We have been making collaborative art with our son Felix since his hands were able. Our collaborations have grown more nuanced over the years. Natalie and Trevor have both taught creative youth programming for decades prior. Below are some ideas on how to make fun projects with your kids, structure their autonomy and authorship in the collaborative process, teach non-art subject s through art, etc. If you have questions, need programming consultation, or want to share ideas please email us at [email protected]
The box fort
When the Covid quarantine first hit, we transformed our basement into a box fort wonderland to keep Felix’s mind engaged and distracted from the lack of social connection. The video below details our collaborative family art making process.
Adventure Hopscotch is a fast, easy way to have hours of imaginative fun with your kids or students. It can also be used to teach academics. Complicate or simplify the physical gameboard or academic content depending on the age group of your participants. All you need is sidewalk chalk.
toddler art adventures
Natalie developed a program called Toddler Art Adventures, where parents could bring their very young children to engage in messy, thoughtful, creative activities. Every week offered multiple stations with a wide range of developmentally appropriate, but challenging projects. From the day this class started it stayed filled with parents and kids who bonded in a community. This space was also meaningful for the parents and guardians of the these young children, as raising a young human can be isolating. Thinking about starting a similar program? We are available as consults.
paintable sculpture park
For Felix’s 2nd birthday party we created a paintable sculpture park full of cardboard animals, vehicles, houses, etc. We invited his friends over to paint them all with washable acrylic paint.
legos for... everything
Trevor grew up playing Legos. More like stuck on them- for hours. Luckily my parents kept my old Legos just incase their grandkids would enjoy them. And it turns out Felix has the same love for them. During quarantine Felix would build with Legos and listen to audiobooks for hours, often protesting meals in favor of creating. This would usually lead to him bursting in the room an hour later exclaiming how starving he was in a panic. As Legos are his primary activity of choice, we used it to teach many things during our homeschool chapter. Making Lego letters that he could quickly (re)organize into words was one of his first introductions into spelling. We would make letters of a word and then put them in a pile for him to organize by how the letters sounded. We also made models of our solar system by taping planets to the ceiling with clear plastic strings, made nature environments to talk about seasons, etc.
And then there is the purely fun part- making Lego words with your kid. We have made collaborative Lego sculptures, vehicles, cities, secret spy headquarters hidden in the mountains, and hundreds of “sweet, sleek mech-tech-robot-spaceships”. The collaborative process is the most fun part. We mostly find a bunch of symmetrical pieces and then take turns adding them together, combining the small bits we build, trading pieces we built so the other can transform our idea, remixing each other’s remix, etc. Collaborative art shakes up the process and gives you unexpected results. Felix has been raised with a collaborative life, and has become a great art making partner.
the possibilities of tape
When kids are real young, placing pre-cut colored tape on a page can be easier painting. When they are older, covering objects with colored and patterned duct tape is a fast way to transform them into sculptures. When kids get a handle on the possibilities of tape, they can do a lot more on their own. In this video we demonstrate some tips that got Felix started.
bath as studio
Making art can lead to messy kids, messy floors, and paint getting on many things you didn’t intend to get painted. When our son was young Natalie found all kinds of washable paint and crayons that he could use in the bathtub. Then Felix could get as creative as he wanted, get out some rowdy energy, and the clean up remained relatively simple. This can be open-ended free time or structured lessons on color mixing, brush control (motor skill development), narrative design, spelling, etc.
building with PVC pipes
PVC pipes can work as oversized Tinkertoys/Legos. When Felix was 2 we cut up some PVC pipes into 1′, 2′, and 4′ pieces and picked up a variety of connector pieces. At first he grappled with getting the pieces into the junctures, but was insistent enough to figure it out. From there he built all kinds of sculptures that sprawled across rooms and over furniture. We would push the pipe pieces firmly into the juncture if he couldn’t- or to keep tall parts from toppling onto him, but otherwise we just let him go at it. Smaller pieces of pipe were easier to use initially, but bigger pieces can create great armatures to throw a blanket over as a tent. If you cut up PVC pipes for your kid, sand the cut edges so they don’t get hurt. When we built the Box Fort, the armature was created from PVC pipes, so Felix was able to help us with that.
Around our home Felix was often suspended in the air, balancing partly on his own and partly on Natalie. Felix learned about yoga, practiced on his own, and practiced collaborative yoga with his mom. Through yoga, Felix developed more physical control over his body, learned methods on managing big feelings, and got to enjoy his mother as a jungle gym.
We don’t use a T.V. in our house, we use a projector. They are about the same price, but a projector offers a lot of creative art making opportunities. Tracing images off the Internet has given Felix a chance to notice details of how things are built or drawn. It helps him understand how connected simple shapes can create complex forms. Taping an extra sheet of paper behind the piece he is drawing on ensures that marker will not bleed through and mess up the wall. At this point his bedroom walls are so covered with his tracings that we had to start taping his art on the ceiling. Felix literally made his own wallpaper. Another bonus about using a projector is that we get to watch movies 8′ wide on the wall.
There are a lot of simple ways to make animations. One fast way is to take photographs and line them up in a (laptop or smartphone) movie editor to make a stop motion animation. Here we have used this process to talk about Pangea and how the Earth is made of moving pieces.
Here we used graph paper to make characters in 2 positions, took photos, imported them to a computer, and lined them up in a movie editor.
layers of the earth
We think in terms of art, so it often comes up as a method to explain an idea or teach lessons. We homeschooled during quarantine, and worked hard to make it fun. Here Felix is helping to make a large, interactive game to learn about the Earth’s atmosphere and beyond. Part hopscotch and part maze, he was naming elements (astroids, meteors, clouds, layers of the Earth, etc.) as he leaped, bounded, and giggled about it. We try to go the extra effort to make learning fun. This subverts repeatedly having to ask him to focus. Its like buying noodles with chopped up veggies in it. The needed nutrients are cooked into an enjoyable experience. Sidewalk chalk is a fast way to make large images, including game boards.
drawing and writing in the sand
Sand and a stick is a free way to enjoy a huge blank page. At a beach, or volleyball court at a park, we find ourselves some space to create. We go back and forth drawing different parts of the same object. When Felix started learning how to write, we worked on drawing letters in the sand. He was entertained that he could create his words so big. This added a physical movement aspect that is not normally associated with learning to spell. We didn’t have to say, “Now let’s work on spelling. Please sit down, sit still, and focus.” We could say, “How big can you write your name?” Or, “How small can you write your name?” There is a beautiful overlap between entertaining your mind with play and entertaining new ideas.
scrabble and toys
Felix had just gotten used to preschool, when Covid hit. When we started homeschooling, there was some resistance. Learning is hard work. Why would any kid want to do boring school lessons when they could be playing? So we had to design fun activities to case it in.
Felix is always joking around and enjoys when silliness gets out of hand. When we started working on spelling we leaned into this. We let him make absurd, cartoon-like set ups with toy characters and write all kinds of goofiness with scrabble tiles. Then we texted these images to (the parents of) his friends. We usually got texts back about his friends appreciating getting this kind of “mail”, which created a great feedback loop for Felix to want to keep working on spelling. We had a lot of good laughs with this. I can’t wait to bring these images back up to him when he is 20 years old.
Costumes help people pretend. They ask us to suspend judgement and accept as fantasy as reality, if only for a moment. Natalie enjoys many kinds of art, including sewing. She has been making costumes for Felix (and his friends) from day one. Cozy costumes can be built by adding onto hoodies until it becomes a character. One bonus of starting from a hoodie is there isn’t any impediment to a child’s vision or hearing while wearing them, which keeps it safe.
Collages are great because a creator doesn’t need the technical skills to make realistic looking images. The process fast, which is great for the attention span of younger children. These Photoshoped images were narrated by Felix, while Trevor served as his Photoshop technician to actualize his vision. We also let Felix practice typing/spelling with dialogue bubbles and introduced grammar concepts with Internet imagery he was entertained by. If you don’t have access to Photoshop, you can download GIMP for free at gimp.org. Do you know of other quality or free photo manipulation programs? Please contact and tell us!
Natalie painted one wall in the playroom with chalkboard paint. That led to countless hours of drawing together as a family. We were illustrating the stories he told, making murals together, drawing maps, explaining science through diagrams, making targets to toss Nerf balls at, making games… the possibilities were endless. One fun challenge was to transform the static wall into an interactive station. Sometimes we drew chalk “buttons”, that were “programmed” with activities. When this button is pressed you have to do this, when that button is pressed I have to do that, if both buttons get pressed at the same time… This particular set of buttons was made when Felix was really young. We drew 4 and then asked him what should be in the squares below. He named animals so we drew them. Then we asked him what should happen when the buttons are pressed. The first game was: When person 1 presses a button, person 2 has to make the sound of that animal. The second game was: When person 1 presses a button, person b has to move like that animal. This led to comedic moments when we were rapidly pressing different buttons to make each other transform back and forth between animal imitations.
control pannel drawings
We have made tons of collaborative control panel drawings. When Felix was 3 that was all he wanted to draw. It was a great opportunity to talk about energy, electricity, wires, batteries, meters, etc.