artsy ideas for kids and families

Category: Imagination (page 1 of 13)

Jello Play Dough is Dope

At HappyLittleMesses, we test out a new play dough recipe from modern parents messy kids.com.


white flour – 1 cup
warm water – 1 cup
salt – 2 tbsp
cream of tartar – 2 tbsp
cooking oil – 2 tbsp
Jello – 1 3oz pack

Mix all ingredients in a pot on the stove, medium heat, until thick dough forms. Set dough on a floured counter to cool, then knead.

We brewed up 3 batches of jello play dough, using cherry, blue raspberry, lime and orange flavored jello. The colors were vibrant and the smells were so fun. I’ve tried lots of a play dough recipes as a teacher and mother. This recipe is a winner.


I knew the kids in happylittlemesses would LOVE these people play dough mats, from picklebums.com, so we printed out a bunch of copies and laminated them for class. We also threw some googly eyes on the table because google eyes make everything more silly. The laminated pages have now become a permanent part of our play dough tool collection. I love reusable supplies.


Friend K used the head and shoulders play mat to make a portrait of his dad. He took the play dough off the mat when he finished showing off the portrait, and made another of his mom. Takes, “mom has eyes on the back of her head,” to a whole new level.


The 2-4 year old class enjoyed the feel of the dough without using the mats as much. They rejoiced in the addition of google eyes, mixed colors and shared tools across the table like they were at Thanksgiving dinner.

Spooning Muffin Batter

We made banana muffins today. Whenever we make muffins, my little K wants to help with every step. He’s got the measuring and dumping down, as well as cracking the egg and managing the controls of the mixer. The trickiest part for him is spooning the muffin batter into the tins.


I could just let go and not care about the messes he makes in his efforts to aim with accuracy. Sometimes, I do let go. Today, we really wanted muffins, but only had an hour to accomplish the mixing and baking, so letting go wasn’t in the schedule. We came up with a compromise.


Little K helped with every step, then when it was time for me to spoon the muffin batter, Little K, in the sink, spooned a mixture of flour and water, the same consistency as the muffin batter, into a mini muffin tin. Little K was given the chance to practice his spooning techniques.


In the end, his hands ended up totally submerged in the flour/water batter. He pretended he was a monster. The sensory experience kept him busy while the muffins cooked. The flour and water mixture can also be used to paper-mache after batter spooning practice.


simple water play

The power of simple water play never gets old.

Whether you have the kids working in a process table, standing on a stool at the kitchen sink, the bathtub or the beach, there is a giant value to this activity.


Water is a huge part of the human world. Playing and experimenting with water develops and builds relationship and comfort level with the basic element. Children are able to practice pouring and dumping, basic concepts of math and measurement.
The options for tools you use in the water are endless.
What stands out for me the most about open play with water is the story-telling that’s born from the interaction.

I add some dish soap to the bottom of a process table, add warm water in a shower spray to activate the bubbles. Here is a bit of dialogue I overhear as my 2 boys play in the water with cups, large spoons and medicine dispensers.


“pretend this is bubble soup that you always wanted
i made it cause you wanted it for a whole day, such a long time
so i made it for you

I don’t want it, it’s too yucky
someone told me it was yucky

what about pineapple soup

no answer, kiki is focused on his own work.
this is chicken juice for me to make for a customer
this one is blueberry, i made it for myself

friend, i made some pineapple

sorry i already made blueberry
pretend i wanted to drink it for a whole week.
happy face, dump it back,
i already drinked it all

do you want me to make more


I’ll make more tomorrow.
pretend you the chef and I make the soup

this store is closing

mom, the store is closed now
time to rest up for tomorrow.

pretend all the customers are leavin’
pretending to lock up the doors of the kitchen.

cock a doodly doo
time to go back to the store.”

Bears Make Fire, Rockin’ LandArt

This summer we visit Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, a state park in Sutton, Massachusetts. The park, managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, is notable for its .25 mi long, 70 ft deep chasm of granite bedrock featuring abrupt precipices and boulder caves in which ice lingers into the early summer. The reservation is open to picnicking and hiking.

My little mountain goats love this trail. We don our hiking boots, our headlamps and climb rocks.

After a most perfect hike, where for the first time, the kids were able to carry themselves through the whole trail, we stop at the playground. The kids start gathering sticks and stones, building little “camp fires.”

They pretend they are a family of bears. They hunt for “bear fish,” or salmon, and cook them over the fires.

We stay there for an hour building fire pits, fishing for salmon and pretending to feed our bear family. This was a good day.

LandArt: Cool Down Series

Taking advantage of the this beautiful fall weather is on our agenda for after school cool downs. After a long day at a desk, following classroom rules about when to move, when to talk, how to eat…all the pent up energy, big voices and big body movements can be used comfortably out in the open.

One of our favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors is to arrange natural materials. The garden needs tending, and the kids were happy to help pull up all the dry tiger lilly stalks. We use the lily stalks to build some outstanding LandArt.

Little J forms a square with 4 stalks and fills in the square space with more stalks and river stones.

Friend H floors me with her creation. She uses the stalks, dry clumps of grass, river stones and giant hosta leaves to create a house, complete with a door bell. She is absorbed, focused, and happy.

ant house: cool down series

My little guy is very tired and therefore wired, sensitive, needy and impatient when he gets off the bus after a full day of school. It’s only been one week of school so far. We’ve adjusted his bedtime, we offer super healthy choices for meals and snacks, we give him lots of love and try our best to be patient…
and we also realize he needs a cool down time, unstructured, open-ended, free time.
This week, HappyLittleMesses will be focused on some simple, process and child driven activities that might help kids unwind, decompress and settle down. There will also be a new category called, “after school cool down.”

First up in this series: Ant House

We leave a little piece of corn muffin on the driveway. An hour later we return to find a line of ants taking it away, crumb by crumb. We follow the line of ants and find the hole in the pavement where they must reside.

After playing bug bingo at nature camp, Little J and K get a prize of some little plastic ants. We think it’s a great idea to build them a little habitat. With leftover snack, we leave a trail of crumbs and line up the plastic marching ants.

The boys gather small twigs and build a square around the food crumbs. I teach them how to build upwards, alternating sticks, like you would in the game Jenga. Little J covers the building with a flat twig roof.

Simple Frog Hop Game

Some of the most fun happens spontaneously and simply. The older kids get off the bus from a full day at school and we’re all set to play big and open in the yard. This is just the kind of activity they need after so much rule following, desk sitting and structure. Little J spots a frog in the grass…

We all start to hop around like frogs.

Little E lines up some hoola hoops and we take turns frog hopping from one hoop to another.
Simple Fun…and here are some fun facts too:

1 ) One gram of the toxin produced by the skin of the golden poison dart frog could kill 100,000 people.

2 ) The female Surinam toad lays up to 100 eggs, which are then distributed over her back. Her skin swells around the eggs until they become embedded in a honeycomb-like structure. After 12 to 20 weeks, fully formed young toads emerge by pushing out through the membrane covering the toad’s back.

3 ) A frog completely sheds its skin about once a week. After it pulls off the old, dead skin, the frog usually eats it.

4 ) When Darwin’s frog tadpoles hatch, a male frog swallows the tadpoles. He keeps the tiny amphibians in his vocal sac for about 60 days to allow them to grow. He then proceeds to cough up tiny, fully formed frogs.

5 ) When a frog swallows its prey, it blinks, which pushes its eyeballs down on top of the mouth to help push the food down its throat.

6 ) The wood frog of North America actually freezes in the winter and is reanimated in the spring. When temperatures fall, the wood frog’s body begins to shut down, and its breathing, heartbeat and muscle movements stop. The water in the frog’s cells freezes and is replaced with glucose and urea to keep cells from collapsing. When there’s a thaw, the frog’s warms up, its body functions resume and it hops off like nothing ever happened.

7 ) A group of birds is called a flock, a group of cattle is called a herd, but a group of frogs is called an army.

8 ) The glass frog has translucent skin, so you can see its internal organs, bones and muscles through its skin. You can even observe its heart beating and its stomach digesting food.

9 ) There is a frog in Indonesia that has no lungs – it breathes entirely through its skin.

10 ) The waxy monkey frog secretes a wax from its neck and uses its legs to rub that wax all over its body. The wax prevents the skin of the frog from drying out in sunlight.

11 ) Most frogs have teeth, although usually only on their upper jaw. The teeth are used to hold prey in place until the frog can swallow it.

12 ) The biggest frog in the world is the Goliath frog. It lives in West Africa and can measure more than a foot in length and weigh more than 7 pounds – as much as a newborn baby.

13 ) There’s a type of poison dart frog called the blue-jeans frog; it has a red body with blue legs. It is also sometimes called the strawberry dart frog.

14 ) The red-eyed tree frog lays it eggs on the underside of leaves that hang over water. When the eggs hatch, the tadpoles fall into the water below.

How To Make Rainbow Warrior Powder

This is goop, made with food grade cornstarch, bought inexpensively and in bulk at our local BJs.

dry goop

We add lots of liquid food coloring, and dry the mixture in the sun.

This is dry goop after it’s been in the food processor to loosen up clumps and make it into a fine powder. I leave the bags open to allow the mixture to dry even further.

These are the bags of color we plan to throw around at the end of our mini rainbow warrior dash…inspired by Color Me Rad. There is no recipe to follow. We figure it out as we go. In hindsight, I would have used a powder food coloring.

I tell the kids that when they’re finished with all the obstacles, we’ll use the powder to transform ourselves into true warriors. Each child gets a bag or two and we throw powder up into the sky. Color Me Rad powder is intense. It stains your skin and clothes, but this powder doesn’t stain. I wonder what Color Me Rad uses to dye their cornstarch.

The kids love it, especially Friend H, who can be found making cornstarch angels in the middle of all the action.
Caution: Children with respiratory problems may need to avoid this activity. The food coloring may stain skin or clothes. This did not stain our skin or clothes, but it is a possibility.

Stuffed Heart for Back-to-School

My little guy is a bit sensitive, probably pretty average for a 5 year old going to full day school for the first time, but I know he has anxieties about starting in a new school with new teachers. I don’t blame him. New situations and change can get me pretty charged up too.

To ease some of this anxiety for Little J and for myself, I make a little stuffed heart for him to keep in his pocket. This idea is from CurlyBirds. CurlyBirds made hearts for every child in their childrens’ classroom.

I put some of my love in it, cuddles and kisses, and Big K does too. If Little J feels sad or misses us while at school, he can take out the heart for a little home made love.

Here’s what you need:

cozy material, I used felt
needle and thread

I cut heart shapes out of two pieces of fabric…cut them together so the shape of the pieces match up. I use Little J’s two favorite colors, and didn’t try to be perfect because the more funky the shape, the more character the heart will have. Little J says he likes it that way because it’s like a snowflake, no two are alike.

Sew the edges of the heart together using the blanket stitch, or any other stitch you like, making sure to leave an opening to stuff the heart. I used a contrasting color thread to show the stitches.

Stuff the heart with batting.
Finish sewing it up.
Put love in it…kisses and cuddles.

It helps to craft with friends. Our little guys have been in a playgroup together since they were 1 year olds, and they will all be starting this new Kindergarden adventure together.

Two great books to go along with idea are:

Rainbow Warrior Dash, Setting Up Obstacles

I’m running away from the fact that my little man is entering full time Kindergarten by throwing an “end of summer” obstacle course party. I’ve been dreaming up this event since I participated in the Warrior Dash and Color Me Rad races and saw the excitement on my kids’ faces.

We work hard this week to set up the obstacles we’ve imagined up for this “Mini Rainbow Warrior Dash.” Everyday, we do a little something to prepare. We trim branches in the deep dark woods and in the forsythia fort, rake out all the leaves and sticks and small stumps. We paint low branches orange to let kids know to crawl under or climb over. My team of kids love to trim branches with our shears and to paint non-traditional objects, so they are really into this.

Certain kids who have thought up a certain obstacle take charge of specific projects.
Friend H designs the “Lazy River,” made with a found playground slide, dry lily stalks and river stones. We’ll be adding the hose on low water flow.
Little J and Friend A think of jumping over fire, and after convincing them against real fire, we brainstorm a way to represent fire instead. We use real fire wood with cardboard triangles painting red, wedged into the cracks between logs.

Little K thinks to use our small collection of hoola hoops. We hang them from branches of our crab apple tree so kids can lunge through the hoops.

My ideas are incorporated too. I have simple ideas, like hopping on slate stones, skipping through the spokes of a ladder, pushing rolling toys around a chalk road on the driveway…

…using caution cones and hay bales borrowed from Big K’s work, and taking advantage of our more natural playground elements, like the sandbox, the deep dark woods and our forsythia fort.
All together we have 16 kid friendly obstacles.
The kids try a dry run. We iron out some wrinkles, like undetected stumps and prickers, and have a record so far of 2 minutes 45 seconds, held by Friend H.

The kids help me with every aspect of this set up.
Each obstacle can be used individually for an afternoon of fun with kids.
If you like any idea in particular, you are welcome to use it!

We are inviting our friends over to play tomorrow. We’ll see if anyone can break Friend H’s record.

Stay tuned for a head cam movie of the obstacle course after the race. My talented Brother-in-Law has agreed to be the photographer during the event. Thanks Mick. And thank you Big K, for being so flexible with these big plans, for bringing us hay and cones, for weed whacking the forsythia fort and helping me lug all the heavy stuff. You rock babe!

Older posts

© 2016 HappyLittleMesses

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑