Art Experiences

Archive for the ‘art projects’ Category

Heart In Sand

Since most of us are more relaxed in the summer and our brains are more receptive to new ideas, it is the perfect time to do activities that promote creativity. I have found these sand projects interesting, adaptable for all ages and very open ended – the best way to expand creative thinking skills.

If you are going to a beach this summer, you have the golden opportunity to create some unique art. Even if you are not fortunate enough to be at a beach, you can revel in some sand at home. Sand is such a wonderful art medium because of the infinite possibilities it holds as well as the unique tactile experiences it brings. Water is the key to working with sand so have a spray bottle and a bucket of water close by.

Sand Castles / Sand Sculptures – This is a fairly obvious idea, however if you have a few extra materials and knowledge, your kids (and you) may be captivated for days! Sand molds better when damp so keep your sand wet. The best ratio is half sand and half water. You can mix sand into water in a large bucket and use this mixture to create your sculpture. If you are at the beach, use sand that is from the shoreline or dig a hole down to the water table. Bring plenty of plastic cups and buckets of various sizes, shovels to dig and plastic knives to sculpt into the sand. The way to get height and stability is by stacking thick pancake like shapes on top of each other. Resist the urge to pound the sand, instead jiggle it into place gently. Pounding expels water; your sand will dry out and lose stability. For even more fun and gasps, connect towers together with small arches or form groups of towers. If you want to carve into the sculptures, carve from the top down and take off only small bits of sand. Kids especially love embellishing sculptures with sticks, shells, rocks, seaweed and other beach items. If you are not at a beach, you can find these types of items at your local craft store.

Sand Casting – This is an easy project that turns out really beautiful. You will need wet sand, items to “cast” such as shells, sticks, pieces of tile, pretty much anything three dimensional and fairly small. You’ll also need plaster of paris, clean water and a large bowl and large spoon you are willing to part with. You don’t have to dispose of these but you shouldn’t use them to eat out of. You can do the casting straight in the sand or in a disposable aluminum cake tin. Dig an area about 2 inches deep in the wet sand or pour a layer of wet sand into the tin with about 2 inches left on top. Now the fun part comes. Press your items into the wet sand, almost all the way down, leaving some of the item showing above the sand. Since casting works from the other side, if you need to, press your items into the sand upside down. For example if a piece of tile is colored on one side and plain on the other, press it into the sand colored side first. Keep your sand wet as you work, misting it if necessary. Arrange and rearrange your elements until you are happy. You can create a picture of something, a pattern or a random fun design. When you are ready to cast, mix up the plaster of paris with your large spoon and container. I used 2 cups of plaster mixed with 1 cup of water to cover one 8″ x 8″ aluminum cake tin. Plaster starts to harden quickly so pour it on top of your artwork as soon as it starts to thicken. Once it’s poured, leave it alone for a few hours. Never put plaster down a drain or sewer or in the ocean. If you have extra, let it harden and throw it in the trash. To unmold, carefully turn over the tin or pull the plaster from the sand. Use your hands and a paintbrush to brush most of the sand off the plaster. Nice!

Beach in a Bottle – Use those empty sports drink bottles to collect memories of your trip or create a beach scene at home. Sports drinks have wider tops but any type of plastic bottle or a clear plastic box with a lid will work. Remove the label if needed. Start with the sand, either use beach sand or colored sand you can buy at craft stores. Place a layer in the bottle. Now place a layer of something else on top, for example shells. Keep repeating layers of a single beach item until you fill the bottle about one third of the way. At this point you can solidify the contents by pouring glue into the bottle and letting it sit for a day, or leaving the items loose to float around. When ready, pour clean tap water into the the bottle, about halfway to the top, add food coloring if you like – remember the ocean can be any color! For even more fun, pour mineral oil or cooking oil into the bottle through a funnel. Keep at least one-fourth of the bottle unfilled. The oil and water will separate, creating interesting effects. If you like, add small plastic fish and sea creatures and maybe some glitter. Squeeze a little bit of glue on the bottle cap and close it tightly. You can wrap duct tape around the top if you want extra protection. These bottles keep small children fascinated for hours in the car or in a restaurant. Older children will love having their keepsake on a special shelf to shake up anytime.

If you are travelling this summer, take along a small sketchbook and be sure to give one to each of your kids. You will be surprised what your brain and hand can do when you are out of your regular element. Keep an eye out for interesting items that can be used for creating during the rest of the year. Often you can find things in small stores that you won’t find in the big craft chains. Most of all, delight in the moment and forget your worries, just for a little while.


This being our last week of school, there are lots of items being sent home. Papers, projects, anything that has been tacked up around the classroom, anything in a locker or cubby will be going into a big paper shopping bag to be sent home on that fateful last day of school.

I don’t want to add to that pile so for the last week of art class, I will be giving the children experiences. Truth be told I sprinkle these experiential classes throughout the year because I think it is important that children expand their definition of art. I had an interesting discussion with a class about this one day. I put some blocks on a table and asked one child to build something with them. He moved a few blocks around and called it done. I asked the class, “Is this a sculpture?” No, it was just some toy blocks on a table. I asked them, “Is this art?” No, art is when you paint a picture and take it home.

Then I talked for a minute about how a sculpture is anything three dimensional, anything that is not flat. We talked about “regular” sculptures – statues of horses, sculptures of heads in museums, a metal piece of art in the mall. I stretched their thoughts even further proposing that many things around us could be sculptures – trees, buildings, blocks on a table.

I don’t expect that the kids will have an “aha moment”, but if they are exposed to this creative thought process all year long, new brain connections will be made and innovative ways of thinking will emerge. It may happen tomorrow or when they are twelve. You never know. But I do know that early childhood experiences have a real impact on how children develop ideas about our world.

Anytime children play with interesting materials, pouring or stacking or squishing, they are learning how the world works, how things feel, how to make substances do what you want them to, how to balance objects. They are engaging their imaginative, intuitive, big picture, spatially oriented, anything-is-possible right brain functions to experiment and explore and create.

So, what are some of these experiences? And are they “art”? This last question has been a topic of much societal discussion for centuries and continues to this day. I feel that anytime you create from your intuition, your passion, even if you can’t take it home, it is art. Creating a great project at work, an exciting event or a wonderful dinner is art.  You will know when it is art because you will be engaged and absorbed. Time will feel like it is standing still but is really flying by.

Below are a few of the experiences I provide my classes. Most of the time I give each child their own individual tray to work on. This makes the experience theirs and eliminates conflicts. Older children will benefit from group experiences such as building a sculpture together.

  • sand on trays with cups and spoons
  • dirt with a small cup of water and popsicle sticks
  • a lump of clay with large beads, shells, forks and anything that makes an impression
  • packing peanuts with a handful of toothpicks
  • tape the letters of the alphabet down to the table and give out Q-tips
  • sand, flat rocks and a stick
  • a bin with a few inches of water, a plastic cup and a funnel
  • pieces of aluminum foil
  • pieces of plastic coated wire (I like Twisteez brand)
  • a tray of recyclables, scissors and a roll of tape

Try a few of these things at home with your children or when you need some down time in your classroom. You will be amazed at how long they want to work on this. Ask them a few open ended questions about what they are making and write down the answers. You can practically see the gears spinning in their heads!

Hi! I'm Susan Stein and of my many passions in life,
two of my biggest are art and children. In the process of teaching children art, I also teach them problem solving, brainstorming, inventive thinking, originality, working with others, hand eye coordination, and so much more. It doesn't matter if you're good at drawing or not, everyone will benefit from experiencing art.

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