Painting with pipe cleaners

pipecleaner prints

Instead of offering your tot the same paintbrush, hand her a pipe cleaner for a neat twist. Along with using it to create basic line paintings, your child can experiment with bending and forming unique shapes to press into paint and then stamp on her paper. While being creative, she’s also honing her fine-motor skills. And this easy art activity is totally appropriate for kids of all ages — and adults too.

All you need are a few pipe cleaners, some paint, paper, paper plates, and lots of patience and creativity.

Select a few colors of paint to use with your child and squirt on paper plates. I chose to use the primary colors for this project so we could do a bit of color theory exploration while creating. Now offer your child a pipe cleaner and invite her to bend and shape it, making sure to leave a short length of straight pipe cleaner for grasping while stamping.


Now invite your child to press the formed pipe cleaner in the paint and press on white paper, creating neat organic shapes. Your child can even use the pipe cleaner to create funky lines. Older kids can create patters or designs, while the younger set can simply stamp away.


I couldn’t resist getting in on the pipe cleaner action and had to experiment making my own unique shapes to stamp into the pant and on my own paper, which enticed my daughter to give my twisted pipe cleaners a try too.


Along with creating fun shapes with the pipe cleaners, we noticed how the paint colors changed when mixed together, making this a great project for introducing and exploring color theory. We found red, yellow, ogarange (or orange), purple, blue, geen (or green), and brown in my daughter’s artwork.


And older kids can really put their fine motor skills to the test by bending and forming really fun shapes to press in paint and then stamp. Here’s my finished creation…




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Fine Art for Kids: Staying in the lines with Robert Delaunay

It’s been raining for days, and today we all got a bit stir crazy. While the husband busied himself cleaning the garage, the tot and I sat down with an art book she had pulled off the shelf and looked at the colorful pages. When we found Robert Delaunay’s page, she couldn’t stop talking about all those shapes — and the colors! I asked if she’d be interested in making her own circle-filled artwork and she was so excited she started pulling out all the art supplies.

The artwork in question that caught my daughter’s attention was Hommage à Blériot, 1914, filled with repeated circles interrupted with diagonal and vertical lines. The painting is Delaunay’s abstract interpretation of the first flight across the English Channel by Louis Blériot and is playful and vibrant.

After my tot gave me her input on the painting, she was ready to get started.

I gathered several circular-shaped items, along with a sheet of paper and a pencil, for my tot to position and trace around for creating the outline for the creation. I helped with first two and then allowed her to continue to work on her own.

Next I offered a ruler for creating the long vertical and horizontal lines. She did a great job using the ruler to focus on drawing lines. If you’ve got an older tot, this is a great opportunity to discuss overlapping shapes and how to divide them with the lines to create an abstract design, just like Delaunay.

Next I offered my daughter a set of watercolors and encouraged her to paint within the lines — and fill the entire paper with color, just like the painting. I offered a bit of assistance, and lots of motivation, and she continued working until the creation was finished.

As soon as I removed the painting, she found another sheet of paper and started drawing circles for another creation…

This is a great art activity for encouraging fine motor skills and concentration, as well as introducing color theory and composition. Younger kids can explore the challenge of tracing around the circular objects while older ones can focus on creating an abstract artwork using circles and lines while balancing the color within the painting.

My tot is almost four and she spent just about an hour focused and entertained with the project.

It was awesome.

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Foam sticker letter and number prints

foam letter print

We’re really working on thinking about numbers and letters at our house. And it’s been exciting to see our tot starting to pick up on it. The other day we had a great time reading a book and checking out the letters that form the words and all that kind of stuff. I love this age and how the brain starts making sense of things. Along with all that development, honing fine-motor skills ensures she’ll be able to write those letters once she figures them out.

So I got out a container of foam letters and numbers and dug out a piece of tagboard. Then I dumped the foam stickers out on our work table and invited my daughter to peel the backs from the stickers, guess the letter or number, and then position on the board. Along with building those small muscles in her hands, and encouraging her creativity, this fun art activity also builds letter recognition skills. Sure, she didn’t get half of the letters or numbers correct on the first guess, but did the second or third time around.

letter prints

Once our tagboard was covered with foam stickers, we spent a few minutes going over the numbers and letters one more time and then selected a color of paint for the next step (which of course was red). Offer your child her favorite color and a foam brush and then coat each and every number and letter with paint.

painting foam letters

Place a sheet of white paper over the painted letters and press, making sure that all areas of the tagboard have been covered. Then lift the paper to reveal the print of the letters and numbers.


My daughter was in awe of the results, checking first the tagboard and then the paper to see the resemblance.

letter printmaking

It was pretty darn cute.

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Repurposed artwork thank you cards

Thank you cards

I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a drawer that’s always overflowing with my tot’s artwork. I save her creations from preschool, the fun doodles she makes on her own at home, and the exciting artworks we create together. She sometimes selects ones to display on the fridge and I stash others to show her when she’s all grown up. The other day the drawer was so full it wouldn’t close, meaning it was time to go weed through the creations. It’s hard trashing your child’s art, but before making the final cut, we used a stack for creating thank you cards to send to friends and family thanking them for all the wonderful holiday gifts.

This is a great activity to do with tots just starting to figure out how to cut, which results in funky shapes and designs. Children as little as two can wield scissors with adult supervision, and cutting boosts your child’s budding fine motor skills. Older kids can enjoy cutting shapes for creating cards with patterns or representational forms. Right now my daughter is still figuring out the whole “cutting” thing, but has mastered the open-mouthed concentration while working…

thank you cards1

After you have a nice stack of shapes and funky forms, offer your child some glue to coat the cut paper and press onto the front of blank cards, which you can find at your local craft store.

thank you cards2

To personalize the cards, offer your child a thank you stamp to press on the front of cards. Older kids can use letter stamps to press “thank you” on the cards or even write the letters themselves.

thank you cards3

We had a few other fun graphic stamps that my tot pressed around her cards, along with in the inside as her signature. We sat together and talked about the gifts she had received, and who they had come from, while I wrote short notes from what she shared in the cards.

thank you card4

After addressing the cards and sticking on stamps, we popped them in the mailbox and waited for our mail lady to come and whisk them away. At first my daughter was a little sad they were being taken but then we talked about how the mail works and how everyone was going to love opening her special thank you cards.

Along with being a great art activity, this is a really fun way of introducing the mail system to your child. Since creating her cards, we’ve set up our own post office and she’s wonderfully busy making cards, folding them into envelopes, and addressing and stamping them herself.

Fine art for kids: Black and white with Picasso

It’s been raining the last couple of days, making the tot and I a bit ornery. We knew the rain was coming, but it’s so dark in the mornings, causing us all to cuddle deeper under the covers instead of popping out excited about the day ahead. There’s nothing to rush for, so I curl into the bed and wait for my daughter to mumble “good morning” from her room letting me know she’s ready to start the day.

After about an hour of rubbing our eyes and figuring things out, we go about our daily routines. The husband heads to work, I sip tea and write stuff, and the tot either goes to preschool or does projects with me. Because of the dark, and somewhat dreary day, I couldn’t help being reminded of when I was teaching high school art and what I would do with a class that was stuck in the doldrums. I’d pop in a movie, shove sketch paper and sticks of charcoal under my students’ noses, and encourage them to doodle while zoning out.

Sometimes you just need to do nothing to find creativity.

One of my favorite things to pop in the old video player was this documentary of Picasso. The music is a bit funky, Picasso is crazy, his paintings are so simple but amazing, and it’s black and white — which is actually soothing.

After showing this snippet to my tot, we got out black and white paper and black and white paints. I offered her a sheet of white paper and a selection of paintbrushes ranging in size from big to small, along with black paint, and encouraged her to make interesting lines. This is a great activity for introducing focusing on making long and expressive lines to tots. Your little one really wants to go with her gut and simply scribble, but encouraging her to make shapes, or even attempting to draw a form, makes for an exciting creation. Older kids can paint exaggerated forms with simplistic details, just like Picasso.

Once your child is finished, swap the white paper and black paint for a sheet of black paper and the white paint. Leave the black painted sheet of white paper within sight and encourage your child to create the same design, but with the white paint on the black paper.

Once the paintings are dry, display them side by side to see how they are similar and different.

Sticker finger paint

sticker finger paint

This is such a simple project with fun – and educational – results. Along with honing fine-motor skills, it also encourages color recognition. Toddlers love getting messy – and finger paint doesn’t disappoint. Combining stickers and finger paint also creates a multi-step activity, which also helps tots learn how to wait and follow directions. This doesn’t mean that things are going to go smoothly – plan for chaos by having wet-wipes or a few damp paper towels handy and donning your tot in a smock or okay-for-mess clothing.

Finger painting is an exciting way to introduce color theory through mixing paints. Most toddlers are on their way to mastering color recognition, which means it’s time for the next step. Using two colors keeps things from turning into a big brownish-grey mess o’ paint. Most tots are also still in the scribble stage and getting pretty comfortable using pencils, crayons, and markers to draw, draw, draw.  This activity encourages kids to use the entire paper, focusing on the big picture, and use something exciting (fingers!) to make those big scribbles.

Start by taping a sheet of white drawing paper to your work area or on a plastic place mat. Offer your toddler a selection of stickers to peel and stick to the paper. We used a combination of puffy stickers as well as regular stickers to mix things up and add to the fun textural feel when finger painting.

sticker finger paint

Once your tot has finished stickering, place about a tablespoon of one color of finger paint on the paper. Encourage your child to spread that finger paint all over the paper until it is completely covered.

Now add a small dollop of another color of finger paint for your child to mix with the first color observing what color is created. See if your child can figure it out all on her own!

sticker finger paint

Let the finger paint dry and then invite your child to peel the stickers from the paper revealing the white paper underneath. Removing the stickers takes focus and concentration – as well use of those fine-motor skills!

Hang the finished sticker finger paint creation on the fridge for all to see.


String wrapped stars

String wrapped star

Memorial Day is right around the corner, which means taking a moment to appreciate those that have served for our country, people who are currently doing what they do best for our country, and ones we lost while in service. My tot is a bit young for understanding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great opportunity to do something crafty that might offer up the chance to chat about respect and love. Stars and strips are popping up all over the place, so I figured we could create something festive for decorating our home.

This is a simple project that can go in lots of different directions. Older kids can be in charge of bending and twisting the wire into star shapes while younger kids can focus on wrapping pre-made stars with string and then sprinkling with glitter – or painting. And, this is a great project for any time of year -Fourth of July, Memorial Day, or even the Holiday Season!

string wrapped stars

Start a length of 12-guage craft wire about 1 to 2-feet in length. To keep things nice and safe, wrap the ends of the cut wire with masking tape. Now your child can bend and form the wire into a star shape. Offer adult assistance as needed to twist and secure the star shape when finished. Working with wire is a great way to encourage hand-eye coordination and build fine-motor skills.

metal stars

We experimented with all kinds of string, from white sewing thread to thick hemp string, and using plain white craft string worked the best. Tie an end to the wire star form and invite your child to twist and wrap that string all over the place. You’ll need about a 6-foot length of string (or more) for each small star.

string star

Secure the end of the string with a nice knot. Now your child can brush the string with glue and then sprinkle with glitter or paint with watercolor paints. Once dry, the stars can be hung individually or tied together to create a special star mobile, perfect for any window. We enjoyed painting one of our stars with red and blue watercolor paint and sprinkling the other with silver glitter.



Fall leaf napkin rings

© Sarah Lipoff 2010

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, your festive holiday table can become even more special with the addition of some colorful fall leaf napkin rings. This is a simple project your child of any age can accomplish – you just might have to offer a bigger helping hand with the wee tots. But, have no fear, this is a no-fail project that requires art materials you probably have around the house!

No one wants bits of dried leaves in their green bean casserole or tasty mashed potatoes, so using colorful tissue paper for the outside of the napkin rings is a great solution. And, before you toss that cardboard paper towel or toilet roll, it can be transformed into a napkin ring! With the addition of some beautifully positioned leaf prints, you’ve got a winner of a fall leaf project and a way for your kids to get in on the fun of decorating for the holidays!

Start by inviting your child to help cut the toilet or paper towel rolls into 2-inch sections. Cutting encourages your child’s fine-motor skills, which are beneficial for his ability to hold small objects or use a pencil to do all that writing.

Head outside and spend some time walking about the yard or neighborhood looking for great fall leaves that are filled with color. Your child can bring a little bag or container to collect his leaves, and you can both enjoy a bit of quality time together in the fresh autumnal air!

Once you get home, spread those fall leaves all around a work space. Get out some tissue paper and encourage your child to select colors that match with the colors of the fall leaves he just collected.

Now he can tear the tissue paper into little bits. Tearing paper is another great way to encourage your child’s fine motor skills, once again building up those wee muscles in his hands!

Mix together equal amounts of water and plain-old glue (about a teaspoon of each) to create a nice wash your child can use to slather all over those bits of tissue paper around the cut piece of toilet paper roll. Encourage him to keep layering, which will create a nice and colorful napkin ring.

Set the covered roll aside and have your child keep working to create a set on tissue paper rings. Let them fully dry overnight, or at least for two to three hours.

Now your child can select a couple of his favorite small leaves to use for embellishing his colorful napkin rings. All he needs to do is paint over his selected leaf with black paint and then press onto the outside of the napkin ring! It’s that simple!

Once the napkin rings are dry, he can help put a napkin through the ring and place them on the table to enjoy during the next holiday dinner!

Happy fall!

Playful pudding

© Sarah Lipoff 2010

The other day one of my friends confided in me that she doesn’t let her daughter play with crayons or markers. I looked at her – shocked. WHAT? Coloring is integral to a child’s learning and the development of her fine-motor skills. She explained that her daughter was more interested in eating the crayons than coloring with them.

Taking a crayon away from a toddler isn’t easy. They really, really want what they are holding, even when not exactly sure what the thing is. So, the crayon is tasted, chewed on, and eventually used to make marks with. The thing is, many parents don’t have the patience to go through several packs of crayons until their kid figures it out.

Why not try some pudding paint instead? Yes, this involves sugar, and YES, it is messy. But, your child will explore their creativity, mix some colors, make some lines, AND enjoy a special tasty treat. It’s easy to make some pudding paint. Just mix up a batch of vanilla pudding and separate a couple of tablespoons into small cups. Mix in a few drops of food coloring and let the pudding set in the fridge until you’re ready.

Pudding paint is going to be messy – messy enough that a bib isn’t going to cut it. So, put something old and icky on your babe and strap her into the high chair. Tape a paper onto the tray and put spoonfuls of the different colored pudding paint around her paper. Let her dip her fingers into the paint, taste test, and then encourage her to mush it all around.

Once my daughter started to tire of her pudding paint (I know, I couldn’t believe it!) I handed her a spoon and let her scoop up what pudding she could. The spoon also created some interesting lines on her paper, which kept her busy for a bit longer.

The end result is a fun and playful picture – with a lovely vanilla scent! And, I made a tasty dessert with the leftovers – yum.