest had finished spraying four colors (blue, red, green, and yellow) of liquid watercolor onto a canvas. He let the colors dry in between so the mixing wouldn’t become muddied. He let go of some of his need to control outcomes and just saw what happened. He’s deciding whether he will add to this with acrylic and brush, or let it be.

Materials: Spray bottle, liquid watercolors (undiluted), canvas, and a large space, since the spray will overshoot the canvas, sometimes by quite a lot!

Keeping it Simple (+ Happy Spring!)

Happy First Day of Spring! We’re expecting higher-than-normal temperatures here again this week. Even though it was a mild winter, I’m still so happy for the light to increase, for the migrating birds to begin to return, for the frogs to wake up… it was still a hard winter in many ways, and spring makes me happy. I made a couple of these cheerful flowers to tuck into my boys’ lunch bags to celebrate the official first day of spring.

I haven’t posted much here this winter. Partly that’s because I’ve kept the focus of this blog pretty narrow: it’s creative activities, generally art-related, and that’s about it. On top of that, I tend not to post unless we’ve done something more or less of a piece, something that fits the format of a materials list followed by what we did and the open-ended outcome. But I realized that may make it seem like that’s all we do, one planned-out art activity after another (or, in the case of this Lyme-influenced winter, not so many planned-out activities, and thus no posts). So I thought I’d share the sort of free-wheeling that’s been more likely to go on here lately.

When I went downstairs Monday morning to make the flowers, of course my daughter came with me to make her own. She’d started by punching circles from the same scrap of yellow card stock I’d used. The patterned paper is from a dollar pack we found at Target not too long ago. Eventually she also used scissors, a glue stick, patterned packing tape, a “smudgy” pencil (ie, charcoal pencil), crayons, markers…I don’t think I’m forgetting anything, but it’s possible! She was working on her flower for quite a while, long after I was done and had moved on to ironing some fabric and generally puttering around in the studio area.

When she was done, we photographed it, front and back.

Front

(If you squint, you might be able to see the ridiculous pile of fat quarters and fabric I have on the ironing board!)

Back

Only when I photographed it did I see that she’d fit one of the yellow circles right into a circle hole she’d punched into the patterned paper, then held it in place with the patterned tape. Sworn to secrecy on the lunch-bag flowers, she decided this flower was also for her brothers, and she would hide it for them to find when they got home from school, which they did.

This is most of what G has been doing this winter–hanging out while I do something, making things like Mama, in her own way. It happens more or less organically, not as anything I plan. G has a pretty good handle on what’s available as far as supplies, and she’s not shy about telling me what she needs next. Then I just do my own thing, helping her when asked, and I get to be amazed at the result, too.

And once again, Happy First Day of Spring!!

Watercolor Blot Animals

Inspired by Lab #8 in Drawing Lab: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun for Mixed-Media Artists, by Carla Sonheim

Materials: Watercolor paper (I cut ours down to 4″x6″), watercolors, ultra-fine black Sharpie

I recently bought this book to inspire my hoped-for daily drawing habit, and this is the first exercise I tried. I thought the kids would enjoy it too. (G, age 3, also painted with watercolors and drew while we worked, but her pieces aren’t shown here.) Following the directions, we made random brush marks with red, blue, and yellow watercolor, watered down so the colors weren’t too overwhelming. Let the paint dry in between colors so they don’t bleed together; I used a hair dryer to help this along.

Here’s what our papers looked like with just the paint (we each did three); click to embiggen a bit:

My painted papers

V's painted papers

N's painted papers

Next, take your multicolored papers and look at each one individually. What forms do you see? You’re trying to pull out shapes that remind you of an animal, or even part of an animal, and then incorporate them into a drawing. Turn them around, look from all angles, and see what pops up at you.

Use a Sharpie or another permanent marker for the drawing–not a pencil (no erasing!), and make sure it’s permanent, in case you want to add more watercolor later.

My animals: an elephant, a bird in a nest, a snail

The boys found more than one animal on each paper–their lines became quite interesting visually:

N's line drawing animals

V's line drawing animals

Not surprisingly, I like theirs better than I like mine! They were so free with their lines; their creatures are so interesting.

Once the creatures are drawn, you can go in and add more line or color. N and I did this, but V chose not to.

My snail and elephant; I wasn't too happy with the bird in the end.

N's creatures with added color

You could, of course, prepare the paper ahead of time, especially for younger children, but we enjoyed doing it together from beginning to end. Remind the kids (and yourself) to make the paint marks abstract; you’re not supposed to be making marks with a future creature in mind. This can be challenging, to keep your head out of it. Depending on the child, you could have him make the marks without telling him what you’re doing with them next.

I could also see making a stack of the watercolor sheets, or filling a small watercolor sketchbook, and having them on hand with a Sharpie for waiting moments–doctor’s offices, car rides, and so on. Hmm, that’s a good idea. I should get on that!

Other things we’ve been up to:

* We recently viewed the Spencer Finch exhibit Painting Air at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum. Anisa has a nice write-up about it along with tips for extending the experience, here.

* We’re planning our entries to Collaboration 2012 at the Jamestown Arts Center. (This is the show in which N received first place last year.)

* I signed my niece and myself up for the Mighty Girl Art Spring e-course. It’s designed for teen and tween girls or, you know, women of all ages. Registration is open until March 16 if you know a girl (or woman) who might be interested.