Friday, December 30, 2011

Finally Finished!

I have been working on this cross stitch on and off since 1995. I finally finished it yesterday! A great end to the year, wishing you all a joyous and playful new year!

(This is my first ever mobile post, I hope it works!!!)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Our Holidays in Denmark

We're in Denmark.
Taking a break, eating, relaxing, visiting with family.
Building with Legos!
 (You almost have to do that in Denmark... Legos come from here!)

I don't know how much posting I will be doing until we return home.
Just in case I don't get back here until then....

Don't forget to hop on over to the PreK and K Sharing Blog on the 30th,
 I'll be sharing more about Legos!

If you are celebrating this holiday season, enjoy....
and we will see you again in the new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

String Ball Ornaments

We are having a great time in Denmark, although Dane has a bit of a cold. We have been relaxing and visiting! Of course, our time has been filled with eating, visiting, playing games... and a little bit of crafting!
To help decorate our tree this year, we have been making some string ornaments.
The process is quite simple. You need some string. (We used odds and ends of some yarn and embroidery floss). You will also need some balloons (we used small water balloons inflated with air) and some glue. (We diluted ours with some water).

Cut the string into various lengths. We didn't measure ours, but you want them long enough to fit around your balloons a few times, but not so long that they will knot up on you when you wrap them. You will want to prepare all of your supplies before you get started, as your hands will get quite sticky in the process. So, cut a pile of string and blow up a bunch of balloons.
Then, when you are ready to get started, dip your string into the glue. (We used a mixture of about 1/2 glue and 1/2 water. The glue here is different from the glue at home, so we opted to water it down.)
Wrap the string around a balloon. Add many different pieces of string in a variety of directions.
When you are satisfied with the number of strings and colors, place your ornament in a safe place to dry completely. It may take drying overnight if you used a thicker yarn, if you use a thin thread, it will dry quicker.

Repeat the process as many times as you would like, placing them in a safe place to dry. When you are certain that the string/glue has dried completely, pop the balloon and remove it.

Add a string or ornament hanger and voila! Lovely string ornaments to hang on your tree!
You can also decorate these up with some glitter if you so desire.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Top 11 of 2011

It is hard to believe that this year is coming to a close! With all of the holiday celebrations starting soon, I thought I would share the top 11, as chosen by all of you for 2011!!! (Based upon site visits!). Most of these posts were from 2011, although a couple of them are from 2010 and still going strong with page views!

Counting down....

AND (Insert Drumroll here......) The top post of 2011

And there they are.... the top 11 pages by view of 2011!

Do you have a favorite post that wasn't listed?

I'd LOVE to hear what post you have enjoyed most!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Recycled Gem Candle Holders/Luminaries

I'm pulling from the archives again today.... We made these wonderful luminaries last year. They are a great craft that gives the children an opportunity to work with "real tools" and to have the freedom to choose colors and patterns.  (We are in Denmark right now, the childcare is closed until the first week of January, so I will be randomly pulling from the archives AND updating on some of the fun we are having here!)

We have been continuing our Holiday Craft Kick.... and today, we worked on some great recycled luminaries/candle holders.

These are quite simple to make. First you need to collect a bunch of gems! (The ones that look like flat marbles) I would imagine that smooth sea glass would work as well.... and maybe marbles IF you used a lot of glue. Any gems will work, but the more translucent they are, the more they will sparkle when lit. Each person will also need a glass jar. Our jars are not all the same, as we are upcycling a variety of jars that some sort of food was sold in (jam, mayo, pickles, etc).

After selecting your jar and an assortment of gems, use the hot glue gun to attach each gem to the jar. You can see in this photo that we started at the bottom of the jar. (It is flipped upside down.) Please make sure that your gems do not extend past the bottom edge or it will not sit quite right.
Continue to add gems with hot glue. Don't worry about using too much glue, the excess fills in the gaps between gems, and strings of glue over gems makes them look a little cracked. It adds an aesthetic effect.
Cover the jar completely with gems.

Here is one that is now complete. This one has a random pattern, but you could also make a design with the gems. I once saw a jar created in a similar fashion that had been made to look like a snowman. I thought I would put a tree on mine:

See how cool the strings of glue look on the gems!!! You can place a candle in the jar, or you can do what we did and use the top of a solar light as your new lid. (When you run a daycare out of your home, you have some restrictions when it comes to burning candles.) I thought this idea was great, until my 8-year old son came up with a better idea: Drop the top of the solar light into the jar upside down. The light will immediately turn on as the surface under the candle will provide the "dark" needed to trigger the light to "ignite"! (You will have to flip it back over to recharge it at some point, but it really makes it look like there is a real candle burning!) I love when the young people come up with brilliant ideas!

**I also tried this with a liquid nails adhesive prior to allowing the children to craft. I found that although the adhesive was not hot, the gems were too heavy! You had to continually shift them back into place.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


We're going on vacation....

The daycare will be closed for two weeks... and for the rest of the time,

Ms. Amber and Ms. Erica will be busy taking care of our little friends.

I'm sure I will be posting about our adventures from Denmark.

I can't wait to tell you all about them!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Clay Dough Ornaments

I have so many different recipes for home made art supplies. This is one of my favorite for an air drying clay. I like it better than salt dough, and we have used it to make all kinds of sculptures, beads, and ornaments in the past.  This year, we have been making ornaments for the 4C of the UP, Great Start Regional Child Care Resource Center's Christmas Tree.
The clay is a lot of fun to play with. most of the children were more interested in playing with the clay rather than sculpting with it.... So we played..... we rolled it, and we squished it.... and then when the children didn't want to play any more... I molded the dough into round shapes.
roll the clay into a ball
squish the ball with a cup
You will have an almost perfect circle....
to make it perfect, I used the other side of the cup like a cookie cutter.
Then you will get a circle that has a small ridge
I used a straw to make a round hole in each circle ornament
This clay will air dry quite nicely. I wanted to speed up the process, so I put them in the food dehydrator. 
When the circles were dry, the children decorated them by painting them. We used liquid water colors, tempera, and acrylic paints. We also added some glitter for glimmer!

Here is the recipe:
You will need:
1 c cornstarch
2 c baking soda
1 ½ c water
Food Coloring (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when the  mixture starts to look like mashed potatoes.  The clay will thicken more as it cools. Knead and form into shapes! This clay will air dry or can be placed in a food dehydrator or low temp oven to dry.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Painting Seed Pods

We have been crafting! The Great Start Regional Child Care Resource Center has requested some ornaments to help decorate their tree, so we have been busy creating ornaments for them.

One of our favorites this year has been our milkweed pods!
I am often asked how I manage to allow children the opportunity to participate in various activities when I work with so many mixed ages. This little painting tote set up works well when I have some infants and toddlers. We have a GREAT art and tinkering station set up in our kitchen, but when I have little ones in the main classroom, it is hard to help and monitor in two different rooms. I do bring the infants and toddlers into the kitchen, but often their explorations tend to be much shorter than the preschool and school aged children, so I came up with this great painting tote!
 All I do is give the children a clear plastic tote (sweater box sized). I line it with paper towel, place a pallet of paint (I always let the children choose what colors and kind), and a small water dish for rinsing brushes.  When we are painting something smaller, two children can share a tote. If it is a larger project, each child has their own.
As you can see, these children are painting in our main play room. Having these totes keeps the paint from spilling on our carpet (most of the time...). When we do have an occasional spill, we do have a handy dandy steam cleaner! This does allow the preschool children to paint until their hearts are content, while at the same time, allowing us to be in the carpeted play room where the infants and toddlers are exploring other activities. (I recently wrote more about working with mixed ages over at the Pre-k and K Sharing blog.)
Back to our seed pods, we covered them with paint and then spattered them with glitter glue! Then, to finish them off, we strung them with a piece of string.
(The little round ornaments were made with clay dough... I'll post about those soon!)

I linked this up over at:
PreK + K Sharing

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Caring Planet

I joined another collaborative effort,  Caring Planet. This new adventure will feature posts from folks in the field of early childhood education from around the globe.

Hop on over and check it out, and be patient with us as it starts to grow!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sometimes.... We Craft

Painting seed pods to hang as ornaments on the Christmas tree- Craft.
Anytime you have a preconceived idea of what you are making, it is no longer truly about the process.  Regardless of how "open ended" you think you are making the craft, if it has a purpose or an expected end product, in my mind... it is no longer child-centered art. One way or another because you have given it a name or a specific outcome you drive the product. I don't think that you can always separate art from craft or craft from art, because the two are so delicately intertwined. I think that rather than a definitive black and white separation, we are dealing with various shades of gray. I am by no means saying that craft has no merit, as you will soon read, sometimes... we craft, but most of the time, we strive for process art.
Rolling paint on plexi-glass - art
There are a lot of things I see other educators doing with children, that simply do not fit with my philosophy. For example, I don't believe that coloring pages are for children. I don't think that children need to learn how to stay inside the lines, I in fact prefer that they do not. I love to see the evolution of their drawings, and to give them the freedom to create from their being, without the confinements of what something "should" look like. In fact, the word should ought to be taken right out of our vocabulary, as should = shame. (Thank you Partner's Institute for giving me the gifts of communication, and understanding that how we choose our words really does matter.)
Art of course is about the process, so when a child decides to to paint themselves instead of the paper, it is still art!
I love that the art the children create is about being in the moment, and really enjoying the doing, and just being rather than having to have some profound meaning or symbolism. As adults, we could really learn a lot more about the important things in life from children, of just being in the moment, and letting the paint brush take us away.... It doesn't always have to be about something, it doesn't always have to have a destination, or an objective, it is about enjoying the journey and the exploration, sometimes with unexpected twists and turns. Maybe you will choose to keep the touch stone or memento of your work, or perhaps the experience will be just a memory, but with art it truly is all about the process.
This craft requires patience and good hand-eye coordination.  Beads on a pipe cleaner make a great holiday ornament.
Craft, on the other hand, has a definite purpose. You go into a craft with the thought and expectation of having a finished product. Some crafts are very rigid, they require precise patterning and a specific skill set. They require you to master the use of real tools, and although there are some variations and opportunity to add artistic elements, in the end, your goal is to have something tangible.
Craft: Sewing our own "pizza" and play food for the kitchen area.
I'm learning and growing when it comes to crafting with young children. I have to admit in my early years as an educator, I was a sheep. I did what everyone else was doing, because it seemed like the right thing to do. I spent hours cutting out shapes and pieces for the children, designing the perfect "projects" for the children, all in line with our letter or theme for the week. Most of them were "cute."  You know, I never made the children do their project exactly a like, but when the teacher does most of the work, or drives the product, creativity is lost. I was a big fan of having the easel open, but even then we primarily only used paint brushes.
Who wants to paint with brushes when there are so many other interesting things to paint with and on!
I've come a long way in the last decade or so..... I've come to realize that the children are far more capable than we typically give them credit for. I no longer plan projects that take me hours to prepare that take the children less than 10 minutes to complete, but sometimes we still craft.  I like to think that our crafting today is more on the process end of the spectrum, but not completely art.  I know that some early childhood educators are not a big fan of craft for children. In some respects I agree, but there are a few reasons why I believe it has merit and continue to give children experiences with crafting.
Threading beads to make an icicle craft. 
First, I think that our world has become far too commercial. Children have very little concept of how things are made or where we get things from other than the store. Crafting gives children an opportunity to make something of use with their own hands. When we give them the opportunity to work with real tools, and to guide them in their safe explorations, they come to the understanding that we can create rather than buy. We can reuse, upcycle, repurose, and make something wonderful.
Using a hammer and nail to "tin" punch a juice can lid ornament craft.
I give the children real tools to use. The preschool children use saws, hammers, screwdrivers, sanders, and drills. They use scissors, needles, yarn, thread and my sewing machine. They use the hot glue gun. They learn how to safely use real tools, and they learn how to respect and care for themselves and others while they manage the risks of crafting.

Rubber glove and various other supplies used to craft finger puppets.
They learn how to follow directions, and make creative choices that may slightly veer from the norm, but all within the safety guidelines. This is where the art and craft can mesh. The child can still have the freedom to choose what to make and which tools they would like to use. They can determine how to create, and when they need assistance, we can help to guide them in the direction they choose by supplying resources and sharing our experiences and techniques. We must be careful not to drive the direction for the child, only to share what we know, supply the resources, and be there to support as they need it.
Painting with melted crayon and a blow dryer- process art.
Regardless of how we approach a project, children will find success. How they find success will be up to you.  Giving them the opportunity to find it from within because they have made the choices and built the skills will be far more valuable to that child than the quick "success" they have gained because you have done more of the work for them, or driven them to an end product that may look like something, but is not truly a work of their own. Please also remember that success is subjective, how you define success is, I'm sure quite different from how I would. Allow the children to be successful in their own terms, and in their own time.
Taking apart discarded cribs, a great way to learn how to use tools.
Let children process and enjoy art without the confinements of craft until they express an interest in moving to craft. "I want to make a .... " is a good indication that they are ready. This does not mean that you cannot give children an opportunity to learn how to use real tools prior to this time. Giving them tinkering experiences of taking things apart and putting things together will guide their skill development, so that when they express the interest, they will be competent, they will be ready.
Homemade stamps craft.
I run across so many cute crafts, and I often still find myself fighting the urge to do some of them with the children. I have found that self-reflection often helps when it comes to determining if the craft really has value to the children. Ask yourself:

  • How much prep time would this take? (From Lisa Murphy, the Ooey Gooey Lady... If it takes you longer to prepare than the children will be engaged, it is not process art. In my mind if this is the case.. it is not worth it.) 
  • What value does it have? Or in other words, what skills is it promoting and are they really developmentally appropriate? and are these tackled in a real way?
  • How much choice does the child have? Am I stifling their opportunities to be create, explore, learn, and grow?
  • IF the craft teaches valuable skills, is there another way to approach this that allows the child more freedom and meets the same skill set? 
  • How would I feel if this activity was presented to me? Is it boring? Are there too many guidelines? How much freedom to I have? 
Recycled glass jar luminary craft.
I have spent a lot of time in my journey has an early childhood educator exploring, growing, and learning, coming to conclusions of what I believe to be true, and the best path for the children I work with. You won't ever see a wall of nearly identical pumpkins or coloring sheets on our walls. You will rarely see hand print art (on occasion, a school aged child will come back and introduce the concept to the other children, and we often do have hand prints in our stepping stones). 
Our annual stepping stones craft.
 I know that we all come to the table with different skills sets and philosophies, but I hope it makes you think about how you engage children in art and craft. I know that as time passes, I take more and more care considering the opportunities I present to children. I know on this blog, you will probably find much more craft than art, but I have also come to realize how much easier it is to document and show you a craft process.... as with a craft, so much of the process is the same. Crafts make for easy tutorials!
Having an open art station instead of a planned "project" or limited materials available = More process child-driven art.
Having materials readily available for the children to choose to engage with will lead you to more process based art, with a bit of craft thrown in!  

Have you thought about how much time do you spend on the product- often teacher led crafts verses the child-centered art based projects? 

If you have a different viewpoint, I'd love to hear your perspective. I love it when another professional gives me food for thought, challenging my beliefs and inviting me to continue to learn and grow.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read ART "The Product- A Celebration of the Process." 

My friend died

 I learned a hell of a lot from Dan Hodgins.  He was mentor, a friend, and a "bone shaker" for many of us in the field of Early Ch...