Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sprout Scouts Playcamp: Water, Water, Everywhere

Water, Water, Everywhere!

Every great Sprout Scout knows a good rain is great for the garden, but even so, a rainy day can be a real downer! This theme is a great way to explore and celebrate water, water life and rain. You can use these activities as a stand-alone theme or stash them away for the perfect rainy day! The very best thing about water play is that it can be done with a wide range of ages and developmental levels in mind--from infancy through adulthood. This theme has something for everyone--just add water!

Materials List:

  • water!
  • shaving cream
  • food coloring
  • sidewalk chalk
  • paint brushes in a variety of sizes, especially sponge tip and paint rollers\
  • plastic and/or rubber toy frogs 
  • tempura paint
  • washable markers
  • watercolor paints, watercolor pencils
  • white paper (watercolor, card stock or construction weight paper is suggested)
  • nature's loose parts--pine cones, sticks, stones, leaves, twigs, drift wood, etc.
  • fresh, aromatic herbs such as mint, lavender, rosemary--whatever you like and/or have on hand
  • containers, colanders, sponges, buckets, etc. for exploring, pouring and playing with water and freezing water
  • plastic pipettes (available on Amazon)
  • sandwich size ziplock bag, sandwich size fold-top bag
  • rubber bands
  • permanent markers
  • tape (masking tape, duct tape or even scotch tape are fine)
  • balloons in a variety of sizes
  • scissors
  • glitter
  • toy hammer and other toy tools
  • party favor necklaces, jewels, wands 
  • Kosher salt
  • recycled brown paper shopping bags
  • clear glass jar


  • Rain Art: This is one of my favorite rainy day activities! You'll need some heavier weight paper and washable markers. Young artists will begin by doodling and drawing on their paper. You'll want to preface the activity by explaining that this will be Rain Art and perhaps even asking your young, artistic scientist what he/she thinks might happen to washable marker drawings left in the rain. Once you're ready, you'll set your artwork out for a bit of time in the rain--but not too long, or you'll come back in with white paper again! Observe the results, allow it to dry and you'll have a lovely work of art to display or use for collage or gift-wrap. You can also use this as an opportunity to experiment with the affects of rain on different art mediums. What happens with permanent marker? How about watercolor pencils? Crayons? 
As an indoor alternative in the event of drought, you can also conduct your rain art experiment using a spray bottle or pipettes to wet your artwork!
  • Watercolor Painting and Drawing with Watercolor Pencils are wonderful art mediums for children of all ages to explore. With younger children, using a sponge to wet their paper first can help the color to more easily spread. I recommend a heavier weight paper such as watercolor paper, card stock or construction paper. You might experiment with the affects of kosher salt on watercolor. Perhaps you will experiment with other types of paper such as paper towels, white coffee filters or tissue paper. You might even bring along paper and watercolors to the sprinkler park or poolside for a shady spot activity when kids (or parents) need a break from the sunshine! 

  • Ice Painting with Watercolors: One of our very favorite and most often repeated art activities at home is painting ice with watercolors! In advance, freeze water inside a plastic container or dish. When you're ready to paint, release your ice onto a tray or baking pan and simply provide watercolor paints and brushes. You may also add in additional water for washing brushes or kosher salt to create a unique texture as the ice melts Another fun way to explore watercolors and cool off at the same time is to provide ice cubes in lieu of water and brushes. You can even freeze some "ice brushes" by sticking a small wooden craft stick or Q-tip inside your ice cube tray. 
  • Sidewalk chalk + Water = PAINT! Oh, this is a fun one! One you can do outdoors on a warm, rainy day or on a sunny day with added water--you might want to coordinate it, either way, with a good soak in the tub afterward! Grab your sidewalk chalk and maybe some brushes if you like (although hands and feet work just as well) and see what happens when you mix water and chalk...

  • Frog Prints: Ponds can be found in almost any area and are such a wonder to explore. One of the most fascinating critters to learn about is frogs! Here's a bit of process art fun for those plastic or rubber frogs you can find at the dollar store. Set out some paper, a tray of green paint (or your color of choice), some toy frogs and paintbrushes if you wish. Once those frogs get a hoppin', there's just no stoppin'! This is particularly fun for the younger crowd...

Outdoor Activities:

  • We're Going on a Frog Hunt! This requires a bit of preparation prior to beginning. Gather a selection of toy plastic and/or rubber frogs. I've found these year round at Dollar Tree stores. You can do this at home in your own yard or even at a park. You might want to count how many you have beforehand! Hide your frogs around the area, on the ground, under trees and bushes, on a leaf.... Next, you'll gather the troops. You might even provide a small container to collect their findings. You can talk about how some frogs and toads protect themselves by camouflaging into their natural surroundings, while others have brightly colored skin to ward off predators by letting them know they are poisonous. We love to do this activity outside, but it can also be done indoors on a rainy day...
  • Rain Drums: This is one (of many) great ideas in the book A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature by Asia Citro, MEd. You'll need a selection of different sized plastic containers (no lids necessary) and a variety of corresponding sized balloons. You'll also need a rainy day! And perhaps some rain gear or waterproof clothing... Cut the ends off your balloons and stretch one over the top of each container. Take your drums outdoors and listen, ever so quietly, to the musical interludes of raindrops falling. The harder the rain, the louder your drums will play! You might even experiment with other types of coverings and see how they sound... Or perhaps you'll test out some metal tins turned upside down that you have in your Mud Kitchen? There is something so inherently soothing about the sound of rain falling! It might even brighten up the next rainy day...

  • Ice Castle Excavation: Ice is an oft forgotten form of water that is great for play--especially in the summer. You'll need to prepare in advance for activities like this one (and maybe explain to your spouse why you have to eat all of the leftovers tonight because you need the freezer space to make an ice castle...). Using a castle shaped bucket and/or containers in any variety of shapes and sizes (even muffin tins are great), freeze some water. You can add in glitter, food coloring of your choice, and jewels, necklaces and other trinkets from the party favor section of your dollar store (keep in mind that these may not survive the activity, so don't use your finest family heirlooms!). I find it best to prepare this the night before we want to do the activity. When you're ready, choose a space outdoors either on the ground or in a sensory bin/water table to set up your ice castle excavation. If you have a hard time getting the ice out of any container, just run a bit of warm water over the bottom. Ice excavators can use toy hammers and other tools to try to to retrieve the jewels frozen in the castle. They can also test out what happens when they add water and or kosher salt to the ice. You can use safety goggles if you wish and, as always, provide support and supervision with the use of hammers and tools with young children! 

  • Painting With Water: I have great childhood memories of using a big foam tipped brush to paint fences and sidewalks with water in the summer and it's an activity I introduced early to my own kids. Big paint brushes and sponge brushes are still one of the most popular (and fought over) toys I bring to the sprinkler park each summer. It is so much fun to create designs and pictures with water and watch the sun make them disappear!
Indoor Activities & Active Play:

You can't always get outside for a good puddle jump in the rain, so here are a few activities to try inside, including some that will get you and your kids moving!

Indoor Puddle Jumping with Letters or Sight Words: Using recycled brown paper shopping bags, cut some large mud puddle shapes. On each puddle, you'll write a letter or (with older children) sight word. You can add in some music to get everyone moving and when the music stops, it's time to puddle jump. There are three ways to play (depending on your puddle jumpers' level of ability). You can call out and/or show a letter name (for letter recognition), a word (or picture) for beginning sound, or a sight word for word recognition. You can even make this into a rhyming word challenge and provide a word and/or picture on each puddle and call out rhyming word. Everyone will have a great time being active and jumping in mud puddles without any of the muddy mess afterward!

Frank the Frog: Rain Forest Yoga from Cosmic Kids Yoga:
Got a little yogi at home? We love the videos from Cosmic Kids Yoga for rainy days or afternoons that just beg for a bit more movement. Many are available on YouTube and this one is one of our favorites!


  • How Do Clouds Make Rain? Water Cycle in a Bag Experiment: This science experiment is so simple to set up and a great one for teaching about the water cycle. You'll need a ziplock bag (sandwich size is fine), a permanent marker, some masking tape, duct tape or packing tape, and water. You can also use blue food coloring if you wish. Begin by drawing a body of water on the bottom of your bag and clouds at the top. Fill your bag about a quarter of the way full with water, adding food coloring if you wish. Tightly seal the bag and add some tape for reinforcement. Lastly you'll want to tape it to a window and observe throughout different times of the day how the change in sun exposure/temperature creates "fog" in the clouds that eventually drip into "rain" back to the body of water at the bottom of the bag!

  • Rain Cloud in a Jar Experiment: This is another simple and fun way to demonstrate how clouds make rain! You'll need a clear jar or glass, some additional small recycled containers or cups, shaving cream, food coloring, pipettes and water. Begin by filling your glass about 3/4 of the way full with cool water. Meanwhile, fill your extra cups/containers with water and a color of your choice to set aside as your "rain." Squirt a fluffy shaving cream cloud atop your jar of water and have your junior scientists try their hands at sucking up and gently squirting drops of "rain" onto the rain cloud. As the cloud gets heavier and heavier with colored water, you'll observe colorful drops of rain coming through the cloud down into the water! It will be the most beautiful (or at least the most colorful) rain storm you've ever observed!

  • Do Leaves Sweat? You betcha! In this simple science experiment, also featured in Asia Citro's A Little Bit of Dirt, you'll need a clear plastic bag, a rubber band and leaves on a tree. You can even set up more than one observation on different types of trees to compare and contrast. Bundle a few leaves in your plastic bag and gently fasten it with the rubber band so it won't slip off. Observe what the leaves look like now--maybe even draw or take a photo of it! Come back to the same spot the next day and you should see a fair amount of water in the bottom of your bag. Because the bag prevents water from evaporating back into the atmosphere, moisture that is sweated out by the leaves collects in the bottom--similar to how a rain cloud works!

  • How Do Plants Drink Water? Have you ever wondered how the water we provide our gardens or from rain gets to the plants and helps them grow? In this great experiment from Buggy and Buddy, you'll observe how water travels through the stem to other parts of the leaf over a period of three days. You'll need a cup or jar, a leaf, water and food coloring. Read more about how to set up and observe your experiment at Science for Kids: Exploring Leaves.

  • Sink or Float Science: Experimenting with materials that sink or float is another favorite science activity here. We do it several times a year and in a variety of ways. I especially love using items found in nature to test. Grab a basket and fill it with interesting leaves, seed pods, flowers, pine cones, acorns, twigs, rocks--whatever you can find. You'll need a basin of water and then the test is on! You might talk about what makes items sink to the bottom or float to the top. What materials tend to float? What are boats made out of? You might also try this inside with household items. Perhaps you'll talk about the difference between fresh water (like a pond) and salt water (like the ocean) and add a couple of salt water basins with a different amounts of salt. Does that affect the results of your test items? The best thing about sink or float science is that it can be done inside in a bin, in the bathtub, in your sink, outside, at the pool--wherever water is available! You can record your results if you wish or just enjoy the process. It's a great experiment to do on a family vacation or trip as it requires very little in the way of preparation or special materials.

Sensory Play:
Water is an amazing tool for sensory play. It's available just about everywhere all year round. It's usually free (or at least already included in your monthly expenses). It's allergy safe and fun for all ages and developmental levels. I have yet to meet a child who tires of a simple water table set up--just water and a container or two for filling, pouring, and transferring. You can add in toys, vegetables for washing, or even items found in nature. Water play is also a wonderful way to introduce sensory play to infants and young toddlers. Read more about that in Waterplay Wednesday: The Baby Edition. Here are a few more of my favorite water life and rain related sensory play activities:

  • Frog Pond Sensory Bin: Pond life comes alive with this small world sensory bin! You'll need some toy frogs and from there, you can add in whatever natural and man-made materials you have on hand. We used rocks, a variety of wood pieces, glass gems, a plastic baby dish drainer made to look like grass that we never actually used for its intended purpose, and some artificial flowers. This captivated my older one for days! We changed out the water each evening, but when small world play and sensory play collide, the result is often hours and hours of fun!

  • Scented Waterplay with Fresh Cut Herbs: If you happen to be growing herbs in your garden or have some leftover from a recipe, this is a heavenly way to add an additional sensory component into waterplay. The bonus is that it's totally taste safe for the still-mouthing and/or younger crowd. Choose some fresh herbs that you particularly like together (like a couple varieties of mint or lavender and rosemary...) and add them to a bowl or basin of water. You can also add in spoons for mixing or bowls/cups for pouring, but this is just as lovely on its own with two (or more) hands to splash in it! You can add as much or as little of your fresh herbs as you like, and if the thought of just tossing out fresh cut herbs when you're done simply tugs at your heartstrings too much, you can still give them another good rinse and use them for cooking or making tea!
  • Shaving Cream Clouds Sensory Play: Shaving cream is such a fun sensory play material! You can squirt it right on your table top (it's a self-cleaning play activity!), on a tray or even in your tub. Little hands will love making designs in the shaving cream clouds. You can also add in a few drops of food coloring or tempura paint (one or more than one color for mixing). We love doing this as a story stretcher activity with Eric Carle's Little Cloud and trying to make different cloud shapes as seen in the book. For those who may be a bit sensory averse or hesitant to dig right in, a plastic fork or comb or wooden craft stick can be a great tool. Providing a wet rag alongside can also help children who are averse to messy play to feel more comfortable.

Family Field Trips & Extension Activities:
We are so fortunate to live near several sprinkler parks. These are so much fun in the summer! They entertain a variety of ages (yes, even the adults) and it can be active fun for the whole family. Some children are game to jump right in (and through and over and under and on top) of the sprinklers while others are a bit more hesitant. My own older one used to be the jump-right-in-type and aged into the give-it-a-wide-berth-type. For the more hesitant ones at the sprinkler park or pool, I like to offer some support tools and alternative activities. A plastic bucket or basin can be filled with water for poolside or park-side water play and combined with the add-ins of your choice. Taking along some of the art materials or activities listed above can also be a great option. Read Waterplay Wednesday: Spicing Up the Sprinkler Park for more ideas on great waterplay take-alongs.

Cloud Watching is another great (FREE) family activity! You'll need one of those perfectly blue sky and fluffy cloud kinds of days, maybe a big grassy hill, a cozy picnic blanket to lay on and maybe some sunglasses. Watch as the clouds go by and see what shapes and pictures you can find in the sky.

Talking about water conservation is something that most of us probably do without even thinking of it. How many times a day do you remind someone in your house to turn off a faucet or to hurry in the shower before the fish run out of water? Take it to the next (less nagging) level this summer by using leftover water in your water bottles to give your garden a drink or practicing using the sprinkler and hose at their most efficient hours (early morning or dusk). Additionally, you can model and talk about protecting water life by cleaning up rubbish in parks and pond areas, and avoiding the tempting activity of feeding ducks human food. If you do live near a pond, river, lake or other body of water, it's a great family field trip to take and observe the flora and fauna. You can check out a variety of interesting books, both fiction and non-fiction from your local library!

I'm throwing in a little backyard (or front yard) hack today as well to encourage and invite water play without always needing a hose and running water. I love using a large plastic spigot jug filled with water for my kids to use as a filling/pouring station. It's great for use in the Mud Kitchen, watering plants and even a quick rinse of the hands! When it's empty, simply refill it and you're good to go. Just make sure to provide separate water for drinking and in general, to avoid areas with stagnant water in your yard that can invite mosquitoes and other unwanted pests.

Well, Sprout Scouts, we will be back with our next playcamp theme soon. Until then...[don't] stay dry and happy playing!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Very Merry Un-Birthday to YOU!

Is today your birthday? Mine either! But today is everyone in our family's Un-birthday, and that's something to celebrate! Today in S's school, all of the children who have birthdays during the summer got to participate in a special birthday celebration. It truly is so thoughtful and considerate of the principal and his teachers to organize this each year for students and parents who never get to celebrate in school during the academic year (shout out to all you moms who survived being Very Pregnant in the heat of the summer!). It also increases the excitement S feels about his actual birthday, which is still over a month away. Boy is it ever hard to wait! So this afternoon, we are having a Family Un-birthday Celebration. A certain little boy who is *still* 3 is so excited about this, he is singing to himself through nap-time...

An Un-Birthday Celebration can be as simple or elaborate as you like! I chose a few activities I thought the boys would love. So crank up the classic tune from Alice in Wonderland and wish everyone you know who isn't celebrating a birthday today a Very Merry Un-Birthday!

Birthday celebrations at our preschool always involve a walk around the sun through the months of each year. S decorated his very own birthday sun this morning and it's featured on our own family living room rug this afternoon for everyone to get a turn being the Un-Birthday Person. Presents are certainly not a must for an Un-Birthday Celebration, but there's something super fun and exciting about unwrapping one--especially when it's not a birthday or holiday. You can scrounge the closet stash, hit up the dollar store or do what I did, and visit the children's book section of your local thrift store. I always find great books there and love to give them a second life.
I picked up a couple of balloons and put out some party hats, necklaces and party blowers for each family member. After dinner we'll have a surprise ice cream party (especially exciting for S who keeps asking for Shavuot to come back so he can have ice cream again!) and we'll spend our afternoon with a fun Homemade Puffy Paint Cupcake Craft and playing in our Vanilla Cupcake Scented Birthday Bash Sensory Bin.

One of S's favorite things to do in any sensory bin is pretend to make cupcakes. In this one, rainbow rice is meant to resemble sprinkles and an added scent of vanilla extract will leave your mouth watering for the real thing! I tossed in some plastic dishes, birthday candles, birthday confetti, necklaces, blowers, bows and tiny present decorations I had stashed away in a drawer. Both my boys will likely love to play in this one!

If you've never made homemade puffy paint, you really must! You can go buy puffy paint in most craft supply stores, but making your own is super easy and fun. All you need is shaving cream and white glue. If you've ever seen my husband's beard, you know that shaving cream in this house is purely a sensory play product. Squirt about equal amounts of both into a cup (you can't really go wrong here) and add paint or food coloring to get a color you like. Mix with a plastic spoon or craft stick and you're ready to go. Some kids love the feeling of this on their hands for finger painting and others prefer a brush or craft stick to work with it. Either way, it can be helpful to have a wet washcloth nearby. In this activity, I prepped some paper cupcake liners from brown construction paper and printed origami paper. I folded them like a fan and then unfolded and flattened them. Kids can definitely help with this part as well! In the spirit of process art, I always set out the materials all together for this type of craft, but if you do prefer your finished products to resemble a cupcake, you may want to first set out the glue stick and cupcake bottoms and next introduce the puffy paint. Finally you can add in any decorations you like. We are using real sprinkles, birthday confetti and small birthday candles. Once dry, the paint hardens and remains puffy! It's quite fun!

Well, we'll be back (with our next Sprout Scouts Playcamp Theme!!!) soon. Until then, a Very Merry Un-birthday to YOU and, as always...

Happy Playing!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Sprout Scouts Playcamp: Art & Artists in the Garden

Art & Artists in the Garden

Exploring art and nature with children incorporates two of my greatest passions! And nature has been a muse to the greatest artists of all time for as long as the Earth has existed with people who can capture its wonder through art. This particular theme is very dense in art activities and might seem a bit overwhelming. You can choose a selection of activities that particularly interest you and your budding artists and devote a week or two to the theme. You can also store these in the proverbial vault and select an art activity as the inspiration strikes (or the melodious summer whines of “I’m boooooored!").

Today in early childhood, there is a great push toward art, not crafts. I’m a both/and kind of lady, not either/or and I do believe each method has its time and place. For the sake of exploring art and artists in nature, I will be focusing more on process art and provocations—opportunities for children (and adults alike) to explore, experiment and experience both nature and art without a set goal or design in mind. We will explore art work in two dimensional form, sculpture, fiber arts, culinary arts and even the art of storytelling! This will barely scrape the surface of the multitude of ways you can incorporate nature and art. I encourage you to join the Sprout ScoutsPlaycamp group on Facebook to see and share additional ideas throughout the summer months ahead.

One great benefit to the summer months is the ability to take messy play and art activities outdoors! Clean-up is a breeze (especially if you have a pool or a hose nearby). I don’t want to overwhelm anyone with a list of materials. I encourage you to use what you have, share among friends, to inquire about art materials on the attic move list from local neighbors or relatives and perhaps also keep your eye open at secondhand stores for great art supplies on the cheap. The end of the school year is also a time when school and art supplies go on huge discount (and they will again late in the summer as the new school year approaches). Take advantage of these sales if you are looking to add to your stash or replace items! To quell some of the art supply angst, I have separated my materials list into two sections: bare essentials and optional additions:
Materials List:
The Bare Essentials:
Most or all of these items can be found at the Dollar Tree or inexpensively at craft supply stores, office supply stores or big box stores (like Target or Walmart). Most craft supply stores have online coupons available daily through their websites and these can support an art supply splurge!
  • paper (white, construction, newsprint, easel/butcher/craft paper roll--whatever you have is great!)
  • pencils, colored pencils
  • crayons and/or markers
  • washable tempura paint
  • sidewalk chalk
  • paint sample cards*-- These are available for free at hardware stores and stores where hardware items are sold
  • a sketch book*-- This is my one suggested “splurge” item for the summer. Journals, sketch books and notebooks are a great end of the year/beginning of summer gift for children of all ages. They can be used to capture summer’s memories in a variety of ways as you’re home and about town (or beyond). You can recycle unfinished notebooks from the previous school year or swing by the sale rack at the office supply stores this time of year and grab a new one. Alternatively, you can make your own nature journal for kids as shown on Simply Rachel.
Optional Additions:
  • recycled items, especially CDs, squeeze bottles, containers, paper scraps, recycled artwork, colored tissue paper, junk mail, greeting cards and/or magazines for cutting/collage, sushi trays, glass baby food jars (great for storing paint!)
  • scraps of yarn, embroidery thread, ribbon, fabric or old clothing/textiles that are on the toss or donate pile. Hitting up a friend who sews, knits or crochets is a good idea as well--one person's spring cleaning is another's summertime stash!
  • craft wire, pipe cleaners, beads
  • items from nature such as pine cones, pine needles, leaves, flowers, sticks
  • permanent markers
  • chalk pastels, oil pastels, watercolor pencils, acrylic paints
  • artists’ canvas
  • an easel (or you can get Do-It-Yourselfy and build one for outdoors or a portable cardboard one for indoors or outside)
  • flat, unframed mirrors
  • picture or photo frames with the glass and back removed (great way to upcycle a broken frame)
  • paint brushes
  • clipboard
  • smocks, aprons or old shirts for covering up artists at work
  • water balloons, bubble solution, straws and/or bubble wands, squirt guns or squirt toys (available from Dollar Tree)
  • clear contact paper
  • masking tape, washi tape, white glue, glue sticks, tacky glue
  • ice cube tray
  • a camera or camera phone
  • smooth river rocks, either found or purchased (floral department of Dollar Tree or craft supply store)
  • stickers with nature based/garden themed pictures
  • wooden peg dolls or toy people you have on hand
  • toy animals or finger puppets
  • scarves, blankets or sheets, dress up clothes
  • a tea set if you happen to have one (you can also use your regular dishes or go for some fun disposable paperware)
  • food coloring

Outdoor Activities:
While each of these activities are great for outdoors, many can be modified to be done inside on a rainy day or when you need a break to cool off!
Two Dimensional Art Outdoors:
  • Still Life in the Garden: Find a great spot outside, whether in your own yard or while visiting a public garden and grab a caddie of your favorite art and drawing materials along with some paper and a clipboard or a sketchbook. You can collect some items of interest from nature--perhaps some cut flowers or herbs, an interesting rock or two, a stick, seed pods or pine cones... Or you can seat yourself in front of an interesting tree or garden and capture a larger scale still life. The main idea is that whatever you are drawing is still, so I would not recommend an animal, bird or person for this particular activity. You can sit on the grass, on a blanket, at a table or by an easel--however you are comfortable. Perhaps you'd like to use paint and a canvas instead of drawing materials and paper. It's up to you! Parents, note that this can also be done with very young artists. They may not have the skills or understanding yet to replicate a still life on paper, but giving over the idea that still life drawing is capturing through art what we see and feel is a great beginning!

  • Colors in Nature: Exploring Shades and Hues: Nature is truly a rainbow and it comes in many shades and hues. This is a great way to show how white added to a color creates a lighter hue and how black added to a color creates a darker shade. There's a bit of prep-work for this one. You'll want to head over to your local hardware supplier and pick out a collection of paint sample cards with shades and hues of each color. I like to laminate them, hole punch each one and keep a set on a metal ring for easy storage. You can read all about that in this post, and you'll be using these again and again this summer and all year round! Next, choose one color to explore and perhaps some found items in nature that come in shades and hues of that color. Green is a particularly easy one, but summer gives way to a variety of colorful options. Kids can help with this in a backyard color scavenger hunt!
Now it's time to set up your provocation to explore shades and hues of your chosen color! We did this indoors, but you can certainly do it outside. I love using a squeeze bottle (recycled condiment bottles are great) and storing some black and white paint in recycled baby food jars. You'll need an ice cube tray or several recycled containers or even a paper plate for mixing colors. If you have a paint pallet, you can use that. I offer a couple of plastic spoons or craft sticks for mixing and some paint brushes and paper for testing shades and hues and creating lovely artwork! If you have made more shades and hues than you can use in one sitting, store your remainders in covered containers or jars for next time.

  • Nature Painting on Mirrors: You'll need a flat mirror and paint in a variety of colors for this one! To set up your work space, offer each artist a mirror and a selection of paints and brushes in the middle of the table or work space outside. You might also offer a basket or bowl of interesting small items from nature like rocks, flowers, leaves or seed pods. The artist's inspiration will come from what is reflected in the mirror, or whatever is in his/her mind. As artists of all ages paint, the mirror will reflect their artwork! Washable tempura paints will clean off the mirror easily so that you can revisit this activity many times. You might also wish to make a print on paper of the artwork so you have a permanent copy. This is also a great way to encourage self portraits, another wonderful art activity to take outdoors!
  • Chalk and chalk pastels on blacktop (and other outdoor surfaces): Sidewalk chalk is always a popular warm weather activity. Sidewalks and blacktop are common surfaces for art to take place, but what about brick walls or wooden fences? Be sure, of course, that your work area is your own or that you have permission to create and decorate public spaces. I particularly love using chalk pastels outdoors to invite more colors and color mixing. The addition of frames creates a new feel and experience for young artists as they navigate their work space. The best part is that your "canvas" washes clean for re-use after the next good rain!
  • Painting with Nature Brushes: This time you'll need some paint and some paper but you'll make and find the brushes using items from nature. Pine cones, pine needles, leaves, sticks and perhaps some added string and masking tape will help you and your young artists create interesting paint brushes for getting that paint to the paper. We love using easel paper for a large horizontal surface but you can also set up a vertical surface at the easel or work on a smaller scale. Check out these DIY Nature Paint Brushes for Kids on Apple Green Cottage.

Outdoor Art in Action
Art needn't be a sedentary activity! Get moving with these outdoor art ideas that will combine some simple art supplies and outdoor toys you likely have on hand...

  • Mixing Colors with Your Hands, Feet and Whole Body: We love the books Little Yellow and Little Blue by Leo Lionni and Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet for inspiring color mixing activities. Throw down some white craft or butcher paper (you'll want to secure your edges with heavy rocks or something similar), grab some squeeze bottles full of washable paint (recycled condiment bottles are great for this), and get your artists in some old clothes or swim wear. You can turn up some music or let the sounds of nature be your background melody as your little artists squeeze, stomp (and sometimes slip and slide) across the paper. You can choose a couple of colors to blend or many colors. This is a favorite activity of ours every summer! When you're done, it's time for a good swim or hose down!
  • Water balloon paint bombs: This is a variation on the same theme, only this time you'll be using water balloons filled with paint. I recommend using a condiment or squeeze bottle with a pointed nozzle for easy filling. You can add a bit of water as well to your washable tempura paints to thin them out. You can toss your paint bombs down onto paper or work vertically at an easel.
  • Water gun or squirt toy paintings: In another variation, water guns or squirt toys are filled with thinned out tempura paints and squirt at the easel or paper! This is super fun, super messy and worth repeating!
  • Popped Bubble Paintings: We often think about fine motor skill development when we're doing artwork with children, but the mouth also involves tiny (and important) muscles that need to be strengthened throughout the early years for proper speech development. Grab some paper or canvas, some bubble solution and your food coloring (a bit of tempura paint will work). Fill some recycled containers with bubble solution and your desired color and mix well. Using bubble wands or a straw, blow bubbles toward your paper or canvas and watch as they pop and create amazing designs!
Mixed Medium Art & Sculpture in the Garden
  • Fiber Art & Weaving in Nature: On a very simple scale, all you need is a basket of scrap fibers (yarn, ribbon, strips of fabric, even craft wire, rubber bands, colored zip ties or pipe cleaners and beads if you have on deck). These can be used to weave through and decorate interesting branches or a tree or shrub in your yard. You can create your own geo-board using scrap wood and nails or tree circles or even an old tree stump.

 If you are feeling quite ambitious, check out these incredible DIY looms and weaving ideas on Let The Children Play. You can create a smaller, portable loom using sticks, chicken wire, twigs or branches. You can go big and get some scrap wood involved, larger branches, ladders or even trees already on your property. One thing I have learned about kids is that if they can use something to tie, twist, weave and otherwise connect stuff together--they will! My older one once made a sculpture constructed entirely of leftover neon colored zip ties we had from building our sukkah in the fall! Items found in nature like interesting leaves, feathers, foliage and seed pods can be incorporated as well.

  • Journey Sticks: This is one of my favorite outdoor art activities. Earlier this year I started up a nature based playgroup and at our kick-off event, children and adults of all ages walked through a nearby park to find and collect the perfect stick and accouterments for creating a journey stick. Simply put, a journey stick is an artistic representation of a nature walk. But every adult who has ever seen (or been) a child knows that a stick is never just a stick. It is a wand or a baton or a fishing pole or a microphone or a sword. You'll need the perfect stick, of course. And then you'll need some colorful yarn or embroidery thread, perhaps some washi tape or pipe cleaners, a dab of tacky glue to secure loose ends and whatever unique leaves, flowers, seed pods or tiny natural treasures you can finagle in! I confess that our playgarden is full of journey sticks and additional "swords," "ski poles," "telescopes" and "guitars" collected along the way!

  • Recycled CD Suncatchers: If you're anything like me, you have a lot of old or damaged CDs floating around the house that need a new purpose. Their time has come to shine again--this time in your garden! You'll need some string and permanent markers as well. Before you balk at the permanent markers with kids idea, try it! I have found that generally speaking, most young children do very will with permanent markers given the information that the color will not easily wash from skin or other surfaces. They have an innate reverence toward these grown-up art materials (and all "grown-up" art materials for that matter, so I do highly recommend exposing children to the real stuff if and when you can). In the event that you or your children do get permanent marker on your hands, rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer will work to get it off. Additionally, since you can work outside, you won't worry about your table tops or walls as much! Draw and doodle some colorful designs on the shiny blank side of your old CDs and hang them from a branch or create a mobile using a wire hanger and hang it from a hook outside. The sun will reflect beautifully bringing light and color to your yard! I especially love this photo from Happy Hooligans blog author Jackie Currie on CBC Parents.
  • Photography is as oft forgotten an art form as it is easy to remember now that we constantly carry a camera at our fingertips in the form of smartphones. Children can capture incredible photos in nature from their own perspective and view given the opportunity. This summer, hand over your smartphone for a brief time or maybe even the family camera if you have one. Do they still make disposable cameras?? Allow your young ones to experience the art of photography in nature and spring for prints whether from your home printer or through your local drug store or office supply print shop. It is a great way to capture memories, art and inspire a potential hobby!
The Art of Storytelling in the Garden
I firmly believe that theater, storytelling, puppetry and literature are lovely art forms to take outdoors! Create your own story stones by using stickers or small pictures with a nature theme--think bugs, flowers, animals--and affixing them to some smooth river rocks (purchased or found). You can add a layer of Mod Podge or acrylic sealant to make these safe to leave outdoors. Later in the summer I will provide a printable document on our Facebook group with pictures you can print to use and make your own story stones. With your story stones in tow, head out to your yard or your local park or garden. What stories can you weave with your stones? Perhaps each member of the family will choose one to weave into the story. Perhaps you will act out each picture together. Can you be as tiny as a ladybug? What does the world look like from the lady bug's perspective? What about a big brown bear? You can create story stones with your favorite children's literature or fairy tales in mind and recreate the scene outdoors as well. Some classic tales lend themselves particularly well to this--like Jack & the Beanstalk or Thumbelina. Add in some old blankets, scarves, sheets and dress up clothes to create an outdoor stage and costumes. Bring out some puppets or small toy people and animals or perhaps some wooden peg dolls. Dramatic play reaches all new heights (and depths) in the great outdoors...

Tea for Two (or Three or More) in the Garden
Just as our gardens are in peak season, so, too, are the culinary arts. Collect some tasty and colorful bounty from your own edible garden (remember the herbs and edible flowers!) or from your local farmers' market or even the grocery store. Dress up in your finest clothing and spread out the picnic blanket for tea time. You can do this in your own yard or pack a picnic. If you have a real tea set, it might be lovely to take it out, but you can also use more durable (and disposable) dishes if you prefer. Make some sun tea with fresh cut mint leaves or squeeze your own lemonade if tea is not your taste. Make some cucumber or radish tea sandwiches with seasonal produce that's locally grown! A drizzle of honey is delicious in tea--just watch out for the bees! Tea Parties make any day a special day--you might just bring along your sketch book, nature journal or outdoor easel to capture the moment.

Indoor Activities:
Summer is not all sunny days. And even when it is, you still need to cool off inside every so often. That doesn't mean the fun has to stop! Here are some playful ways to incorporate nature based art indoors...

  • Exploring Monet's Gardens with a Table-top Mural: I especially love introducing young artists to the work of Claude Monet when exploring art and nature. Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork is a fabulous children's book to accompany this activity. You can also check out your local library and the internet for books and prints of Monet's work. Clean off your dining room table and cover it with white craft or butcher paper, using masking tape to secure the edges. If you prefer, you can spread your paper on the floor, but you'll want a large space for this either way. Next, you'll set up a variety of intriguing prints or pictures of Monet's work and a variety of art mediums to invite your young artist(s) to create their own versions of Monet's paintings. You can stick to paints or pastels. You can work in crayon, watercolor, pencil, charcoal... Perhaps you'll try some torn tissue paper and glue or other methods of collage. The idea is not necessarily to copy Monet's work, but rather to create through art the feelings that it inspires. Artists can move from station to station when you set out multiple mediums across the table. The finished product makes a lovely tablecloth or can be otherwise repurposed for later use (see the end of this article for ideas).

  • Nature Sticky Wall:  Choose a space at child level on your wall or a door or even your refrigerator. Cut an appropriately sized rectangle of clear contact paper and tape it to the surface. You'll need a collection of leaves, flowers, flower petals and other somewhat flat and lightweight bits of nature. You can find these outdoors or rescue them from cut flowers that are on their way to the compost heap. Shorter artists in the family will have a great time sticking and arranging colorful bits of nature to the sticky wall! It's lovely to look at and use while it's up and easy to take down and dispose of when you're done!

Read All About It! 
Suggested Books and Resources:
There are some incredible books about art and artists out there. Here are a few of our favorites and some resources for more--and don't forget to check your local library!

For the Preschool Aged Crowd:
Little Yellow and Little Blue by Leo Lionni
Mix it Up! and Press Here by Hevre Tulle
I Ain't Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont
Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson
The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg and Bruce Ingman
Are You an Art Sleuth? Look, Discover, Learn! by Brooke DiGiovanni Evans

For the Younger Crowd:
Harold and the Purple Crayon by: Crocket Johnson
Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Little Yellow and Little Blue by Leo Lionni

For You:
A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children With Nature by Asia Citro
Favorite Websites for Art with Kids:

Family Field Trips & Extension Activities:
While these activities are all designed to do in your own yard or home, many can be transportable. Making and taking your own nature journal along or your sketch book along with a pencil pouch of selected art supplies is a great way to add an activity to your next park trip (or any trip for that matter). You can even bring a portable table top easel with you and a sketch pad. Art is all around us--especially in nature--and we need only the time and opportunity to capture it. I encourage you to also bring along a nature journal or sketch book and even if you are "not an artist," to take the time to join in the activity of cultivating your inner artist with your children this summer. Creative work begets creativity! 
Art galleries and art museums are wonderful places to visit if you live nearby to one. While most museums require admissions fees, many (even our own local art museum) have outdoor exhibits open to the public. We especially love to picnic and walk through the VMFA Sculpture Garden. Even Farmer's Markets host a plethora of local artisans' work on sale and display. This is a great opportunity to introduce young children to "real artists" so they can ask questions and gain encouragement and inspiration.  

Use your paint sample cards and/or sketch book and go on a color scavenger hunt in your own yard and neighborhood or even a public garden or botanical garden center. Draw, photograph or collect your findings. You can even do this at the Farmer's Market or in the grocery store produce aisle!

What Do I Do With All This Artwork?!
Phew, that was a lot of artwork! Now what do you do with it all? Paper artwork in all shapes and sizes can be up-cycled and re-purposed into new art, gift wrap, collage scraps, greeting cards, handmade journals, bookmarks and more! So before you throw it away or re-wallpaper your entire home, ask yourself and your young artists--how can we use this again? In this way, art inspired by nature goes toward helping to preserve nature! It's a two bird, one stone kind of deal!

I hope you've found this theme as exciting and inspiring as I have! Stay tuned for our next one and don't forget to keep up to date with additional ideas and resources on our Facebook group. We'd love to see your own photos, ideas and activities along the way!

Happy Playing!