Two-Ingredient Tuesday: Leaves & Contact Paper = Fall Placemats

In anticipation of Thanksgiving, my kids create these simple-to-make placemats for all of our guests.

First, we take a bag and head outside for a nature walk.  We love wearing our cozy fleeces in the crisp autumn air!  This year, we walked around our neighborhood, gathering leaves.  Other years, we’ve gone out on hiking trials searching for colorful leaves. The conversation centered on the colors of the leaves.  We started with what colors my kids observed.  “Red, yellow, orange, green, purple leaves!” they exclaimed.  Oh…purple?  As it turns out, the dark red/maroon leaves actually look dark purple.  I find it so fun and inspiring when my kids observe something that I don’t.  Today, I learned that leaves turn purple!

Then, we stated to talk about why the leaves turn colors.  My 4.5 year old explained, “Because it’s fall, Mommy.”  How very true.  We talked about how, in the fall, it gets cooler and the sun doesn’t stay out as long.  So, the green color (chlorophyll), which likes warm weather and sun, goes away, and you can see yellow and red.

Back home, we selected leaves for each mat.  For each mat, we cut two pieces of Contact paper.  (We cut off ~12 inches from the roll for each piece.)

First, unpeel one piece and leave it sticky side up.  Add leaves to the sticky side.

After decorating it with leaves, add the other piece of Contact paper to sandwich the leaves.  Then, you have your placemat!

It also looks quite nice in the window.

We’re making 10 placemats for our Thanksgiving table.  The kids have started to do make patterns with the leaves, and add words on little pieces of paper to add to the mats.  My daughter is now expanding beyond leaves to include drawings and felt to make people/family placemats because she’s “thankful for her family.” We look forward to celebrating that and much more at Thanksgiving!


Felt Leaf Garland

As I mentioned in my Fall Bucket List post, I looove Fall.  The light, the smells, the leaves… But the color show we get with the turning leaves in the Fall out here in California isn’t as showy as those you enjoy on the East coast — so I thought it would be fun to make our own Fall Leaf Garland, as colorful as we want it to be!  Plus, I’ve been looking for a good “sewing” project I could do with my 4-year old.  Working with a blunt tapestry needle and felt is great practice for fine motor skills – and great fun, to boot.

All you need is felt, yarn and a tapestry needle.  You can find tapestry needles at any craft / fabric store; I like these because the points are sharp enough to penetrate the felt, but safe for small people to work with.  (Note: I also found even blunter plastic needles but those weren’t quite sharp enough to push easily through the felt.)

Now, about those leaves… At first I tried to get my kids involved in this part of the project.  I invited them to draw pictures of leaves (or trace some leaf cookie cutters we have) and cut them out.  They had a great time drawing on the felt, but had a hard time producing leaves that were a) easy to cut out or b) big enough to use in making the garland.  Also, I found the (cheap) felt I bought was hard to cut with kid scissors, so sharp, grown-up scissors were required.  So, in the end, I hijacked this part of the project and did the set up myself.  A google image search gave me some ideas to copy, so I drew the leaves and cut them out.  If your kids can handle sharp scissors safely, you can recruit them to help out with this part.

Then all you need to do is thread the needle and knot the yarn at the bottom, and you are good to go!  (Note: I tied the two free ends of the yarn together at the bottom after threading the needle, so S wouldn’t have to worry about it pulling out of the needle as she sewed.  Not sure that was absolutely necessary – the double thickness of the yarn probably made it more likely to get tangled.)

I watching the concentration on their faces!

There are certainly lots of ways you could sew the leaves together, depending on your / your kid’s sewing skills and patience.  We just chose to do a simple up / down on each leaf (you can tell I’m not a seamstress either – there’s probably a proper term for that stitch!)  You can see better what I mean in the completed part of the garland below:

The garland did have a tendency to get a little tangled, so I stayed close by to gently straighten things out, if necessary.

After your little one is finished sewing, you may want to smooth the leaves out.  Our finished product:

“Mom, I love my new leaf necklace!”

When everyone is finished playing, you can repurpose the garland for your Thanksgiving table!



Acorn Cap Jewels

Guest post from Jen at Paint Cut Paste

I love the natural art materials the earth provides this time of year! My 4 year old daughter and I have been having a great time making all sorts of things with acorn caps – such as tiny acorn cap candles, felted wool balls with acorn caps on them, and little fairies acorn caps for hats. This time we created acorn cap “jewels.”

I have seen this idea around the web lately, so I thought we’d give it a try at home. We had all of the materials on hand, and I’ll bet you do, too. You’ll need:

  • Acorn caps
  • Elmer’s school glue (or any school glue brand that dries clear.)
  • Markers (we used Mr. Sketch markers because we love the scents!)
  • Rice, beans, or play dough to hold your caps in place while they dry (We used some old play dough.)

First, my daughter had a great time coloring the insides of the acorn caps with each color marker, and placing them securely in the play dough.

Then she filled each acorn cap up with the school glue.

There were lots of “ooooohs” and “aaaaahs” right away, as the colors started to seep into the glue.

We set our acorn caps aside to dry for 48 hours. My daughter was very excited to check on them periodically over these days and watch the colors begin to show through the drying glue. Once they were all dry, they looked like vibrant, shining jewels! We’ve had lots of fun playing with them since they were made. They’ve become jewels for indoor and outdoor treasure hunts, “money” in my daughter’s store-related play, and tokens used in our own game of memory (flip them upside down and try to match the colors and remember where they were – if you want to play this, be sure to make two of each color.) The uses are as endless as your child’s imagination… and when you’re finished playing with these little gems, they bring such a autumnal decorative touch sitting out in a bowl in your home.


Two Ingredient Tuesday: Hole Punch and “Ticket”

My son is obsessed with trains.  B’s favorite books are about trains, his favorite shirt has a train on it, he plays with his electric train the first thing in the morning and our train table has earned its value a million times.  When I took out a single hole punch for my personal use, he was instantly drawn to it.  After hole punching his heart out with a piece of paper, he announced to me, “Where’s your ticket?”  Since then, B has kept tickets of all kinds, from real sports or movie tickets to birthday invitations or even magazine inserts — he pretends they are tickets and punches away.

On this day we used an old train ticket and a single hole punch. He has to focus really hard to coordinate the hole punch and ticket alignment.

While a hole punch and ticket is automatically an imaginative train game to my son, I’d love to hear what other children imagine the ticket is for.  Please share your ideas: where will your child’s imagination take them with a hole punch and a “ticket”?

Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

I know pumpkin carving season is over…but maybe you’re like me and still have some uncarved pumpkins sitting on your front porch, or you’re inspired to cook with some of those beautiful squashes while they’re still in the market.  In any case, this is great way to make a tasty snack with the season’s harvest.  Besides, it was on our Fall Bucket List, so I had to get it checked off before moving on to winter!

Here we are carving up our pumpkins last weekend.  Even the littlest guy got into the action… though he thought the object of the game was to put the seeds back INTO the pumpkin!

I found this great recipe for Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds from Cooking With My Kid that I’d been dying to try (I’m a sucker for salty/sweet), so that’s basically what I followed here.

I rinsed the seeds in a colander and laid them out on a kitchen towel to dry overnight.  As you’ll see in the recipe below, if you don’t want to wait for the seeds to dry, you can still toast them in the skillet while they’re a little moist.

Caramelized Pumpkin Seed Recipe
from Cooking With My Kid

Prep Time: 5 mins  Cooking Time: 8 to 10 mins

1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds (cleaned and patted dry)
2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
olive oil cooking spray

Place pumpkin seeds in a dry non-stick frying pan over medium heat.

Toast them in the pan, constantly shifting them around so that they roast evenly and don’t stick to the pan. When they start to pop and peel, take one out and taste it (make sure it’s cool enough first). If it’s crunchy it’s done, and you’re ready for the next step.

Turn the heat down to low and spray the seeds with olive oil cooking spray and then spoon sugar into pan and stir seeds up as sugar melts and sticks to the seeds. Turn heat off and sprinkle with salt.

Let them cool and then enjoy!  Warning – my crew & I found them highly addictive!

Halloween Candy Art

In case it’s not obvious, this is a “humpbacked whale stingray” with spikes to protect it from predators, or so says my 4 year-old son. He’s turning his Halloween candy into art, and this is what he came up with using lollipops and molding clay.

When I first proposed he try using some of his candy for art projects, he wasn’t too keen.

“Candy is only for eating, Mom”, he emphasized.  And we’ve done plenty of that!  But I figured there was no way we’re going to eat through all his loot, and with a little encouragement, he soon realized that playing with candy not only makes colorful projects, but it’s a very interesting medium to him. When else has he been given permission to unwrap and handle so many lollipops at once? He was hooked.

Next, I was curious to see what he would make of Pixie Stix, since he got a jumbo-sized one longer than his arm that he’s been obsessing over opening all day (that’s it – not a light saber – in the picture on the left below).  I figure that much sugar could fell an elephant.
Once my son realized the tube was filled with colored sugar crystals (I let him taste a small heap), he proposed he use it to make the nectar of flowers.  I gave him finger paints and he poured out a pile of Pixie Stix dust.  He made “hand flowers” and sprinkled the “nectar” into piles on his painting, loading it up on the “grass”, saying it was falling out of the flowers. To my pleasant surprise, candy art was a huge success with my son.  The possibilities are open ended, and it was such a novel way of approaching art that it really got his creative mind in gear.  I was worried he’d be too distracted by trying to eat the candy to get into the process, but with a few bites here and there, he was satisfied to focus on his creations, with a few licks for good measure.

If you’re confronted with tons of candy that you’d like to get out of your house (and if, like me, you’re worried about eating it all before your kids do!), here are other ideas of ways to creatively use it (or eat it):

What are you doing with leftover Halloween candy?

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Flour and Colored Chalk

I love including my children in cooking, but it’s not always possible, especially when sharp knives and hot pots are involved. So I’ve been building an arsenal of activities to keep them occupied and entertained while I tackle garlic chopping or lasagne assembling. One of my best purchases ever as a parent is a big under-the-bed sized plastic bin that I whip out for sensory and messy activities. So first, if you don’t yet have one, make a note to yourself to find one and then make some room for it near your kitchen. I found ours at Target.

Experiment Ingredients

For this experiment, we used colored chalk and flour. That’s it. Yay for simplicity!

I placed a few scooping tools and a flour sifter in the tub. I rarely use the sifter, but my 3-year old adores it, and this is the perfect time to bring it out.

I filled a large bowl with a few scoops of flour and she got busy sifting, scooping, and mixing. Meanwhile, I assembled the lasagne and got it in the oven.

Once I had a moment, I grated some chalk into the bowl. She was intrigued and wanted to see what happened when it mixed with the flour. She was surprised that it mostly blended in, barely tinting the flour, and requested more chalk.

While she stirred, I got some dishes done, and then I returned to grate some more chalk until she had enough.

Cool Lessons

She learned about scale and volume while experimenting with these fun powdery substances, while I was able to make a hot meal…mostly uninterrupted!

Do you have any tricks for keeping kids occupied while you’re trying to get things done?

Rachelle writes about creative experiments for kids on her blog, TinkerLab.

Make Your Own Slime!

My kids love cool (/ gross!) sensory activities, and so I’m always on the lookout for fun things to explore together.  We’ve explored oobleck here before, and when I saw this project for homemade slime on this awesome site, I knew we had to check it out during the Halloween season.

DIY Slime result

DIY Slime Ingredients

  • Elmer’s glue
  • 2 disposable cups
  • Food coloring (any color) – note: this works just fine without food coloring – you just get white slime – and you don’t have to worry about staining clothes or fingers
  • Water
  • Borax Powder (available at most large grocery stores near the laundry detergent)
  • A tablespoon (for measuring)

Getting Started

Start by filling one of your cups up with water, and stir one spoonful of Borax into the water.

Then, put about an inch of glue into the other cup.

Add three tablespoons of water to the glue and stir.

If you would like colored slime, add a few drops of food coloring to the glue mixture.  We added 8-10 drops to get a deep green.  BUT, if you would like to be able to play with the slime without the worry of food coloring stains, you can just skip the food coloring and stick to WHITE, GHOSTLY SLIME.

Combining the Mixtures

Then, add one tablespoon of the Borax mixture into the glue mixture.  Stir well and observe how the watery glue begins to solidify just a little and turn into slime.  Depending on how much glue you put into your cup, you may need to add a bit more Borax solution.  Go slowly on adding the Borax stuff — your glue mixture will go from slime to solid pretty quickly (as ours began to.)

Whoa – so cool!!

Enjoy Your DIY Slime

Let your slime sit for a minute or so, then you can pull it out and play with it!  Our fingers did get a little stained from the food coloring, so I would probably skip the food coloring next time.  Also, you can put the slime in a ziplock bag for storage — or as a mess-free way to play.

How DIY Slime Works

Want to understand / explain what’s going on?  From Science Bob: “Now for the SCIENCE part…. This POLYMER is unique because it has qualities of both a solid and a liquid. It can take the shape of its containers like a liquid does, yet you can hold it in your hand and pick it up like a solid. As you might know, solid molecules are tight together, liquid molecules spread out and break apart (drops) POLYMER molecules CHAIN themselves together (they can stretch and bend like chains) and that makes them special. Jell-O, rubber bands, plastic soda bottles, sneaker soles, even gum are all forms of polymers. The polymer you made should be kept in a sealed plastic bag when you aren’t playing with it. Also, be sure to keep it away from young kids or pets who might think it’s food.”


What are your favorite sensory activities?

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.

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.”

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.

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