Painting birthday party: Making a group easel [tutorial!]

DIY painting easel for kids - Ten Thousand Hour MamaPeeper loves to create, so when it came to planning her second birthday party, I knew I wanted to incorporate art. Thanks to getting almost no sleep and leaving most of the party prep till the morning of, I had to scale back some of our painting plans, but one activity made the cut: the group DIY easel.

Peeper and her friends got to paint alongside each other in our front yard, and each kiddo took home a piece of art (or several!). Peeper’s painting is now hanging on our wall above the dining table.

The setup was surprisingly easy—and cheap—and we’ve left it up in our yard for now. Peeper continues to use it, and when we do decide to take it down, we’ll recycle or reuse all the pieces for projects later!

DIY painting easel for kids - Ten Thousand Hour Mama

DIY painting easel for kids - Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Want to get in on the artistic action, too? Here’s how to make an easy group DIY easel for your kids to paint their own outdoor masterpieces.  Read more

Handmade change jar: Watch your savings grow! [tutorial]

Watch your Money Grow Change JarEric is really, really good about saving his change. I tend to spend mine, getting way more excited than is warranted when I get to use pennies at the store, whereas he empties his pockets at the end of the day to watch a jar fill up with dimes and quarters.

Not too long ago, the peanut butter jar we’d been using was too full to accept a single more cent. I took it to our credit union—and walked out more than $135 richer.

Saving money change jarAw, yeah.

The problem: I could not go back to using that scuzzy plastic jar. It was dirty, it was ugly and I didn’t want it sitting on our mantle, no matter how much money it held.

So I enlisted Peeper’s help! Together, we made a brand-new/upcycled change jar so we can (ahem) watch our money grow. (Get it?)

Watch your Money Grow Change JarWatch your Money Grow Change JarHere are the instructions so you can make one, too! Read more

Process art: A fancy name for letting kids craft whatever the eff they want

Toddler process art clay
Process art: When a honey dipping stick becomes a ceramics tool

For anyone reading this blog, it should be no surprise that Peeper loves her some art. Most of her hands-on time is very open-ended: I set her up with some paper and crayons or a paper plate full of paint, then let her go wild. (And by wild, I mostly mean speckled green, black and orange in art supplies.)

It turns out that free-spirited approach to crafts is good for kids’ creativity. “Process art is more important than end product,” writes Rachelle Doorley, artist and author of Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors, on her blog. And focusing too much on what kids make, and especially what projects are meant to look like, is stifling.

Doorley also polled a whole slew of educators, artists and parents on what they wished they’d known about kids’ art and rolled it up into a fantastic blog post. Just about everyone agreed that art is all about the doing—not what gets done. Read more

Nature painting

Lately, Peeper is fascinated by combining complementary things. “Together!” she cries, popping a bite of cheese and hot dog into her mouth, or “Pomegranate on top!” while balancing a seed on a forkful of peas and tofu.

Her enthusiasm makes me think of the scene in Ratatouille when Remy discovers how two tastes together can pop like fireworks or melt together for a transcendent out-of-body experience.

ratatouille-gifs-3142-19317-hd-wallpapersThe other day, I followed her lead. Peeper loves art, and she loves the outdoors. So voila: nature painting!

Toddler Nature Painting - ten Thousand Hour MamaWith a bucket in tow, we set out on a walk in our neighborhood. We picked up bits of this and that, dropping rocks and fallen pine boughs in with a plunk. Peeper soon caught a taste for collecting, and before long her bucket held an abundance of nature’s detritus.

Toddler bucket walk - Ten Thousand Hour mamaToddler Nature Bucket - Ten Thousand Hour mama Read more

Painting abundance

When we were growing up, my siblings and I sometimes had to go to Carma’s. Looking back, the day care surely wasn’t legal—it entailed dozens of kids and one grumpy woman more concerned about her soaps and her dogs than the children under her care, it seemed.

I vividly remember the vinyl couch and carpet covers that protected against spills. I remember one time when a queue of little kids stared at me as I sat on the toilet—a mortifying experience that told me I was holding up their pre-nap pee. I remember Carma once fixed me an egg salad sandwich instead of my usual PB&J and I sat at the table, horrified, deciding between eating a hated food or getting scolded.

Most of all, though, I remember that each child was allowed only one piece of paper to color. I would plan out my artistic vision, carefully choose my crayons and cover every inch of white—on both sides, of course.

Looking back, my heart breaks for 5-year-old me. There I was, stuck in a miserable day care I hated, with my one escape—Crayolas and art—arbitrarily limited.

Peeper, thankfully, is blissfully unaware that a limit on paper could actually exist. When she paints, she does so with a gleeful abandon, mashing her palms in the paint and clapping her rainbow-hued hands together. “Another one!” she says as she fills each page with smears of color. Before long, art covers the table, counters and even the stove.

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Toddler Valentine’s Day cards: Sending love from little hands

Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap—It’s a Hallmark holiday, it makes singles feel like crap, etc.—but at its most pure, the day is all about telling those you adore how they light up your life. What’s not to love about that?

But as many of us know (you haters included, I’d bet), it can feel downright awful when your mailbox is empty of heart-shaped doilies and amorous puns.

At a recent playdate Peeper and I attended, we did our best to alleviate some of the pink blues for a few folks.

We helped the toddlers craft handmade Valentine’s Day cards that our friend delivered to seniors in a memory care facility. Peeper’s friends really got into the craft, too!

Toddler Valentine's Day card Toddler Valentine's Day card 2We did a similar play date to make Christmas cards for Meals on Wheels, and we had so much fun that it’ll have to turn into a regular holiday get-together!

We simply cut heart shapes out of painter’s tape, stuck them to cards let the kiddos at ’em. One piece of advice: Wait until the paint is fully dry before peeling off the tape; otherwise, the tape doesn’t come up clean.

Toddler Valentine's Day cards 4Our friend later told us that the seniors loved the cards: They showed them to each other at dinner, smiling. Some of the memory care patients might not remember what year it is, but pretty much everyone likes feeling remembered.

Has there ever been a time when a valentine—or any other thoughtful gesture—surprised you and made you feel special?

Toddler good deeds: Handmade cards for Meals on Wheels

Volunteering has always been a part of my adult life. I have played with orphaned cats, peddled veggies at farmer’s markets, taught kids to read, helped build a house, assisted at a veterinary office for homeless people’s pets and planted a garden.

I haven’t pitched in as much lately, but the holiday season made me want to make volunteering a regular part of Peeper’s life, too.

When I looked up volunteering opportunities on The United Way, I found only one event that was appropriate for toddlers, but unfortunately it was right during Peeper’s nap time. And no one wants an overtired toddler at a volunteer party, no matter how lofty your intentions.

We ended up recreating the do-gooder moment at a recent play date. All the kiddos made holiday cards to deliver to homebound seniors through Meals on Wheels. (We used this tutorial to make reindeer handprint cards.) I was thrilled with the activity because it’s something you can do on your own timetable, kids can participate at whatever level they want, and—most importantly—it makes the world a better place, if only by a little bit.

Reindeer Handprint Cards - Ten Thousand Hour Mama Read more