Category Archives: preschool & up

Shrinky Dink Fun

Materials: Plain Shrinky Dink sheets, permanent markers, colored pencils, hole punches

I have a vague memory of Shrinky Dinks from early childhood, involving an avocado-green oven and those pre-printed Shrinky Dinks that require no more creativity than coloring books. But then I began seeing tutorials for using recycled plastic, and then I saw blank sheets in the local toy/science store and tucked them away for a Christmas gift. Today we finally took them out to play! We’re not breaking any new ground here, but it was new to us and totally fun, and we have lots of blank sheets left!

I’d pinned a tutorial for Shrinky Dink buttons a while ago, so I definitely wanted to try that out. All the kids love buttons, so they all wanted to make some as well. We also printed out a sheet of computer-created stars for tracing and had the ruler out for squares and rectangles. V, being the oldest (and the most deliberate), decided ahead of time what size he wanted his finished square to be and then did the math to figure out what size plastic to begin with. (The package says pieces will shrink to about 1/3 their starting size.)

This is our output, pre-shrinking:

The wow factor of putting these in the oven and peeking through the window cannot be overstated! It was seriously cool! We tried the toaster oven first, but it just didn’t seem hot enough, plus we couldn’t fit much in at a time, plus we couldn’t all see, since it’s on the counter. Conventional oven is the way to go.

I realized afterwards that I made more pieces than the kids. Oh, well. (Did I mention how fun these are?!) Here are the kids’ creations:

V's creations

V wanted to re-create his stamp as a pendant for either a necklace or a key chain. Once he saw how much fun the rest of us were having with buttons, he made one, too.

N's creations

N wanted to make a star magnet and ended up with a smaller one than he’d counted on–but it still works as a magnet just fine (I cut a small square of self-adhesive magnet strip for the back). He had a hard time envisioning what 1/3 would look like. He really enjoyed making buttons, too.

G's creations

G does her own thing! She began with a the big button template (made using a 1 1/2″ hole punch, with the smaller holes punched with a normal hole punch), then colored on a rectangle, then punched a 1″ hole out from that, then had her brother add button holes to it. She also happily helped us count to 30 (the number of seconds you leave them in the oven after they flatten back down, to set them) and 15 (the number of seconds you leave some folded-up paper on top of them to keep them flat while they cool).

And here’s our total output of Shrinky Dink creations, after shrinking~mine are included in this photo, too.

I’ll have to experiment to see if the ink we used (permanent ultrafine Sharpies) will hold up to laundering, so we know whether these buttons can be used on clothing or are merely decorative. N is thinking about a career in button design*, so if that’s the case, I’ll need to make sure he has the right ink. And I may join him in his business venture, because this is the most fun I’ve had using the oven in quite a while!

* Check out all the Etsy items made using Shrinky Dinks!

Weaving Process For a Preschooler

That cold-and-cough virus has been running through my kids for more than a week now, and G is the last to get it. When the kids are sick, the TV tends to be on more than normal (normal = hardly at all), and Thursday morning (when I felt badly, too, and needed to crawl back into bed) G and I ended up watching a meh sort of kids’ show, but it showed how spiders (animated ones, anyway) weave a web. Later that day, I asked G if she’d like to try weaving like a spider, too. 9We ended up with two different methods; materials are listed separately for each.)

Materials: Inner hoop of an embroidery hoop, yarn, strips of fabric cut about 1″ wide

I happened to have a 7″ hoop on hand, but larger would probably be even better. I began by tying a length of yarn straight across the diameter of the hoop. I added two more pieces, for six “wedges” total, but you could do more for an older child. (G is three.)

I held the hoop for her, and she began weaving the fabric strip over, under, over, under. With this set-up, it was easy for her to see where the fabric should go next, because the wedges were so defined. And with me holding the hoop, she could use both hands, almost like she was sewing the fabric through the holes.

When she reached the end of one strip, I just knotted on a new one and she kept going. The end result doesn’t look like much, but it is–it’s a really helpful step on the way to learning the weaving process. (G was quite pleased with herself.)

Materials: Cardboard, x-acto knife and metal ruler (for cutting), yarn, stapler, paper strips

Next, I created a more traditional weaving set-up for her by cutting out the center of a sturdy cardboard rectangle. Then I looped yarn around, tied it, and stapled it down. This time I cut 1″ strips of paper.

The yarn is doubled, so I reminded her to go over or under both pieces of yarn, not through the middle. She knew just what to do, reciting “over” and “under” as she worked.

I held the frame up for her, which again made it easier for her to work the strips through. The paper isn’t attached, so we can take it out and do it again, for more practice, or use fabric strips next time.

The top strip of blue paper is woven through the yarn that goes around the top of the cardboard–she wanted to weave one there, too. By the time she was ready to stop, she’d really gotten comfortable with the motion of weaving. This is propped up in the living room, ready for when she wants to go back to it, or take out the papers and start over–much like you might use lacing cards again and again, as part of the process of learning a new skill.

Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner

Since November, I’ve been decorating our big sliding glass door to the deck with a seasonal banner of some sort. Our thankful banner was even created from paper bags! So when I saw that TinkerLab’s paper bag challenge fell at the beginning of February, I figured it was a great opportunity to get the kids involved in creating this month’s banner—but with a lot of open-ended process to balance out the product.

Materials: Paper bags (I used brown lunch bags, which are thinner); paint; scissors; materials to create patterns (ie, sponges, cork, pom-poms…whatever your kids want!); heart template; glue or glue stick; yarn for hanging; mini-clothespins (optional)

First I cut open the paper bags and cut off the bottoms so we could lay them out flat. Then we painted them in layers. We covered them in a solid color and then let that dry before going back in to make patterns.

V used gesso on one of his bags because he wanted to use watercolors on the second layer, and we weren’t sure how the watercolors would get along with a layer of tempera paint. G added all her colors of paint pretty much at the same time.

Making the patterns was so much fun! I gave G one of the bags I painted so she could use the sponge to make sponge prints.

She also used the sponge roller to layer some more paint on her own bag. V dropped red liquid watercolors onto the bag he painted with gesso, and a really fun polka-dot effect resulted.

Both boys also used the sponge on one of their bags, and on his second, N made dots with a wine cork and a big pom-pom. We ended up with a pile of colorful paper!

Once the bags were dry, I cut a heart out of cardstock so that all our hearts would be the same size (more or less). We traced hearts onto our bags and cut them out.

The boys were very specific on which parts of their patterned paper they hoped to get on their hearts, so they mostly traced on the painted side. G isn’t quite up to cutting on a line yet, so rather than have her end up frustrated with this part of the project, we gave her the scraps and a heart paper punch.


When the hearts were cut out, we glued them together in pairs so whichever side you see, it’s patterned. Because the watercolor soaked through the bag, V decided not to paste those together—one side shows white with red, and the other is paper bag color with red. G, of course, could participate with the gluing. We thought about gluing the hanging yarn inside the middle, but with so many of us gluing, and at different times, in the end we decided it would be simpler to hang them off the yarn with mini-clothespins.

And what about the hearts G punched out with the scraps? I added some more to her pile and sandwiched them again, this time with a length of perle cotton in between, to make a sweet little hanging string of hearts.

If you’d like to add your project to the link-up, you can do that below. If you’d like to enter to win a $100 Visa gift card and 3-month subscription to Kiwi Crate, make sure to add a link to your project at either TinkerLab or the Kiwi Crate blog (all particulars can be found here). And be sure to visit these other creative bloggers to see what their kids created out of paper bags for the challenge:

Paint Cut Paste, Imagination SoupHands On: As We Grow, Child Central Station, Putti Prapancha, Irresistible Ideas for Play-Based LearningTeach Preschool, The Chocolate Muffin Tree, Nurture Store, Small Types,Make Do & FriendThe Imagination Tree, Toddler Approved, Red Ted Art, Kids in the Studio, Rainy Day Mum, Glittering Muffins, Sense of Wonder, Mom To 2 Posh Lil Divas, Come Together Kids, My Creative Family, Kitchen Counter Chronicles, A Mom With A Lesson Plan, Angelique Felix, The Golden Gleam, Clarion Wren, Living at the Whitehead’s Zoo, Let Kids Create, De tout et de rien, PlayDrMomCreativity My PassionKiwi Crate, Tinkerlab

Happy Valentine’s Day, and have fun!

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Marker + Watercolors

{So sorry posting is spotty lately! I blame January and the fact that I’m recovering from Lyme, which makes me achy and tired. But hopefully things will pick up soon!}

Inspired by the “Lively Lines” activity in Express Yourself: Activities and Adventures in Expressionism by Joyce Raimondo.

Materials: Permanent marker (we used fine tip), watercolor paper, watercolor paints

This was V’s first choice of activities from his book (earlier, N chose drawing with scissors from his own book). The idea is to use the marker to draw a scene, but not just outlines–we were to add different types of lines to show movement and create patterns. My kids only sort of did that, but, as V said, “I had fun.

V, painting and having fun

He chose to create a beach scene. He did, indeed, add lots of types of lines, but they’re not all visible under the watercolor. This was the first time the boys used pan watercolors, not counting the lower quality type they (sometimes) get to use at school, so there was a learning curve as far as balancing water and pigment, too.

V's finished painting

He got quite detailed with the different beach creatures in the water and on the sand, and he tried to mix some colors, too, to get the shade of water he was after.

N didn’t want to draw a scene at all, and had a bit more trouble keeping his paintbrush at the just-right level of wet versus dry.

N, painting

He used some liquid watercolors too (the magenta). G was only allowed the liquid watercolors, since, at 3, she still has trouble remembering to rinse her paintbrush between colors. I need to remember to get her a starter set of pan watercolors, but I’m not ready to hand over the Reeves or Van Gogh set to her right now!

G's painting

G left many of her marker doodles unpainted, but created a nice mix of colors where she did paint.

I played with this activity too, trying to use some movement lines, too.

Mama's painting

I’ve been photographing, embroidering, and pinning trees lately, and this is just a quick sketch of some birches.

Generally, I wouldn’t introduce a new material at the same time as we’re trying a specific activity–I was thinking we’d use liquid watercolors here and just play and experiment with the pan watercolors before using them for something more directed. It’s hard to get a new material to do what you want, when you’re unfamiliar with it. So we need to just doodle with those watercolors at some point, so the boys can get a better feel for working with them.

Matisse-Inspired Collage

From What's The Big Idea? by Joyce Raimondo

The kids each received a Joyce Raimondo book for Christmas; this activity is from What’s The Big Idea? Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art. The books are suggested for ages 5-12 and are full of techniques to try based on famous artworks. The activities are open-ended, just the sort of thing we like here, and the books are a great addition to our idea shelf.

Materials: Colored paper, glue sticks, scissors

A busy table. My beach scene is in the closest corner.

The book suggested thinking of a place to represent with organic shapes cut from paper. The Matisse shown in the book (which is also on its cover) is Les Codomas, which shows a circus scene. I decided upon the beach. V decided to map out the living room. N didn’t want to think of a place, explaining that he likes to just jump in. (I knew that.) G, being 3, just cut and pasted.

I’m usually pretty open in the studio, but I did insist that the kids not use pencils to draw their shapes first, explaining that we were going to follow the guidelines in the book and “draw” with our scissors. N wasn’t too happy about this, but I held firm. I told him it might feel like a stretch, but stretching was good, and it forces us to figure things out in different ways. He had the option to stop if he wanted, of course, but he kept on. Here’s his finished collage.

N's (age 7)

He was most pleased with the spiral that has different colors peeking through. I agree–pretty cool!

Here’s V’s map of the living room.

V's, age 10

I think he has inherited my love of straight lines! “Organic” is not his natural inclination. (If only his room were as orderly.)

And here is G’s collage.

G's, age 3

While she’s younger than the age range of the book, and can’t be expected to fulfill the guidelines exactly, cutting and pasting is certainly something she can join in on. There are many activities in the Joyce Raimondo books that I can adapt so that all the kids can participate at their own level. That’s something I really appreciate in an art book. I found these while browsing the art section in the kids’ room at one of our local libraries while G was in story time and decided it was worth ordering our own copies.

You can read more on Henri Matisse’s cut-outs here.

Spin Art {A Review, of Sorts}

The kids received a spin art contraption for Christmas, so over break we played with it. I didn’t realize, when ordering, that it was the Melissa and Doug brand, which has gotten not-so-great reviews over on Amazon. But it was, and while I can see why it’s gotten not-so-great reviews, we played with it quite a bit and had success after all.

One of our favorite parts was watching it spin. The stopped card often looked very different from the card in motion, and really, we were all mesmerized by the way our eyes saw the paint as it spun. From a more experimental standpoint, it interested me that the card reversed with each crank. This set is powered by moving the hand crank–if you pull it toward you, the card spins one way; push it away, and it spins the other. So you’re alternating directions, and I kept trying to figure out if that changed the nature of the design a lot, a little, or not at all.

Some practical points–no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the suction cup to stick to our table surface (which is just melamine, nothing fancy), so I held it down while the kids cranked. The cards that came with the set were too small to fit into the slots without slipping out; things worked better when I cut our own, slightly larger than 4″x4″ on all sides. And the designs came out much better when we squirted the paint on while it was spinning, instead of before.

The very first one we tried is in the top left corner, and that’s the one we squirted the paint onto before spinning. Really, not at all impressive. The thin circles in the one next to it were made by drizzling paint on as it spun. N liked to squirt lots of paint, and he got big cool-looking splotches that took a while to dry.

V started wondering, What would happen if I poured the paint in the opposite direction of the spin? And How about if we draw on the cards before adding paint? So we definitely have some room for experimentation, once we figured out the best way to work with the set-up. I haven’t ruled out a salad spinner for the future, though!

What’s your favorite spin-art method? Do you have any tips to share?

Doodle Rocks

Materials: Rocks; liquid acrylic craft paint; brushes of various sizes; permanent markers, including metallic

We love to collect rocks. Not too long ago, after seeing beautifully painted rocks at Jen Muna, I decided I wanted to try it myself. And then I figured the kids could give it a try, too. This is an extremely open activity. I spread out the materials (having previously rinsed the rocks and let them dry) and we each took our designs in whatever direction we chose.

That is a busy table! Even dad participated in this activity. I think all of us used a combination of paint and markers, sometimes on the same rock. Here are the results.

G's rocks

Most of G’s are painted, in colors of her choosing, of course. The lighter orange one is permanent marker. On one of these (I’m not sure which) she colored with marker and then painted over it. (Warning: Acrylic paint will not wash out of clothing.)

N's rocks

On some rocks, N used marker and paint together. The bottom ones were drawn on with metallic marker (he decorated both sides of some of his rocks, so some images aren’t shown). The flower in the top middle was created using paint (and a thin script brush) over metallic silver marker, and the ones on either side were drawn after seeing his dad’s rocks, below.

V's rocks

V spent quite a bit of time experimenting with different brush sizes. He also likes to add his initials and his name (blurred out) on most everything!

My husband and I also played with the materials.

Parents' rocks

The top four are mine, and the bottom two (the ones that inspired N) are my husband’s. I experimented with stamping on the rocks (which worked so-so, since the rocks weren’t perfectly flat).

This is a relaxing, open-ended activity that is easily adjusted for all age levels. And if you and your kids are compulsive rock collectors (as we are!) it’s a fun way to turn your finds into creative canvases.

Stamp Making for Younger Kids

In the last post, I showed how my older kids turned a sketch into a rubber stamp. While they were making their stamps, my three-year-old, naturally, wanted to make a stamp, too. Rather than turn a drawing of hers into a stamp myself–which is definitely one option and something we might do in the future–I wanted to find a way for her to be involved in the entire process of making a stamp. This is what we did. Photos are scarce, because I was focusing on making sure my older kids were using the sharp cutting tools safely and properly, but it’s a pretty simple process.

Materials: Craft foam, scissors, wooden block, glue, pencil or other tool to make marks in the foam (optional)

Craft foam isn’t typically on my list of art supplies, but it does come in handy for certain uses, and I still have some sheets knocking about the studio cubbies. G loves to cut with scissors, so I gave her a sheet of craft foam and suggested she cut out some shapes that we could then glue onto the block. The word “shapes” hung her up, as she’s recently been learning about the shapes we call circle, triangle, square, etc. When I realized she was trying to cut out those shapes (a bit hard at her age), I explained she could cut anything she wanted, it just needed to fit on the block at the end. She happily cut the sheet of foam into strips while I worked with her brothers.

At the end of her cutting, we found a piece that fit onto the wooden block and we glued it on, using regular tacky glue. It set pretty quickly.

Then she added some scratchings in, and tried out her stamp.

This was simple, but satisfying. A slightly older child–old enough to cut specific forms with scissors but too young to use the carving tools for rubber stamps–could arrange patterns on the block using more than one piece of foam. Lots of possibilities!

Favorite Projects of 2011

I hope plan to get back to regular posting after my big kids return to school in January, but meanwhile, I wanted to share some of my favorite projects from this past year. Looking through the posts reminds me of all the neat things we tried!

In January, we tried our first tape resist project, which led to many more experiments with resist, including scribble resist (scribbling is so much fun!). We also tried shadow drawings for the first time.

In February, my then-toddler got sticky hands with yarn art, and the following month, we tried to paint like Monet after digging into some art books.

April is National Poetry Month, so we made some paintings in response to a poem. In May, we had a ball with scratch foam printmaking, and we got outside to draw the irises once they bloomed.

1. shadow drawings 2. yarn art 3. Monet painting 4. poetry painting 5. scratch foam printing 6. iris study

In June, inspired by an Eric Carle book, we made peek-a-boo paintings, which were so much fun to plan, execute, and view. We also oohed and aahed as we colored on hot rocks with wax crayons.

Summer, finally! In July we played with sun print paper and began designing and decorating t-shirts in various ways. Two of my favorite methods used freezer paper stencils and scratch foam printing.

Heading into fall…I liked my daughter’s painted jar-o-lanterns and her color mixing adventures. And, of course, we celebrated the winter solstice with homemade lanterns.

1. peek-a-boo paintings 2. hot rocks 3. sun print paper 4. freezer paper t-shirts 5. scratch foam t-shirt 6. jar-o-lanterns 7. preschool color mixing

What an artful year we’ve had! I wish you a happy, creative, and inspiring 2012!

Tin Lanterns (Two Ways)

We made these lanterns to celebrate winter solstice, but they’ll be welcome all through winter. We made one version appropriate for older kids, and one better suited to younger kids.

Tin Can Lanterns

Materials: Clean tin can (I used 28-oz tomato cans) with the lid taken off with the type of can opener that doesn’t leave sharp edges; water; hammer and nail

Age level: Elementary & up

Fill the can with water and freeze overnight, either in the freezer or outside. I left room at the top for the water to expand, but it expanded downward for some reason. (If you want your lantern to have handles, you need to be able to punch a hole up near the top, so you’ll need ice up there.)

When the water is frozen, gently tap out a design using a hammer and nail.

We did this in the living room, as you can see, just spreading out a towel and using some old cloth diapers to brace the cans. We made our holes in the ridges of the can, so it was easier to brace the nail. It only takes a gentle tap.

I told the boys to turn the can so that they were always banging the nail straight, not at an angle. They’re 7 and 10, and both of them were easily and safely able to do this. G “helped” me by holding my hammering hand, but I wanted her to be able to create her own lantern without help, so I took inspiration from these jar luminarias at Family Fun.

Aluminum Foil Jar Lanterns

Materials: Glass jar; aluminum foil cut to fit; nail, toothpick, pushpin, or similar (to make holes); foam, cork, cardboard, or similar (as backing while making holes); tape (I used double sided)

Age level: All ages, and suitable for preschoolers

I happened to have a roll of cork lying around the studio, so I spread it out on the table and lay the piece of foil on top of it. G used a nail to punch the holes because it made a slightly bigger opening than a toothpick. I showed her on a scrap of foil how to punch the hole up and down, and how dragging the nail (like you’re drawing with it) will tear the foil. Then she punched her holes.

When she was done, I wrapped the foil around the jar, tucking a little under the bottom and a little around the top edge. I used a piece of double-sided tape to secure the overlap on the side. G ended up making two lanterns, of random design.

Tin can lanterns: my snowflake and N's initial

I placed tea lights in our cans and jars for use indoors. If you want handles on the tin can lanterns, punch a hole on either side at the top and string with ribbon, twine, or the like. But you need to have ice behind while you’re tapping the nail; otherwise the can will dent. (Also, you might not want to use a candle if you’re carrying the lantern; perhaps one of those battery-operated tea lights?)

One of G's aluminum foil jar lanterns

Because my ice expanded downwards, the bottom of our cans were a little warped, but I just gave them a tap with my fist and they flattened enough to sit level on the table.

Our grouping of luminaria, reminding us the light will return

Happy Solstice! And now we turn, ever so slowly, towards the sun.