June 1, 2021

For the Love of Art: Our Favorite Art Projects this Year

Art was not a reason I set out to homeschool two years ago, but it is one of the many areas in which growth in my kids has surprised me and opened my eyes-- particularly in my oldest. 

W didn't lack good art teachers in school. He had two good ones during his time in school; I was always impressed with the things they'd study and cool projects they'd do. But he didn't like art class and struggled with it, for a few reasons I think. For one, he would often rush to finish because art class was within a tight 45-minute time frame and at a certain point you have to just finish. When emotions are high or he is rushing, the project at hand becomes even more difficult. The teachers would need to help him with the trickier techniques, when they could get to him, and he didn't feel much ownership. Often he would finish off a piece of work with globs of paint, scribbles, or silly doodles-- to cover up his frustration that he couldn't quite get the effect he'd been trying to achieve, like some of the more sophisticated artists around him could. As in all things, he compared himself with others, and in art it made him feel worse and try less hard. He also struggled with attention in school and didn't have the strategies then that he has since found to help with that (and of course had more distractions in school). 

At home he can keep at a project for as long as he wants. He doesn't have others to compare himself to (except his sister, who is at a completely different stage and to whom he is very encouraging in art), so he's become very focused on his particular creations for what they are and for the process. In the past he complained that his paintings looked babyish, but one thing we've done at home is some specific step-by-step painting tutorials (see below). Those have resulted in pieces he's so proud of, he started feeling more capable and more eager to paint in general. Similarly, W always wanted to draw people but felt he was bad at it so avoided it. We've done various online drawing lessons as well as purchased books on how to draw thing like soldiers and military vehicles, and he's also gotten interested in tracing and in drawing images he finds in books or online. The space to pursue his own interests through art, including historical scenes and people in battle, has had major impact. He is driven to do it and has done it more and more of it of his own volition and his skills have grown-- he is so pleased with the way he can draw muscles and bent limbs in action now. 

While there is no one thing I can claim that we've done that has been the ticket, two years of doing art at home, in his own way, in his own time, has really worked wonders for both his abilities and his self esteem. Now seeing himself as a good painter and a good drawer, a creator of incredibly detailed birthday cards, and seeing the effect that all his patient practice has had, his relationship with art has evolved dramatically, and he is more open and positive about any creative opportunity that presents itself. It makes me so happy to finally see him find joy and skill and focus in art.

Onto some favorite projects! 

My kids do plenty of artistic, creative, crafty things all on their own, from M's color-by-number pages and glued-together sculptures and woven potholders, to W's drawings and stop-motion animations and new whittling hobby. But I also enjoy finding a wide range of art projects we can try out together once a week or so. It's a chance to work together as well as learn a new technique or discover new materials. 

I am definitely not an art teacher and that is why I like to share often about the art projects that we do (here and here are some things we enjoyed last year); I can deeply relate to the need for ideas and advice! Here are some highlights from some of the more "official" art projects we've done together over the past year: 

Polymer Clay Crafts
I loved a unit working with Fimo polymer clay in high school, so I bought this set and with the help of some YouTube tutorials, relearned a few techniques with the kids. One big concept is how to make a cane-- a long rod of different colors and thicknesses of clay that, when you slice it, shows a flower or whatever design you've built into it. It's magical! You bake your creations in the oven (on a foil-lined pan, with some good ventilation because it's a little smelly) and when they've cooled fully you can make them into necklaces, earrings, and more. 

(One note: I have done every project on this list with both my kids and this one is truly the only project that I found to be a bit too tricky for my kindergartner (or at least it was early this past fall when we did it). She still had fun playing with the clay, but would have had as much fun playing with Play-Doh, which is softer and easier to sculpt.)

Quilted Pillows
My mother and grandmother made a lot of quilts when I was growing up, and I've made my share of them as well. I was successful teaching my son to knit last year and I wanted to introduce my kids to sewing with a needle and thread this year. I thought making a simple quilted pillow cover might be the way to do it. I got out this quilting book I own, which provides the patterns for many different classic quilt blocks, and let them each choose one they liked. W chose Log Cabin and M chose See Saw. Then they chose whatever colors and prints they wanted from my collection of fabrics and scraps. I helped them pin the cardstock shapes onto their fabrics and cut them out. They laid out their pieces like a puzzle according to their pattern. After that, over several short sessions on many different days, they have pieced together their quilt block, stitch by stitch. They had to learn the concept of right sides together and how to try to avoid tangled threads. I did most of the tying off for my youngest, but her stitches were neat and even! Now they each are very close to having a new pillow.


Pastel Tulips
I got the idea for this from Projects with Kids. We did this on a nice day outdoors in two steps. The first was to draw the outlines of our flowers on black paper, go over the pencil with a line of glue, and allow that to completely dry overnight. The next day we shaded and blended our choice of chalk pastels to color them in, the hardened glue providing a nice boundary kind of like stained glass. They came out beautifully and we still have them hanging in the house. 

Pressed or Pounded Flowers
This is another great project for a beautiful spring or summer day. Half the fun is walking around the yard collecting specimens. It causes you to really look and realize how much variety in plant life is around you in wildflower petals and leaves-- even if, like me, you don't have much for intentional flower beds. After collecting, we've made either pressed or pounded flowers. 

For pressed flowers, we laid out a piece of contact paper sticky side up and placed each specimen face down on it. Then we pressed a piece of construction paper onto that so it stuck to the contact paper. We placed the whole thing under a big dictionary for a day or two to help it stick well and the plants to be nice and flat, then trimmed the excess off the edges and displayed. 

For pounded flowers, we placed a piece of white construction paper on a cutting board, taped down at the edges. We laid our flowers and leaves face down on the paper (or so the side with the most pigment was face down), then placed a piece of waxed paper over the top of it. I taped the waxed paper at the edges too so it stayed in place. Then we whacked it with the flat end of a toy hammer (any flat mallet would work) to try to get the pigments to rub off on the white paper. It takes a fair amount of whacking to get the whole shape of a plant to show up. Then we discarded the flowers and checked out the prints we'd made on the paper. Some of them did better than others and came out quite pretty. It was as much a fun science experiment as an art project.  

Pressed flowers

Pounded flowers and leaves

Color Wheels
There are lots of kids' books and activities about the color wheel and color combinations, such as Mouse Paint. But it was fun to get out only the three primary colors of our tempera paints and literally do the mixing to make all the colors ourselves. On a large piece of white paper, they each used a compass to first draw as large a circle as they could, then used a ruler to draw a nice straight line across the middle, and more lines as needed based on the number of sections. I had M make a simpler color wheel consisting of primary and secondary colors, while W made one that had tertiary colors as well. 

Younger kid version: M made a color wheel with six sections in all. She began by painting red, yellow, and blue sections, leaving a blank section between each set of primary colors. Then she mixed yellow and blue in her paint tray, and painted the section between yellow and blue with the green they created. She did the same with the other combinations of primary colors for the other two blank sections and ended up with a wheel that showed red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. 

Older kid version: W split his circle in the beginning into 12 sections total. He also began by painting sections in each of the primary colors, but he left three blank sections between each pair of primary colors. When he then mixed his blue and yellow to make green, he painted the green he made in the middle of those three blank sections between blue and yellow. Next, he used a bit of that green he'd created and added more yellow to it and put it between his green and yellow sections. Then he took some more of his original green he'd created and added more blue to it and painted his blue-green between his blue and his green sections to result in a color wheel with lots of gradations. It was a super-simple project, but they were delighted with seeing real color mixing at work. 

Color wheel for older kids

Color wheel for younger kids

Acrylic Pour Paintings
My sister first did this with her kids and we were so dazzled by their paintings we had to try it. She pointed me to the fact that there are many YouTube videos about how to do acrylic pour painting. Here is a simple, very slow-paced video about how to do it that I watched for background info. We used a canvas and painted it with a base coat of watered-down paint. We painted it black, but white would also be good. Then, while the base coat was still wet, we mixed little cups of watered-down acrylic paints-- liquid enough that it pours easily but not too watery. My kids each chose three colors they wanted. (Dixie cups or plastic shot glasses work well for the paint cups.) We poured some paint onto the canvas and tipped and twisted the canvas around to make the paint run in different directions. You can pour the paints on in whatever amounts you want (err on the side of less at first because you can always add more). You can pour them all in the same spot or near each other or far from each other. You can use a straw to blow at the paint and make it move around, and all sorts of other techniques you can Google or just experiment with. (Here is an article just for some ideas of the many different techniques you can use when pouring.) Almost whatever you do, it makes striking abstract art. 

I figured this would be a pretty quick project because of the nature of it, but they were at it a surprisingly long time, tipping and twisting and completely absorbed trying to get it to look just so. This would make a fun project for a party or for any age (and would be another great outdoor one, although we did it in the winter).  

Scribble Drawings
We watched a great live online talk with illustrator Jason Chin on Earth Day. In it we got a simple, liberating idea: make a scribble or a fast little doodle on a blank piece of paper. Then, put your pen down and look at it. Turn the paper all around and see what you can see in your scribble. Does it look like a balloon? A hand? The flame of a candle on a birthday cake? Choose what you see in the scribble and then make the rest of the drawing based on that. Chin demonstrated this a couple times and it was amazing how by the time he was done each time, the once-random scribble didn't look like a scribble any more but looked like an intentional part of the fun drawing it became a part of. I thought this was a great activity that was less a one-day art project and more a lesson to always carry with us: it's okay to make mistakes, and anything can become art with imagination and multiple ways of seeing.   

Tissue-Paper Flowers
We've made tissue paper flowers a few times. They are so colorful and last forever! All you need is tissue paper and pipe cleaners. Sometimes we use a Klutz book and kit we have that provides directions on how to make various types of paper flowers from simple to complex. Recently we tried following the online directions from The Craft Patch to make simple, large, bright, showy flowers. Pictured is an in-progress wreath made by wrapping our paper flower stems onto a wire coat hangar.  

Papier-Mache Bowls
This is messy. It also has to happen over the course of several days because of all the drying times. But it's a rewarding, colorful result and a good skill to know. I posted all the materials and steps for it in this blog post

Step-by-Step Painting Tutorials
I've enjoyed a few paint and sip experiences myself and we've enjoyed the kid version as well over the last couple of years. Step-by-step online tutorials, both in video form and in written form, have been a game changer when it comes to painting, especially for my oldest (my youngest still gets a lot of enjoyment out of the act of painting, regardless of the results). Painting something that looks good, in which he did multiple steps he wouldn't have necessarily thought of himself, makes him feel so proud. And while the kids are following a guide, they also have the freedom to omit or add portions they want to their paintings, as well as choose their particular colors and other details. Even when we all paint the exact same project, they all come out so different and with so much personality. Painting tutorials have also taught us some useful techniques that have carried over into other painting projects. One favorite site is Step by Step Painting, which has a bunch of tutorials that are simpler so specifically aimed at kids. We've also had some luck just searching and choosing tutorials on YouTube when there is a specific subject we want to paint, like recently when W wanted to paint a lighthouse in a storm.   

Traced Portraits
We looked at some striking portraits by artist Kehinde Wiley, who creates vibrant botanical backgrounds. Then I printed off a photo of each of my kids. They traced the photo, which was more challenging than tracing a drawing with distinct lines; they had to really study facial features and decide what to trace in Sharpie, what to trace in pencil, and what details to fill in later. Then we copied their tracings onto regular white paper and they colored them in, being especially creative with floral and leafy backgrounds-- we picked things around our yard to inspire the backgrounds. (We borrowed this project idea from the Park Hill School District's online art curriculum.) 

Holiday Crafts
We made a few fun things around the holidays: cranberry chains, snowflake ornaments made from toilet paper tubes and glitter, Christmas tree tree ornaments made from popsicle sticks and from ribbons, and our annual gingerbread houses.  

Sharpie Pop Art
We learned a little about Pop Art (including this quick video intro about it from Tate Kids) and then made these Andy Warhol-inspired Sharpie creations. We each chose our own object to repeat in four quadrants on a square piece of paper, outlined in black Sharpie, and colored in different, bright colors. Fun and easy. 

Abstract Popsicle Stick Art
This was another bright, easy project, fun for any age and for making collectively. We began with jumbo rainbow popsicle sticks, and each painted a bunch of them in whatever abstract patterns and designs we wanted. When they were dry we sorted them out by color and arranged them into squares, then glued them on a large piece of cardboard cut to size. I got the idea from Preschool Powol Packets

Aboriginal Art Prints
This is my favorite example from this year of the value in simply trying out some brand new materials and techniques. The kids were so excited when I told them we were going to try printmaking. First we learned a little about Aboriginal Art (YouTube of course), then each sketched our choice of subject. (Most of the art we'd looked at had animals as the subject, so I chose a fish. My kids were much more creative-- W drew multiple animals heading toward various destinations while M drew Elsa and some snowflakes.) Next we copied our drawing onto scratch-foam board-- we etched the picture right into the Styrofoam using a wooden stylus, but a pencil would also work. Then I poured some block printing ink out (into a large plastic take-out container lid), and rolled a brayer (small roller) in it, then on our scratch board to cover it completely with ink. Then we pressed a large piece of construction paper over our inked scratch board and rubbed over the back of the paper with a flat, heavy object to make sure every area got printed (a rolling pin might have also worked). It was a thrill to slowly peel back the construction paper and see that we had indeed made a print. Now that we've learned some basic steps of printmaking, there are a lot of cool projects we could do. (This project idea we also borrowed from the Park Hill School District's art curriculum online.) 

Tie-Dyed T-Shirts
Recently my daughter and I each tie-dyed a t-shirt (my son opted out of this project). We've used this Tulip kit several times and it works great; you only need to have white clothing or other things on hand to dye. The kit includes instructions and ideas for different techniques of tie-dying that yield different results. The gloves included in the kit are definitely worth wearing from the moment you open the package, because there is dust from the dye that somehow gets all over your hands even before adding the water. (Speaking of mess, perhaps this is obvious, but tie-dying is best done standing at a table, outdoors, wearing a smock and gloves on a nice day!) After the shirts have spent the night wrapped up in rubber bands and plastic, it is so much fun to unwrap them and find out what you've created. 

May 12, 2021

Developing a Sense of Time in Young Kids

Timeline of her life so far

I've observed so many instances of young kids being confused in regard to time:

~ When my son was younger, he never knew when he woke up whether it was morning or after nap. 

~ My daughter, for the longest time, constantly mixed up the words tomorrow and yesterday; morning and afternoon; breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   

~ In many conversations with my first-grade students, they seemed unclear about when their stories from their lives had happened. Some events, like a big family trip or their last birthday, stood out, but otherwise time was an abstract, and they often had trouble sequencing and remembering, much less describing coherently. 

~ Currently M loves babies-- her doll babies, real babies, and hearing stories of when she was a baby. But babies aren't just an interest; it's like she's on a quest to understand. Frequently she'll ask a question about how she ate/slept/talked as a baby or she'll crawl around the house pretending she was "just born today." I have realized her sense of babyhood is black and white without gradations. She knows only that once she was a baby, and now she is big. 

Most young kids can't tell time on a clock, but their sense of time is also developing on a larger scale-- lack of clarity about when events happened in the past or will happen in the future, imagining all babies as crawlers who use baby talk, not recalling or understanding their own growth and development, not having an internal sense of what time of day it is or how long it takes to do things. This developing sense of time seems to be part of the package with young kids, even if they show it in different ways. I've been thinking about this idea more and more this year, spending a lot of time with a kindergartner as I do. So I thought I'd share some strategies (and a few particular activities) that I think have helped a bit.   

In our homeschool we don't do calendar time. (I did traditional calendar activities in the classroom for years. While it helped with rote memorization (days of the week, months of the year, counting) and was a good way to build in a lot of other math skills, I never felt it was very useful in helping kids develop a real sense of time.) But having a calendar on the wall as a visual is useful, each day in its own box. I try to write down the things of relevance to the kids on it-- appointments, birthdays, sports, family visits-- and we try to point out what day it is and talk about what is coming up. My son was ten before he had the order of the months memorized, so in trying to prevent that for M, we do sing the days of the week and say the months in order now and then. But just like the difference in math between being able to rote count vs. actually having a sense of numbers and quantities, I want her to not just be able to sing the days and months, but also to have a sense of where we are in the week or the year. We talk about each month and the types of happenings associated with it to help give it meaning and its own identity-- May, for example, being Mothers' Day and her grandfather's birthday and baseball and working in the garden and those little white wildflowers that bloom each year in our yard...  

Daily Schedule
I write out a basic schedule each day of the things we will do. I don't put time of day on it because we aren't that specific about it, but it is a list that shows the basic plan and order of school subjects and other activities. (M beelines to it every morning, full of comments and questions, and it has absolutely helped her with learning to read this year.) Some kids and some people in general need/appreciate schedules and routines more than others. My kids have both made it very clear to me that they like having this daily list and knowing what's to come. W often asks me to put things he wants to remember to do on it. M even asks us sometimes to write the schedule on the weekend-- and while we don't usually have as clear an agenda on a Saturday or Sunday, we honor her request by writing down any plans or hopes for the day in this same central place.  

Talk, Talk, Talk 
Both my kids benefit from the preparation of talking about an event before it happens-- what time of day we will need to leave, who will be there, what we'll do there. Talking with kids about things past, present, and future as well as taking the time to explain things and answer their questions honestly is probably the most important thing on this list. Recently, M asked me, "Did I draw like this when I was a baby?" and did a curly scribble on a paper. I told her that when she was first born she couldn't pick anything up so she wouldn't have made any marks with a crayon. The conversation grew from there and she was fascinated, asking about different ages and trying to recreate examples as I described the colorful scribbles she'd made at two, the people with just a head and legs she'd drawn at four, and the detailed expressive pictures she makes now. We've had a similar conversation regarding different stages of other abilities as well-- eating, walking, bike riding-- and she always seems to eagerly soak it up, like an anthropologist studying her own past.   

Photo Albums
Whenever M asks to look at a family photo album with us at bedtime rather than just reading a book, it takes a lot longer because she discusses every picture and asks so many questions. But she is earnestly studying photos of the past and trying to mentally put things together, and these conversations are so important for her. (Also, since she constantly wants to hear baby stories about herself, the photos help us remember specific anecdotes to tell.) A couple of times this year, I have also gotten out some much older photos-- from before our kids were born and even from our own childhoods. We had all sorts of conversations about those photos, too. I think older photo albums of people in her life help to provide a rare visual of how people grow and change (since in the short lifetime of a young kid, grown-ups are always grown-ups and kids are always kids), and also to help develop a bigger sense of past and present.   

Artifacts from her Own Life
While some of M's memories (and those of other young kids I've known) are so vivid and specific, I am always amazed at how little she remembers of other times from her life. She told me the other day she couldn't remember what her preschool looked like-- and her memories of daycare when she was two and three, at least that she can relate to us, are even more vague. (The daycare before that, up until she was two, seems not a part of her memory at all.) But I guess in the span of her life, even a year ago is a long time and what is current is much more real. One thing we've done is to save and/or display the things that were important to her at different ages-- the photo album her daycare provider gave to her on her last day, preschool artwork, her first practice chart documenting 100 days of practicing the violin, her own writing pieces from earlier this year. It's nice to look through these artifacts from time to time and talk about them. While they may not cause her to remember those times of her life fully, they are physical evidence of her growth over time, and maybe help fill in some gaps so she can connect the dots of the story of her life so far.

Compare Lengths of Time to Known Quantities
Time is tricky and even if I spoke in specific minutes and referred to the time on the clock all the time, I don't think it would sink in till she was a bit older. Often when I say we'll do something "in five minutes" or some other length of time, M will ask me, "How long is that?" because she really doesn't know. (This may also explain why telling her we need to leave in one minute doesn't seem to have any effect in causing her to move any faster.) When saying a length of time, I try to think of something she has a good sense of to compare it to. If something is two hours, it's the length of a drive to visit grandparents; if it is twenty minutes we compare it to the length of an episode of Daniel Tiger; two minutes is the length of time to brush your teeth. After hearing an analogy like this, she nods and I see a sense of understanding.

Projects about her Own Growth and Stages 
The two fun projects below are things I incorporated into M's homeschool day over recent months.

Making Books: 
We read a few stories that had a theme of growing and memories of the past. One good one was Birthday Presents, by Cynthia Rylant, which tells the story of a young child's growth through her parents' descriptions of her birthday celebrations each year. Another was When I was Little, by Jamie Lee Curtis, which follows a basic pattern of "When I was little..." on one page followed by "Now..." on the next page. 

Both of these books were written in a patterned format, and I had M borrow the patterns from them to write about her own life. She especially seems to treasure the book she created about her birthdays. I printed out a few photos from the day she was born and from each birthday since for her to choose from, then cut and arrange on a page and use to spark her writing and memories. We spent quite a while making it and discussing all the photos. (It was fun to let her play around with some of the photos before putting them in the book and try to put pictures of herself in age order, too.) The other book she made is equally sweet, with lines like, "When I was little I crawled. Now I can walk and dance." She chose the topics about which she wanted to compare then vs. now and they were things like making music, skiing, and the length of her hair. 

"When I was born I was too too too cute! I had a bath in the sink..."

"When I turned 1 I stayed home from daycare. I had a pink and white raspberry cake."

"When I was little my hair was teensy."
"Now my hair is long."

Timeline of her Life so Far: 
This past winter I tore some paper off her art easel and I laid it out across the floor. I drew a long line and helped mark out sections, and label each mark with her ages in years. I had M name some important things that had happened in her life so far, and then I told her where to put them on the line. It was neat to hear her observations while making it. It makes a cute thing to display in her room, and hopefully helps her understand her past. 

No doubt M will develop a more mature sense of time on her own, one way or another, as all kids do eventually. But she has such an interest in her past right now, so we've had fun capitalizing on that with some of these activities and conversations over the last several months.