Letting Kids Create with Too Much



Moon is in that beautiful TOO MUCH stage. She uses too many stickers (22 at last count on one Valentine). Too much glue.  Too many papers taped together in a pile. In fact, Moon spent a fair amount of time picking glue off her fingers. Greysen said she remembered when she used to do that. I do too.

You see, she doesn’t anymore. Greysen can estimate how much glue she’ll need to make two things attach. She has seen what will happen when she piles art materials on top of one another. She had those experiences.





Instead of rationing out Moon’s supplies when she drowned her doily in Elmer’s, I asked her if she needed more. What may be judged as wasted materials to us adults was really glue being used thoughtfully, albeit perhaps not neatly.

When setting out supplies that even suggest a purpose like these Valentine materials did, we often want the end results to look . . well . . . like Valentines. Most of Moon’s finished works were papers glued upon papers, or folded into fans, and sometimes ripped into bits beyond recognition and then glued back together.

And when she had emptied the container of stickers, I gave her more because her work was as much about exploration of materials as it is about making something special for someone we love.





While watching a child punch holes in the border of doilies may seem redundant and make you ache to offer some redirection, I encourage you to hold off and ask yourself, “Have I ever punched holes in a doily?”  And if not, wouldn’t the perfect time for that be the exact moment you are curious about such things?

As parents and caregivers, we offer our children an array of materials eager to see what they will do. All too often, we encourage refinement of their learning immediately by asking them to color in the lines or to use just one dot of glue, without letting them experience the excesses of those experiences to their fullest first.

Some children need those experiences before they can understand how to refine their skills and pull back on the glue bottle.


So during this holiday of so much love, I think it fitting that the Moon created in excess. We’ve got “too much” love going around and I wouldn’t have it any other way.






Inspired by Paint




Brand new jars . . .


Red, yellow, and blue paint mixed in several combinations.







Newly mixed paint means newly inspired children.




Lots of ideas!




The colors were named green-blue, purple, dark purple, purple, blue-yellow and so on.




I think we need more jars.


Color Mixing is Not Always About Color



Though incredibly simple, color-mixing is one of my favorite experiences to offer infants and toddlers.


Water in itself is wonderful because it is such a basic element that children are familiar with, yet are still fascinated by – I assume for its complex properties and seemingly unpredictable nature when splashed or spilled.


Even though this is color mixing, I do not see this as a lesson about learning colors. As I observed the girls playing, it became clear to me that their play was largely about consequence. That is, they were using materials as if they were asking themselves the question, “What will happen if …?”


This is not a novel activity for my daughters and is, in fact, something we have done a couple of times before. Even though this was a repeated experience, I did not make much effort to add a lot of novelty. As I’ve mentioned before, I intentionally repeat art experiences and activities, and this was no exception.


The one element I did change was to use red and blue watercolor instead of our usual yellow and blue experiences.





Each used the same squeeze bottles in ways which challenged them. Though both girls squeezed, Moon was focused on exploring concepts of pressure while Greysen was interested in quantity and how that correlated to the measurements on the outside of the bottle.




The results were more varied than I expected.





The next time we mix colors, we will use jars so that we can save the colors they mix to paint with.  We ended up with a few random artifacts in the colors so we didn’t save any of them for later use this time.


June Art Group



I am eager to host an art group around one theme of materials. I think offering one material in combination with several other art mediums or to be used as several different tools would encourage the children to imagine more possibilities per object.


For instance, I’d like to host a reflective surfaces art group. As usual, I could not wait and offered the group this “paper” for painting. It as close to a mirror as any material I’ve ever seen.




One of my co-hosts brought homemade paste which the girls were compelled to stir.




Cornstarch and water, a staple in our art groups for the infants that attend, is colored with beet juice this time around.




Finally, I set up foil on easels as a fourth option. I typically offer 4 different experiences (this time 2 of the 4 were provided by friends) for a group of about 10 to 15 infants and toddlers.


Despite the slight night before prep frenzy, art in the park is one of my favorite things we do all month.


Sensory “Art” Group for Infants and Toddlers


The Infant/Toddler Art Group is Back! Now that the weather is more predictable, I plan on hosting an art group each month.


This month instead art as usual, a friend had the inspired idea of a sensory “art” group. She provided most of the sensory bins but I brought a couple too.


Available tools included various sorts of containers and spoons.



Tools?  Why hands  . . .



and feet, of course!



Aside from the moon sand, sand, waterbeads and rice bins pictured above, there were also bins of corn/wheat mix (hen scratch), whole corn kernel, natural materials and a water bin (not pictured).




This is my friend’s enviable collection of rocks, shells, driftwood, and a lone feather.


This was a collaborative effort so there were more sensory bins than I would have offered were I to host this one alone. If you are considering hosting a playgroup like this it would be just as wonderful on a smaller scale. Despite the many choices, the children did not seem overwhelmed. I think that having the freedom to choose which bins to play with and being able to at them for as long as they wanted was key to making this a playful event.

The First Three Years of Art

What do Reggio Emilia art experiences look like in the first three years?


When I first started learning about Reggio Emilia’s approach, most of the project work I was reading about and had seen occured with preschool-aged children.  I had a hard time finding examples of what infant and toddler play with art materials looked like. Eventually, working in a Reggio Emilia inspired infant/toddler program, I saw first hand that which I guess I already knew.


While some toddlers tell stories and find ways to communicate their ideas, art mediums are largely used for exploratory purposes in the first three years. That is to say, through play, discoveries are made.


Children are invited to play with a variety of art mediums and open-ended materials over time.  As the children become more familiar with the medium/material, the invitation to play may become more complex. Something as simple as adding water to the play can deepen children’s understanding of what they are playing with. Paper, for example, transforms when wet, or clay – something solid enough to climb on when dry – drips and softens.



Over multiple experiences, children will learn lots about a specific material’s properties, from its limitations to its possibilities.




By playing with art mediums and other open-ended materials, children are archiving information gained through play. In time, children will have a reference library of sorts, built through experiences, that they can use to both create and share their ideas.


Learning to Use Art Tools

At first glance this may look like there may have been some learning about what happens when yellow meets blue. I think that might have been going on as well, but the real fascination was with trying to get the water into the pipette.



After some struggle, Greysen is pleased with finally getting some color in there . Although I was kind of thrilled that different greens were coming together, Greysen’s joy came from the accomplishment of filling up the pipette. No conversations about color mixing today, just this scene of competency.



When children encounter a new tool, however seemingly simple, it can be helpful to give them a few minutes to explore the tool on its own. After a brief introduction, such as explaining expectations (e.g., “these sharp sticks need to stay at the table”), allow a few minutes for children to hold and explore the tool itself. With tool in hand, children may imagine the possibilities, exposing a tools potential.  After they have had time to examine the tools, provide the art medium.


In this instance, I gave Greysen a pipette. She squeezed it, turned it around and pretended the pipette was a medicine dispenser for a bit. When I sensed a lull in her ideas, I asked if she was ready for the watercolor.


In most artistic endeavors, it can be challenging for adults to set expectations aside for the entire duration of the experience. This is especially true for art tools. We generally want the paintbrush to be dipped into one color at a time, the pipettes to hold water, the rolling pin to roll rather than stamp into the dough…  We have expectations.


Just as children are learning about the potential and limits of art materials, they are also learning about the tools and deserve time to understand the possibilities of each in their own time. 










Simple New Year’s Eve Hats

This year we will be traveling for the New Year and in wanting to keep in tradition of the girls participating in our festivities we prepped some party gear.


I bought some party hats at the local dollar store and painted them a solid silver (two coats).



The girls painted the hats and added glitter . . .






Moon painted hers with her hands . . .




and now we’re ready to celebrate!


How Sensory Play is Different Than Art

When I think of sensory play and art, I don’t think of them interchangeably because each is so uniquely valuable. I guess that this distinction is not really an important one to make in most circumstances. I do think it is useful for adults to consider the two separately because the expectations of the two can be very different, especially when they are set out for infants.


Aside from the benefits of experiencing different textures, smells, sounds, sights, and yes – even tastes – sensory play is great for babies because of the way we adults think about it.


Children will outgrow finger painting but not outgrow playing with sand.  I think its fair to say that adults believe that children will eventually use art materials to express ideas (draw something, paint something, make something).  While adults may accept and even encourage some exploration with art in the early years, such as letting children paint themselves or squish play dough between their toes, the expectation is that this type of exploration will evolve as children age.


The same is not true of sensory play. The expectations are different.  Sensory experiences encourage children to sift through sand or wade through water and to ultimately use their hands to play.  This expectation stays the same throughout childhood and in some cases across a lifetime (I’m thinking sand castles).

In sensory play there are no final product expectations. Even in simple open-ended art experiences such as watercolor and paper, the result is some record of a child’s play, something most of us – including myself – want to share, frame, save, or somehow keep as a token of this time and experience.  I keep all of the daughters’ art and file it or save it for them to use another time but preserving their efforts in this way doesn’t even cross my mind with sensory play.


When we offer children sensory experiences, like a tub of water, there is really nothing to save. There is less of an expectation for a “finished” product with sensory materials. While a cornstarch/water mixture and paint may both spread by fingers or brushes across paper, adults less often influence the final look of something that is not likely going to hang on the refrigerator.



If a baby eats this . . . well, at least it is natural.  I prefer not to offer infants art materials that may eat because I’d rather wait until they no longer taste things instead of interrupting their play to keep them from eating art materials. From natural clays to beeswax crayons there are many natural and non-toxic art materials available for children. With infants though, who may try to eat paint by the fistful, I feel far better knowing they ate a natural material like rice, even if if is something they should not eat.  For toddlers (or children that are no longer tasting everything) dried beans, rice, peas, corn, birdseed, sand, cornmeal, dry corn, sand, water – to name just a few – can be fascinating to play with and not made with unpronounceable ingredients.


Sensory materials can be used again and again.  Caring for the materials in the sensory bin offers my children one more experience with learning to care for something that they value. Sensory materials are a limited resource that will run out or need to be thrown out if they are not used with care and stored responsibly.  As I just mentioned, I offer natural materials whenever possible and don’t really bother with one time use materials (shaving cream) for that reason.


When I first read about water beads here, I was on the fence about trying them out. They looked so great that I was eager  to give them to my daughters, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to buy something synthetic.  Even though water beads aren’t natural they can be used multiple times.  This batch lasted more than a few months.



For a natural alternative try this.


Sensory play is the one exception to my “no food in art” rule.” Since this isn’t art, I guess it all falls into place. I don’t worry about using food when it gets used multiple times, because then at least it doesn’t seem as wasteful as a one time activity (e.g., fruit prints).



Sensory set-ups are a conduit for play.   Sensory materials are intended to be used but not in a prescribed way. As much as I  like to provide open-ended play experiences for children, few materials lend themselves to allowing a child to determine their worth and purpose. Will it be poured or fill different types of containers?  Can you bury your hands in it or let it run through your fingers? Can it be dripped, sifted or piled? Does it become incorporated into other aspects of the child’s existing play? For this reason sensory materials are uniquely beneficial to play.


All this being said, I have not set out sensory play experiences as often as I have art. I find it harder to think of things to set-up and simply do not stock up on these types of materials like I do with art. How about you? How do you balance sensory play and art with your children?

Rainbow and Watercolor

We came across this as we walked to the kitchen for breakfast. Just a little bit of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day.


I set-up a morning invitation to play where the rainbow was.  Inspired by the rainbow, I offered more watercolor choices then Greysen has ever had at once.



I didn’t catch the fleeting rainbow in photos but Greysen captured its essence in paint.