Fine art for kids: Getting messy with Kenneth Noland


© Sarah Lipoff 2011

I don’t know about you, but this “back-to-school” talk just doesn’t seem right. I see the kids shuffling about with their overloaded backpacks and wish there were a couple more weeks of summer to enjoy. We’re heading back to the preschool in September, so I figured we would take advantage of the time we have left and do some super fun – and messy – art projects.

Kenneth Noland is the last artist that might come to mind when thinking about making a mess. His paintings of circles and other geometric shapes are precise, edged, and clean. A few of his creations venture a bit into the crazy painter arena with some smudged lines and coloring outside the lines. But, for the most part, Noland’s artworks are all about detailed and crisp creations showcasing shapes and lines – mostly circles. And, you know how much we love circles at my house!

The perfect messy art project came to mind while I was gathering up a few random lengths of string. One of Noland’s paintings, Heat, 1958, popped into my head while I pulled out some vibrant tempera paint – and held onto that string.

This is an excellent outdoor art activity perfect for kids of all ages – even the little ones like mine. And you don’t need much to make things happen. A few lengths of string, a couple of paper plates, and colorful tempera paint offer hours of Kenneth Noland inspired fun.

Take a closer look at Noland’s artwork (there’s some funky jazz playing during the slide show – bonus!) with your child and encourage her to point out the colors and shapes she finds, honing her recognition and creative skills. Now grab some white paper, along with the other materials (paint, string, paper plates) and head outside. You might want to bring some paper towels for clean-up if you don’t have access to a garden hose!

Find a nice level spot to get working. A picnic table or even the driveway works perfectly. Help your child put a bit of each color of tempera paint she selected on the paper plates. She can use any colors she likes and then add a few drops of water to thin the paint out for the project.

Help your child place a sheet of paper on your flat work surface and get ready to make a mess! Invite your child to place a piece of string, about 1-foot in length, in each of the plates of color. She can squish the string in the paint, really soak up lots of paint.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now she can lift the paint-filled string from the plate and squiggle and squirm it into a circle on the white paper. She can do this by standing or kneeling over the paper and using her arm to make a big (or small) circle movement while positioning the string.

She can continue sliding strings out of the plates and positioning them until she has a paper full of painted strings. Now she can place a fresh sheet of white paper over the top of her strings, gently give things a bit of a press, and then remove the paper. Now she can lift up the strings, place them back in the correctly colored plate, and check out what’s left behind. Both papers reveal fun and vibrant radiating circles!

While her messy circle Kenneth Noland creation is drying, she can experiment with making more string art in any style she’d like! The finished artworks can be displayed in her room for a pop of crazy color.




Mushroom spore prints

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

While playing in the yard the other day, the tot stumbled upon some mushrooms growing in a happy moist corner of the garden. Yeah, some “wild” mushrooms can be harmful if eaten or even touched, but, these were the safe kind – pretty much what you pick up at your grocery store. But, I wasn’t about to toss them in a sauté pan with some garlic. Nope. I had other plans for those mushrooms.

We carefully picked the mushrooms and then went on a garden scavenger hunt searching out any others. We took our happy little discoveries upstairs and spent a little time taking a closer look at those mushrooms. These fleshy earthy flavored fungi are a favorite of many. And mushrooms aren’t just for slicing and dicing, they can create art too.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Packed inside the delicate gills are tons of spores, which help propagate more mushrooms. And those spores can be turned into a really cool experiment with totally creative results.

Mushroom spore prints.

Hey, if you aren’t up for hunting for mushrooms in your neighborhood, just head to the grocery store and select a few nice big white button mushrooms. They’ll work just fine. After you’ve picked out your mushrooms, invite your child to investigate a little closer with the help of a magnifying glass. Maybe she’ll be able to see a few of those super small spores!

After your child’s taken a nice long look, she can remove the stems of the mushrooms leaving just the nice round caps. Now she can place those mushrooms with the gill side facing down on a sheet of white paper. Help her find a nice spot to place them where they won’t be disturbed for several hours – overnight is perfect.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The next day, invite your child to remove the mushrooms from the paper and check out what has happened. Those spores all released from the mushroom and created a delicate print of the underside of the mushroom! She can cut out one of her favorites and glue onto a sheet of construction paper.

Then she can take things a bit further by writing out the word mushroom under the print in her own handwriting or by using letter stamps, popping two holes at the upper top corners, and then stringing with a length of twine. The spore print is really delicate, so encourage your child to avoid touching – otherwise everything will turn into a smudgy mess, and that’s no fun. You can help protect the print with a spritz of hairspray, which will help stick those spores to the paper.

Now she can display the print in the kitchen for the whole family to enjoy!

Potty training 101: Sitting on the potty

© Sarah Lipoff, 2010

This week was all about potty training at our house. My parents had recently left after enjoying a wonderful visit and I figured it was as good as time as any to transition into a real attempt at potty training. She was already missing her grandparents, so potty training was the perfect diversion.

Or so I thought.

I purchased a potty seat several months ago and it’s spent time hanging out in both bathrooms, been pushed around the house, used as a step stool, and sat on, like, once. Total.


And that experience involved a half-finished and quite messy number 2 incident.

I’ll spare you all the details.

So, with lots of gusto, and some tasty treats in my back pocket, I started out strong on Wednesday with hitting the potty every half hour or so. This meant I had to sit on the potty with the tot every half an hour or so.

That’s a lot of sitting on the potty.

At first she was totally into it and I was tossing out a small treat for at least just getting her bare tushie on that potty. With the motivation of more than one treat if anything actually happened while sitting on that potty, she was doing okay – but no success.

Half way through the day I recognized the signs. The moving off to a quiet spot, the change in facial expression, the concentration….

I grabbed her as fast as I could and whipped off her diaper placing her already-somewhat-soiled-bum on that seat.


She sat there and was totally freaked out about what was happening. Yeah, she was checking the whole thing out and she wasn’t super psyched about the process of elimination.

After we were both cleaned up, I offered tons of positive praise along with a big handful of treats.

She was still not happy.

When we went near that potty later in the day she screamed NO and proceeded to run from me and slam the bathroom door.

“NO potty, NO!”

As she sat crying and kicking and fist pumping the floor (total tantrum mode) I figured we could take a break for the rest of the day.

Wondering how the rest of the week went?

Pretty much the same.

Nectarine mini pies (with crumble on top)

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Yesterday we hit the farmers market and it seemed everyone had tons of peaches and nectarines. One stand was selling their not-so-pretty ones for $1 a pound, and I couldn’t resist loading up. We selected a couple of other items, but even before we made it home, both the tot and I had eaten our share of those nectarines.

Amazingly, a big bowl was still left over.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

So, what to do with nectarines? They are great eating solo, but some were ready to be gobbled up now, and I knew we would both suffer tummy aches if we munched any more. I left them on the counter overnight and then, bright and early this morning, I had the perfect idea.

Mini nectarine pies. WITH crumble on top.

I started out by making up a simple pie dough. If you don’t feel like making your own, don’t. Just head over to your favorite market and pick up pre-made pie dough. Easy as that.

If you are feeling home-made-ish, making pie dough is easier than you think. Here’s what you need:

1 1/4 c flour

1/2 c cold butter

1 teaspoon brown sugar

4 Tbsp cold water

Dash of salt

Toss the ingredients into your food processor and pulse until things come together. Wrap up your dough in plastic wrap and cool in the fridge while you get everything else ready.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Next I peeled and chopped those nectarines. Sure, some skin ended up in the mix, no big deal. I sliced and diced about 2 cups worth of nectarines and added 1 teaspoon flour and a dash of vanilla, and gave everything a good stir.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Then I mixed together the crumble topping by fork blending 2 Tablespoons each of butter, flour, oats, and brown sugar. Once the mixture resembles coarse sand, you are good to go. Go ahead and preheat the oven to 375 F.

Grab that cold dough from the fridge and roll half of it on a flour dusted work surface. Try to roll the crust as thin as possible and then get out your muffin tin, a large glass, and begin cutting rounds and gently placing them in the muffin tin. If you need to roll more dough, get rolling. Any left over dough can be wrapped up tight in a plastic bag and saved for another pie making day.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now spoon the nectarine mixture into the tins, evenly distributing the filling, and then top with the crumble.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Pop your mini pies in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are bubbly and the edges of the crusts are nicely browned. Let them cool in the muffin tin for 10-15 minutes before removing.

Be delicate with your mini pies – use a knife or fork to help remove them from the tin, and then serve plain or alongside a big scoop of ice cream.


*Don’t have nectarines? Try
peaches or fresh berries – just as tasty.

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And, next

As they eased off the highway she figured this was the moment. Should she put up a fight or what? Was he waiting for her to protest or say something? Because the baby was still sleeping she stayed quiet, not because she didn’t want to wake it and cause a ruckus. No, she wasn’t about to wake a sleeping baby. That’s what her husband told her when she went to fussing about the baby during nap times. He always pulled at her anytime she went near the baby’s room telling her to leave it. Let sleeping dogs lie.

She didn’t really understand what he meant or wanted, but would resist sneaking that quick peak at the baby. She wanted to be able to curl up next to it and sleep like it did.

Really she was just jealous of the baby’s sweet cheeks and blissful ability to gain everyone’s attention with a swat of an eyelash or little fist pump.

The night the baby was made everything was fast and brisk – an afterthought. They weren’t married then, he was still just toying with her and she had figured he was finished with their late night meetings. Really, he hadn’t called in a week or so, and when he showed up, she wasn’t ready for his serious attention. Before she could push him away, everything was finished and she felt soggy and exhausted. As soon as he was out of the room washing her off him, she was grabbing at things, hoping to entice him to stay. She pulled out beers and food and snacks and turned the TV on.

He was out the door before she got her clothes on right.

Her pregnancy caused a glowing sensation she hoped he would get excited about. Instead he snuck her off with that quickie wedding and told her to stop smiling all the time – he was taking care of things already. She used her simple wages to create a little nest egg for the baby. She wanted it to feel accepted and warm and loved.

She wasn’t going to let it down. She had high hopes.

That man’s hand was still resting behind her neck. It sent a pickle along her spin that made her eyes not focus right. She remembered his face as he rapped on her window and then later as he walked her into his car. He could do what he wanted with her, but she wouldn’t allow no pervert stuff with the baby. She’d fight to death on that. Anyone that does stuff like that to kids is really sick. Super sick.

It wasn’t like his hand resting back there really bothered her. In fact, it had been forever since anyone had even touched her – other than the baby. The baby crawled all over her all the time, pulling her hair, putting every bit of her into it like it owned her. No one else offered a simple touch. Just a quick hug, tap on the arm, a genuinely firm handshake would have worked.

A dirt road loomed ahead of her. And just like every horrible gory movie she’d watched through scrunched up eyes, there had to be a run-down house at the end of it with some sort of secret hiding. His hand moved to her damp shoulder. Did she imagine it or did he offer a quick consolatory squeeze? His fingertips grazed her arm as he carefully placed both hands on the wheel while making a sharp turn and heading up a golden hill of grass.

“We’re here,” he said.

*This weeks theme was to write about sex but without writing about the act.

** Here’s the beginning of the story – if you need to catch up… HELP

Sun melted crayon creation

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

I don’t know about you, but the sun is shining strong at our house. Sure, we have a bit of start-of-the-day fog, but by mid-morning, our sky is free of any clouds and the sun holds its own high in the sky. The other day while we were outside playing, the tot left a crayon outside, resulting in a big melty mess for me to deal with later in the day. Crayons are mostly oil along with an itty-bit of color pigment mixed in. While I was slaving away cleaning that mess, I got an idea for a fun way to explore the wonders of melty crayons.

Science and art really go hand-in-hand. They both often use the concept of experimentation and sometimes the result is unsure. Artists try new materials to create interesting artworks and scientists write out a hypothesis when testing theories. I figured we could do the same with this exciting summer art experiment.

This is a great project for kids aged 6 and up. You may have to offer a helping hand at some points with the younger ones, but, for the most part, kids can use the basic materials to explore and create all on their own.

Have your child go on a scavenger hunt searching out all those bits of crayons they aren’t interested in using anymore. Once she’s got a good pile, she can prep those crayons for the art experiment.

Offer your child a grater and invite her to shave those crayon bits. She can keep the colors separate or make a big mongo pile of crayon shavings. Either way is totally okay. Grating those crayons helps hone your child’s fine motor skills, but also has the potential to grate little fingers. So, offer adult assistance as needed.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now get out a metal pie pan and line the bottom with a circle of white drawing paper. She can trace around a small plate or bowl and then cut along the line to create a circle that fits perfectly.

Once the round paper is in place, your child can sprinkle the crayon shavings around the paper. She can create a random color creation, or group those crayons shavings in a specific way.

Place that pie pan in a nice hot spot where it will sit in the sun for an hour or so. Invite your child to create a chart using a sheet of scrap paper documenting increments of time and sections for writing results. She can also write out what she thinks might happen with her crayon shaving art experiment at the top of the paper.

Invite your child to come back and check in with her crayon shavings every 10 minutes or so. What happens to the crayons? Is it what she expected? Encourage your child to write her notes on the cart and then hang her finished creation in a window for others to see.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Now your child can take the experiment further by exploring what might happen if she uses different materials in the pie pan. Does the experiment work using a circle of tinfoil, waxed paper, or different colors of construction paper? How about if she drew with crayons on the paper instead of sprinkling the shavings? Invite her to try the experiment again but in a different way and see what happens.

Happy Summer!

*Don’t have a nice summer sun? This activity can be done using a 200 F oven, too!

Yes, your kids can make this.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The idea of kids cooking in the kitchen may terrify adults with concern about those sharp knives, potential food poisoning, and the resulting messy kitchen. But there are simple and easy recipes that kids can accomplish without causing a big fuss. According to WebMD, cooking with kids has many benefits, from encouraging picky eaters to helping children learn about healthy food choices.

Eating a balanced meal is an important part of helping children develop strong bodies and healthy minds. Having family dinners is one way to encourage kids to make good food decisions and for adults to model positive eating habits. Cooking a meal from start to finish with a child encourages basic math abilities, hones fine-motor skills, and teaches how simple it is to create a complete and nourishing feast. Yes, everyone might get a bit messy in the process, but the end result is sure tasty!

Getting Started: Salad

Combine spinach and strawberries to create a simple salad that may entice picky eaters to try something new. Not only does this salad include healthy spinach, which contains folic acid, but the sweet taste of strawberries along with a tart dressing. There’s nothing scary or challenging here!

Start by having the child rinse two bunches of fresh spinach in a colander to remove any residual dirt. She can also remove any long stems remaining on leaves.

Along with giving the spinach a good clean, she can rinse 2-cups whole strawberries. Both the spinach and strawberries can be gently dried using a paper towel.

Now tear the spinach leaves into bite-size pieces and put into a medium-sized salad bowl.

Then she can use a butter knife to remove the tops of strawberries and slice. The sliced strawberries can be tossed in with the spinach.

Using measuring spoons and cups, along with a glass jar with a lid, the simple and sweet dressing can be made. First, invite the child to measure 1/2-cup vegetable oil and 1/4-cup white wine vinegar and add to the jar.

Now she can add 1/2-cup sugar, 1 Tablespoon poppy seeds, and a pinch of salt. Once the lid has been put back on the jar, she can shake, shake, shake the dressing vigorously and pour over the spinach and strawberries. Toss and serve!

Learning Aspect – Tearing the spinach and cutting the strawberries helps hone a child’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, promoting the use of the small muscles of the hand that help with her writing skills. While the child is cutting the strawberries, she can put her fine motor and math skills to the test by seeing how many slices she can cut from each strawberry, keeping count, and adding up the total slices in the salad.

Main Dish Cooking

A main dish that is fun makes the whole family happy and encourages everyone to join the clean plate club. Turn spaghetti and meatballs into a true treat by adding a special surprise. When cooking with raw meat, share with children proper ways to keep their bodies and the kitchen safe from food poisoning. Before cooking with ground turkey, have everyone wash hands.

Invite the child to help add seasonings to 1 pound of ground turkey placed in a mixing bowl by measuring 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried garlic, 1 teaspoon dried onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and a pinch of sugar.

Next she can add 1-cup of plain breadcrumbs and use a mixing spoon to combine well.

Before making the meatballs, have the child decide what she wants to be the super secret surprise tucked inside the meatballs. Options include her favorite cheese, half a mushroom, or half a black olive.

She can use a butter knife to cut her secret ingredient and then begin rolling meatballs by gathering a spoonful of meat, pressing her secret ingredient into the center and then rolling into a ball.

Have her place the rolled meatballs on a sheet pan lightly coated with vegetable oil and preheat the oven to 425 F. Once she’s finished working with the meat, don’t forget to wash hands thoroughly!

While the oven preheats, she can begin making her pasta and sauce. She can heat up her favorite store-bought pasta sauce in a medium pan along with boiling a large pot of salted water for her favorite kind of pasta.

Once the oven has heated, it is time for an adult offer some assistance with popping the meatballs into the hot oven for 7 to 10 minutes. The child can be in charge of setting a timer to keep track of cooking time.

An adult can check the meatballs, turning them after 7 to 10 minutes, browning meatballs on both sides. Place half a box of pasta noodles (8 ounces) in the hot water to boil so everything is finished at the same time.

Remove the meatballs from the oven and invite the child can help transfer them from the tray, using tongs, carefully placing them into the hot pasta sauce to let cook for an additional 5 minutes. Also, an adult can drain the pasta when it is cooked through.

Now the pasta can be placed on plates, the meatballs and sauce can be ladled, and the special surprise meatball dinner can be enjoyed with garlic bread and a sprinkle of fresh basil!

Learning Aspect –While using measuring spoons and cups, a child is learning math concepts such as fractions. Put her math skills to the test by figuring out how many different combinations of measurements she can find that create 1-cup or a tablespoon. She can write out her computations on a sheet of paper.

Dessert Creation

Dinner isn’t complete without dessert and using yogurt is a healthy option and also beneficial for good digestion. These treats need to be made a day in advance to freeze properly, but can also be enjoyed freshly made (although a bit messy)!

Gather ingredients for the child to use including graham crackers, 1-cup plain vanilla custard-style yogurt, and a jelly flavor of her choice.

She can tear several squares of plastic wrap for wrapping her treats.

Start by placing a half a graham cracker on the plastic wrap and have the child use a butter knife to spread a layer of jelly on the cracker.

She can then place a spoonful of vanilla yogurt on top of the jelly.

Invite her to spread another half a graham cracker with jelly and gently place on top of the yogurt.

Carefully wrap the graham cracker in the plastic wrap and she can continue making sandwiches so each family member has one. Place the finished treats in the freezer for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

Learning Aspect – When creating a frozen treat, a child is learning science concepts dealing with how materials change in different temperatures. She can create a chart to help her track how the cold temperature of the freezer affects the yogurt treats. After each hour, she can document how the ingredients in the treat have changed along with using a cooking thermometer to track its internal temperature.

No matter if you are an experienced cook or barely know your way around the kitchen, cooking easy recipes with kids encourages a healthy self-esteem and promotes positive cooking skills – and it’s a great (and tasty) way to spend quality time together!

*This is an article I originally wrote for Go on over and check them out!


Sunday spectacular: Oh, what a fight

Just a couple of days ago my parents arrived for a nice, long visit. Along with spending some wonderful time together, we decided to take advantage of the free babysitting and head out for a date night. But, my husband and I had a bit of a problem.

The was a bit of a conflict for the night we had selected.


Yup. The hubs is a super baseball fan and it turned out his favorite team was playing our home team. He had already purchased the tickets, so there was no changing it. We were heading to the baseball game.

I told him he owed me a few expensive baseball game beers – and some garlic fries – and I’d be okay.

While he sat with the camera stuck in front of his face, the game went well, and then there was the fight.

Along with all the other of thousands of people, I stood, yelled, cheered, and ooohed and ahhhhed.

I had no idea what was going on.

But, it totally turned out to be a fun night.


Farmers market finds

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Yesterday we hit the farmers market with my visiting parents and loaded up on goodies. I didn’t go last week because I wasn’t really feeling up to being social, but this week, I repeated my $10 challenge and scrounged and searched for the best items that I could bring home and use for creating dinner. We already had a chicken ready for roasting, so I figured sides for under $10 for four was a proper test.

Right at the first booth I was already in love. Itty-bitty eggplants were lounging just begging to be brought home. After hunting out the best tomatoes, I selected a big, happy one, and then had my heart set on some sharp, dry goat cheese. I almost went over budget picking up some salad greens, but made it just under my $10 grand total. We also ended up at the market towards the end of the day, which meant vendors were ready to wheel-and-deal. YAY!

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

I roasted those baby eggplants with a bit of salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and red onion, sliced up the tomato, chopped up the greens, topped with some fresh white beans and big slices of that goat cheese – and we all enjoyed the best salad ever.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011