Occasionally, you come across an unexpected treasure. Anticipating a fleeting look around the Bainbridge Art Museum with the children in tow, I was pleased when the assistant greeted the children warmly and entrusted them with a task. The children were given a list of thirty animals that were hidden in Nancy Thorne Chambers’ ceramic installation ‘A Story Place’. If they could find them all, they would be rewarded with a special prize.
Motivated by the prize at hand they made their way to the exhibit. They worked together to find the life-sized animals , studying every angle of the exhibit. They were captivated by the detail and wondered how something so delicate was made and transported to the museum. The animals are reminiscent of Beatrix Potter characters and took me back to my childhood passion for those stories.
My favourite piece was the mole wrapped up in the girl’s sock and the children loved the girl and boy mouse, huddled together with their tiny tea tray.
A Story Place remains at Bainbridge Art Museum until June and is worth seeing if you are visiting Bainbridge Island with children. Entry to the museum is free of charge so visiting this installation alone is worthwhile.
The children were equally compelled by the adult exhibits. It’s easy to assume that children will find art galleries boring but their fascinated faces reminded me that children often find pleasure in unexpected places.
They were mesmerised by models that fold into boxes by Nancy Smith-Venturi and wouldn’t leave until they had seen the slide show of the whole collection.
The younger children wanted to understand each of the models and read the descriptions with interest.
‘What does this one say?’ asked my youngest pointing to a textile on the wall. I read the description. ‘How does it look like wind?’ she asked. ‘It could be because it moves’ I replied ‘ but you might see something different, you don’t have to see the same thing as the artist.
The girls were completely absorbed by the museum and we spent a leisurely few hours there. I think we may have discovered a new passion.
One of my favourite Hallowe’en activities as a teacher was creating spells and dancing around the cauldron. The children were transfixed by the iron cauldron that emerged from the kitchen and wondered if it might belong to a real witch. Dressed in witches hats and cloaks, we would imagine fantastical ingredients and create spells that would transform us into dragons, frogs or birds, that would make us fly, shrink or become invisible. It was a fun way to explore rhyme, share ideas and use our imaginations. We left ‘spell books’ in the mark making area and the home corner became a witches cave complete with potion bottles, spell books and jars of bugs, bats and frogs.
My girls love to make potions, so when I told them about it, they loved the idea but wanted to make a real witches brew.
To start, we made wands from tin foil and chose witches hats and capes. Tin foil wands are simple to make if you have limited time; wrap tin foil around a pencil or simply roll and scrunch the foil into your desired shape. If you are more ambitious, make wands from sticks by stripping off the bark, adding ribbons or painting them in special colours. I also like these Harry Potter wands from Red Ted Art
With wands in hand, they chose ingredients to go into the brew. They didn’t think witches and wizards used shaving foam or cornflour to make a spell, so they chose gruesome alternatives. Flour became giant’s dandruff, hair gel was ogre snot and fuzzy balls became warts.
The girls wrote down their ingredients so they could remember the order in which to add them .
It didn’t matter that my youngest is only just beginning to write, she found her own way.
Armed with spells, wands and witches hats, they made their way outside to the cauldron at our potion station. One by one, they tossed the ingredients into the cauldron, stirring it and modifying the quantities until they were satisfied. Then it was time for the spell.
Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog
See the little jumpy frog
Wibbly wobbly wibbly wagon
Turn the frog into a dragon
We looked for the dragon but decided it was hiding amongst the clouds.
The dance around the cauldron resumed with another spell.
Wibbly wobbly wibbly wog
See the little jumpy frog
Wibbly wobbly wibbly wat
Turn my mum into a bat
Thanks girls, I’m not sure I want to hang upside down from a tree.
The potion remained in the cauldron for sometime and became the central point of their witch and wizarding school.
Suggested ingredients for a witches brew
Jello/jelly powder (makes it smell great)
leaves and petals
Give the children collection bags and a card with ingredients for a spell, in picture and written format. Ask the children to find the objects they need and place them in the bag.
Give the children a group of objects and ask them one at a time to add a specific number into the brew.
Chant around the caldron and make spells that require the children to make specific movements e.g make us slither like a snake, make us jump or stretch up tall.
This time of the year my garden is covered in a blanket of leaves. The girls enjoy helping to rake them up but it is a never-ending task. When leaves are plentiful there are many activities that you could take advantage of. Here are a few of our favourites.
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert is illustrated with photocopies of leaves that have been arranged to make pictures. We studied the way Ehlert uses coloured paper to create a layered background and leaves and natural materials for the main body of the picture.
We created our own pictures, starting with the background and adding leaves. The leaves work better if they are pressed beforehand using a flower press or a heavy book. Preserve them by laminating before the leaves dry out.
Young children enjoy printing with leaves or painting on larger leaves. You could also try painting with different types of leaves or dipping the stalks into paint to make marks. Dried leaves crumbled into paint could also make an interesting texture.
Leaves are perfect for investigating colour mixing. Give each child a leaf and ask them to try to mix the matching colour. Younger children could paint the colour onto their leaf, print it on paper or paint around the outline, older children may like to try an observational painting of their leaf. Small square canvases or watercolour paper would make them extra special.
Sometimes young children find this difficult so experiment with different colours and materials, like crayon, pencil, chalk, pastels or charcoal to decide which makes the most effective rubbing.
Leaf Mosaics, Patterns and Sculptures
Use leaves to create mosaic patterns and pictures. These could be individual or large group projects.
The girls collected leaves on a camping trip and used them to thread onto sticks to create clothes for their stick people.
Leaves make interesting imprints in clay or they can be used as a template to cut around. Clay leaves make great bowls, tiles or mobiles.
Sensory Play and Loose Parts
Collect leaves and put them in a sensory bin – investigate what happens to them over time. Add interesting objects hidden amongst the leaves or toy woodland animals and bugs for small world play.
If you have leaves outside how do the children use them as loose parts?
My children built a bonfire……
Buried their feet….
and added them to a potion.
Use them as a Filler
Last Halloween we made spiders to hang on the bushes outside. The bodies were made from black bags stuffed full with leaves. You could also use leaves to stuff scarecrows or guys for bonfire night.
Over a period of time we collected interesting leaves and laminated them. They looked great on the window and I challenged the girls to find out which trees they belonged to. I think they would also make an eye-catching mobile. This year we are using the laminated leaves to see if they can find matching leaves in the neighbourhood. Laminated leaves could be used for all kind of things. We have used them as gift tags, to play matching pairs and they look great on the light table.
If you collect leaves gradually from the same tree or bush as they change colour you can make a leaf rainbow.
Before you decide to rake all the leaves away, take a look at this face, I think it says it all.
The girls often enjoy mirror play, I’ve tried a number of different types. I love this big one but it is very fragile and difficult to store. For small projects, I have an oval mirror in a tray but it isn’t big enough for more than 2 children to play with. Unframed circular mirrors work well, but I’m yet to find a suitable one. We also use Ikea mirror tiles, these are portable and I can change the arrangement to suit the project but the pointed edges bother me.
Suddenly it came to me – “why not stick the mirror tiles onto a table?” I sent out a plea for a table to my Buy Nothing group. I didn’t expect to find one that was the perfect size but within 30 minutes I had been offered a table that would fit the tiles perfectly. The mirror tiles come with sticky pads for mounting to a wall. These were perfect for attaching the mirrors to the table. I taped the sharp corners with duct tape and a vanity mirror was placed against the wall. In a preschool setting I would mount more tiles to the wall and put the table in front to allow for seamless reflections. The border around our mirror makes it difficult for small items to be reflected in the upright mirror.
A couple of small card mirrors and a few loose parts led to fun explorations.
I cut the insides of a roll of tape in half and placed them on the table with a few wooden rings.
“It looks like wheels. I’m going to make a car”
To keep the interest going, I changed the materials regularly. The loose parts, building bricks and mirrors maintained interest for only a short time. Knowing that my children love to draw and write, I decided to leave white board markers and a rubber on the table to see if this would engage them.
This arrangement was perfect and by far the most popular so far.
To add variety, I purchased a pack of glass markers. This was a very different experience. The girls discovered that the pens were difficult to erase. They liked that they no longer needed to avoid erasing part of the picture with their sleeve. It took more effort to erase and the girls experimented with the best ways to do this. Since they love to use cleaning sprays, I showed them how to use a small amount of glass cleaner to remove the pens quickly.
I noticed that the style of drawing changed when I introduced these pens. The girls drew intricate patterns using the colours and adapting their movements to light touch of the pens.
This one reminded me of Kandisky ( and a pattern in one of the earlier photographs is reminiscent of concentric circles).
“I like drawing random things that come into my head. Then they don’t have to be anything” said my 6-year-old.
I explained that this is called abstract art. I have an artist friend and we all visited her exhibition recently. I told them that this was the kind of art that she makes.
Later, I printed some Kandinsky paintings, placing them around the edge of the vanity mirror.
“Why did you name this one the traveller?” I asked.
“He looks like he has a bag on his back and the multi-coloured bits look like a map”
The mirror table is also the perfect surface for shaving foam.
On a flat, even surface their natural instinct was to cover all the space, smoothing it over like icing a cake.
They began to create a story.
How about we’re the servants and it is the queen’s birthday and she wants us to decorate everything?
Now we need it all smooth again. We are the servants.
Wait, she said decorate everything. How about our hands? Oh no there are some gaps.
Maybe the queen will be mad. Come on we’ve got to make it smooth.
I don’t think she’ll be mad. She is the nicest queen. Everyday for pudding she gives us cupcakes.
It’s all textury, move your hands around like this.
Or I could do an M – like this.
The scenario soon changed to one where they were at school.
There is lots and lots of art but you don’t like doing it, do you?
Of course I do, why wouldn’t I? I love it
No, but remember we’re playing a game where you don’t like being creative . You just like playing video games and stuff.
I know, this is creative and you don’t like it. Pretend when someone asks you to do something creative you just say ” but when can I watch tv?”
Do you know what I’m going to do next?
Neither do I but it will be something creative.
How about you make a snowball?
The girls abandoned a game of Minecraft when I put the foam out. It is interesting that they were exploring ideas about creativity in their play.
Great Pretenders recently asked if I could write a guest post for their blog. I hadn’t come across them before but I was blown away by the wonderful play costumes that they create. So of course I said yes . Why Schools Need to Embrace Pretend Play? talks about my experience about a lack of pretend play in schools and why I think it is important that schools embrace it.
‘ Let’s just go camping for our Summer holiday this year’
Hold on a moment, did those words really come from my mouth? Until my mid twenties I recoiled in horror at the thought of camping. After I left girl guide camp half way through the week because I hated it so much, I convinced myself that camping wasn’t for me. In truth, I didn’t hate it at all. A rumour that newcomers would be pushed in the cesspit if they didn’t pass initiation had worried me so much that I begged to go home. After a few great camping trips as an adult, my views changed but I’d never have considered a camping trip for my main holiday.
A yearning to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, good weather and the children’s eagerness to go camping, convinced me it was a good idea. An 8- hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, 3 young children, a dog and a heatwave; perhaps I had lost my mind?
Amazingly, the car journey was fine. The first couple of hours were spent playing ‘would you rather….’ and guessing the names of characters from books or screen. The rest of the journey we listened to cd’s of musicals and admired the view.
Our destination Curlew Lake State Park, chosen for it’s beauty, a place for the children to swim and for my husband and the girls to go fishing. “Fishing!” I hear my 20- year-old self, with an irrational fear of fish exclaim, ” are you intent on sending me on the holiday from hell?” Strangely none of those sentiments cross my mind as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of the campsite on the shore of the Lake.
Without a shop or a playground in sight, would the children be happy? For now the excitement of sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside and trying to catch their first fish fuelled their enthusiasm.
They were eager to go to the beach to swim. I was amazed that we were the only people on the beach. The ground wasn’t soft like the lake at home but filled with slippery algae. It didn’t put them off. They used the algae and stones to create patterns on the ground and then set up their own foot spa, spreading the algae over their feet and washing it off.
I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me too. At that moment I knew why this holiday was no longer my biggest nightmare. The children were immersed in the moment, playing, discovering and sharing. In the distance, my husband was on the lake in the canoe and I was here in a rare moment of quiet. This wasn’t one of those family holidays where we rushed to cram in every little experience. I’m sure that these unhurried moments are the ones they will remember most.
There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
They found magic in the simple things.
Look I think Eeyore has been here
Maybe it’s his barbecue?
Really! Do you think so?
My eldest had big girl time with dad, paddling the canoe at sunrise. Nights weren’t the most restful we had ever had, with five people and a dog in the same tent but there are few things more peaceful than the middle of a lake in the early morning.
It didn’t take us long to understand the rhythms of nature; the time of day that the deer would wander down the hill to visit, geese would fly across the lake, fish would start to bite or that darkness would fall.
Sometimes though, nature takes you by surprise. One night, as we were snuggled in the porch of the tent telling stories, the poles holding the porch open, fell down. As if from nowhere, the winds whipped up and tugged at the tent. Before we knew it dad and big sister had us zipped up inside while they battled against the wind and dust to secure the tent. I tried to drown out the rangers talk of trees blowing down, by telling the story of ‘My Favourite Things’ from the ‘Sound of Music’ and singing. Enraptured, the little ones soon forgot about the storm. They implored me to tell the story of ‘The Sound of Music’- the whole story, all 3 hours of it complete with every song. Thankfully the storm was short, the tent and trees survived and unlike my 11-year old self, I didn’t get the urge to run home.
One of the reasons for choosing Curlew Lake was the fishing, so in the early evenings we took the canoe out to explore the lake and try to catch fish. The girls had only ever caught small fish and were eager to catch one they could eat. Our family trips in the canoe lacked the quiet and patience needed to catch anything of note. However, on the last day their wish came true. Our neighbouring campers, who visit every year to fish, offered to take us out in their boat and help the girls to catch trout. The fish came one after the other.
Then the fish got bigger
They were so proud of their catch.
After the holiday, fishing has become a regular pastime. When dad goes out on his own, the girls greet him eagerly to see if he has caught anything we can eat. Other times, we all go to the lake together and mix up fishing with swimming and playing. On a recent trip, we explored the river bank , a place we probably would never have visited if it weren’t for fishing . Watching the girls excitement at their discoveries and creating with sticks and stones was magical. We returned home with a pile of sticks and ideas for making things with them. Moments like this are important for all of us. Resting our minds through daydreaming and play increases productivity and creativity says Daniel Levitin author of ‘The Organized Mind’. Without time for spontaneity, children lack the mental space to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.
As I looked out across the river at the jumping fish, the blue skies and the green trees, I could picture an old couple; man fishing, wife painting the landscape or writing in a notebook. I suppose fishing isn’t so bad after all. I’m happy to spend many more years waiting for the fish.
Look I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!
Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.
Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other. We searched for the right sized piece of wood.
They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.
They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?