Friday, May 30, 2014

Magazine Collages

     It's finally time for another activity! This past month, I've taken a short break with this blog as I contemplated my path as a writer and started some new projects. I started another blog called noiseview, because I wanted to start writing about some of the original music and art being made in in the Syracuse area. I also started a private blog for the childcare center where I work. It will be interesting to see what these projects grow into. I was feeling overwhelmed for a bit, but the time has finally come where I feel motivated and prepared enough to revisit Activities & Such.

Making magazine collages

     I had been wanting to do this activity for some time, and the perfect opportunity presented itself the other morning. I was opening one of the preschool rooms and found myself with only two students. Both boys are very energetic and prefer activities involving movement and super heroes to activities involving chairs and sitting in them. I was hoping that this activity would be engaging to them, and I was pleasantly surprised because both boys did great work for a solid 20 minutes!

     For this activity, I set out these materials for each child: a sheet of paper, wildlife magazines, scissors, glue stick

     I loved this activity for lots of reasons. It's a chance to look at great photography and talk about animals with kids, and a nice opportunity to talk about re-using materials before we put them in the recycling bin. It also gave me a good idea of their skill in using scissors, without me having to talk them into sitting down and cutting out a circle (kind of like how moms hide vegetables in brownie mix, I guess...).
Mid-process mess!

     The next time I do this activity, I would like to work with some older students and make more materials available so that they can be more creative in their collage-making. Hmmm... and THAT reminds me of a pinterest button I saw recently about re-using cardboard boxes to make art panels. The finished pieces were hung in the Young Artist's Gallery, and I posted a short narrative to accompany the art.
This artist also did some impressive precision cutting that's not seen here.

Do you see the turtle that is hiding?
     If you don't have any magazines with this type of photography lying around, try keeping an eye out at garage and library sales - I can usually find magazines at both for very cheap. This activity can be adapted by adding a variety of different collage materials and challenging older artists to cut the animals out more precisely. Then just sit back, and watch the masterpieces being created!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Displaying Children's Artwork

      Today, I thought I would post about my Young Artists display at work. We have a large bulletin board near our front door that is my responsibility to keep looking pretty. When I was new here, I thought I'd be clever and change it every month. That lasted about five months. Then I went for a seasonal approach. This works, but I stressed way too much over finding an appropriate theme that was cute and that incorporated the children's artwork. Sometimes I just threw my own artwork up there, but I'd rather highlight the children's art than my own. Then I came up with the idea of transforming the bulletin board into a Young Artists Gallery.

Why a Young Artists Gallery?

      In this way, I feel that I can put up children's individual artwork without worrying about creating a project that all the kids have to finish. It's ok if none of the pieces have anything to do with each other. This is sort of a long-term project for me, but for each child involved they see it as just drawing a picture (for now).
      I wanted the background of the bulletin board to be plain - something that I could leave up all year that wouldn't distract from the artwork. I made some frames from brown construction paper. At first I tried to make the frames look unique and cool, but once I started putting artwork up I realized that the frames shouldn't be too busy.

      My first two little guinea pigs were Sam and Emily (names changed to protect the adorable). These guys had just turned three. I gave them paper and markers and asked them, "Will you draw a picture for me so I can hang it up on the wall?" Then they drew, and I took notes. I tried to ask them what they were drawing, and I found that sometimes they were drawing "things," but mostly they were just drawing. So I adapted my approach a bit, and tried just to comment on the techniques that they were using. This sparked some great conversation - art and literacy do go hand-in-hand! When they were finished, I found that I had more of a narrative of the process than a description of their pictures. He is the display that was produced.

      Kind of plain looking, but this was the first "exhibit" in the gallery. I really liked how the experience unfolded with Sam and Emily, so I chose to put just their two pictures up first (with the narrative). Below is the narrative that was posted under the Meet the Artists label:

    Emily and Sam sat together while drawing their pieces. Sam started by drawing “bees” and “baby bees” on the bottom of his paper, and Emily experimented with drawing fast scribbles in different colors. Then, they both began drawing “bees” all over their papers, putting “baby bees” in the corners, and connecting their “bees” with lines. At this point, Sam began experimenting with fast scribbles, and Emily added a river to the bottom of her piece. Finally, both children realized that if they draw on the back of their paper, the lines faintly show up on the front. Emily and Sam added some finishing touches to their artwork using this newfound technique.
    Both artists have recently celebrated their third birthdays.

      For the next "exhibit" I wanted to highlight some of the older children's work. I approached every child the same way - with fresh materials and the question, "Will you draw a picture for me so I can hang it up on the wall?" Most kids just drew with markers. I did try something a little different one day, giving them large shape cut-outs that they could incorporate into their art. It was a SAD DAY because all of those creations accidentally got thrown out except for one. At any rate, this was the second installment.

      These artists were ages four and up. They were able to describe their pictures to me, so instead of a narrative, I posted each picture with the child's name, age, and their description of their work. The bottom left was a camping scene of sleeping bags laid out by a campfire. The bottom right is a picture of an alien being beamed back up to his space-ship. I LOVE IT!! I love seeing kids being creative. 

      As for the future of our Young Artists Gallery, I plan on giving the kids different materials to work with and keeping with the posting of descriptions/process-narratives. I would also like to do some multi-media art projects that take more than one sitting to complete. I think I may add some seasonal touches to the border of the display, just to make it appear a little softer and homier. I do plan on having some themed exhibits as well. I'm sure that this is just the first appearance that the Young Artists Gallery will be making on this blog!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Not Your Average Storybook!

Happy Easter! I am taking advantage of my food-coma to post about one of my favorite children's books, Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola. I came across this book when I was teaching pre-school about five years ago, and it was basically love at first sight. The book is told through pictures; the only print in the book is natural print that appears in the pictures (signs, labels, and you get a peek at a recipe book). The story is very sweet and I love the way that dePaola illustrates.

      When I started my current job, a copy of this book was actually one of the first things that I found when I was going through my newly acquired desk. I remember feeling like I had found an old friend! It was probably for this reason that one of the first projects I assigned myself was to make up some lesson plan ideas to go along with this book. I printed it out and taped it to the inside cover. It's basically addressing one way to "read" the book (since there is not any printed narration) and then one extension activity for dramatic play and writing. This is not really in lesson plan format, I just wanted our teachers to be aware of some pre-literary skills they were addressing just by "reading" this book with the children.
Skill Area – Reading Comprehension
Goal – to use pictures to predict a story
-In this book, the pictures tell the story.  Since there is very little reading involved, the children can participate in telling the story by describing what they see and making connections with what they saw on previous pages.  Guide them in finding the contextual clues that foreshadow events (On the third page, her thought bubbles mean that she is thinking about pancakes.  What do you think she will do next?...)
 Skill Area – Print Awareness   
Goal – to show an understanding that letters make up words and that print delivers a message
- Since there is so little print in this book, guide the children in searching for the words. When does the author use words? (To show us what is in each container, to show us the recipe that she is reading…)
 Skill Area – Print Awareness and Writing Conventions
Goal – to show an understanding that written materials are used for a variety of purposes and to use pretend writing activities during play to show print conventions
-The words recipe and ingredients may be unfamiliar to the children.  Explain what they mean and how they are an important part of daily life.  Encourage the children to write their own “recipes” and to use them in the dramatic play kitchen.  (Some children may want to copy words, while others may only be interested in scribbling on the paper and interpreting what they “wrote” - both are acceptable and should be praised!)

      I love how this book lends itself to the extension activity of making our own recipe books in the kitchen. I really wanted to drive home the point that any attempt at writing is awesome for pre-schoolers.  When it comes to teaching pre-school, my philosophy is that this is the starting point of academia, and I want kids to leave pre-school excited about school and excited about learning. Writing is tiring for their little hands and it is easy to get frustrated and give up; so, it is for this reason that I tend to have a soft spot for those kids that need a little extra help getting excited about writing. Also, this is an activity that lets the children play a role that they are probably very familiar with, as most of them have probably seen somebody follow a recipe. It's presenting reading and writing in a very natural and relevant way, and that is something that I strive for when creating lesson plans or activities. Some kids need to disassociate writing as a "table activity" to start to become interested in it.

      As a lover of books, these are my favorite kinds of lessons/activities to plan for. I hope that you will get a chance to check out Pancakes for Breakfast with your child/children/class. Writing a recipe book (pretend or real) would be a great rainy day activity! 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jazzy Letters

      It's Activity Time! Today, I will share an art activity that I created with Kaylee, my boyfriend's daughter. She was seven at the time (last year), and is a true music lover.

Materials needed: Mod Podge, paintbrush, wooden letters (can be found at any craft store), sheet music, crayons

      So, I had gotten this "K" and just could not figure out what I wanted to do with it. Then, I had come across some practice music from college. BING! Activity born. These pages were just photocopies, so I didn't mind using them for a project. If you don't have random piles of photocopied sheet music just lying around your house or office, you can click the link in the materials list to find some free sheet music. Click on a song to look at it, and then there should be a button at the bottom to open the song as a PDF file, which you can print.


      First, add color to each staff. We went for kind of a tropical mix. Then, tear the music into strips. I tear (rather than cut) because I like the look of the ripped edges. Feel free to experiment.


      Most jazz sheet music has a hand-written look to it, and it will have chord names written above the notes. I think it's kind of whimsical-looking (if I may), but, not all of the links on the page above will have this look. Browse through a few to find two or three pages that appeal to you.


  Apply a thin coat of Mod Podge to the front of the letter. Begin to cover the front of the letter with sheet music. Some pieces will hang over the side. Don't worry about them until you've covered the entire front surface.

Spongebob. He's always watching.

      Now you can brush Mod Podge onto each side and fold down those over-hanging pieces. Add more strips accordingly to finish covering each of the sides. After you finish each side, brush a thin coat of Mod Podge over it to seal.

      Finally, lay the letter down on wax paper or foil and apply a generous coat of Mod Podge all over the front of the letter to seal and finish. Let dry overnight. Here is the finished product! I hope you will enjoy this activity. Please share pictures of your own Jazzy Letters!

Friday, April 4, 2014


      Good morning, Earthlings! Today, I thought I'd share an activity that I did with the childcare kids last April to celebrate Earth Day. In short, we made an Earth. Since the finished product was hung up in our foyer for quite awhile, I never thought to take a picture of it after it was painted. I also never thought to take a picture of it before I threw it out a couple months ago...

      This happy accident does, however, help to emphasize the fact that very often the process of making art gets overshadowed by the desire for a nice-looking product. I try very hard not to let this be the case when I create art with children, so I find it somewhat fitting that you will see only pictures of the process - the most important part!

      I love a good paper mache project. For this one, you will just need the mixture, a balloon, and some paint. I just use the simple recipe of flour and water. Some recipes have you boil the water. Boil it? I don't even measure it! I usually just start with about a 1/2 cup of flour and then slowly add water and mix with my fingers until I get a watery paste. It really doesn't have to be precise. If you're getting big clumps of flour on your paper strips, either try mixing everything better or adding some water. Also, after some time the flour will start to settle at the bottom, so just give it a good mix with your fingers every 20 minutes or so.

It should move like liquid and be opaque.
      Newspaper works wonderfully for paper mache. I've also used old coloring book pages and old phone book pages - any type of flimsy paper. This time, we used some extra Scholastic Book Club fliers that I had on hand (btw, Scholastic is AMAZING). Whichever paper you use, you want to tear it into strips about 1/2-1 inch wide. If you hold the paper in front of you and tear from top to bottom, you should get nice easy strips. If it doesn't work, try turning the paper 90 degrees.

or this should give you strips.
Either this...


Tearing is key, because the rough edges help hold onto the "glue" and cement everything together. I had done this project with the three and four year olds and I did all the tearing just to save time; but, some children this age and definitely older children may be perfectly able to help with this step.

      I wanted this to be a project that every pre-schooler would work on, so I pulled them in pairs to work on each step. It took two days to let everyone work on the paper mache step. The first day we were able to work outside. I tied the balloon to the fence just outside the playground, and brought out a box of paper strips and a box filled with the mixture. I showed the kids what they were going to do, and then let them do it.

      First, we soak the paper in the mixture. Then, we put the paper on the balloon.

"Cover up all the green!"
      I let each pair work until they basically got bored with it. Some kids would have finished the whole thing if they could, but most kids worked for about ten or fifteen minutes (you can see one aspiring artist is on the other side of the fence intently watching after her turn was over). Once the balloon started to get covered, I asked kids to look for green spots where we could still see the balloon and try to cover those up. The second day we had to work inside, so I hung the balloon from a kid-sized coat rack that we had. I also put a towel down underneath - there will be drips!

Adding another layer on top of a dried layer.

      Since this Earth would be on display and wouldn't be handled much, I wasn't too worried about the way the paper mache went on. In general, however, you want to apply about three layers (allowing them to dry in between) so that it will be nice and sturdy.

      For the painting step, I had to remind myself that this Earth was not going to look anything like the actual Earth. I wanted each child to participate, and that meant that every time a new child painted, they might be covering up what another child before them had painted. Normally, that's not cool! This project, however, was more about working with paper mache and recognizing that we live on the planet Earth than actually making an accurate visual representation of the Earth. So when it was time to paint I gave each child some white, green, blue, and brown paint. I had a few photographs and illustrations for the kids to look at and we talked about what we saw. Sometimes the land was brown, sometimes it was green; the oceans are blue; the white areas are clouds and ice, the ice is on the very bottom and the very top; and so on and so forth. Then, the kids painted. I set the balloon on a small cardboard box, and just kept rotating it whenever a new group came to paint. The final product looked kind of like a giant muddy sphere with globs of white and blue; but, everyone who worked on it knew that it was our planet.

      With a project like this, I try to take as many pictures of the kids working as I can. Unfortunately, I didn't get any painting pictures due to the messiness level; but, I printed out pictures of the kids paper-macheing and made a little poster for the parents to read about the process. I think this is a great way to get kids talking to their parents about what they do while they are here. If you've ever asked a kid what they did in school today, 99 times out of 100 they will tell you, "Nothing." This way, parents can ask more specific questions and hopefully get more enthusiastic answers.

      That's it for this week. Until next time...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Penguin Play!

      I love DIYs! A great resource for DIYs are old sheets. They offer some yardage, and you can find cheap, used ones pretty easily (thrift stores, garage sales, hand-me-downs...). With a pair of old penguin sheets, I managed to make two pairs of children's pajama pants, as well as a bunch of these little pillow characters. This post is about the characters, but here is a link to the tutorial I used to make the pajamas. It's from the blog My Cotton Creations, and is very easy to follow!

    I did use my sewing machine to make these little guys, but they could very easily be done by hand as well.

      Basically I wanted something that would be easy for little hands to hold onto, and something I could throw in the washing machine with towels in case they found their way into little mouths.

      I used the same pillow-making technique that I learned in junior high school:
          - cut out the penguins, leaving about a half inch around the penguins for the seam.
          - pin the penguins onto another piece of fabric face down, and cut out (to make the backs of the pillows. I actually just cut pieces out of an old white t-shirt)
          - since the penguins are face down, we now have right sides together. Start sewing around the edge, but don't go all the way around, leave about an inch-wide opening
          -pull the pillow inside-out, so that you can see the penguin and the pillow has right sides facing out
          - stuff
          - sew opening closed

      Around the time that I made these, I was also making a fleece patchwork blanket, so I used scraps of fleece to stuff them. I am a HUGE fan of re-using things that seem like trash at first glance. Because of this, I do have a *bit* of a hoarding problem, but that's a story for another blog.

      So, when I made these, I originally thought I would just make them and bring them to work and let the kids play with them. But THEN, I realized that I had access to a Don't Break the Ice game with a broken frame (again, trash at first glance...). I would imagine that this game would be relatively easy to find at garage sales and thrift stores. Gather up as many of those ice blocks as you can!

They neglect to tell us not to break the frame, either.

      So, instead of throwing out this little gold mine, I decided to make a "prop box" (essentially a bin full of materials to be used in child-directed play). I took all the ice cubes and saved the little bear and the hammers for another activity that hasn't been born yet. I also added some blocks of two different types of Styrofoam, and some strips of thick white fabric. 

This penguin is about to have some visitors!

      My idea was for the kids to play as they wished, but I knew of a few skills that would probably be addressed, so on the front of the bin, I created a Skill List and added it to the front of the box:

Penguin Prop Box Skill List
With these materials, children can develop language by:  exploring vocabulary associated with penguins and their habitat; build upon grammar and syntax by having the teacher help them use more language (ex. adjectives to describe, using some plurals, answering questions…); connecting objects and ideas (using materials to create objects in the penguins' world)
They can develop math skills by: noticing and describing how items are alike or different in size or color; counting groups of penguins; identifying the cubes; using the cubes as measuring units.
Also: They are developing representational thought by playing make-believe; they are developing fine motor skills in creating the penguins’ habitat and manipulating the props

One habitat created by little hands.

       This particular prop box could be used in conjunction with a lesson about the arctic, a lesson about habitats, or a geometry lesson involving cubes. I've made a few other prop boxes, and I keep them in the office and the teachers rotate them in and out of their classrooms. One of the other boxes has a pond theme, which I got the idea for here at the One Perfect Day blog.

      I leave you with a picture that made me smile. I walked into work one day and saw that a child had left me a creative present. And I wish you, happy penguin play!