Button Pumpkins

This was meant to be a post about how to produce beautiful, unique fall decorations with your children.  They would adorn our dining room table, and we would admire them all season.  That was my vision, inspired by this image I stumbled across.

Of course, things didn’t turn out that way.  I should have known better than to enter into a craft like this (with a GIANT styrofoam ball, COOL buttons, and PINS) with a 3-year old and a 5-year old with a rigid end product in mind.  But of course I make mistakes like this every day.  Multiple times a day.  Oh well.  It’s actually still a great project, and I’d totally recommend it!  There are some lessons I learned about how to set it up better, if you’d like to steer toward a more complete end-product.  But the greater lesson I learned is that it’s about the PROCESS, silly.

On to the project… materials:

Styrofoam ball – mistake #1: mine was WAY TOO BIG.  Ours was probably 8″ in diameter; unless you want this to be a multi-day activity (or your kids have the patience for a 60-90 minute project), I’d suggest one 3-4″ in diameter would be plenty big.  I realized once we got started that there was no way my kids were going to have patience to cover this thing.

Stick pins – I bought a box of pins at Michael’s – the kind with the big round ends. Not quilting pins, but slightly smaller.  Obviously, these are sharp, so use your own judgment as to whether your kids are ready for this.  My 3-year was fine; I wouldn’t trust my 20-month old.

Buttons – I got 2 bags of fabulous, random buttons at Michael’s.

If we had gotten to completion, I was planning on using green pipecleaner (doubled on itself) and sticking it into the ball with the pins to use for a stem.  We’ll try that next time.

We placed the ball on a ramekin to stabilize it, and put all the materials on cookie sheet so S could spread the buttons out if she wanted to (and to contain the buttons & pins in one place.)

To affix the button to the ball / pumpkin, you just stick a pin through the button hole.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

It’s pretty fun to do and to watch.  But you can see how it would take quite a lot of patience / time to cover the whole thing.  So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when S announced she was all done at about this point.  (“Really???  But don’t you think it will look so much cooler if you cover the whole thing?!?  Don’t you want to do it for a little while longer??”  Oh right, back off Mom and get your own craft.)

I assumed we were done at this point.  But then S and her brother H (he had done one too) announced that they needed the plastic wrap (huh?).  They proceeded to wrap those balls completely in saran wrap, secured with half a roll of scotch tape.  And then they decided they had to wrap them in wrapping paper to present to their dad when he got home from work.  They meticulously traced out a big square on the wrapping paper, cut it out and and used the rest of the scotch tape to wrap those puppies beautifully.

Appreciate the contrast between their vision and mine.

This was a great lesson for the All-Knowing-Mother-With-A-Master-Plan in me about honoring my kids’ vision — which is so often a work in progress, an exploration of materials and techniques, and an ongoing collaboration with siblings/friends.  Their approach is of course so much more rewarding and more fun!

But what should we do with all these cool buttons??

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Yogurt and Berry Popsicle

While I know that the leaves are changing colors, kids are bundled up in long-sleeves, and baked apple pies warm chilly homes in most parts of this country, here in California we were just in the middle of what feels like an Indian Summer. It was so hot! We did bake a spectacular apple pie earlier this week, but the pie was made from far more than two ingredients (unless I say it’s made from “crust” and “filling!”) So I’m here to share a super-simple, yummy popsicle that can be whipped together in minutes (aside from additional freezing time) with the last little bits of summer berries
Ingredients
Favorite Vanilla Yogurt
Favorite Berries

Directions
1. Fill the bottom of a popsicle maker with a couple tablespoons of yogurt. Create layers in the popsicles by adding a few berries, more yogurt, more berries, etc. (We put in whole blueberries and crushed raspberries).
2. Freeze until firm
3. Pop out and enjoy!

How are you celebrating Fall?

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Ziploc bag & Paint

I was inspired by this post on Let’s Explore to try this technique at home because it looks so entertaining, uses only two ingredients, and no mess! Frankly I had a lot of fun with it before I even gave it to my son.

Simply squirt paint into ziploc bags and make sure they’re sealed shut (you can add tape if you’re nervous about your kids opening them).
paint in ziplock bags

You can then draw anything you’d like and erase it by just mushing the paint around.
blue paint bag

Adding two colors is an interesting way to experiment with color mixing. Older kids can practice writing their letters.
mixing paint in ziplock bags

We also experimented with running various things over the paint – toy cars, a small pumpkin – even Baba got in on the action!

If you tape the bag to your table, kids can come by and play with it over and over!

Fall Bucket List

 

Image from LovesofLife.com

Happy Fall!

We are in the full throes of Indian Summer here in the Bay Area, so it’s hard to believe that fall is here just yet… but I love celebrating the changing of the seasons, and fall is my favorite of all — something about the different light, the bite in the air, and that fall smell…

Anyway, I was inspired by the beautiful image above I found on Pinterest a few weeks ago — it’s from this great blogger, Katie at LovesofLife.com.  To celebrate the First Day of Fall yesterday, I was excited to make our own bucket list with my kids.  We were running around in the car much of the day, and this was a great conversation topic (much better than “Stop harrassing your sister!  Give your brother back his book!  Mom, he/she hit me!!”)  We brainstormed ideas as we drove around, and when we got home, we took a few minutes to sit down before dinner to write down our ideas and add some more.

The idea of a bucket list (or a life to-do list – call it whatever you like) appeals to me these days more than ever.  I feel like the weeks, months and seasons fly by so quickly now with the busy-ness of three young kids, school, activities, etc; I really like the idea of trying to be a little more intentional with how we spend the free time we have.   I don’t want to be overly ambitious (though I probably have been) — as my son was eager to note, our #1 rule for our Fall List is Have Fun!

You can download and print the list above from LovesofLife.com or you can make your own if you’d like to personalize some of the activities.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be fancy at all.  I ended up making ours in Word (I inserted a table and just used different fonts and shadings on the cells.  As you can see below, I am clearly not a graphic designer.)

Since none of my kids are readers yet, I had my son illustrate the activities so he can remember what they are (that’s what those hieroglyphics are… e.g., for “Make fall cookies”, my son H pointed out the squiggly line “is the smell of baking cookies coming out of the oven. You can see the cookies through the oven door.”  Clearly. I love it.)

I’m planning to laminate ours and hang it at kid-height on the wall (yes, I’m a geek and bought a laminating machine at Costco); you could also put it in an 8×10 picture frame and use a dry-erase marker to mark off activities as you do them.  I can’t wait to get started!

What’s on your fall bucket list?

 

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Apples & Paint

In honor of the harvest season and Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year where you dip apples in honey to celebrate) I decided to try apple painting. They’re selling “lunchbox” apples at my supermarket which are perfectly sized for a child’s hand.

I placed some paint on a piece of foil and O dipped the apples in.

Then stamped onto paper.

He asked for purple, so I showed him how to mix red and blue to make it, and he decided that mixing colors was the coolest thing since sliced apples.

The final product, showing the progression from primary colors to the mixed paint apples is fun. I noticed that a thin layer of paint on the apple produces the best result.

Here is my attempt at the project – what an older child could achieve. The color blending turned out to be an unintentionally interesting effect. You can even make a fall placemat out of your art work by laminating it with clear contact paper.

After all that apple painting – we got hungry!

The Best Kid-Friendly Homemade Granola Bars

Now that school is back in swing, I am getting into the habit of making daily lunches for my kids.  Like many parents, I struggle with the balance of healthy food vs. fun/yummy stuff they will actually eat!  My kids would be thrilled to find their lunch boxes filled with fruit ropes and yogurt tubes every day, but I am determined to get some fruit, fiber, protein and the occasional vegetable in there as well.

Which is why I was so excited to discover these granola bars from my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen.  I know, you’re saying “Make my own granola bars from scratch? Are you crazy??”  But honestly, these are super easy to throw together — and a great kid cooking project, to boot.  Oh, and they’re delicious.  I like to say I make them for the kids, but I have to confess that more than a few have disappeared during naptime with a cup of coffee.

You can find the whole recipe here, complete with beautiful food blogger photos that I can’t begin to compete with.  But I’ll give you the quick narration of my latest cooking project with S, my 4-year old, along with any tips we have found.

We started by assembling all the stuff we wanted to include in our granola bars.  The great thing about these is that you can put almost anything you (read: your kids) like.  For this batch, we included pecans, walnuts, unsweetened coconut, dried blueberries, dried cherries, pumpkin seeds, and golden raisins.  You can skip the nuts if you/your school is no nut, you can add more fruit (I’ve done dried figs and dates before), or less fruit if you like to keep it simple.

The recipe calls for 1/3 cup of oat flour, so we just pulsed a 1/3 cup of oats in the mini-prep – always a fun activity!

Then we combined all the dry ingredients – oats, oat flour, and all our fruits and nuts.

Dumping blueberries into the big bowl…

Then the cherries. Get out of there, cherries!

Then we combined all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  You can use honey, maple syrup or corn syrup for the sweetener; we used honey this time – have used maple syrup before, and I can’t really tell the difference.  Note: the recipe does call for a couple tablespoons of light corn syrup to use as a binding agent (so the granola bars stick together better); don’t worry: this isn’t the same thing as the Evil Ingredient high fructose corn syrup.

Then we added in some peanut butter (clearly we’re NOT a no nut household, and we all love the taste of it; but this is optional, and you can use other nut butters if you prefer) and mixed everything together.

We had already lined an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper.  Mom emptied the stirred-up ingredients in, and then S used another piece of parchment paper to press the granola “dough” down into the pan.  Pressing the dough down firmly helps the bars to hold together better.

Then into the oven for 35 minutes or so, until golden brown around the edges.  I have had problems in the past with the bars being a little crumbly when I cut them, so I let them cool a bit then pop the pan in the fridge for another 30-45 minutes.  After that, I lift them out on the parchment paper, cut into squares and wrap in plastic wrap.  I’ll often store them in the fridge, but that’s to keep them firm (I like my bars more chewy than crumbly) – not because they’re perishable.

(Note: I also may have more crumbly bars because I probably put too much “dry stuff” in our bars.  I get so excited – cherries! and blueberries! and pumpkin seeds! and coconut! and pecans! etc… that I exceed the 3 cups of recommended fruit/nuts in the recipe.  So if you have issues like me, add a little more oil or syrup to help balance the ratio.)

Enjoy with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee, depending on your age.

What are your favorite yummy / healthy lunchbox treats?

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Bubble Wrap & Paint

My husband and I were cleaning out our garage a bit this weekend and ended up with a pile of bubble wrap and cardboard.  My son used some of the cardboard to make race tracks for his cars (along the lines of this post.)  I had recently seen some fun examples of using bubble wrap for art projects, so we decided to give that a try this afternoon.

We gathered together our tempera paints, the bubble wrap and a couple trays (I used cookie sheets.)  I cut the bubble wrap down to slightly smaller than the cookie sheet so it would fit nicely inside.

I let S go to town squeezing out as much paint as she wanted.

This was super fun for her, because usually it’s mom’s job to put the paint on the palette — she loved the responsibility and independence of controlling how much paint to squeeze out, of which color, and where.

Then I told her she could swirl the paints together — and that we needed to cover the whole tray.  This was really where the fun began…

“Oh, we need just a little more white here, Mommy. Definitely more.”  We also had a good discussion around what would happen if she added more white vs. more black or green.  This is a great opportunity for a quick lesson in color mixing…

We finally agreed that we had plenty of paint on the tray.  We then laid the bubble wrap onto the tray (we did this part together, to make sure that we got it in without smear too much more paint on the counter.)  S patted the bubble wrap down for a bit to make sure the paint was well adhered.  This was also a fun and different tactile experience for her.

She carefully peeled the bubble wrap off the paper, while I held the other end of the paper down.

And voila – a Bubble Wrap masterpiece!

Her brother of course wanted to get in on the action, so he created his own too.

They both discovered a neat bonus activity with this project — that you can take a brush and create a whole new painting with the paint that’s already on your paper from the bubble wrap print.

All in all, we agreed that this project was a winner — while there’s definitely more of a mess factor here than some, the process is a really rewarding one for kids, and you end up with a unique and beautiful product!

Simple Science: Pepper Swim Away

Here’s a very quick & simple science activity you can do with basic things in your kitchen, and it has a surprising effect!

What you’ll need:

  • Small bowl of water
  • Pepper
  • Drop of soap

Shake or grind the pepper to cover the surface of the water.

Ask your child what they expect will happen when you drop the soap in and why. What do other things do when you drop them into water? Then drip a drop of soap into the middle (or put soap on your finger and touch the middle).

The pepper swims away!

Or “runs” as you can hear O saying excitedly:

Did it do something different than what your child expected? How interesting that adding soap to water can make it do something that you didn’t expect!

Water has a surface that allows light-weight things to float on it. This is how water bugs walk on water. But soap breaks this “skin”, like popping a balloon, so when the “skin” scoots away from where it was popped, the pepper goes with it! (See this great page for more variations and detailed explanation.)

Literature Inspired Art

As Emilie Buchwald’s saying goes, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”  I want to instill in my children a love of books. I want them to appreciate the magic of books; to see how books provide a playground for imagination and an extension for their thoughts.  In an effort to build and nurture this love, I have given a lot of thought to channeling their curiosity through books. The trick with engaging my son’s curiosity has been to make the reading process more proactive and interactive.


For example, the other day we were reading “Where the Wild Things Are.”  I started asking him questions: what do you think of this little boy? If you were going to write a book like this one, what would your characters be like? Would you have monsters? What would they look like? Would they be nice or scary? In asking these questions, he started paying more attention. By the end, Sohan no longer saw the words and ideas in the book as the author’s alone, but also as his; the simple process of asking questions and encouraging him to personalize the story gave a new life to a story he’s read one too many times.

To take it one step further, we designed our own monsters. My son and his cousins loved creating their own monsters, and they continued their discussion of the book much longer than if we had just read the story. They compared each others monsters to identify similarities and differences, they compared their monsters to the ones in the book, and then they went on to tell their own “Where the Wild Things Are” stories.


Later that week, we tried an art activity with the story “It Looked Like Spilt Milk”.

After reading the story, we created our own “spilt milk” art using glue and construction paper.


Once again, a simple activity led to interesting connections, analogies, and questions. The teacher in me cheered on as I discovered an engaging activity that not only developed his critical thinking skills, but gave me the opportunity to share in the joy of reading with my son.

For more inspiring ideas on how to help your kids engage with great children’s literature, check out the whole series on “A Book and A Craft” assembled by a group of incredibly creative bloggers over at The Crafty Crow.

What are your favorite literature inspired art & craft activities?


Two Ingredient Tuesday: Spray Bottle & Watercolor

We’ve written about the joys of spray bottles on a summer day, and about painting with Koolaid. I decided to try to combine these two activities to see if it doubled the fun.

First we mixed Koolaid – you can use any liquid watercolor – with water in a spray bottle. Koolaid can stain, so if your child might aim somewhere other than the paper, make sure to get a washable paint!

We had leftover paper blinds, so I put one in the backyard and let O go to town.

Let’s see if it does something different if I spray really close… Yes! The drops are bigger.

The resulting grins made the Koolaid sprayed on my legs worthwhile.

Our final Jackson Pollack results:

We let our art dry outside all afternoon, and by evening we could bring it inside to hang on the wall. O remembered from last time that it’s fun to smell your art: