Category Archives: Art

Arts & Crafts

Many, many years ago I used to buy craft kits for my own children – often as Christmas gifts.  Sometimes they enjoyed creating the pictured product, sometimes they used the supplies to make something entirely different, and sometimes they did nothing.  I have also purchased the occasional craft kit for myself but I tend to use the instructions more like guidelines, changing things along the way much like the way I ‘tweak’ recipes when I am cooking.  It could be that I wanted to personalize it but probably also a little ‘don’t tell me what to do’ rebellion.

I’m not sure exactly when I went anti-craft but at some point I began to despise product crafts. Maybe it was the year I volunteered in my son’s Kindergarten class when I spent hours cutting out pieces for the children to assemble according to the prescribed pattern.  Maybe it was after I opened my childcare home and watched a steady procession of elementary school children bringing back exactly the same craft products year after year after year.

Over the past fifteen or so years I’ve rarely provided any sort of art/craft instruction and never insisted everyone had to participate.  I’ve taken a ‘loose parts’ approach to setting up the art area and the children are able to choose to use the art supplies freely throughout the  day to create whatever interests them.

I’ve watched some children create really amazing art work.  They have wonderful imaginations and problem solving skills.  If there is something missing from the art area that they think would benefit their projects they ask for it or bring it from home.  Some of these expert artists also enjoy assisting others and will lead spontaneous art classes.

I’ve also observed children who struggle with an open-ended art area.  Some don’t know how to start if there isn’t a leader showing the way.  Some are easily frustrated and give up mid project.  Some never set foot in the art area either because they are not interested or because they doubt their own ability.  There are even some for whom the ‘product’ is so important that they will send the ‘artists’ to make things for them but never attempt to create their own.

Sometimes there isn’t a lead artist in the group – there may be one or two that are very creative but they are ‘followers’.  Even though they can create imaginative artwork when working independently, if another child is present they just imitate each other.  Often there isn’t even any art, just play with the art materials – pencil swords, rolled paper trumpets, etc.  Groups like this rarely have any ‘products’ and the few they do have are exactly the same three pencil lines on a crumpled piece of paper day after day.

Some art tools, like scissors, are more like ‘weapons of mass destruction’.  Sure I think scissors skills are important but I’m not entirely certain scissors are a ‘creative’ tool that I want all preschoolers to have free independent access to.

I’ve tried to limit my ‘instruction’ to introducing new supplies – demonstrating methods and techniques – not products.  Invariably there will be at least one child who will simply copy everything I do and others who will follow along.  *sigh*  We have now created what looks like a product craft.

I think there has to be a middle ground – at least for preschoolers.  Not just ‘follow my instructions and make this’ product crafts.  Not just ‘here are some materials, play with them’ entirely child led process.   So, here are a few things we’ve done recently;

Tissue paper, paper plates & glue: ripping, crumpling, flattening, spreading, pouring, pressing and more – a lot of different ‘process’ yet the ‘products’ all looked pretty similar in the end.

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Clay, water, tools, sand, glue – several steps on/off throughout a week long experience – many differences along the way yet very similar in the end.

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Paper cones, paint, glitter, clay and sticks;

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Yes, there were a lot of new experiences, a lot of process, some instruction, a lot of imitation – trying what someone else did and liking it, and even some ‘product’.  I think the important thing was there was no ‘correction’ – no, ‘that’s not what you are supposed to be making, fix it’.  If they wanted to make something different they could – and some did – briefly – then they scrapped it and copied what the others were doing because that is what they do.  That is what they like to do – most of them – at least in this group – but if they didn’t want to that would have been OK too.

Glue

I both love and detest glue.  I love its potential as a tool for crafts – to adhere two or more items together.  However, there is a long list of annoying things about glue.

Sometimes it is too wet – damaging the paper or taking too long to dry so the children get frustrated and often give up before they successfully complete their project.  Glue is easily spilled and difficult to get it from the container to the spot you want it to be.

Sometimes it is too dry – clogged squeeze bottles, shriveled up glue sticks, glue pots containing rubberized mounds of  old glue.  I find it nearly impossible to have good glue available for the children to use independently whenever they want it.  At least 75% of all the glue I buy gets wasted – thrown out without ever getting used for crafts.

Cleaning up glue is another frustrating task.  Using water just thins it out spreading it further and further until the entire table is coated.  A dry paper towel sticks to the glue on a table more permanently than any of the craft supplies we tried to attach.  Clean-up is more time consuming than set-up and creation combined.

In an effort to find a solution to my issues with purchased glue I’ve tried several homemade glue/paste recipes.  Most have failed to provide good results – often easy to work with but the crafts simply fall apart after the glue dries.  However, recently I tried this recipe;

• 1 1/2 Cups Water
• 2 Tablespoons Light Corn Syrup
• 1 Teaspoon White Vinegar
• 1/2 Cup Cornstarch

Pour 3/4 cup of the water into a medium sized pot along with the corn syrup and vinegar. Bring this mixture to a full boil, stirring often.
While you are waiting for that mixture to boil, mix the remaining cold water and the cornstarch together. Beat well to remove all of the lumps. Slowly stir the water and cornstarch into your boiling mixture, stirring constantly. Bring this mixture to a boil and let it boil for 1 minute. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool.
Once cooled, put the glue in a covered container and wait at least a day before using.

The resulting jelly-like product was easy for even the youngest artists to scoop and spread;

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Everyone was impressed by how easy this glue was to work with;

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It is so sticky that layers upon layers of papers were quickly adhered together;

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Even when only part of the paper touched the glue gravity wasn’t strong enough to release it after it dried – and it dried quickly too;

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Stored  in a covered container, the homemade glue was still sticky and spreadable the following week but I wasn’t certain how long it would remain ‘good’ so I decided to use all the remainder in our sensory bin.  I gathered a bunch of other leftovers – shredded paper, sand, powdered paint, potpourri, etc.  The toddlers were curious and examined the dry ‘ingredients’.

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I envisioned that once the glue was added we would be able to use the mixture much like clay and form it into shapes.  However, the children were hesitant to touch it now.

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It was so very sticky that mounds of shredded paper was instantly stuck to the hand of anyone who dared to touch the glue.  It was an extreme sensory activity.  One by one the children began to mix the items together in the bin – very hesitantly – mostly just trying to bury the glue.

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It wasn’t until I added a bit of water that the children became less reluctant to participate.  Even then they didn’t really seem to like the incredible stickiness.  They were however fascinated by the potpourri – picking out the bigger pieces and peeling apart the layers.

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Not what I was expecting but very interesting to watch.  Still, the best was yet to come.  This glue, as sticky as it seems, cleans up in seconds.  I was so very impressed.  A quick rinse under running water and it is completely gone!  No sticky hands. No messy containers. No residue on the table.  Nothing.

Easy to make.  Easy to use. Easy to clean up.  Wow!

Yard Art

Last month I brought some clay and plasticine out to the yard.  I put several pieces of each on trays around the yard.  The children explored the textures.  I showed them how to use the heat from their hands to warm the clay and make it more pliable.

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We collected various items from the yard and garden to add to the clay to make sculptures;

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Of course the process was more important than the product and everyone had their own ideas and methods;

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After the children were done with this activity the clay, plasticine, and other supplies were abandoned in the gravel area.  Only the trays were returned to the outdoor art area.  Later that week I brought some painting supplies out and placed them on the lid of the storage box – it is a nice height for the toddlers to use as a table.

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Some children prefer to try alternative methods when painting – I thought it looked much more difficult to stand on the back side of the storage box but that was her choice;

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It added a physical, gross motor, element to the art activity. Another bit of process over product – it could be described as ‘hanging’ art since her feet were not on the ground;

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Over the last few weeks the children have discovered that the clay that was abandoned in the gravel area has now hardened into ‘rocks’.  The plasticine however is still pliable – especially on warmer days.  Of course you have to find it though – there are bits and pieces of plasticine strewn throughout the 400 sq ft gravel area.

There is always excitement when someone finds a piece of plasticine amongst all the gravel.  It is even better when they can collect enough of it to create another sculpture;

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The sunlight and shadows add even more artistic opportunities.  Even though the process is our goal, some of the products are pretty amazing too;

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Best of all, this plasticine is reusable.  With a wide variety of nature items in the yard there are endless creative opportunities.  Like all the loose parts in the yard, the plasticine offers the freedom to explore, imagine, and invent.  It is all about the process.

Art Areas

It was the summer of 2013 that I originally planned to create an outdoor art area on the upper deck but we ran out of time so it didn’t get completed until this summer.  Since our most recent indoor renovation meant giving up the sunroom as a dedicated art area the indoor art area and dining area now share the same small space.  This made creating the outdoor art area very important. This is the new outdoor art space;

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It can be used rain or shine and I even have some plans for wintertime use 😉 and the addition of some woodworking supplies too.  All summer the school-age children spent ‘quiet time’ here while the little ones were napping.

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Of course the little ones like to do artsy stuff too so I had to make sure they had some art space.  The indoor dining/art area is easily supervised – unlike the dedicated art space we used to have in the sunroom – so the younger children have access to independent art activities throughout the day.

However, because our indoor space is very limited I knew I was going to miss having a big art table for group activities with the little ones during the long winter period.  So, of course I came up with another ‘multipurpose’ idea.  This is the bench where the school-age children sit for meals and independent art activities;

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During the school year it is not used between 8:30 am and 4:00 pm – seems like a waste of space to me.  Now I can flip open the top;

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Add a table cloth, and the school-age bench becomes a toddler art table;

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It’s the perfect size for the little ones to paint on;

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Do some lacing;

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Or much more….

Artistic Inspiration

It has been more than two weeks since I renovated the sunroom and I still haven’t managed to get around to writing about it.  You can read about the history of the space here.

I had hoped to have photos and a detailed description about all the areas in the new and improved sunroom but for now I’ve only got this overview photo;

One photo doesn’t show how flexible this space is now but here is one of a portion of the room ‘in use’;

And here’s some art work that was created there;

This is a drawing of a ‘bug hospital’ that this child dreams of running some day.  Here they are describing the various insects that are in the hospital, what is wrong with them and how they are being treated.

Here’s another special piece of artwork;

This one was created by a child who doesn’t like to draw in school because the Kindergarten teacher complains about the quality of their artwork.

Sometimes the art environment makes all the difference.

Painted Pumpkin

Halloween 2012 is now history.  It was a very quiet Halloween night – we only had about on third of the trick or treaters that we normally get around here.

I will admit that Halloween is my least favourite of all the holidays but that doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate it.  I did have most of my decorations up early this year – three weeks ago.  I also bought the pumpkins early but we didn’t do anything with them until yesterday. Part of the problem may have been that, of the 11 full or part time children that attend, the ones that are most interested in Halloween activities are not the ones who are here much.

I like to use pumpkins as a sensory activity for the children and we like to bake with them too.  We usually choose a pumpkin decorating activity that doesn’t involve carving it so we can still use the innards for food.  I found some really amazing pumpkin decorating ideas here.

However, with mostly just infants and toddlers here for the day any elaborate decorating techniques would not be developmentally appropriate.  So, instead we simply painted a pumpkin.

I found it amusing that the biggest problem I had with this activity was getting the little ones to stand up to paint.  Usually the messier the art activity the more likely they are to want to run around.  This time however  just sat, holding their paint brush, and stared at the pumkin on the table.  When I stood them up so they could reach they promptly sat down again.

Eventually they caught on and started painting the pumpkin.  The red paint did not show up well;

The blue was vibrant against the orange of the pumpkin;

We even managed to do some color mixing;

Of course by the end of the activity the pumpkin was mostly greyish brown but we were most interested in the process not the product.

Watercolour

Last February when I attended a workshop on messy play I noted that the presenter, Lisa Murphy – The Ooey Gooey Lady, often used liquid watercolor in many of her activities.  I was excited when I discovered that Cre8tive Art Supplies carried a similar product.

Recently I’ve used it in several of our summertime activities – like painting sticks to decorate the garden.  First we went on a walk through the neighbourhood to collect the sticks.  Then we sanded them;

I added the liquid watercolor to some shaving cream foam to use to paint the sticks;

I loved the vibrant colors that were created by using just a few drops of liquid watercolor.

The baby had no interest in painting sticks but she did like mixing foam and watercolor;

As the children finished painting each stick we stuck them in the bare spot of the garden;

Once the foam paint dried there was no color left on the sticks?!?!?  It was somewhat disappointing.

Another day we tried using the liquid watercolor with water and bath puffs to add color to the deck;

Again, beautiful bright colors but they didn’t show up much on the deck even when it was wet and there was no color visible once it dried.

I gave the children some white paper to see if that worked better;

We placed the dripping wet paper in the sun to dry and watched as all the color disappeared too. 😦

Next I’m going to try using the liquid watercolor to tint some playdough.  Good thing these activites are about the process not the product!