Two Ingredient Tuesday: Pumpkins + Paint

This didn’t start as a Two Ingredient Tuesday activity.  This is a story of taking a breath and letting your child take the lead — and seeing the surprising results that spontaneity may produce.  Figuring you might have some paint and pumpkins in your house these days, we thought you might enjoy exploring these two ingredients on a whim, too!

It’s just before bedtime and H asks me if he can paint his new pumpkin. My first impulse is to tell him he has to wait until tomorrow after school. But then I figure it’ll only take a few minutes, so why not. I ask him how many colors he wants so I can pour them out of the paint containers.  “Four. I want white, red, pink, and brown”, he replies with certainty, as if he’s been pondering his choices all evening.


I give him four brushes so he can keep his colors separate, but he immediately starts mixing the paint and I notice an impulse to stop him or guide him to at least not mix brown in with the other colors, since it’ll muddy the pink and red. I resist and instead sit back while he creates a palette of several shades of pink and explains to me how white mixed with red makes pink, but brown makes everything brown. I smile, and watch him mix in the brown anyway.


H slathers his now pink pumpkin stem to bottom but just before coating it 100%, he looks up at me and asks if he can paint whiskers on his face like a cat. My knee jerk is to say, “no way!”, and so I suggest that he finish painting his pumpkin instead. Then, I take a beat, see there’s no harm, remind myself the paint is washable, and tell him yes. He carefully dips the paintbrush to make sure it’s really wet and runs it along his upper lip and cheek.

He then dashes to the bathroom mirror. I hear jubilant giggles. H quickly returns to paint on a beard, “dye” his hair, paint his fingernails, and finally his forehead. OK, this time I stop him so he doesn’t get paint in his eyes.

His Dad walks by the room at this point, looks over disapprovingly, and murmurs something about how close it is to bedtime.  But I’m feeling pretty proud of what H has done in such a short time. What a great artistic moment this has turned out to be! H learns about blending colors, painting natural surfaces, and blurs the boundaries between the pumpkin and himself. And after a quick shower, he’s off to sleep in a jiffy.



Let’s Talk About Art

Many of us parents spend messy mornings making art with our children at home. We delight in watching them swirl finger paint across a page or squish dough in their tiny hands. However, making art is only the first step in the creative process.

Art includes many subtle stages: contemplation of what to make, preparing materials, creating, cleaning up. Yet there is another important step in the creative process we often miss: unfolding meaning from the image.

The images any artist (aka: your child) makes contain the stories, emotions, intellect, and worldview of the artist. Don’t miss the opportunity to engage in uncovering the gems embedded in the lines, shapes, and colors that come from your child’s imagination. Not only will you learn something about your child, but this step often helps your child’s idea come full-circle and be integrated into his or her everyday life.

Image credit: PaintCutPaste

Here are some respectful approaches to talking with your child about art:

Active Observation

While your child is making art, support the process by reflecting back only what you see happening on the page.For example, reflect verbally by saying something like, “I see yellow lines across the top of your page.”  If making art alongside your child, try to mirror the same types of marks s/he is making to to communicate the idea: “I see you. I am paying attention.”

Decoding Symbols

It’s never safe to assume you know more than the artist about what it is or what it means.For one kid, a pig might represent the scary boar he saw at a state fair. For another kid, a pig could mean the sweet, soft, cuddly stuffed animal friend he hugs when he goes to sleep at night. So try to hold back from interpreting a child’s images until you hear their story.

Describe What You See

To keep an objective attitude about your child’s art, one easy way to begin is simply to ask your child: “What do you see?” Trust the artist’s words about their own art. Your conversation may lead into a story from the child about who is in the picture and what is happening on the page. Allow meaning to arise organically. You don’t need to translate art into what it must mean in the life of the child, at least not out loud. If you have a younger child who may not yet have the ability to describe the art, you can plainly tell about what you see. Be careful not to interpret what the image “must be” or what it means. Merely describe the lines, shapes and colors that you see. Try “I see a yellow circle up there” instead of “I see the sun.”

Image credit: PaintCutPaste

Dialog with Art

Another fun approach is to talk with the art itself. Kids are great at using their imagination to pretend in this way, so suspend any adult self-consciousness and disbelief and go for it with them. For instance, one way to begin might be to say, “If the duck you drew could talk, what would he say to us?” (Only after the child has identified that her picture is, in fact, a duck.) Then you, your kid, and the duck can engage in a conversation. Stay within the metaphor, behind the safe veil of play.

Sublimation through Art

Try to curb your own inclinations to change, brighten, or smooth over content that may seem angry or violent or negative — art is a safe playground. Art provides an opportunity for working with of the darker side of being human. If your child seems to be looking for a way to ameliorate a dark situation in the art, you might follow his/her lead and provide assistance in moving the story along. Allow space for the child to exercise internal resources to arrive at his or her own unique solution and make choices. Curbing your parental instinct to “save” the situation here fosters confidence and autonomy in your child.

Withholding Opinions

When looking at someone else’s art, always check in with your own biases and opinions. If you were a child-centered art therapist or a play therapist, the convention would be not to criticize and not to (get ready for it) praise the art. Though as a mom, it’s understandably difficult not to say, “That’s a beautiful flower you drew, sweetie!” While it is most important to be your authentic parent-self, keep in mind that as nurturing as approval can be, compliments alone do not provide the solid type of positive reinforcement the examples above can give to your child.

Image credit: PaintCutPaste

Being witnessed and feeling “seen” are huge confidence-builders for any human being, especially our little friends who are forming their sense of self in relationship to the world. Reflecting upon the art process allows parents a concrete way to give children the affirmation they need.

Guest post from Jen Berlingo, who is an artist and art psychotherapist.  For more information, visit her web site at and her blog on art ideas for kids at

Private Eye

The past few evenings have been absolutely gorgeous so my family and I have been spending quite a bit of time playing outside.  Early in the week, as I sat on a bench of our neighborhood park while my kids played on the structure, I noticed the leaves on the ground.  I picked up one of the dry leaves and began to examine the gift of Fall: the crisp lines, the wrinkles, and the sharp edges.  This act reminded me of one of the activities I did with my fourth graders and immediately, I thought, “I wonder if my son might like this?”

This activity is part of an interdisciplinary curriculum called The Private Eye, which encourages students to closely analyze an object using a magnifying lens and then relate the object to something else based on its intrinsic qualities.  So, I got my hands on one of the jeweler’s loupes that are included in the curriculum and tempted my son S to try out this exercise.  (You could easily substitute a magnifying glass for the loupe, if you have one around the house.  I’m pretty sure you can pick up either at your local hardware or toy store.)

First, he picked an acorn off the ground and like a budding Sherlock Holmes, stared through the loupe for quite some time.  I wanted S to translate what he saw through the loupe onto paper so I drew a circle and told him to draw what he was seeing.

While the acorn looked more or less as it should, his thought process to make it so was quite unique.  He said, “The acorn looks like a peanut.  And the top part looks like really really tiny raisins.  I see a bunch of lines.”  Essentially, he was using things he had seen before and knew: peanuts from outings with his dad at the ballgame and the occasional raisin from afternoon snack to describe something he had seen before, but never been asked to describe: the acorn.

We tried this activity again with a dry leaf and the result was similar.  S said, “Mom, it has a lot of lines and looks like the cracks on a sidewalk.  It also kind of looks like a spider, or maybe a spider’s web.  Or rivers on a map.”  His train of thought was endless, but again he was taking what he knew to illustrate another idea.  He was drawing these connections, and though they might not have been the first things that came to my mind, I understood his reasoning.

After he described the leaf, he was off looking at other little tidbits through the loupe.  And whether or not we verbalized the activity, I could see him going through a similar thought process each time.  This was the point of the activity: to find meaning in things beyond face value.  Next time, I hope we can explore this meaning and I can ask him, “Why do you think it might be like that?”  In that moment though, we were simply enjoying the simplicity and complexity of nature that accompanies our afternoons outside.

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Play Dough and Mr. Potato Head

This post is inspired by B’s co-op preschool teacher who put out Mr. Potato Head pieces at the play dough table. When B’s preschool teacher said that her high school aged children still played blocks and play dough with her elementary aged child, I immediately went out and purchased blocks and learned to make play dough. B loves to create “creatures” out of these materials and I do too! All you need is a ball of play dough (purchased or made) and a Mr. Potato Head.

B likes to empty the potato of all its pieces before starting his work.  Depending on your child you can take the plastic potato away or leave it out.  I take it away because B likes to store play dough inside.


B unexpectedly smashes the play dough lump.


Once the dough is sufficiently sculpted to his liking he adds eyes, a mouth and a nose.


B asks me to roll a ball, and he puts on shoes, adds arms, eyes and a set of mustache eyebrows.


Here is his final creature.  I think it’s cute.


Ultimately this becomes a game of smash the creature or “where’s the nose?” where he hides pieces in the dough and finds them.


To clean up, B helps by putting all the used Mr. Potato Head pieces into a container of warm soapy water.


What are your favorite Play Dough + ______ combinations?

Rainbow Sugar Cookies

I love doing baking projects with my boys – it’s the perfect combination of tactile play (mixing) and fine motor practice (measuring), finished off with a treat!  My son’s preschool has been doing a unit on colors and rainbows, so I decided we should try making some rainbow sugar cookies.

We both had a great time and the cookies were delicious, but I’m not sure I’ve completely tamed the inherent stickiness of a butter-based dough with this recipe. This was not entirely a bad thing since it was a chance for me to get my son to tolerate a sticky texture he’d normally resist – the promise of cookies at the end was good motivation! A shortening-based dough would be easier to work with, but if I’m putting in the effort of making cookies anyway, why not go for the good stuff?


1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 cup sugar (superfine if you have it, regular granulated if you don’t)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling out the dough)
food coloring

cookie sheet
parchment paper
plastic wrap

Unless your kid is more coordinated than mine, you’ll definitely want to gather and measure ingredients ahead of time for this one. I like putting everything in little ramekins so we can read through the recipe together and easily add and mix.

Cream the butter & sugar

Dump the softened butter, the sugar, and the salt into a large bowl, then mash with a fork until light and fluffy. This is my son’s favorite part aside from cracking the eggs, but I still usually need to help him finish as it takes some time and effort. (You could also do this in a mixer.)

Add the eggs

Next up, the best part – the eggs! This never gets old, and my boys have been known to fight over who gets to crack the next one.  You’ll need to help pick out stray shell pieces, of course.  Add the vanilla, then beat with a fork until combined (another good mixing step for small kids). Then dump the eggs into the butter and keep mixing with the fork until it’s nice and smooth.  Since you haven’t added the flour yet, there’s no danger of over-mixing, so feel free to keep on mixing as long as your kid is into it!

Mix the dough

Time to add the flour.  My son likes to spoon the flour in a bit at a time, but just dump it all in at once is fine, too.  This is the step where you don’t want to mix too much, just until the flour all combined.

Color the dough

And now the color!  Divide the dough into 4 or 5 pieces, or as many colors as you’d like to make. The dough is so sticky that kneading it on the countertop is pretty messy and difficult, so I found the best method is to put each piece into a cereal bowl and mix it there.  We had fun adding the food coloring just a drop at a time and watching the colors change. You can knead by hand or mix it with a fork. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly combined, the cookies will still look nice.

At this point my son was losing focus so I called for a break, which turned out to be a very good idea.  The dough was getting very soft with all the mixing, so an hour or so in the fridge made it much easier to roll out into rainbows. To prevent it from drying out, wrap each color individually in plastic wrap. (You can leave it in the fridge for up to 2 days, or freeze it for up to a month.)

Make the rainbows

When you’re ready to bake, start the oven preheating to 375F and cover your baking sheet with parchment paper.  (You can bake without it, but you run a much higher risk of the cookies sticking.)  Take out the dough and get out a little flour for dusting your work surface.

To make a rainbow, pinch off four or five small pieces of dough in different colors.  Roll each piece into a little snake and arrange into a rainbow shape directly on the parchment-covered cookie sheet.  Lay each one down in an arch shape, one on top of the other, and then gently press together.  Keep your cookies at least a half inch apart.

When you have a sheet full, bake at 375F until edges are golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.  You’ll have better results if you bake them one sheet at a time.

When cookies are done, immediately transfer them to a cooling rack.  You can just slide the entire piece of parchment from the cookie sheet onto the rack.  When cooled, these cookies can be stored in an airtight container for a couple weeks.

Of course, your kid might have entirely different vision for his cookie, and that’s ok, too!  Happy baking!

Sharpie Pen Tie Dye

Some of my kids’ FAVORITE art supplies are Sharpie markers.  I can totally understand – the colors are so vibrant and fun.  Of course, they do always make me a little nervous — the PERMANENT aspect and all (especially in a house with a 20-month old who is eager to get his hands on everything!)  But I was excited to find a project that we could do together with these beautiful colors and learn something new about the cool properties of permanent markers.

I found great instructions for making tie dye with Sharpie pens here at Steve Spangler’s website (which is a great source for all kinds of great science projects.)

Here are the supplies you need:
Rubbing alcohol
A squeeze bottle or dropper
Plastic cups
Rubber bands
Fabric to dye – we decided to tie dye some white cloth napkins we have

Place your fabric tautly over the cup and secure it with a rubber band (this is the area you will be decorating).

The directions I found suggest that you make about 6 dots of ink from one marker in a circle pattern about the size of a quarter, and then fill in the circle with dots using other colored markers.  That approach definitely produced the best rainbow-like results, though my kids did not necessarily follow those guidelines (see previous post on Mom’s Vision vs. Kid’s Vision.)

Then slowly drop about 20 drops of alcohol in the center of the pattern.  (Note: if you are using a squeeze bottle, as I did, you may need to place your thumb over the end so it doesn’t come out too fast.)  You’ll see the molecules of ink spread outward to the rim of the glass from the center.  If your kid has used different colors, it does actually turn out like a rainbow!

We let the pattern dry for a few minutes, then moved the napkin to decorate another area.

After you’re all done decorating, you’ll need to set the colors by placing your fabric in the dryer for about 15 minutes.

Steve Spangler has a great explanation for why this works on his blog: “This is really a lesson in the concepts of solubility, color mixing, and the movement of molecules. The Sharpie markers contain permanent ink, which will not wash away with water. Permanent ink is hydrophobic, meaning it is not soluble in water. However, the molecules of ink are soluble in another solvent called rubbing alcohol. This solvent carries the different colors of ink with it as it spreads in a circular pattern from the center of the shirt.”

So maybe I can rest a little easier when my kids are playing with the Sharpies, as long as I have rubbing alcohol around!

The finished product is a colorful napkin – one that I think H will be proud to take in his lunchbox to school!

Kiwi Crate Launches!

I’m very excited to announce the launch of Kiwi Crate.  Kiwi Crate was built out of a passion for hands-on fun that encourages creativity and curiosity in children. I had a deep appreciation for these projects, but often found that my greatest intentions fell short. It was tough to find the time to come up with engaging hands-on activities, let alone get the materials.

So, as I started to develop creative projects with my kids, I thought, “why not share them with friends, who are also busy?” At playdates, the kids had a bunch of fun, and the parents appreciated having all of the materials and inspiration for the projects provided. Several parents mentioned, “I wish I could do this at home with my kids!”

Kiwi Crate was created to fulfill that wish and to celebrate kids’ natural creativity and curiosity.  We want to make it fun, easy, and delightful to spend time building, exploring and creating together.  Since its inception, the Kiwi Crate team has grown.  We’ve added creative parents who dream up the projects, valued experts who review them, and a community of kid testers who keeps us on our toes and ensures the projects are fun and engaging.

We love working on Kiwi Crate and cherish the involvement that our kids and friends have in bringing the product to life.  We look forward to hearing what you think too!

~Sandra & the Kiwi Crate team

p.s., If you’re curious how we came up with the name Kiwi Crate, here’s the story.