Marigold Dyed Scarves

I’m easily intimated by new recipes, but knowing this one involved silk scarves I was eager to try. I have dyed cheesecloth with blackberries and strawberries but never silks and they came out beautifully.

At the request of the girls’ preschool director, I dyed silks using these golden marigolds.



White silks can be bought in bulk. These were soaked overnight and prepped the following day. I boiled the marigolds in a large pot for an hour. (THIS IS NOT A COMPLETE RECIPE).




Strain the marigolds from the water. I used a sieve and there were still lots of flowers left. Next time, I would spend more time taking the petals out. I thought they would come easily in the rinse or dry but doing it later was more time consuming than I thought it would be.


I added the white silks to the pot to soak making sure each was open enough to sit in dye. Since I was dying 30 silks, I took turns rotating the silks and making sure they each were getting thoroughly soaked. The silks soaked overnight.


We used two bins of water for the kids to rinse the silks out. The plan was for these to dry out in the sun but since the rain was pretty steady, we hung them up in the house making a gorgeous golden laundry line that brightened our rainy afternoon.


marigolds01 copy



marigolds02 copy

Tiny Treasures



Trusting children with little things, may take getting used to but when they are ready small toys can take on the role of treasures.  Tiny toys to wrap their hands around and stuff in those itty bitty pockets.




Things found and things that they can keep as their own without the adults being concerned about whether the treasures get lost.




These little playthings are symbols of the changing season outside.  A way to keep in touch with the natural world through play.




I don’t need to suggest design, play, or use of their imagination. It happens without prompting or modeling. It happens because they know  how to play.



Spontaneous Games



Childhood is the time for idleness. It is the time for long afternoons in the yard catching ladybugs or mornings spent with some paper, tape, and a pair of scissors.




A little time to themselves and the girls invented a game. Some translucent cups and a projected light were their inspiration.




Moon points to a cup.




Greysen catches it and Moon takes it away.




The chance to create games is a critical opportunity for the girls to negotiate with one another and invent.  They decide on rules, boundaries, materials and must cooperate to accomplish their agreed upon goal.


We can easily get caught up in a routine or keeping busy activities.  Its not always easy to remember to allow for down time. How do you keep your schedule from getting too packed?




Why I Think There is No Place for Coloring Pages in ECE




One of the things I miss most about being a curriculum coordinator is the direct impact I could have on ECE practice.  If such a thing existed, my ECE rule book would firmly state, no coloring pages allowed.


My opinion of coloring pages is not about what coloring pages are, but rather what they are not. They are not flexible, and they dismiss a significant part of the creative process.


Imagine presenting this coloring page as a classroom activity after having studied birds for several weeks.


After a child has colored it, what does it tell you about what the child has learned about birds?




Hard to say? It is for me, especially when alerted to the fact that the teacher had instructed the students which colors to use, as well as where to place color.


4 Reasons Coloring Pages/Worksheets Don’t Cut it as an Educational Tool in ECE:


1. They Review the Content Out of Context

When coloring pages are used as a means of further exploring subject matter, they  do so in a limited fashion.


If a coloring page about birds is intended to review that subject or what children have learned, it does so out of context. How could a conversation about hummingbirds be different if it was sparked by a drawing a child made while observing one, or while looking at a bird’s nest?


Artifacts and observations give children context. Content is more meaningful when it is seen in relation to its environment; that is, the real life connections in which the children have experienced it.


2. They Use the Drill, Practice, or Review by Worksheet Method, Which Does Not Deepen Understanding

Coloring pages do not give children opportunities to learn beyond the work or image presented.  Here is an image of a bird. Potential questions that may arise are likely limited to the information suggested by the simplistic, two-dimensional outline.


3. They Disregard the Child’s Interest and Self-Motivation

Giving children worksheets or coloring sheets as a means to review can only give insight into a limited area of their knowledge.

It does not allow children an opportunity to review or further question what might interest them regarding the subject. If a child is motivated to learn more about what hummingbirds eat, coloring a picture of one eating from a flower does not even acknowledge the child’s interest and sets aside their motivation. Instead, children are offered, at very best, “busy work.”


4. They Do Not Accurately Assess Children’s Understanding of a Subject

Teachers need to frequently assess children’s knowledge, not only to document learning, but to know what types of learning opportunities to plan.


How can children show what they have learned about birds in flight, birds building nests, birds’ diets, or hatchlings in this image?



What Can Teachers Offer Instead of Coloring Pages?

Here are some of my thoughts on what teachers can offer instead  . . .

  • Drawing Tools and Blank Paper

Crayons, pens, markers, and a piece of paper offer children a chance to show what they know – to tell us the story they want to tell.

Curious as to what my daughter did actually learn about hummingbirds, I asked her if she’d like to draw one. Knowing she frequently chooses to illustrate her ideas, I offered a pen and paper and she drew the image below, narrating as she went along:


Hummingbird and Nest.
Hummingbird and Nest.


Okay, so this does not as closely resemble a hummingbird as the coloring page does, but it sure does tell me a lot more. Aside from seeing what she is capable of drawing, I learned that she does not know what they eat, despite having colored a picture of one drinking nectar from a flower.


  • Blocks

My youngest daughter does not as easily communicate her ideas through drawings, but she did create this giraffe. From it, I learned that she understood that they have long necks, and two legs.



  • Other Loose Parts

Some time and one meal later, Greysen invited her sister to play “hatching” with her. She brought an empty box into the house, and she and her sister took turns climbing inside, closing the box, and hatching out of it.

This made me wonder if there is a deeper interest in eggs, and so this is one idea from which I can plan future curriculum.


Coloring is fun and CAN BE a very creative process. I think that in an ECE classroom, however, that its limited value as a learning tool should be acknowledged, and that other more open-ended processes should be used as often as possible.

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.


Toys That Encourage Thinking

I consider art mediums, materials, and toys to be resources for play. They are the props and tools that children can use to transform their ideas into something they can hold onto. In this tangible state, children can suppose, test, and re-evaluate their ideas.


Children do not need loads of toys for play, but open-ended ones can serve many purposes and are great for making ideas a reality.


Why I Offer Several Types of Open-ended Materials and Art Mediums

Our collection of open-ended materials and art mediums is varied because . . .

  1. Children’s skills are ever developing. Toys that can be used to represent something else (e.g., blocks, pine cones, rocks) as-is may be easier to use than toys that need transformation to represent something (such as dough, paper, and paint).
  2. Children have individual strengths and preferences. Regardless of age, a child may be more competent in one material than others, or simply prefer one to others.
  3. Some toys represent an idea better than others. Making a rainbow with pipe cleaners and Styrofoam may better represent a child’s idea of a rainbow  than a two-dimensional drawing.
  4. Different materials bring about different aspects of an idea. The following photographs depict just that. All the pictures are of Greysen’s image of our family. How she spoke of our family was influenced by the art medium, or toy, that she used to recreate us.


Greysen’s play is most frequently inspired by our family and the roles of its members. She plays out our everyday life, and sometimes things that are occurring in our lives, that she may not fully understand.


While drawing often brings her frustration, she has developed confidence in her ability to build.



Cones and cardboard tubes. This is my family.  Greysen describes us, “This is my dad. He is TALLEST tall.” Tubes and cones inspired play about where we walk, and our family was identified by our height relative to the height of the cone structures.



Dough. This is my family. Greysen describes us, “This is the mom and the dad, the kid and the sister.”  The dough representation of us was used laying flat and inspired play around our family sleeping.



Pine Cones. This is my family. The intricate peaks of a pine cone family were connected simply because they could be.



Dry Erase. This is my family. We are the lines. She is less than happy with this representation of us, and the play is abandoned.




Felt and scissors. This is my family. Also dissatisfied with our family in felt, Greysen leaves her play scene relatively soon after she created it.


Stacking cones or molding play dough into people gives her confidence in her ideas that she may not have had if she only had drawing tools at her disposal.


I expect that, eventually, as my children grow, that the materials they have experience with will become a reference library of sorts. That way,  when they have an idea they can choose the right tool/material to make it come alive.


Starting a Natural Collection


Starting a collection of natural materials sounds easy enough. Take a walk, pick up a few things . . .  I figured I’d have a buckets of things in no time. I didn’t realize that 95% of the time the treasures the girls gathered were rocks. Rocks are great, they just did not make for a varied collection.


In time, our collection has grown. Spring has been full of walks and hikes, so we have now have a modest tray of things we have found as well as things we have collected from our yard.


I wasn’t sure how to offer the materials at first. Since everything makes its way to the floor eventually, I decided  that’s where we should start.



Greysen took the tray to the building area immediately.


Since then, the girls have also used the natural materials exclusive of other toys, like this “den”.



In addition to the things the girls pick up, I now gather and save a few things for home. Our collection is small but growing. It may not be enviable but has inspired play around here and that’s all I can ask for.


Do you collect natural materials for your children to play with?  How did you grow your collection?


Supporting Morning Farewells

Like so many things in our lives, our daily “Have a good, fun, day!” routines with Mike have changed as the girls do.


Young children may be ready to say good-bye one day and may hold on tight to you the next.  Even within healthy attachments and positive environments, children may feel ready to play and see you later or want you to read one more book before you go.  Not only are you saying good-bye to your child, but often there is a change in their context which may contribute to how they feel about saying good-bye.


As infants, I would hold the girls if they were upset to say good-bye to Mike. Now, as a toddler, Moon is capable of moving the child-sized furniture around. She regularly moves one of the chairs over to the window to climb up and watch him leave. Mike waves good-bye to the girls from his car before he drives away every morning, regardless of whether we are waiting there or not  . . . just in case.


Moon likes to linger a bit after he drives off. She’ll call out things she sees, typically dogs and birds, but may comment on other exciting things that happen outside our front door. She hasn’t shown signs of distress or unhappiness, but I  began to wonder if she needed support since her ques are usually subtle.


Support for Transitions. By support, I don’t mean guidance or a lot of explanation. She understands this process and seems to be getting along well. Maybe I was just beginning to question my own busyness in the morning, and wanted to be sure that I wasn’t missing anything.


  • Be Present. On the days she stays at the window after Mike has left, I spend a minute or so standing by her.  I may comment that I will miss dad for the day, or I may not. Mostly, I just want to share a moment with her and follow her lead. Sometimes my presence goes unnoticed, and sometimes she reaches for me – I would not have known that she sometimes needs a hug had I not taken just those few minutes to check in with her.


  • Representational Toys. I added these recently gifted gnomes and one of our wooden peg people to the window sill to give her an opportunity to process any feelings she may have about saying goodbye. She uses them most days, “walking” them along the sill, leaning them into each other for a quick kiss. I can’t be certain that they represent her feelings about Mike leaving, but the toys are there should she want them for that purpose.



In the Reggio Emilia tradition, I’ve been trying to think of additional ways that the environment can support this transition. Something simple, something portable. Perhaps a photograph of Mike and the girls on the shelf next to this window?








Encouraging Play

I can’t think of a parent that doesn’t want their child to play. We know that play is, quite simply, good for kids.


Infants play spontaneously without encouragement, and sometimes despite of many distractions. As they age, our expectations of them tend to change. We encourage them, with the best of intentions, to be more intentional, and we provide opportunities to learn through play.


What happens to children’s intrinsic motivation to  play when they are always provided with play prompts?  Play dates, parks with play structures, and art invitations are all a part of my children’s play, but only a part of it.


How do my plans interrupt or prevent my children’s developing play ideas?


In my more absent-minded or ambitious days, an idea as simple as letting children play can easily fall by the wayside – a victim of my good intentions and life’s obligations.


I’ve developed a few habits that have helped keep unstructured play time a part of our lives.


Schedule Unstructured Time Even life in a small town can be filled quickly with social appointments,  from park dates to running errands. I protect our stay-at-home days, which are typically Mondays and/or Fridays. We may go for a short walk around our neighborhood, but we spend most of our morning at home and do not schedule play dates with friends or go to the park (even though both are places where free play can happen). As my daughters are 3 years and 1 year old, we are lucky that there really are no obligations that we can not schedule to our convenience. I realize a whole day is not easy to come by, especially as children age, but some time each week in these early years contributes to the development of the habit of play.



Have Toys Available that Encourage Independent Play and Let Children Move them as Needed. Open-ended play can be messy. My daughters move furniture and blankets all over the house, lining up all of our chairs to become train cars, and blankets to become beds, blocking the main artery of our home. Designating a space such as a child’s room, bed, or closet (even where play scenes can be left and revisited without changing the flow of the whole house) is one way to let independent play develop.


Be a Willing Play Partner. It seems like right before I end my cleaning routine – say, finishing the dishes – my daughter brings me some variety of empty mugs, forks, and rocks, and asks me to “eat” with her. I have never regretted putting those chores aside and playing instead. She does not ask for my participation frequently (that is where my other daughter, Moon, comes in), so when she does we can always come to some agreement about when that can happen. It is not always right away, but when I say I will do something, I follow through.


Let Children Take the Lead. Infants and toddlers who have sustained the ability to play independently may not need a partner, so holding back may ultimately be more encouraging of play than jumping in.


Play Outside. Nature provides infinite chances to play. We love parks, but have recently been spending more time outside playing in spaces that the girls can run on, hide in, climb over, discover, and marvel at. Heading to the beach? Leave the sand toys at home. Toys can be fun to bring along, but how about leaving all of those things behind so that children can create their own games.


How do you keep play a top priority in your everyday lives?

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?