Creating art with your child should be a fun experience even if you’re not arty yourself. Keeping in mind that your child is making marks simply for the pure pleasure of it, and not worrying about the result, is an important part of sharing the experience with your tot. And understanding that things are going to get seriously messy is essential too. Along with remembering not to admonish kids for getting smeared while exploring art (which can result in concerns about getting dirty later in life), knowing how to talk with your kids about art is a great way to encourage creativity and the exploration of talents.
And you don’t need to know anything about art to pull off a creative conversation. Here’s what to keep in mind:
Keep it simple: Yeah, that’s right. Keep is seriously simple. Start by looking through art books with your child. You can find ones geared for kids or pick up big and colorful art books from the library to explore. You might be surprised at what your child is interested in. No need to start discussions about color theory or historical details, simply sit with your child and look at the art and let the conversation flow.
Ask basic questions: Initiate some discussion when your child finds an image she’s interested in, which also boosts basic skills. Does she see any shapes in the artwork? What colors did the artist use? What is the artwork depicting? What do you see? How does the artwork make you feel? This way your child relates to the artwork and feels comfortable looking at it from her perspective without being lead by an adult to think or see in a certain way.
Introduce beginning concepts: Now is not the time to discuss whether the painting falls into the category of Op art or Minimalism. Focus on introducing simple concepts, like if the painting is a portrait (of a person) or a landscape (of an outdoor scene). Is it a still-life or an abstract (non-representational). Introduce words to your child and encourage her to repeat them while looking at the artwork. Kids retain so much, which means she might remember later and totally surprise you.
Don’t be afraid: Here’s the thing — a lot of Renaissance art depicts naked ladies. They’re lounging, hanging out in totally absurd locations, and flocked by others. Your child may flip right past that page, or like mine, decided it’s the most fascinating thing she’s ever seen. Don’t be afraid. Ask your child about what she sees in the picture and you might be surprised at her thoughts. Mine told me it was the most beautiful picture of a princess and then decided she wanted to paint a picture of her. Don’t feel the need to explain everything. Really.
Be silly: No one enjoys a stuffy lecture (really, they don’t). Art is awesome, so have fun while you’re exploring it with your child. Try to see things from your tot’s perspective, which might change how you see things too. Point out areas that are interesting in artworks, take your child on a field trip to look at art in real life, keep it loose and make learning about art a fun experience.
Talk about it: Use unique words, like gigantic, colorful, swirling, dark, crazy, or amazing when talking about artwork instead of opting for “pretty” or “neat”. Along with looking at art together, you’re encouraging her vocabulary, which is pretty cool too.
Just do it: Really. Instead of sitting here reading this, you should be sitting with your tot and a fun art book. Art is everywhere, even in nature. Go on a hunt for patterns, walk through town pointing out everything that’s blue, or take your child to an art opening.
We’re going to finish my tot’s beautiful princess painting with some glitter glue.
My daughter really loves cooking. She’s been mixing things together since she was itty-bitty, and now that she’s older, it’s time to get her in the kitchen for some real cooking. Well, actually, our craft table has recently been taken over with lots of cooking activities, with some pretty awesome results. I’m always trying to find ways to introduce brain-boosting foods to my tot, making tuna an ingredient high on my list of yummy stuff. But sometimes my daughter isn’t so excited about fish. This recipe for tuna cakes is so easy and the results are delicious. And even if your little one isn’t a big fan, you just might be surprised to see her noshing on these after having a hand at making them.
1 can of tuna, drained
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 clove of garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice
When cooking with kids, prep by getting all the ingredients ready before starting. For younger ones, pre-mesure the ingredients, chop and shred, and have in small containers along with mixing spoons and bowls at the ready. Older kids can help prep and even assist chop and shred with some adult supervision. After washing our hands, and getting all the ingredients ready, I asked my tot about what she saw in front of her.
It as simple as dumping everything into a bowl and mixing together. For some kids this can take three seconds, or for others, like my daughter, this can turn into a 30 minute cooking segment. We used our favorite brand of tuna for these cakes and whole wheat breadcrumbs. When cooking together we have a rule that there’s no taste-testing when an egg is involved.
We added a few dashes of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon, and the garlic. Then it was time to stir, stir, stir. The tuna cake batter will still be a bit moist, but, have no fear, these cakes are wonderfully delicious without being full of fillers.
Preheat your oven to 400˚ F and lightly coat a sheet pan with vegetable oil. Now your child can scoop spoonfuls of the mixture and press together to create round patties, and then carefully place on the pan. You’ll have enough to make around six tuna cakes.
Once your oven is nice and hot, toss those cakes in and bake for seven minutes and then gently flip. After baking for an additional three to five minutes those tuna cakes are ready to eat. I served our cakes with a side of special dipping sauce (equal parts plain Greek-style yogurt and ketchup) and a slice of lemon, which my daughter really enjoyed sucking on after each bite (as you can see from the picture below).
And you can add other ingredients to these tasty cakes, such as finely chopped green onion, swap pepper jack for the cheddar, or add a handful of corn — whatever your child likes.
Enjoy! We sure did!
Remember when I introduced you to Suntan Stan? Well my talented friend is at it again with a new book and a sunscreen line that’s made to educate and protect all of your loved ones. The fun book shares how Irene’s favorite part of the day is playing outdoors, but has learned to cover herself from head-to-toe with sunscreen before heading outside — even on cloudy days. Because sunburn is no fun!
Sunscreen Irene is a fun read, sharing how wearing sunblock is an important part of any kid’s day. But here’s the deal — they need your help to make it a reality, so head over to their Kickstarter campaign and make a donation. I just pledged $25 and hope you’ll consider contributing at the cause too. And part of the deal includes donating 10,000 books to kindergarten students free of cost to raise awareness of the importance of sunscreen use at the elementary school level so your contribution means a lot more then you know! Click on the video below to learn more:
My child loves to invent, explore, and create and we’ve been doing fun activities together since she was just a wee tot. Now that she’s a little older, she is starting to experiment on her own. I love watching her make connections and try new things — and then taking pride in the results. But we sometimes get a bit stuck, searching for new adventures and activities to explore together.
If you’re not sure where to start or how to get the creative juices flowing (because it can totally be a challenge!), I have the book for you. Rachelle Doorley, the smart and super-talented mama over at Tinkerlab, shares everything you need in her new book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors. And what I love about Doorley’s book is it’s so easy to read, motivating you to start creating right away.
Along with sharing ideas for exciting activities you can do with your child, Rachelle shares tips for starting the process, creating the right space for your child’s tinkering, and ideas for getting kids involved — even with the clean-up process. Doorley also includes interviews with experts, such as education professors and nursery school directors, sharing personal stories and experiences that add just the right touch of guidance and coaching throughout the book.
This book? It’s awesome. It’s motivating. It’s encouraging, smart, exciting, fun, silly, and also simple. Make your own paste and mix with paint for creating textured designs? Yes. Construct structures with gumdrops and toothpicks? Of course. Take apart an old computer? Sure! You don’t have to be an expert to do these activities with your child — just a willing participant in the journey of discovery. You might find yourself learning something new too.
Buy your copy here.
Just so you know, I wasn’t asked by anyone or compensated in any way to write this post. I purchased the book all on my own because I knew it would be beneficial — and read from cover to cover. OH and I knew I would USE the information in the book with my child. (And I have.)
Summer entertaining shouldn’t be about spending hours in the kitchen tossing together elaborate meals when guests come over to play. Nope. Dinner should be effortless, preferably served on paper plates, and cooked on the grill creating hardly any cleanup. When kids are involved, finding a dish that keeps both adults and tots happy can be challenging, but not with this seriously easy dish.
Sure, you can cornmeal your crust and slide your tasty pie directly on the grill, but I erased the worry that yours won’t with my cheap pizza-grilling secret – pizza pie tins from the grocery store, making this my no-fail way to make summer entertaining fun and easy. And you know how much I love pizza (here, here, and here…).
Make things even easier by using a store purchased pizza crust and you are good to go. This is so fun for the kiddies as well as the adults. Each child can create their own pie, and the adults can create gourmet pizzas to kick things up a notch.
So crank the grill and get cooking!
Heat your grill to medium high heat. You want things to be hot, but not too hot. I’ve got a gas grill, but you can also make your pizza over coals.
Lightly grease one of the aluminum pie pans. I picked up a set of three for about $2 at the grocery store and can usually gets two uses from each before it starts falling apart.
Press the pizza dough into a round on the greased pan into an even crust. You can make your own pizza dough or use store bought, either works just fine. You want the dough nice and thin, otherwise it won’t grill evenly.
Top your pie with whatever you like and then pop directly on the grill – aluminum pan and all!
Cover and let sizzle for 10 to 15-minutes, or until you see the edges just starting to brown and the top to bubble.
Serve with a big salad and you’ve got dinner!
Dying to toss that dough directly onto the grill? Try this suggestion from my friend.
This last week I received several boxes of wonderful things in the mail. Instead of breaking them down and adding to the recycling, I decided to have some fun and create an easy word game for the tot. She’s right at the point where encouraging letter recognition would be a really good thing, and instead of heading to the store and paying big bucks on some plastic game, or one that she’d only play with for a week and then toss aside, I upcycled one of those cardboard boxes into a fun and interactive game that could be enjoyed — and then eventually recycled.
Simply cut away the sides from the cardboard box using a scissors or paper cutter. You probably won’t be able to cut completely through if using a cutter, but it does help create nice, straight scored lines, which can then be cut with the help of a scissors. I created four squares to use for creating matching letter and number games.
Now use the trimmings to create the squares for the letters and numbers. I found around a one inch square was the perfect size.
Use a black marker to write letters and numbers on the squares. You could do all capital letters, lower case letters for encouraging advanced learners, and numbers up to 100 — or even higher! I kept it simple and wrote out the alphabet in block letters along with numbers 1 to 20, reserving any blank squares for replacing lost numbers and letters later.
To create the game grids, use a ruler to mark each side of the cardboard squares and one inch intervals and then draw straight lines to create boxes. Now you can fill each box with a number or letter, create words, or even number combinations. Because my little one is just starting to figure things out, I kept things pretty simple. You can even have a theme for each square, such as one for only numbers, and others for letters, or short words.
I helped my daughter spread the letters and numbers on her work table and offered her a square to fill in. I was amazed as she found the first match and stayed engaged while filling in the rest. We spent over an hour going over the numbers and letters and finding their matching spots on the game cards and exploring number and letter recognition.
I was so excited my daughter loved her new game, but loved even more that it was made from a recycled cardboard box, which basically cost nothing to make.
Looking for another fun way to repurpose your cardboard boxes? Make a cardboard box oven for hours of pretend play….
In celebration of National Pi Day, which falls on March 14th, why not celebrate with the kind you can eat – pie from Marie Callender’s! I love pie, and realized my tot hasn’t experienced the wonders of slicing a fresh piece from a perfectly round perfection. And because Pi is all about numbers, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to learn about basic math while eating something delicious. And sweet pies from Marie Callender’s are made from real ingredients. Really. I had my eye on a chocolate satin mini pie, which was the perfect size for the delicious math activity I had in mind. And if you’re looking for other party ideas, recipes, or how-to’s, check out Marie Callender’s blog.
At some point your tot’s scribbles turn into something more. They aren’t totally random loops and marks that mix together into a crazed collection of who knows what. My daughter just turned four and she’s finally making the progression into the preschematic stage of art. Emerging from that scribbling during her first few years of art creation are forms, somewhat realistic images, and stuff that actually makes sense when she tells me about her pictures. Yes, there are still going to be delicate moments when you have no idea what is on your child’s paper, but, before you know it, she’ll be seriously focused on details and recreating what she sees around her, also known as the schematic stage of art — or the “dramatic” stage of art. Kids sometimes get a bit frustrated during this time in their budding lives when things don’t turn out exactly how they would like it. But that is a post for the future.
The minute my daughter started actually drawing stuff, I new it was time to offer her lots of praise and encourage her creativity without any judgement. This is an exciting time for little ones, and allowing for exploration is essential. Instead of trying to corral the new talent, take a step back, asking questions later. Leading art activities offers your child new ways of looking at creating, but remember to keep your hands off — and your comments to yourself. I remember a kindergarten student of the past whom had spent a whole class period drawing a picture of a vase of flowers, very loosely based on a Van Gough art lesson. He was so excited about his very colorful collection of buds at the end of the lesson. Sure, there wasn’t much there other than several random circles and lots and lots of green and brown vertical lines, but he was PROUD of it. While beaming and showing it to his classroom teacher at the end of art class, she commented that it “needed a bit of work,” and that, “maybe next time it would turn out better.”
I was crushed.
I’m sure he was too.
This is a precious time for little kids, and most hit this sweet spot around three to four years of age. This creative stage of art lasts until kids turn seven, or even eight, or nine. There’s no definite timeline, and each kid is different. But it’s a great opportunity to do some encouraging preschematic art activities with your child that will hone her budding skills while giving her the opportunity to be creative.
One of my favorites is drawing flowers in a vase. We happened to have several bouquets around the house that were ready for the trash. I popped a few blossoms in a small vase alongside a small potted plant for inspiration. Then I offered my tot a selection of oil pastels. Using oil pastels instead of crayons allows your child to explore using something other than crayons or markers, and they make really vivid dark lines that work perfect for the next step. Without offering your child too much direction, talk about the parts of the flower and what shapes they resemble, while encouraging your child to just draw the outlines of the flowers.
Once your little one is happy with her flowers (and vase if she’s interested), swap the oil pastels for watercolor paints. If your child is still getting used to dipping and painting, run a drizzle of water over the paints, which will wet them slightly, making it easier to paint. Now your child can start painting the flowers, staying in — or out — of the lines. Let your child make the decisions when selecting the colors for the flowers, if there’s a background, or any other details for finishing the painting.
When your child is finished, ask her if she would like to tell you anything about her creation. Hey, she might just tell you that it’s a vase of pretty flowers. But if she goes into detail, take a few notes and later, once the paint has dried, you can write all the special things she had to say on the back of her artwork.
Find the perfect spot to display your child’s artwork so she knows you think she’s a fantastic artist.
I love cooking with my tot and have been exploring the wonders of the kitchen with her by my side for quite some time now. But there are times that I would love for her to get out of my kitchen and do some pretend cooking on her own. But the other day, when she was insistent on making some sort of treat, I caved. Well, yeah, I kinda wanted some sort of treat too.
We didn’t have much for tossing together something super sweet, but did have a few basics that, once expertly mixed together by my tot, would be just fine. And I’ve discovered that it doesn’t really matter what we make, or how it tastes, she usually eats it if she made it. There are a few things I’ve learned from inviting my youngster into the kitchen:
-The first, and most important, is to NOT worry about the mess. Really. You’ve got to let it go. By containing the potential disaster, you’re able to make clean up less time consuming. I try to have all ingredients, mixing spoons, bowls, measuring cups and spoons, and damp paper towels at the ready so I don’t have to leave my tot while she’s mixing.
-It’s probably not going to taste amazing. Even if you measure everything exactly, when cooking with kids, stuff just happens. Your tot may give the salt shaker an extra sprinkle, the oil may be drizzled too long, or something may be forgotten in the chaos. Guess what? Your kid won’t care — she’s excited about the process, and doing some actual cooking. So try not to wrinkle up your nose and dig in, which will show your child that you are impressed with her budding culinary skills.
-Keep it simple. Please. Now is not the time to try making perfectly cooked macaroons or something you’ve never attempted before. Stick with things you’re comfortable cooking and baking so your little one isn’t overwhelmed with the idea of getting in the kitchen.
We made these super easy and wonderfully adjustable peanut butter cookies the other day, and not only are they tasty, they are healthy. So grab your little one and get in the kitchen!
1 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup oats
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of salt
1 cup flour
(You could add chocolate chips, a dash of cinnamon, raisins……)
Preheat your oven to 350˚F.
It’s as easy as helping your child measure and add the ingredients as they are listed to a mixing bowl. Our rule is that there is no taste testing after the egg has been added to any recipe, and to HOLD the BOWL while stirring. I try to stand back and let her at it. Yes, sometimes I need to give a helping hand when measuring and adding ingredients, but letting your child figure it out makes cooking together really special.
The dough holds together really well, making it perfect for rolling in balls and then pressing flat with your fingers, which is why we decided to call them finger cookies.
For extra sweetness, sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sugar or drizzle with a bit more honey. Pop in the hot oven for 12 minutes, let cool, and enjoy.
What’s your favorite kid-friendly recipe? Leave a link in the comments below!
While we were down south, there were a couple of days the weather wasn’t right for hitting the beach, so we explored the area for a few fun things to do. And we found ourselves heading to La Jolla for a stroll through the public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego Birch Aquarium.
I enjoyed the informative guides lurking (well, not lurking, but roaming in the darkness of the aquarium) and ready to answer any questions or share fun tidbits of information. We all became quite intrigued with the eels in the above left photo, and were told all about their amazing lives together (yup, that’s a proud mama and papa), how they’ve produced hundreds of baby eels, and are often found nestled together in the tank. But the collection of jellyfish just about put my tot in a tizzy…
Located next to each tank are helpful plaques sharing facts about the fish and other sea life, perfect for us adults that have no clue what we’re looking and then can utterly amaze our not-yet-scholarly tots by reading (without them realizing it) bountiful information about the amazing sea creatures. And it’s great for older kids, allowing them the opportunity to learn more on their own. We loved this huge tank filled with coastal sea life.
And part of the aquarium is dedicated to educational and interactive learning about the sea and California coastline. Most of it was totally advanced for our daughter, but that didn’t stop her from putting her hands on everything.
But the seahorses stole the show. We were all impressed and amazed by these little creatures. A whole wing is dedicated to educating the public about the lives of seahorses, sharing how the aquarium is helping to nurture and build their numbers, and showcasing the amazing beauty of the cool sea animal.
And we had such a great time, we ended up walking (well, running) through the aquarium one last time at the tot’s insistence to see it all over again. Along with the indoor tanks, the Birch Aquarium has outdoor interactive tide pools, a shark tank (not interactive), and some really cool solar activities for the kids to check out. Perfect for kids of all ages, the aquarium has something for everyone, is easy to navigate, has a small outdoor snack bar on site, a gift shop, and wonderfully friendly staff. If you’re in the La Jolla/San Diego area, it’s a fun way to spend an overcast day.
*If you’re not from the area, please, PLEASE, make sure to have directions before you head out to La Jolla. No joke, every time we go to La Jolla from the north, we get lost. It’s really not crazy difficult or anything, there are just a few twists and turns that can catch you by surprise.