Category Archives: Uncategorized

Picture Books to Inspire Children’s Art Projects

Art is not part of the curriculum in our school district, instead all elementary art lessons are taught by parent volunteers.  Once a month I volunteer to teach in my daughter’s class.  A monthly art lesson seems a little piecemeal and I often wish that there was time to delve deeper into projects. With this in mind, I often teach lessons that inspire children to discover a new medium or learn about an unfamiliar type of art.  Picture books can be a good starting point. Below are some of my favourites .

  1. The Noisy  Paint Box

My children are fascinated by abstract art. I recently introduced them to the works of Kandinsky after they created abstract art on our mirror table. This book tells the story of Kandinsky’s life as an artist and explains how he expressed his feelings and senses through painting.  As a boy he felt he could hear the paint box hissing and at a classical music concert saw colours and shapes before his eyes, that expressed the music.

After reading the book,encourage children to paint what they feel as they listen to a piece of classical music. Discuss their feelings and document some of their comments with the painting.  Try playing different genres of music to see how their reactions change and explore together how this was reflected in their painting. A large scale collaborative painting to music could develop this theme further.  Explore the differences in expression and how they all fit together to make a complete painting.

2. Korgi 

The captivating black and white illustrations in this textless graphic novel inspired this project about monsters.  The drawings here were in charcoal but pencil drawing or pen and ink would work equally well.


3. The Mr Men

Strangely, the Mr Men have been one of the girls favourite things to draw and  model for some time.  The book’s back cover displaying all the Mr Men make it easy for them to choose a Mr Man to copy.

WP_20151119_001 1

They used polymer clay to make 3D representations. Their simple forms make them perfect for introducing young children to polymer clay or modelling smaller characters.  It also helps them to see how their drawings can be translated into a 3 dimensional model.

Mr Men polymer clay models

They even created their own Mr Man – Mr Tae Kwondo.

Mr Tae kwondo


4. How are you Peeling?

We loaned this book from the library and it was a firm favourite.  On each page fruit and vegetables are photographed to represent an expression or emotion.  It has inspired us to search the supermarket for interesting vegetables and would be even more fun if you grow your own. It would make a wonderful photography project.

5. Leaf Man

Leaf Man is a good introduction to collage and art using natural materials.  The story of leaf man is illustrated using photocopies of leaves on a colourful torn paper background.  We used this for an art lesson in my daughter’s Kindergarten class and here are some of the finished projects.


 Further Suggestions

The Tiny Seed – paint flicking

The Hungry Caterpillar – collage (Eric Carle describes how he creates his pictures in this slideshow.)

Camille and the Sunflowers – a story about Van Goch




Introducing Children to Welsh Through Song, with Babi Bach the Album

babi bach

My 4-year-old has just learned her first Welsh word ,’canu’ meaning to sing.

How does a child living in the US with non- Welsh speaking parents learn such a word?  From the wonderful, bilingual album, the girls received as a gift.  The album was created by a friend of mine who runs ‘Babi Bach’ a bilingual music group in South Wales.  The girls are fascinated by this unfamiliar language and love it when I tell them the meaning of a Welsh word.

The songs are familiar favourites, including, row, row ,row your boat, incey wincey spider and one finger, one thumb and are sung by male and female voices, in both English and Welsh.   The Welsh versions brought back distant memories of my days as a student teacher in Wales. As an added surprise, when browsing the cover,  I recognised one of the singers as a child who attended my after-school club in the 90’s.  My friend confirmed that it was him, all grown up and singing professionally. More happy memories of home.

Living in the US, my children are unlikely to hear the Welsh Language.  I’m not a Welsh speaker but the Welsh language was at the forefront of my early school years. We had Welsh assembly once a week, played games in Welsh and learned the Welsh language. The girls are fascinated that there is this strange language that is only spoken in Wales.

The girls sing along in English and try their best to join in with the Welsh.  Initially, they spouted  gibberish, laughing hysterically at the complicated words in ‘head, shoulders,knees and toes. My Welsh isn’t really strong enough to help them but I point out the words I recognise. My next step is to print off the Welsh lyrics , so I can sing along. The songs are separated by enthusiastic conversations between a group of friends in both languages, so it is easy for them to follow.

After hearing the songs a few times, they are already beginning to sing along in Welsh even without my help.

I can highly recommend this for Welsh parents who have moved away from Wales. It is the perfect  introduction to the Welsh language.  Equally, it is a simple and fun way to learn Welsh for children living in Wales.

Digital copies of Babi Bach yr Albwm are available from Amazon Music and other digital music platforms.

Disclaimer :This is not a sponsored post no payment was received.

Making a Play Table from an Electrical Spool

I find play value in everything.  This isn’t always an admirable quality.  My house overflows with strange objects and if anyone offers random things for free, I perk up like an eager child in class.   I’m certain it’s an occupational hazard and I’m not alone.

My latest acquisition was an electrical spool. Pictures can be deceptive and I hadn’t anticipated something quite as big, when I accepted it.  When my husband discovered this eyesore in the garden, I sensed he didn’t share my enthusiasm for my latest scrap heap challenge.

Electrical spool

Knowing it will be useful, doesn’t always equate to having  a finished product in mind.  Sometimes, I prefer to leave things as  loose parts  , so the children can find their own use for them but the weight of the spool prohibited them from moving it. I positioned it in front of the potion mixing station,  hoping it would be integrated into potion play but the children had other plans.

potion station I left  pavement chalk near the spool and they decorated the top in bright colours. We don’t have many suitable surfaces for chalking in the back garden, so I sprayed the top of the spool with blackboard paint.  I added hardware hooks around the edge for storage.  Choosing what to hang from the hooks is a work in progress. We currently have a basket holding bug catchers and magnifiers and another containing small world fairies, a cloth for wiping the blackboard, a cowbell and a crystal.

hanging baskets

The girls helped to paint the sides and my eldest painted windows and a door for the fairies.
painting an electrical spool

The bottom was decorated with old cd’s that we cut up and mounted with no more nails to make a rainbow mosaic
kids play table from an electrical spool.

I am eager to see how the children will use the new addition. I’ll keep you posted.

Other  ideas for spools can be found on my Reclaimed Materials  Pinterest board.

British Children Learning to Read and Write in the US.


I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar.  There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.

A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,

“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”

“Really! Can you show me”

It is a bit like an x, like this……


My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.

I asked my kindergartener

” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”

“No we do it like a cross”

I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where  letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.

alphabet ball and stick

I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went  to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses.  We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both.  As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.

Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience.  When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions.  My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart.  Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).

“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)

” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)

My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls.  Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).

I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:

1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).

2.  What sound does a short ‘o’  make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.

3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :

Let’s go find Leo.

The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different.  When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.

4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.

On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word.  It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.


Children’s Imaginations – What is the Adult’s Role in Nurturing Creative Children?

child in a witches hat writing a spell

I had an interesting conversation with a grandmother at one of my recent classes. In the class we decorated pebbles. The children were aged 2-4 and she had joined with a 2- year-old who was fascinated by stones. He drew on the pebbles and then she helped him to add eyes.

When she took her grandson home, her daughter looked at the stones and remarked that it was not his own work. She felt that during her own childhood, her mother had never been satisfied with her art projects. She would always offers suggestions for improvement, rather than accepting it the way that she wanted it and felt strongly that she would encourage her son to express things in his own way.

At the next art session, the grandmother was clearly reflecting on this with interest.  She stood completely back from the child as he was scribbling and snipping, without any interference and discussed her daughter’s comment with me.

I found her reaction interesting; she clearly wasn’t comfortable with the distance but wanted to respect her daughter’s wishes. We discussed the balance between taking over and being on hand to help or extend learning.  I explained my response to children when they are learning to draw, discussed in ‘I Don’t Know How to Draw Ducks’ Feet’ – How to Support Young Childrens’ Drawing,” Sometimes it is hard not to take over when a child says they can’t do something but a little support can encourage a child to trust in their own ability. Thankfully, I had recently finished reading Ursula Kolbe’s latest book Children’s Imagination: Creativity Under Our Noses
The role of parents in nurturing creative children is the main theme of the book. It encourages parents to see that creative play can arise from the simplest things and that letting go will foster children’s imagination.

childrens imagination

If we want to nourish children’s creativity what exactly is the adult’s role?

All too often we adults feel the need to label, to continually teach, wheras close attention and companiable silence are often more valuable. Valuable because then anything can happen”  Kolbe says.

The role of the adult is to:

Provide Resources

art and craft storageThe adult’s role is to provide interesting materials. A constant stream of new materials, however, leaves little room for development of expression. If, on the other hand, a variety of materials are easily accessible, children can choose those that interest them.

The greatest possibilities occur, as children ask “what can I do with this?”  Perhaps,this is why children love the outdoors, where loose parts are plentiful. At home, I keep paper, pencils, scissors, watercolour paint, brushes tape and glue next to our kitchen table. Most mornings the girls will go to the shelves, take a piece of paper and scissors and create something.  My kitchen table is rarely clear but I love to listen to their stories as they draw their latest picture or make a sign for imaginative play.

Observe and Listen

 One of the simplest pleasures is to sit and observe a child or group of children at play. The little pearls of wisdom that children offer could otherwise be missed. Observing encourages teachers and parents to question why things happen or how play can be extended . Loris Malaguzzi describes it as

“Catching the ball that children throw  us.”

It is easy for parents and teachers to find a wealth of activities for their children to do but most of the time it isn’t necessary. If we follow the children’s lead we can become their supporter, encourager and co-explorer explains Kolbe.

“A steady diet of adult-chosen, one-off activities denies children opportunities to find the extraordinary in the ordinary for themselves”

Time and Space

outdoor painting

The most important things we can give children are time and space.  Our role, is to provide inviting materials and allow children unhurried time to explore them, revisiting as many times as they would like. Unhurried time is almost impossible at school, where a strict timetable needs to be followed. I think it  is vital therefore, to provide this at home. My children were upset recently at a local playcentre, because their things were tidied away before they had finished playing.  Leaving things out for a while shows that their creations are valued and allows them to modify and expand their ideas. Ask children if they have finished before tidying or encourage them to clear their own materials, so that you can be certain they are finished.

Show Interest Without Intrusion

If we sit near children as they draw, build, paint and play imaginatively, they will begin to tell us the story behind it. We will learn far more about their inner thoughts and motivations than we would by questioning children about what things are and offering endless suggestions. Let them lead play and show interest in what they do. My children don’t mind when I observe their play, taking photographs and writing notes. They ask me what I am writing or if they can see the photographs.  It shows them that I am interested in what they do and value it enough to record their thoughts. I explain that I am telling the story of their play, so that we can remember and share with other people far away. Sometimes I stay indoors and watch from a window or listen from afar. It is  important that they have times without any adult nearby, to develop their own ideas and find their own solutions to challenges.

raining heather

Kolbe’s book is a wonderful insight into the things that ignite children’s imaginations and how parent’s can nourish and support this. The examples in the book are simple but inspiring  and  don’t require expensive resources or time consuming planning. The close of each chapter includes a written conversation between Kolbe and  Susan Whelan, a parent. They talk through their observations of the anecdotes in the book. I particularly liked this aspect, as it gives it a personal element and shows the importance of reflecting with others to obtain a deeper understanding.

I read this book at a time when my youngest daughter is eager to share her stories through drawing and painting, imaginative and sensory play.  It reminded me that these moments  are precious and to take time to listen and record them.

Why Do Young Children Draw Belly Buttons?


My youngest daughter (age 4) has recently started to draw detailed pictures. Mostly they are people.  She always starts with the eyes, adds a nose and mouth and then draws the circle for a head. After adding hair, she draws a torso, arms, legs, hands and feet.  The finishing touch is always a belly button. I found this fascinating. I don’t remember my younger children doing this for any sustained period of time, if at all.

In the earliest stages of children’s drawings of people, there is no torso. At this stage they often draw a navel (or circle) between the legs to depict that there is a torso there.  I’m not so familiar with children drawing belly buttons onto a torso however.

drawing by 4 yr old of man with belly button

Clearly, children under the age of 5 do not generally draw clothes on their people.   Seeing a navel on her sister’s drawing, immediately led my 6-year old to the assumption that it was naked. As they talked through the drawing together, the picture became one of a daddy and his little girl in the shower and anatomically correct details were added.  These didn’t survive into later drawings when her sister was not present but the placement of the belly button continued.

There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)
There is a boy and a girl holding hands, the boy is a man and the girl is his child. They are naked because they were in the shower. ( The lines above are water from the shower)

My intrigue grew, when a friend with a child of a similar age shared her daughter’s drawing of the family.  There was the belly button again.

I  decided to ask an expert and consulted Ursula Kolbe author of Rapunzel’s Supermarket:All about Young Children and Their Art for help. She suggested that children are fascinated by belly buttons and the drawing of a simple round shape is often intensely satisfying.  Perhaps then, it is the circles that she finds fascinating.  The drawing sequence always begins with eyes made up of a circle within a circle. Kolbe also suggested that children often copy the ideas of other children but since my little one is yet to attend preschool and only has her sisters to influence her this is unlikely in her case.

4 yr old drawing people

Often what children include or don’t include in their drawings is determined by the sequence in which they draw. “If a child draws a torso and then legs they sometimes won’t go back up to include a navel even if they intended to do so” says Kolbe.  I watched my daughter’s sequence with interest; she always drew the whole person and then went back to draw the navel as a finishing touch.


child's drawing of people

Sorting through boxes, I came across some old photographs of me as a child. In amongst them was this.

childs drawing of people


I must have been 4 or 5 years old when I drew this man, complete with belly button.  What a magnificent and timely discovery to help solve my conundrum.

Fairy Houses in the Woods.

fairy houseLook 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.

Fairy Hogwarts
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
This one had a swing made from blades of grass and a piece of bark.
This was my favourite.
This was my favourite.

fairy bathroom
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
fairy steps
Maybe I could build some steps to go up to this room.

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.

That's perfect.
That’s perfect.

They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.

furniturebuilding a fairy house

fairy house 3

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?