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.)
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.
Now that the weather is so lovely, the tot and I are having a great time finding fun outdoor art activities to enjoy. It’s also reminded of some of the wonderfully talented modern artists that explored shape, line, and color and how they simply played against each other. Some of our past friends, like Rothko and Frankenthaler, also created fine art showcasing the beauty of simplicity. However, one painting kept coming to mind while hanging outdoors the other day with the tot.
Cy Twombly was mostly known for his child-like scribbles, almost resembling looping lines of chalk on a faded chalkboard. During the mid 1900’s art boom, when artists were exploring minimalism and abstract expressionism, Twombly went his own way and was basically ignored. One of his most recent paintings, Untitled, 2007, has a vibrancy to it along with a contained messiness. It also is full of repeated red flower shapes, dripping color onto a vibrant yellow background.
Red is my tot’s favorite color.
After taking a closer look at the painting, we gathered a few materials to create our own messy Twombly inspired creation. To make that bright yellow background, I taped a sheet of drawing paper to a plastic place mat and dropped a big spoonful of yellow finger paint in the middle, encouraging my daughter to squish and squiggle the paint all over the paper. Older kids can create loops and lines for a more interesting background.
While the paper is drying, we created our flower stamp with the help of some cardboard, a plastic cap, and a hot glue gun. If your child is scissor-friendly, she can draw the outline of the flower with a pencil and then cut on her own. Mine’s a bit young, so I helped with this step.
Hot glue the cap, open side down, to the cardboard flower and you’re ready to go. Fold a sheet of paper towel in half and then add a good squirt of red paint. This is the stamp pad for the cardboard flower.
Invite your child to press the flower stamp into the red paint and then on the yellow paper, lifting to reveal a red flower. Continue stamping flowers until your child is happy with the arrangement.
Now for the mess! Fill an empty spray bottle with a bit of water, grab the artwork, and head outdoors. Place the creation on a flat surface that’s okay for mess, like the driveway. Invite your child to stand over the artwork and spritz with water. Lift the artwork and watch as the red paint drips and drips, just like in Twombly’s painting.
Once your child is happy with the drippy mess, lay the paper flat until dry.
We had so much fun creating our Twombly inspired messy artwork that we made a few more using different color combinations!
It was my husband’s birthday over a month ago and we just never really got around to doing anything about it. We were down south, and while enjoying some time with family, had hopes of going out for dinner on our own one night, but it just didn’t happen. So when we received a generous coupon from the Steakhouse Grill & Bar at Deer Park Villa in Fairfax, California (buy one entree, get one free!) in recognition of his special day, we wanted to make sure to take advantage of it. But, you know, life happens and, before we knew it, the expiration date was the next day. We called to make reservations, checked if they were kid-friendly, and decided to give it a try.
I’ve driven by this place several times and always thought it was a private club or hoity-toity steak house. But, upon arrival, we were drawn into the restaurant by the beautiful grove of redwoods and lovely landscaping.
We chose to sit out on the deck and were walked through the brightly-lit and jovial bar to the outdoor patio area, which was covered for the season. We sat under a wonderfully warm heat lamp and were then left to peruse the menu.
Since the place is a steak house we obviously opted for steak and then sat sipping adult drinks while the tot enjoyed some fresh bread and listened to a guy quietly playing acoustic guitar in the corner. Our waiter was attentive and friendly, even as the dinning area began to fill. We ordered macaroni and cheese for our daughter as soon as we sat down and it was delivered to the table within 10 minutes. And it was wonderfully homemade and seriously ooey-gooey. Our steaks arrived not long after she had become engrossed in her dinner.
I’d love to share pictures of our dinners, but I learned something very interesting while documenting this tasty meal.
Steaks don’t photograph well in low-light.
You’ll just have to believe me. The steaks were delicious. Not just “good” delicious — they were the best-steak-you’ve-ever-eaten delicious. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked, and not hidden under sauces, wrapped in bacon, or topped with butter. These steaks were simply the best.
The dinner was finished with a big scoop of ice cream that came with our tot’s meal, and, by the time the last bit was licked from the bowl, we had enjoyed a fantastic family dinner at a fancy restaurant that lasted just about an hour and a half!
I’ll be honest, if we hadn’t have received the buy-one get-one coupon, we probably wouldn’t have ever checked the restaurant out. The steaks are delicious and the service is awesome, and you’re looking at $10 to $30+ per person for dinner entrees, which means there’s something for every taste. The kid menu was priced very resonably and offered pastas, burgers, and grilled cheese. And what’s awesome is the Steakhouse Grill & Bar has a tasty half-pound Angus cheeseburger that is amazingly priced under $10.
We look forward to eating at the Steakhouse Grill & Bar again sometime soon — and not waiting for a special day as a reason. We’re saving up to head back simply because the food was awesome, the ambiance fantastic, and it’s totally worth it.
*Just so you know, I wasn’t compensated to write this review. I did it because I really enjoyed eating at this restaurant.
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!
Now that the holidays are over and everything is getting back to normal after all the crazed present opening, it’s interesting to see which items hold the tot’s interest. She still loves all the plastic animals and dinosaurs, and playing the matching game in her own special way, but the one thing that she’s still reaching for is her new camera. A few months ago I did a post for LilSugar sharing cameras fit for little hands and had focused on suggestions from friends and good reviews when I put the collection together. So when I decided to get one for the tot as a special birthday gift (her special day is right after the holidays), I already had one in mind.
And then I went with something totally different.
It was pink, I liked the square shape, and although it didn’t get great reviews on image quality, the camera sounded like it was indestructible. Hey, I’m not looking for museum-quality prints, I want a camera that isn’t going to break the first time it gets dropped.
And it was on sale.
Today I wrangled the camera out of my daughter’s hands and downloaded the pictures (SIDE NOTE – the camera does NOT come with a USB cable, but does work with a standard siz. If you’re not PC (like me) you can’t download the funky photo editing stuff, but, hey, my tot wouldn’t have a clue how to use it.) and was surprised and impressed with what she’d taken pictures of and the quality of the camera. My daughter loved seeing her pictures and helped me select a few favorites:
Here’s a picture of the hubs and I,
her new tent,
the decorations from her birthday party,
Sid the Science Kid,
our cat by the fire,
her spot on the couch,
and a self portrait.
So, yeah, she’s not great on standing still while snapping, but she’s dropped the camera, bashed it into walls, been walking while taking a picture and fallen down with it, and I think it even took a tumble down the stairs the other day.
Still works wonderfully.
The picture files aren’t big (640 by 480 pixels), but prints good quality 4 by 6-inch pictures. The camera also makes slightly annoying noises when in use but does turn off on it’s own so you don’t burn through batteries. Equipped with an easy to use zoom (which my daughter totally doesn’t get) my husband enjoys taking pictures with it too.
I love that she is still excited about taking pictures and is learning to look at things in a new and interesting way. I’m planning on printing out her favorites and creating a gallery wall in her room. I’ll keep you posted…
I’d normally be sharing pictures and recipes from my Thanksgiving feast right about now, but this year we are postponing our turkey making until the weekend. Instead we acted like today was just like any other day, which didn’t stop us from being seriously thankful. It turned out to be a glorious day, making a trip to the beach the perfect way to spend the day together as a family. Kehoe Beach is tucked away in West Marin past Olema and through some of the most glorious cow fields I’ve ever seen — and I’m from Wisconsin.
After walking a short trail, flanked by some of those seriously happy cows, you come over a ridge to spectacular stretch of beach that seems endless, and it is also dog friendly. This was the first time we’d taken the tot on a “hike” and she loved every minute of it. We checked out worms on the trail, barnacles on the beach rocks, inspected the various footprints in the sand, and determined the water was way too cold for any swimming…
Happy Thanksgiving — I hope you all had a wonderful day!
(Get ready for turkey pictures on Sunday…)
*And thanks to the husband for the awesome pictures.
Yes, that’s right. We just took our tot trick-or-treating for the first time. She’s three, almost four, and we haven’t attempted the whole trick-or-treating-Halloween-pumpkin-carving thing at all. She had a bit more interest in the pumpkins at the grocery store this year, and had learned more about Halloween while at preschool, but had no desire to wear a costume at all.
Taking a toddler out for her first night of treat gathering is also a unique thing. My child was totally clueless. We attempted to prep her before the adventure, stressing to say, “trick or treat” when accepting goodies and offering a “thank you” once the candy was in hand.
Yeah. That didn’t happen.
Amazingly, after getting a bit of face paint, our tot jumped right into her Halloween outfit and was ready to head out. Our town turns main street into a trick-or-treater’s paradise and shop owners offer candies to tots as they walk by. It’s perfect for little kids and the street was packed. We walked up to the first spot to stop and my child seriously freaked. She hid behind me, wouldn’t move, didn’t talk, and literally tried to crawl me. I pulled her aside and we took a moment.
I got down to her level and asked her about what was going on. She didn’t seem to like all the attention being on her when walking up to a person with candy so I offered to say trick or treat with her. We cautiously walked up to the next spot and she hid again.
So, at this point, I pulled her aside again and talked it through again. The thing about little tots is that sometimes it just takes a bit more coaxing to open up. And, hey, I said if she wasn’t up for it, we could head back home.
Nope, she wanted to try again, which we did. This time she didn’t hide behind me, I held her basket for her, and she slowly walked forward for a treat.
Then she was hooked.
As we continued down the street she started speaking for herself and began offering a quiet “tanks” after receiving a treat. And as she became more comfortable I reminded her that taking a treat before being acknowledged wasn’t polite, not to grab, and that saying thank you was a must. While we walked through town, I loved seeing her opening up, feeling more comfortable, and understanding the give-and-take of the whole thing.
After making our way up and back I was exhausted, our tot had a glazed look in her eye, and we were all ready to go home and enjoy a few treats.
If you’re heading out for a night of trick-or-treating fun with your tot for the first time it’s a good idea to prep your child before the adventure so she has a basic idea of what’s going to happen. Reading a Halloween trick-or-treating book helps, as well as explaining that talking to strangers in this situation is okay. Along with begin lots of fun, trick-or-treating is actually a great way to encourage your child’s language and communication skills, and get a handle taking turns.
Understand that your tot may not be into it and don’t force it. We really wanted to have a great time trick-or-treating with our daughter, but we exchanged “that look” the second time she started freaking out, understanding that we might have to grab her and go if her behavior didn’t change. The last thing you want is for your tot to have unhappy memories about Halloween adventures.
Set limits before hand on how much candy your child gets to eat after trick-or-treating. Our tot wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and eat her candies the minute after they landed in her basket, but we reminded her we were going to keep walking, enjoying our Halloween adventure, and at home we’d have two of her trick or treat candies.
And, amazingly, we did.
We have this spot at the top of the stairs on the side of our living room. It’s a “spot” we have no idea what to do with. It isn’t really part of the living room, not big enough to do much with, and has been the home to several different things, including a large plant, small bench, and mini pool table — all of which just sat there doing not much of anything.
I was getting really tired of just looking at that empty corner and watching it become home to a happy family of daddy-long-legs.
I was also getting a bit tired of the tot’s toys ALL OVER THE PLACE.
She needed a solution. I needed something. We talked about getting a toy chest (I had visions of pinched fingers), we dreamed of putting together a built-in bookshelf-slash-seating area (I had visions of power tool mishaps), and we chatted about buying furniture (and I had visions of lots and lots of fighting). So the corner sat deserted, the cat turned the mini-pool table into her new favorite lounging spot, and I kept vacuuming up the spiders.
While at O.S.H. picking up who knows what, I spied round cuts of plywood and knew I had to make a play table. But how to make it cool… Then we spied the big spools used for holding rope and I batted my eyes and inquired if we could have an old one. It was my lucky day and we headed home with the round and a spool.
After a nice sanding, and a coating of white stain, the husband took over and screwed the spool to the round and we had a table. I had plans for adding another round base to make the table sturdier, and to touch up the paint, but the tot had other plans. She got busy working the minute it was brought into the house.
Once she was tucked in for the night, I added a few other cute items around her area so she’d stay interested for more than a few days. On the other side of the play corner is our entry way buffet (that houses a bunch of the hub’s old CD’s) that will be cleared out for her toys so the area is comfortable for her to play and stay organized — and I’ll be able to slide the doors so they will magically disappear.
So for less than $20, we reinvented a spool into a fun play table that will hopefully be used for years and years.