art with little ones

doodle tee





I almost forgot to show you Finn's handmade birthday gift for Lachlan! I know you would have seen the shirt in photos eventually, and you would have wondered what the deal was with that crazy shirt, so I think an official show-and-tell is called for.

We used a basic white onesie and Finn drew all over it with fabric markers. I did need to hold the fabric taut while he drew to prevent it from stretching and bunching under the pressure of the marker. It turned out to be an activity well-suited for a two year-old. I think it's one of those gift projects that's perfect for all ages and all occasions - Mother's Day, Father's Day, sibling's and friend's birthdays, etc. I'm sure we'll do it again one of these days.

on a rainy day

Thank you for your well-wishes for my dear Dad. His recovery is moving along steadily, and we hope he'll be out of the hospital by Thursday.

on a rainy day

We've had a handful of rainy days this past week, and that, coupled with some runny noses and persistent coughs, has kept all of us inside and mellow. 

Finn wrote a story the other day, which he dictated to Patrick. As they read it over together, Finn made edits. Love that. Patrick has fond memories of doing this same activity with his mother when he was a wee one.

We tend to use the light tray on dreary days; this time I put a plastic bin on top and let him loose with paint.

on a rainy day

on a rainy day

on a rainy day

The best part was print-making, according to Finn. Just put a piece of paper on top of the paint and smoosh, then lift it up. 

on a rainy day

We also used the light tray and plastic bin to do a float/sink experiment with household objects. Finn filled the bin with water (using a pitcher and going back and forth to the sink) and then we gathered the following in a bowl: crayon, ball of clay, apple, wooden egg, spatula, cookie cutter, plastic whale, clay formed into a boat, an almond, a bean, a pumpkin seed, a measuring cup, and a few other things I'm forgetting. Before Finn placed each item in the water, we formed hypotheses and dicussed the results. He was most impressed that the bean sunk while the pumpkin seed floated.

on a rainy day

I'm most impressed that he is writing stories and forming hypotheses. Wasn't it just two days ago that he was just starting to crawl across rooms? Before long, these boys of mine will be four and six, and my life will be totally different than it is now.

For now, you must excuse me - I have to sweep the floor yet again because something major happened this week (aside from my Dad's surgery). Yes. Lachlan is on the MOVE. And putting everything in his mouth. Lachlan is rather pleased, and I'm pleased for him. I must say, however, that I have just a dash of pity for my broom-weilding self, knowing that he'll only get faster. 

And with the snap of my fingers, the stay-put baby stage is over and a new one has begun! 

things we do after nap :: watercolor leaves

watercolor leaves

fun activity afternoons

fun activity afternoons

On one of my more recent finds at Discount School Supply was this pack of watercolor leaves. They aren't watercolor paper. I'd say that they are made of the same stuff as coffee filters. I've done something similar with the coffee filters and they work great. 

I pulled out some spray bottles, small dishes with brushes, and the bingo bottles, along with red, yellow, and green liquid watercolors. The plastic sensory bin and a laminated cotton fabric "splat mat" helped contain any wayward spray. Finn is usually amenable to keeping his mess in the designated area, although many children would experience more freedom of play (read: spraying colored water everywhere!) if this activity was done outside. 

Then we started spraying, brushing, and dabbing ... watching the paints creep together and the colors mix. We dried the leaves on newsprint on another table, then hung them behind our dining room table. 

Some of you have asked where I get my ideas for these projects. While some of them (painting the sky) just came out of my head, most days I rely on the huge wealth of ideas online to put together a project. Here are some of my favorite places to look:

Play At Home Mom - Reggio-inspired play exploration.

Teacher Tom - Lots of tinkering and child-led activities.

Filth Wizardry - So many ideas, I don't know where to begin.

The Artful Parent - Inspirational art projects, many ideas for babies on up.

The Crafty Crow - Compiles crafty goodness from around the web.

Childhood 101 Playopedia - Another list of good ideas sorted by age and type of activity.

There are so many more, so please share your favorite placed to find ideas in the comments!

things we do after nap :: playing with shells



playing with shells

playing with shells

playing with shells

playing with shells

playing with shells

playing with shells

They're bumpy! They're smooth! Shells, urchins, sand dollars ... they all make superb sensory exploration baskets for babies and toddlers. I keep a basket of shells on our nature shelf and pull it out often for Lachlan. Lately, I've also been encouraging Finn to incorporate them into his creative play - suggesting their usefulness as tea cups and boats, for example.

The newest shell-stravaganza is thanks to a glue gun and a few magnets. We have a new magnetized chalkboard, which I made from sheet metal painted with chalkboard spray paint. I found the weathered blue trim on our property, cut it to size, and nailed everything directly to the wall. Quite a simple project as projects go. I also magnetized some rocks, corks, and popsicle sticks while I was at it. Finn seemed especially taken with the corks.

We found our urchins here. Lachlan can't get enough of their bumpy radness.

Remember to add your photos to the Things We Do After Nap Flickr pool!

things we do after nap :: painting the sky

painting the sky

painting the sky

painting the sky

painting the sky

painting the sky

painting the sky

painting the sky

painting the sky

Painting the Sky


  • set of acrylic mirrors attached with double-sided tape to table
  • foam paint (you could also use homemade whipped cream for kids who like tasting)
  • brushes, sponges and scrapers
  • water bucket and washcloth
  • a blue sky with puffy white clouds

We recently read Eric Carl's Little Cloud and thought that this project would be a good follow-up to that experience. Of everything that I've set up for Finn these past few weeks, this project got the most play time. It started off as a typical painting project - using brushes and sponges, then moved on to a water-and-paint mixing experience, then a purely sensorial exploration of the feeling of the foam on his hands, then some creative play with brushes and blue hands, and ended during clean up when Finn discovered that a spray of water could push both paint and painting accessories off of the table and onto the ground. It was fascinating to watch his play evolve! He emerged feeling very peaceful and upbeat.

The mirrors were the biggest investment for this project, but they have been so worth it - you can do so much with these, from using them with building blocks to add another dimension to self portraits to bending light in science experiments.

An extension of this project, especially this time of year, would be to set up the mirrors underneath a tree canopy so that you could paint the trees, providing yellow and red foam paint. 

If Lachlan were a bit older and able to eat dairy, I would whip up some cream without any sugar and give him his own mirror-and-cloud sensorial experience. As he's only *almost!* eight months old, however, he just enjoyed looking on and playing outside with sticks and large rocks. 

I've made a Flickr group for Things We Do After Nap! Check it out here, and add your ideas to the pool!


the things we do after nap

fun activity afternoons

I've been trying to take a few pictures of the activities we've been doing when Finn wakes up from his nap. Open-ended art, sensorial activities - invitations to explore and experiment, if you will. Join me next week for Things We Do After Nap, a sharing of fun things to do with little ones in your home. Starring Finn and his trusty side-kick, Lachlan-The-Happy-Ham. 

I hope you will consider sharing the things you do after nap on your own blog, Flickr, or in the comments! This is a very open-ended invitation, and feel free to post daily or just once. I'll be doing a round-up post at the end of the week, linking to all of the Things You Do After Nap. Hopefully we'll have a nice bit of inspiration for rainy days.

of apples and boys

apple time

apple time

apple time

apple time

apple time

apple time

apple time

I was thinking about titling this post "and so it begins." I would have added an exclamation point to that title, because there's this inner child in me that's getting all excited about what's going on in my house these days. 

The excitement is over something very simple. Apples. A shifting season. Decorations. Leaves changing. Noticing everything. 

The one who is doing the changing and the noticing is my little boy. He is most assuredly not a toddler any more. He is waking up to the world - its changes, its celebrations, and its more nuanced flow. For the first time, I find myself decorating for this autumn season. For the first time, I find myself accompanying FInn on walks to find acorns. He has ideas. Plans. He picks apples and wants to make applesauce and bake a pie. We do. He suggested we sing Happy Birthday to Autumn before we cut into our pie. He made the crust with minimal help. (He likes it that way - he is still two after all.) His sentences are long. Involved. He has theories about the health benefits of butter (It's good for my body and will give me energy to run, run, run!) ... says he who is trying to convince me that we don't need to reserve all of it for the crust and that he, perhaps, could just taste a tablespoon of it? 

We are embarking on our first season of celebration with a boy who is aware of it all. Last year was sweet, but he was still a baby. Everything was parent-directed, which felt just a bit contrived (the nature of that stage of parenting, I think). Now is the time that traditions will truly take root in our family, growing organically. We are becoming a conscious family. Let us celebrate with apple pie!

playful learning - thoughts on crafting a space

our new studio

Our studio bustles with activity in the mornings. After thirty minutes of uninterrupted time to myself, spent cleaning up the joyful mess of the previous day's gathering, I peek in to find Finn totally immersed in art. He doesn't notice my presence, his concentration is so deep.

When we moved in to our new home a few weeks ago, I knew setting up this space would be a priority. Just as having a functioning kitchen is a necessity for mama, the art area is a necessity for the two year-old.

Fortunately for me, Mariah Bruehl's treasure trove of a book, Playful Learning: Develop Your Child's Sense of Joy and Wonder arrived on my new front porch just in time to provide plentiful inspiration.

Playful Learning Book

And today, I'm honored to be sharing this space with Mariah as part of her blog tour! Read on to find out how you can enter to win a copy of Playful Learning or a spot in Mariah's e-course Playful Learning Spaces.

I'm pretending that Mariah's actually here with me now ...

Meg: Hi Mariah! Welcome to my new house! And please excuse the five-foot-high pile of books to your right as you walk in the door. ;) 

our new studio

Mariah: Thank you for having me. I feel so honored to be able to get a sneak peek into your studio!

Meg: I feel so shy showing our new playing/learning space so early in its (hopefully very long) life. I spent many, many hours dreaming about this space - making lots of lists and rearranging furniture in my head. It still feels like it needs so much tweaking. It was easy to feel overwhelmed at the beginning of the design process, but it was only in the (finally ... ever so gingerly) stepping out of the dreaming phase and into the hands-on arranging of the space that it really began to come alive properly.

our new studio

Some of the design came directly from those pictures in my head, and some of it came from the singularity of the space itself - its own idiosyncrasies combined with those of my toddler which made the space into a functional living area. I'd say that embarking on creating a playful learning space in your home is an exciting, yet nearly paralyzing process if you let yourself get too bogged down with all of your ideas for the space. It just kind of has to develop of its own accord. Has this been your experience with creating learning spaces both in the home and in the classroom environment?

Mariah: Most definitely! I am often overtaken by analysis paralysis. You are exactly right. The best way to break out of it is to dive-in and start experimenting.  When I view the process of creating spaces for my children as being experimental, it takes the pressure off of me to make things perfect. I find it helpful to take breaks and watch the way the girls interact with the space for a bit (you should see the piles outside of the atelier door!) and then make more changes. Taking the time to observe how your children are responding to a space can spark a lot of ideas. I also find it helpful to focus on one area at a time. I usually find that one one area falls into place, things start clicking all around. It is important to remember that small changes can make a big difference and everything does not have to be accomplished at one time. 

our new studio

Meg: Playful Learning has a very helpful checklist for items to include when setting up your space - be it the art area, writing center, or nature/science corner. I found myself referring to these pages quite often as I dug through my closet of supplies. (Oh my. That's another subject for another time - but eventually I need to have a super organized closet so I can find the supplies that I need when the inspiration strikes!) 

our new studio

Mariah: The checklists of supplies in the book are a good place to start when thinking about setting up different areas in your home that encourage reading, writing, science, art and so on. It is always fun to tune into your child's new interests in topics or materials and then create a space for further exploration.

our new studio

For example the play dough sculpting activity you put together for Finn was the right activity for him at the right time. You picked up on his interest in play dough and took it to the next level by providing him with interesting tools and modeling for him how he can independently take out and put away the activity. I will never forget the video you shared of Finn doing just that!

our new studio

our new studio

The same is true for the cutting exercise you created. Learning to cut is a developmental milestone for children Finn's age and they love to repeat it over and over again until the skill has been mastered. I am sure that Finn is loving that you created such a lovely tray for him with everything he needs to work on this important task. I loved seeing that Amanda Soule is experiencing the same phenomenon with her toddler. She shared a photo here (third picture from the top) and stated that she is "loving Harper's love of scissors." 

Meg: Playful Learning's ideas and activities, while written with the 4-8 year-old in mind, are certainly applicable for younger children as well. For Finn (27 months), art and writing are one and the same, so I have an art area set up for him. Eventually, as his interest words continues to blossom, I will begin to put together a writing center. That said, I found your suggestion for creating a "Mailing Station," complete with address labels for family and friends, as well as envelopes, stamps, and place for outgoing mail, totally ingenious! I have plans to set up our own Mailing Station in the near future, so Finn can send his artwork to his great-grandparents in California or to his friends who live in town. (As a sidenote, another cool feature of Playful Learning is that Mariah includes SO MANY book suggestions - the guidelines for setting up a Mailing Station are accompanied by mail-themed books to pique interest in the subject.)

Mariah: The mailing station is a big hit in our house! The goal is to provide children with what they need, so that when they  have the desire to reach out and send something they have made to a loved one, they are able to act on their idea. Once they realize that they can be successful at tasks like mailing letters, it becomes a part of their routine. We want our children to develop lifelong habits of heart and mind—children who write because they have something that they want to share, or they want to capture an idea or they want to connect with someone in their lives. When we create an environment that provides them with the tools they need to act on their natural inclinations, writing becomes a valuable medium for self-expression, rather than an end in itself.  

Meg: I really believe that a space will evolve with the child, and that we, as parents, must often take a step back and evaluate the current set-up to see if it meets the needs of the little people who move through it and use it in their play and creative exploits. The designer/artist in me wishes that I could just create a beautiful space and leave it at that, but that's just not the reality of life with a child who is constantly learning new things both about the world in which he lives and about himself and how he moves in the world. I know that this studio of ours will change with time, while keeping a familiar and orderly backbone so my boys can use it with confidence. A few tips I have for creating a studio space:

our new studio

- Rotate, rotate, rotate! The older a child gets, the more materials you can have available (i.e. collage materials.) This isn't the case for a toddler. Keep a collage tray on the shelf, but rotate out the materials every week or so. Our art area is very much a Montessori set-up from my own background, and I think this balance of having a limited number of materials on display with which the child can explore freely fits the 2-4 year-old age range quite well. The older the child gets, the more access they can have to all of the family art supplies. Currently, Finn can use everything on the red shelf, but can't yet reach the supplies on the white shelf. He can see the paints and ask to paint with me if he wishes, though.

Mariah: Yes! You just brought up some really important points...

Less is best. Over the years I have moved towards leaving out less and less in terms of toys and materials for the girls. I have found that when there is less to choose from, they make better use of their things. With that said, I make sure to have everything they need for the activities that I do make available. I love creating theme based baskets and trays, that rotate as the girls interests change. For example, my youngest daughter loves to paint so I leave out a tray with a blank canvas, paints, brushes, a color wheel, and a color mixing palate so that she can create whenever the mood strikes her. I love how you have done the same thing with Finn—making age appropriate materials available to him that he can access and use independently.

You are never "finished." The spaces we create for our children are never “finished”, but are continually evolving as our children grow and develop new interests. We can create a useful “infrastructure” but the materials and activities need to be revisited and rotated on a regular basis. I like to take a fresh look at our atelier approximately every six months to replenish, reorganize and update the materials and displays according to where the girls are both developmentally and interest wise. It never ceases to amaze me how a few little tweaks can inspire the girls to move right into the fresh space filled with new ideas and projects.

Meg: - When it comes to envisioning the perfect space, there's no better way to store all of your ideas than on a Pinterest board. Mariah has very inspiring boards. Try keeping one board for "spaces for kids" and one for "activities for kids." 

Mariah: Being a visual person, Pinterest has opened up a whole new world for me. I have found it to be a wonderful resource for inspiration, especially in terms of creating spaces for children. It also gives a glimpse into the thought processes of some of my favorite bloggers. It is a really fun way to connect, share and become inspired.

our new studio

Meg:  Make a wish list. For example, the area to the left of the red art shelf and pin board is where I will eventually put a big, black chalkboard - I just don't have the time to do that right now. I'm also on the hunt for a child's rolltop desk and a just-right shelf for our writing area. I have a list that I take with me thrifting, and when we have some cash to spare I search Craigslist, Ebay or Etsy for a specific item. For example, I had a pastry stand on my wish list for displaying materials and recently found one for just a few dollars. 

Mariah: I definitely have my fair share of wish lists! I also find it helpful to add general things to the list, like "ribbon storage" or "glitter management". Then I try to look for unconventional ways of storing and displaying those materials. Often times I already have something that can be repurposed to meet our current needs.

Congratulations on your truly helpful book, Mariah. I know that it is a resource that parents of young children will reference over and over again. 

To enter to win a copy of Playful Learning or a spot in Mariah's upcoming e-course Playful Learning Spaces, leave a comment with your favorite idea (include a link for inspiration if applicable!) for a child's Playful Learning Space. The winners will be drawn on Sunday evening, August 21st. 

Comments are closed! Congratulations to Misha and Christine.

one little moment

a moment 1

a moment 2

a moment 4

a moment 3

a moment 5

a moment 6

Some moments are just perfect, even if they are messy. Messy moments (both literally and figuratively) offer me insight into my inner life in a way that pristine, perfect moments just don't. I'm really enjoying this book on the subject of mindful parenting. It's provided me with a lot of peace in this new phase of family life.

I must cut this short. One child is loudly and urgently requesting a pickle and the other has just spit up. I'll let you guess who is who.

A pickle can count for lunch, don't you think?


The tabletop easel is from Michael Olaf's Joyful Child catalog - it's nice to have a tiny easel, given that our studio is just a small bedroom and wall space is at a premium. Plus, it's the perfect size for a toddler.



play dough sculpting

Finn keeps the new art area bustling with activity. Sculpting with play dough was the first art experience that I put on the shelf, knowing that, if we first made the play dough together in the kitchen (I used this recipe, and it's stayed good for three weeks now) then he would be gung-ho to play with it. Here he is after a sculpting session, putting everything away.

And just to disabuse you of the (albeit hilarious) notion that the fairy singing in the background is Patrick, we were listening to Joanna Newsom, an innovative musician and acquaintance of mine from high school.

Finn is free to get out the sculpting kit at any time. Most of the time he puts it away without any reminders, as that was how I presented the activity to him - the putting away was just as interesting as the playing itself. I showed him how to do it a few times, then he took over, with varying degrees of success. What you see in the video is the result of a bit of practice on his part, and a lot of holding back from unnecessary intervention on my part. I think that's pretty much the key - don't intervene unless there is noticeable frustration on the child's part. I blogged a bit about my thoughts on being okay with your child's mistakes here. There are a lot of moments in this video where we adults might be tempted to intervene, which would mean that Finn wouldn't have had the opportunity to troubleshoot or explore on his own. It takes a while, and the road to success is often circuitous, but ultimately standing back and observing (and respecting) a toddler's own process is what allows the child to learn directly from his own experiences.  

Okay, enough Montessori jibber jabber. For those of you interested in setting up your own play dough sculpting kit, here's what you'll need:

- A homemade playdough recipe. The one I used is here, there are also some great versions in First Art , and Jean has her own suggestions for jazzing it up here.

- An air-tight container that is easily opened and closed by a toddler. I used a Good Grips pop container. I've found them to be much easier for little hands to use correctly than a typical tupperware container. We also keep our cat food in one of these and Finn enjoys his daily task of feeding the cats all by himself.

- A storage container for the sculpting tools. Our little "suitcase" was used as an innovative gift wrapping for one of Finn's baby shower gifts, but I recently saw something very similar at Michael's. Again, the key is that it's easily handled by a toddler.

play dough sculpting kit

- Sculpting tools. I was very inspired by this article in the Winter issue of Rhythm of the Home. I scrounged around for tools in my own house, then went to a thrift store to see what I could find. As it turns out, Finn's favorite sculpting tools have been a butter knife, a pattern tracing wheel, and some small sticks that I found in my backyard. He also uses the handmade cork stamps.

- A canvas mat. I quickly sewed mine up from a scrap of canvas fabric that I had on hand. I backed it with the left over non-skid rubber rug pad that I used under the Rainbow Rug.

Happy Play-doughing!