Art at Home

art at homeOver the years, I’ve had parents approach me at my programs and say “I bet you do a ton of art at home with your kids, right?” They are very surprised when I tell them that no, actually, I don’t!

The reason is this. I have a very active son. And I mean active with a capital A. He decided he was done napping when he was 13 months old and celebrated this decision by vaulting out of his crib. I have a younger daughter who puts everything in her mouth. Absolutely everything. So art supplies were not the best match for our active, mouthy little household. My one experiment with crayons resulted in eight decorated walls, and my son referring to my daughter as a “great artist” with something akin to awe in his voice.

This winter, however, I decided that everyone was a little older (and hopefully, a little more careful) and we were ready to try again. I put together a little art studio, in a little house, on a little budget.

I decided that the studio would be in our kitchen, since we already had a second-hand table parked there that had previously been used as a train table for our son. I purchased a couple art caddies from Michaels craft store and parked them on the tabletop.

caddiesInside the caddies are scissors, a glue stick, a hole punch, markers (regular and thin), a tape dispenser (for a good one, see this post), and plastic shape tracers my husband purchased 3 years ago.

We had been using 3 drawers in the kitchen for toy storage. I moved the toys elsewhere and set up art storage.

drawersThe top drawer holds crayons, colored pencils, and regular pencils. The middle drawer holds construction paper and patterned paper. The bottom drawer has sketch pads and white paper. It might seem like overkill to have these supplies divided into three drawers, but I wanted the kids to be able to segregate the supplies easily and put them away on their own (it worked too!).

The final art storage area is located in the bottom of our pantry, which is right next to the art table. Again, I didn’t pack the pantry full of supplies because I wanted the kids to have plenty of room to access the supplies and put them away on their own.

pantryI stocked a canvas bin full of clean recyclables: empty oatmeal containers, cereal boxes, tissue boxes, toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, plastic retail packaging, tea tins, etc. Every now and then, I replenish the bin with new stuff. In many ways, it’s a small-scale version of the recyclable program I run at my library. Here’s the canvas “art bin” in action:

art binTucked next to the art bin are containers with Playdoh…

playdohWatercolors (not tempura or finger paint – not quite going there yet) plus extra brushes

watercolorsAnd a miniature version of the Bling Bin, which contains odds and ends like pom-poms, pipe cleaners, a pair of unused shoe laces, ribbon, clothespins, feathers, craft sticks, even those little hook thingees that come on new pairs of socks.

mini bling binAlso in the pantry was the biggest splurge – a huge roll of easel paper for floor projects. But a 40% off coupon really helped knock down the price. In fact, I used Michaels 40% off coupons for all of this stuff, slowly acquiring supplies and stashing them in the basement until the big reveal on New Year’s Day.

So, how did the art studio go over? That morning, my son spent 4 hours in the studio, creating things. He made a roadway with easel paper, a jet pack, a rocket, a drawing of a haunted house, a train map, and a train bird feeder, which he promptly asked me to hang on the porch. These days, he’ll head to the art studio to manufacture his own toys to play with. Here’s a shot of that snazzy train bird feeder. Look at that fancy tape work!

train birdfeederMy daughter favors Playdoh, coloring, and using pom-poms from the Bling Bin in various scenarios around the house (ice cream store, grocery store, some sort of complicated sports game with vague scoring parameters). Often, she can often be found scribbling away at the art table with multiple markers at once. She says this is a drawing of a playground. Can you guess what her two absolutely favorite colors are?

playgroundThis past holiday weekend, we stepped into the studio to create some snazzy submarines with spinning propellers (toilet paper tubes, drinking straws, cereal box cardboard, and plastic medicine cups).

submarinesAnd, continuing with the nautical theme, we also made these boats out of tin foil (that’s sailboat on the left and a rowboat on the right). Then we floated them in the bathroom sink.

boatsIn short, the studio was a success and I didn’t need to invest in something big like an easel, shelving, or even new storage bins to make it work. In fact, I was surprised and delighted to learn that many of the containers and even some of the art supplies were already lurking in the house.

Oh, I can still fantasize about my dream home, where a whole room would be dedicated to art. It would have big windows, a sink, a tile floor, a drying rack, a costume/performance area, a drafting desk, paper mache mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and walls adorned with the cheerful work of my genius children.

But right now, I’m happy with my little kitchen studio, and so are my little artists.

Sneaky Math

cloud diagramWant a side of math with that story time? From simple to semi-sophisticated, here are some ways I’ve worked math into my library programs!

COUNTING SUPPLIES

There are multiple steps in my story time projects, and some of those steps involve selecting certain amounts of art supplies. So we’ll count together. For example, if the kids need 2 pipe cleaners for their project, I’ll hold out a bunch of pipe cleaners and count aloud as each kids selects them, “One…two! Great!”

NUMBERED SUPPLY CONTAINERS

During projects, I’ll often put  a line of supplies on the windowsill, and kids walk down the line and select certain amounts of supplies from each container. I used to use post it notes to mark the number needed on each container…

post it notesBut then I found these little babies!

holder with numberThese are 8″ table card holders. I purchased mine from an online restaurant supply company (The Web Restaurant Store). Don’t they look snazzy?

card holdersDIAGRAMS

Sometimes, I’ll have a project that requires a diagram to demonstrates how much of something is needed. For example, this rainbow cloud project needed to be covered in cotton balls, so I drew a diagram showing how many balls needed to be attached, and how many cotton balls you’d need in total. Numbers, beautiful numbers.

cloud diagramI’ve also been known to sneak math into story time projects, like this lemonade stand that involves counting, sorting, and sequential thinking.

Now who’s up for something a little more…elaborate?

In 2012, my library hosted a large-scale Robin Hood event. I knew we just had to do something on taxes. But how were we going to design something that involved taxes, math, Medieval history, but was also simple enough for kids of various ages to grasp quickly? The answer came from my brilliant event assistant Katie. We would design a tax wheel game based on Hi Ho Cherry-O.  We called it “Your Tax Dollars at Work.”

tax wheelHi Ho Cherry-O is a classic early math game involving counting and numbers. The game is driven by a spinner that dictates whether you add or remove cherries from your basket during game play. But what if the spinner for our version pointed to various Medieval taxes, the game pieces were coins? We could even throw some Robin Hood characters on the wheel. Perfect.

We knew needed to go big and durable at such a large, crowded event. So I ordered a 36″ blank roulette wheel from Spinning Designs Incorporated. The company was very tickled by the novel use of the wheel. Perhaps that’s why they gave me a fantastic (and much appreciated) deal on a wheel that had “minor surface imperfections” (which I honestly could never find).

Then Katie and I researched the different types of taxes from Robin Hood’s day. There were a lot (honestly, who taxes you for churning your butter?). We also had to find a way to gain coins back during the game.

Ultimately, we came up with the following “Lose” and “Gain” categories.

Lose Coin

  • Travel tax
  • Churn your butter tax
  • Bake your bread tax
  • Pay your lord
  • Grind your grain tax
  • Sheriff steals
  • Prince John takes all
  • Land tax

Gain (or at least not lose) Coin

  • Harvest time
  • May Day
  • Good day at market
  • Robin Hood gives you coins

As you can see, there were more ways to lose your money than gain it. We intentionally designed the game that way. There were going to be so many people at the event (3,500 actually) we wanted the game play to average 3 minutes so lots of kids could have multiple turns. If you’re interested, here are the complete game instructions.

group of kidsIn addition to the wheel, there were game boards designed to look like Medieval money bags. You placed 5 coins in your “bag” at the start of the game, then added or removed coins as the wheel dictated. We used metal replicas of Medieval coins. Because we’re nerds like that.

game boardsWhen all your coins were gone, the game was over! As a “consolation” prize, kids got a chocolate foil-wrapped coin. Kids with food allergies or dietary restrictions got to take home one of the metal replica coins.

The “Your Tax Dollars at Work” wheel and game boards were drawn by Kemi Lin, an amazing Princeton University student artist. She did it all. By hand. With packs of Sharpies. After the event, the game was donated to the Somerset County library system. Long may it live!

Projects, Projects, Everywhere

project bookIt’s the age-old question. What, oh what, am I going to do all of my kid’s artwork? The fridge door is full, the closets are stuffed, the space under the bed is crammed, and that cabinet in the entertainment center is approaching alarming.

This question is especially relevant for patrons who come to my Tiger Tales weekly story time. The program is year round and we always make a project. Sometimes a rather large and involved project. We definitely have regulars who attend every session, so…that’s one project a week over the span of a year. Give or take some holidays, sick days, and vacation days, that could be 40 projects to store in your abode.

No fear! I have a solution. I spotted it in FamilyFun magazine a few years ago and it works a treat. It’s an art project brag book.

brag bookBrag books are basically small, 4″ x 6″ photo albums. Typically, they hold 36 – 40 photos and retail for $6 – $8. I snagged this one from a discount bin at Bed, Bath, & Beyond for $1.99 (and then I shamelessly used a 20% off coupon on it).

The next time an art project has run its course in your home, simply snap a photo of it, print the photo, and add the photo to the brag book. That way, the artist still has a record of his/her work. A “pint-sized portfolio” if you will. You can even customize the cover!

customized coverYou could also include the child in the photo with his/her artwork and gain a sweet little timeline of the artist. Later, when he/she has their first show at the Met, you can bust it out at the opening reception whilst warbling “Sunrise, Sunset.”

Want to know more about the two projects pictured in the brag book that started this post? You’ll find the answers here and here!