Category Archives: toddler/preschool

Autumn Window Leaves

(Inspired partly by the Artful Parent’s Autumn Leaves Stained Glass and partly by Fall Leaves and Mod Podge at Gingerbread Snowflakes, via the Crafty Crow; this is a sort of hybrid.)

Materials: Colorful autumn leaves, Mod Podge, brush, double-sided tape

This isn’t art and it isn’t craft either, really. It’s more like kid-friendly DIY home decor. But I include it because G (age just-3) helped with it all and our windows look really pretty and seasonal now. I wasn’t quite up to applying contact paper to our windows (as in the Artful Parent link above), but that’s due to my own struggles with any piece of contact paper larger than my hand. So I thought we’d just skip the middle step and tape the leaves right to the windows.

I don’t have photos of the process because it’s so easy I didn’t think to take any! These leaves were pressed for varying amounts of time. The leaves we only pressed overnight kept the most color but weren’t flat. The ones we pressed for longer seemed to lose a lot of color, although they became more vibrant once sunlight was shining through them.

After they were pressed, G and I brushed one side of each leaf with Mod Podge. When that dried, I put a coat of Mod Podge on the other side of the leaf (just me, because G was in bed). Then I put pieces of double-sided tape on the window and we pressed the leaves onto the tape.

There are so many great art activities out there using leaves, but my kids balk at anything that involves covering up the inherent beauty of the leaf. A walk from the car to the door invariably results in every kid handing me at least one leaf and asking, “Can we press this?” I like that they’re looking so closely at the leaves and finding so much gorgeousness in them. It’s good to be able to display all these small pieces of nature-made artwork.

Do you have some great ideas to share using colorful autumn leaves?


(Inspired by Pinterest.)

Materials: Pumpkins, chalkboard spray paint (we found ours in a craft store), damp rags for cleaning, chalk for playing!

G has an October birthday, and while her parties are still simple family gatherings, I like to have something for her cousins, who range in age from three to fifteen, to do. October, of course, makes me think of pumpkins, but I didn’t want to have the kids paint pumpkins, mainly because the last time we tried that at a party (many years ago), none of the pumpkins were dry by going-home time, and we had to figure out how to transport wet, painted pumpkins home in cars without accidentally pumpkin-printing everyone’s upholstery. So I hopped onto Pinterest for no-paint decorating ideas and eventually decided on spray-painting them with chalkboard paint.

Eleven-year-old cousin~doesn't he look comfortable?

So last weekend, the kids and I picked out seven small pumpkins at a nearby pumpkin patch and brought them home. First, we cleaned them in the yard. I gave G the spray bottle, which is one of her favorite things to use, and she sprayed the pumpkins while the boys and I used rags to rub the dirt off. Really get as much as you can–I used my thumb nail to work the rag right down the crevasses. Once they were clean and dry, my husband spray painted them (not a kid’s job–it really does smell unhealthy–and he did it outside).

He gave each pumpkins two coats of spray paint, and once it was thoroughly dry I primed it according to directions (rubbing the side of the chalk onto it, then erasing). On party day, we invited the kids to decorate their pumpkins, erase, decorate again as much as they wanted, and bring them home too, of course.

Four-year-old cousin, drawing on her pumpkin

I know my fifteen-year-old niece isn’t really a child, but we painted one for her, too, and she drew on it too. Truth be told, I wish I’d gotten one for myself!

G drawing on her pumpkin during her party

N and V

We learned that if you use the sharp edge of brand-new chalk, a bit of the paint would scratch off, which wasn’t the plan but of course made me think of sgraffito. I wonder what paint might work best for that? I’m thinking kids’ tempera would probably flake, but maybe liquid acrylic or regular acrylic would work. You could paint a layer of paint onto the pumpkin and then scratch your design on, lightly enough to expose the orange but not pierce the pumpkin itself. I’m thinking that might look pretty cool! If you try it, let me know.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Tuesday was a quasi-sick day here, the sort of day where the kids are home because a full school day is a bit too much, but they’re not sick-in-bed sick. (That’s my favorite kind!) At some point in the morning, G asked to paint, so I set her up with the liquid watercolors. N decided to experiment with bleeding tissue paper. Based on some of the comments to my first post about it, I gave him pieces of tissue paper, watercolor paper, a paintbrush, and one cup of water and one of vinegar.

The colors were definitely more vibrant than when G used a spray bottle, but there were still some white spots left behind under the squares–it makes it look like a resist, almost. Do you see that blue blob up towards the top corner of his paper? He accidentally wrinkled up a square (“it looks like blue spinach,” he said) and wondered if it would be okay. Of course! It left an interesting splotch behind, and I’m thinking next time we experiment with the tissue paper, we’ll go for a scrunch-and-stick technique and see what happens.

While his younger siblings painted, V hit the writing center and began writing a story in a blank book. N and G joined him when they finished their paintings. N decided to draw a story, and G, after making some marks, dictated her story to me.

I love this picture! Three kids in jammies, working on stories. If you build it, they will come.

Experimenting With Bleeding Tissue Paper

Materials: Bleeding tissue paper (we used Spectra), water color paper, spray bottle

I’ve been wanting to play with this product for a while now, and during our last trip to the Eric Carle Museum, I saw some in their bookstore (which is an absolutely fabulous place) and picked some up. And then it sat in the studio for a while as we squeezed out every last drop of summer, outside! The other day, G and I decided to experiment with the bleeding tissue paper.

I cut out some squares and spread them on the table, and then gave G half a sheet of 12×18 water color paper. She began by arranging some squares of tissue on her paper. Before she began spraying, I cleared the leftover tissue out of the area.

Then she began to spray.

And spray. The girl loves to use a spray bottle!

The colors began to run off the paper and mix in the puddles. Isn’t that pretty? As she sprayed, G commented on the colors she saw and how they were mixing. (As you can see from these pictures, if you don’t have an anything-goes art table, you probably want to do this in a shallow plastic tub or something similar, to protect your table.)

There was so much water on the paper, G decided to add some dry tissue on top of the puddles to see what would happen. Then she asked for a big sheet of paper to lay on top. I thought she wanted a big piece of tissue, so I asked what color, but she said no, she wanted the other piece of white paper–the other half of the water color paper I’d cut in half.

Carefully, we laid it on top of the wet paper and tissue.

She wanted to make a print–and I love that she both knows the process of making a print and recognizes a good opportunity to give it a try!

From the start, G had said she wanted to color on the paper once it was dry. So the next day, after it had dried and the tissue paper shook off, that’s what she did.

Our colors came out very muted. (I experimented too, on another small sheet of paper.) I’m not sure if this is because we overlapped so many colors and they all bled together, or because we used a spray bottle instead of a paintbrush, which I imagine would keep the water more in one place, or perhaps a combination. I plan to experiment with this paper some more, both with G and with the older kids. We certainly have enough of it to try all sorts of methods.

Have you used bleeding tissue paper? What did you find worked best?

Scented Play Dough

The idea of adding scent to play dough isn’t new; I’ve seen it scented with peppermint more than once. N’s teacher let me know on Sunday that he’d need some play dough for a class activity on Wednesday–we keep him on a gluten-free diet, and even though he’s not eating the play dough, there’s something about having him play with a ball of wheat that seems not-so-smart. He only needed a small amount each of three colors, but of course it’s made in batches (I used this recipe). I also wanted to double the recipe so G could play with some at home and there was extra to keep on hand in school for next time.

I placed all the ingredients for a double recipe in one pan. When it had warmed and mixed to reach the consistency of pancake batter, I added a couple drops of lavender oil–such a calming, soothing scent. Then I ladled some of the batter into two more pans, and then I added the food coloring, one color per pan. The beautiful (and beautifully scented!) result is in the picture above.

Field Trip: Explore This Museum!

Yesterday we all visited the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum of Art for a family open house. Various activities were going on throughout the afternoon. When we arrived, a Tours for Tots group was just gathering. G noticed the assemblage of people her size and went to join them, so her dad went on the half-hour tour with her, and the boys and I headed to the classroom (which is right off a gallery, not isolated from the exhibits) to see what the day’s activity was all about.

Immediately upon seeing those books, I thought of How To Be An Explorer of The World by Keri Smith. (My husband did, too; we own a copy.) But this booklet was written specifically with the Museum’s current exhibit, Made in the UK, in mind. So the various explorations are keyed into specific works of art, asking us (of course I took one too!) to look closely at, for example, the Roger Hiorns sculpture (number 6 on this PDF image sheet). “What do you notice about the piece?”

Says N, age 7: It has pompoms. It is made up of sticks.

Says V, age 9: It is three metal poles. The blue is pom-poms, but far away it looks like flowers or torn-apart balls. The pom-poms look like they are hanging off strings. Crystals on pom-poms.

Says me: Looks like rock candy. Crystals. Rusty in spots. Coral. Organic. Upside down. Blue, green. Grown on wood? Looks grown, not made.

Turns out the artist dipped dried thistles in a solution that grows crystals, then attached the thistles onto the poles. (I found this page that explains more. It’s similar to what we read at RISD, but I wasn’t taking notes then!) I would say we were pretty observant in our investigation!

The green postcard in the photo above has tips for closer looking on the back.

It starts with “Look: What do you notice? Draw: Find a line within the artwork, trace it in the air with your finger. Draw: Draw that same line on your paper.” And it goes on from there. We didn’t have time to use the postcard today, but I think it’s fabulous.

I also think the construction of this book is fabulous. The cover is cardstock, a piece a bit longer than the page pieces, so that the back cover can be folded over a bit and stapled, forming a flap to tuck the front cover into. The pages are held in with a rubber band, and when we were finished exploring the exhibit, we went back to the classroom, where tables were set up with pieces of paper and tape so that kids could add more pages to their booklets. V added pages, plus a pocket.

(We love pockets in our notebooks.) The simple construction means this would be easy to do at home–in fact, think of the possibilities of creating one of these yourself, catered to your own surroundings. It doesn’t have to be for works of art in a museum. You could make an Exploration Book for a walk in the park or your neighborhood, with activities to help you and your children stop and observe (I definitely recommend the Keri Smith book for inspiration). Making some of these is now on my (long) list of Ideas to Try.

N was happy to find a selection of colored pencils back in the classroom, because he’d been a little frustrated about drawing what he saw in the gallery, using only a regular pencil. He was anxious to add some color.

He then went on to make a tape sculpture and several 2-dimensional tape drawings and then a drawing on vellum with pastels, because vellum is so cool (I think so too).

G, of course, knew exactly what to do with all that colored tape.

The colored tape we have is all the same width, and how exciting to have a variety of lines to work with! We might need to expand our supplies.

RISD is making a great effort to make families feel welcome and engaged in the museum. It can be a bit of a challenge for us to get there–it’s about 45 minutes each way, and parking is always tough in the city–but it’s well worth the effort. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get G to more Tours for Tots, because they end at about the same time I need to be picking up my big kids from school, but N and I are planning on taking a class together, which I think will be fun for both of us.

What sort of Explorer book might you create? Does your local art museum support families? If so, how? (And if not, could you suggest some ideas?!)

Painted Jar Jack-o-Lanterns

Yesterday G asked to paint, so as I often do, I asked her what kind of paint she’d like to use–watercolors or tempera? She said neither, and although she’d forgotten the name, she quickly managed to communicate that she wanted to use the liquid craft acrylics. Because those aren’t always the best on paper, I thought for a minute about how else she could use them. They’re really great, for instance, with wood… and then I remembered that the latest issue of Family Fun included an activity using craft acrylics and I described it to G.

So, this project is much more crafty than what I usually post, but it was still kid-led, so I include it anyway.

Materials: Glass jar, painter’s tape, liquid acrylic craft paint

Family Fun’s directions can be found here. We varied only slightly. G picked what color she wanted to paint her jars–red for one, orange for the other–and she placed the tape on for the faces. I cut out some triangles, circles, and squares and placed them on the edge of the table for her. I decided against cutting out a definite mouth shape, like in the example, because I didn’t want there to be any “right” place that any individual shape had to go. We talked a bit about where our eyes, nose, and mouth are on our faces–two eyes at the top, nose in the middle, and mouth at the bottom.

After G placed the tape, I made sure the edges were smoothed down and she painted. Once the paint was dry, we peeled off the tape together (tweezers helped) and then I put tea lights inside and we admired her jars.

The face is quite clear on the orange jar. On the red jar, it’s a little lopsided but still clear, and up above on the ridged part, she placed a square next to each eye–these are arms, she told me.

G is almost three (one more month!), and while I don’t “do lessons” with my preschool-aged kids, I do incorporate a bit more as they get older. So while there was no purpose to this activity beyond painting and having fun, we did incorporate some learning–a bit of shape review and observation of faces and their parts. This gave her the opportunity to create a face in a way that is easier for her than drawing right now, and I think we’ll do some more variations on that idea.

How have you modified crafts to meet your child’s needs?

Vegetable Print Wrapping Paper

A cousin is turning three, so G and I decided to make some special wrapping paper. We chose red and blue, but you could make wrapping paper holiday-specific based on the colors you choose.

Materials: Big piece of paper–I cut a piece from a tall roll of white paper that I found at Staples; tempera paint; veggies (we used a carrot, a piece of celery, and a small potato)

The process is fairly straight-forward! We cut the veggies, dipped them in paint, and printed. We didn’t get fancy with the cutting, since I wanted this to be something G could do–and she did. I had a photo, but my camera ate it. We used a safety knife I bought years ago for my oldest, but it’s got large serrations and doesn’t make terribly smooth cuts. Next time I’ll let her use my favorite paring knife, which is old and not pointy sharp.

Anyway, she began with the carrot. When she filled up the area she could reach, I rotated the paper a quarter turn.

After three quarter turns, she’d filled the paper. I did some too. When the prints were dry, we wrapped the presents.

Our extra piece is in the front. G pushed the button for this picture.

One of those boxes holds some Crayola Washable Finger Paints in tubes. G really likes squeezing the paint out herself. We’ll be handing the mom a roll of freezer paper and one of aluminum foil (mainly because I think the three-year-old would be mystified to open those, no?). The freezer paper is good for finger painting–one side is slippery, for the paint to really slide around on, but if you choose the papery side, you have that plasticy backing, so the paint won’t soak through. The aluminum foil is another interesting surface on which to finger paint.

G did this just the other day–aluminum foil on the left, freezer paper on the right, and regular paper up above, which she used for some hand-printing. With the primaries, it’s fun to put two colors near each other so your child gets the delight of making a new color as she smears her hands through the paint.

We hope the birthday boy has a good time painting!

Summer Field Trips

It wasn’t my plan to let three weeks go by without posting; my kids and I have been enjoying the last month of summer, spending lots of time outdoors, often at the beach. Today is the last day of summer vacation (a bonus day, thanks to Hurricane Irene), so I thought I’d post a few pictures from arts-related excursions over the summer that I didn’t post about.

Above and below are photos taken at the Firefly Projects exhibit by China Blue at the Newport Art Museum.

My two younger children and I visited in July. We all liked this exhibit quite a bit; you can read more about it in the Museum’s summer newsletter (scroll down a bit here).

That’s a photo of a tattoo flash book on display at Mystic Seaport in their exhibit (which closes soon) Skin and Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor. All three kids and I spent a great day at the Seaport (we’re members, and I highly recommend the place), and we agreed that tattoo artists deserve the title “artist.” N especially loves dragons and asked that I photograph the above.

We also visited the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art over the summer. The studio project at the time was painting portraits. Look closely; you can see the other side of G’s face in the mirror she is peering into.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting as we (reluctantly) transition back into the school routine. I have some decisions to make about all sorts of things.

The Lighthouse

Materials: Watercolor paper, liquid watercolors, painter’s tape

Saturday night I was reading T is for Tugboat to G before bed. When we reached “L,” she told me she wanted to paint a lighthouse–right then. We agreed she could paint one in the morning.

From T is for Tugboat by Traci N. Todd and Sara Gillingham

The next day–our rainy Sunday–I presented my idea of using tape resist to create the stripes on the lighthouse. We’re getting to the point where G has ideas, but can’t necessarily get there all on her own. Because I feel strongly that children’s artwork is their own, I look for ways we can collaborate so she is happy with the result but is also the one actually making the artwork. So I also suggested that I could cut out a lighthouse for her to paint, if that was okay with her. She said yes.

So I sketched a lighthouse shape using the picture in the book as a guide–because while lighthouses come in various shapes, that was the lighthouse she wanted to make–and we placed some painter’s tape on top of it. This also served to secure the paper to the table, because it was narrower than the paper she usually paints on and likely to move around a bit. I’m sure you can tell that G had lots of say in how the tape was placed. She chose to use liquid watercolors. She kept to red for the main section and chose green for the light.

Once it was dry, we peeled off the tape. She’d said at the beginning that she wanted to add some colored pencil to the lighthouse once the paint was dry, so that’s what she did next. Then, she told me where on her bedroom wall it should go and she helped me push in the tumbtacks.

Then she took her brothers and her dad into her room to show them the lighthouse she had made.


How do you handle specific requests from young children–do you have some tips on successful collaboration?