This is the perfect opportunity to teach your beginners about feelings, fantasy and transformations... 


Halloween provokes strong feelings in children. Masks are a terrific way to express feelings and at Halloween, anything goes!

 In a previous post, I showed you how to make these self-portraits, here are the Halloween masks that go with them. The portraits are hung up in the hall bulletin board, then the masks are push pinned over them with a sign that says GUESS WHO?

 I make a kit of their expressed fantasies for each child to cut and assemble so that we can work together on the project. I like to make each wish come as true as I can. I get to model the magic! It doesn't hurt to impress beginners, especially if they get in on the act. I believe that it's vital to model the planning and the realization of an idea for beginners. 
Share your expertise. 
A cooperative effort between teacher and student… demystifies the process of imagining and creating. 

The goldfish shown above was, for me, the most difficult mask I've made in eighteen years, but of course, it was the most magical for the complex little beginner I made it for. If  you choose to accept this mission, begin with easy masks, like the lady bug, the ghost, the cat or the princess... or make all monsters! But they must be intentional monsters, not random since these relate to the self portrait underneath. 

Some teachers who have worked with me over the years, were hesitant to do this project, but by the second year they were into it and discovered they had hidden talent.  
Now they "stay calm and create!" It's all about visualizing and planning. more...


In my last post I encouraged the making of Halloween costumes. 
I looked around for some inspiration and of course, I went to Pinterest first. 

I love Pinterest and I have my friend Susan Stevenson at to thank for it!

These were my favorites, from Country Living, but there are many great ideas out there. 

Go for it!


Halloween is my favorite holiday. 

Free of dastardly Dark Age vibes, Halloween has become the day that everyone is encouraged to think magically. For those of us who are creative on a daily basis, it's wonderful to have everyone join in with such enthusiasm.

People seem to think that young children love and naturally embrace the fantasy and shape shifting that is part of Halloween. I think they find it confusing and anxiety producing. After all, on all other days, learning the rules is paramount. It has been my experience that beginners need consistency and structure above all. Actually, the rules set them free.

Many people are also under the impression that children have boundless ideas about fantasy and can imagine anything, but really they have very narrow experience to draw from. Well, of course, there is Disney, but those ideas are already imagined... 

I think that Halloween provides a unique opportunity to show our beginners just how real magic works. How visualization + skills can lead to realization. In that spirit, I offered to make my beginners masks. We had just made collage self-portraits and I wanted them to have masks to put over them for Halloween. As a way of transitioning from the real them we had just created, to the alternate them that everyone was expecting.

First, I warned them that I would be asking what they would like to be, so they could think about it. It could be anything, a thunderstorm or a butterfly or an astronaut, anything. Then, we sat together and they each committed to something. Not easy when anything is on the table! So, when one beginner said she would like to be a kitten, I said, "OK! a kitten it is!"  She looked skeptical. I began to create individual kits so that my beginners could be a part of the making. I spent hours, in front of the TV at home, making 16 kits and paper clipping them together. And here's why...

I wanted to teach a very important idea. We talk a lot about encouraging creative thinking in our beginners. We recognized that being able to visualize and then realize something, whether it is ourselves or world peace or a space ship, is an important thing. The best way to teach is to model. By making masks, I had an opportunity to show how real magic gets done. 

When I was a beginner, I was lucky enough to have creative, problem solving and skilled parents, who constantly modeled the magic. 

For example: One summer evening I told my father that the mayonnaise jar I was using to catch fire flies was not good enough. The next morning we went to his workshop. He hammered and cut and soldered copper screen and sheet metal, until a beautiful little cage appeared. It was a shiny copper cylinder with a conical top. It had a little door with a latch and a loop on top. I was thrilled to watch it appear before my very eyes.

Another day, I was sick in bed with measles, and of course, unhappy about taking a nap. My mother (who in later years was responsible for my being voted Best Dressed, based on my unique, sophisticated, homemade prom dresses) showed me a shoe box. She said that if I napped, there would be a surprise for me inside. When I awoke, I opened the box which she had left by the bed. It contained a beautiful blue gingham dress for my favorite doll, just like the one she had made for me the week before. REAL MAGIC is made with experience and skills.

Adults should impress their beginners with magic whenever they get the chance... then teach them a small trick to show that it's possible for them as well. Seeing is believing and learning. I know how to solder and I know how to sew. You could play the piano, then teach chopsticks to your beginner. Change the oil in your car, then show her how to oil the wheels on her bike. Bake a cake, take pictures, make a scrap book. Show off... be impressive and then teach a small part of the magic.

When you reveal your secrets, beginners will learn that anything is possible with experience and practice, ideas and skills. To children the special things you do are magical. Do real magic and share its secrets... especially at Halloween when  magic is in the air!


Halloween is the perfect time to learn how to create a story, 
imagination and fun are in the air. 

Best of all, anything goes!

For creative folks, it is the best day of the year...
 I usually got to teach my class as my real self. 

It's the perfect time of the year to create a story to share with friends. 

Everyone loves a spooky story!

Beginners like to make up fantastic stories because there are no rules...they can't go wrong. These books were made by 4 year old beginners over the course of a week. Imagine what your kindergartener or second grader could do...

Process: fold some accordion books out of heavy weight drawing paper. Cut them to look like a haunted house...then follow the plan below by labeling the cover and four pages inside or up to seven if you use the back. Write the words first on each page, then illustrate each page. Older beginners can write a phrase or a sentence on each page. Write words in pencil so the words can be proof read and edited.

Get started with19 reproducible lessons from witches to haunted houses to spiders... Oh my!
Little lessons for everyone. Purchase this E-packet at  TPT 

Share your books with the class, trade books for reading practice, bring home books to share with siblings or create a wonderful Halloween Stories bulletin board.


Portraits are a wonderful way to learn about yourself or someone else. This is the first in a series of methods for portraits. It is a week long project that if completed in a mindful way will result in charming, frame-worthy art that parent's will treasure and children will be proud of.

Around the middle of September, there is a lot of talk among beginners about Halloween.

What are you going to be for Halloween?

What's Halloween?

I didn't know I could be something else...
I'm  just getting used to the self I already am! 

think that this self portrait project is a grounding activity that will help children secure their hold on reality before joining in on the coming celebration of fantasy, shape shifting and revelry, that almost everyone (especially me) thinks is fun.

Young beginners usually go along, but the can also be filled with trepidation, sometimes resulting in a meltdown on the big day.

Children have no time frame in mind, so this layered process will seem meditative and natural to them. What could please an early beginner more than an activity centered on them. The excitement will build as they construct and put together a picture of themselves.

These portraits were created by Pre-K over a week, but this method works for anyone at any age. I'm thinking of doing this with my family, they did great with the cat drawings! It is a visual language designed for this occasion, and can be easily understood by the artist and audience alike. 

This is a process, as well as a product, and your job is to help your beginners create portraits that expresses who they really are. The best portraits FEEL like the subject. In these portraits the beginner should be in control of the image. 

Of course, almost everyone will choose to be happy, but those who choose to frown or to be sad, validate the rest. Let them be true to themselves and they will learn the power of visual self expression. 

What could please beginners more than an activity centered on them? The excitement will build as they construct and put together a hard copy of their own growing awareness. 

It seems like a lot of work, but it's mostly planning, patience and above all paper clips! And so worth it....

Complete directions for this project can be found here


SWIMMY- Many hands make meaningful art...

I love Leo Lionni's story about a little fish who is lost at first, but who eventually grows into a leader... Some books are both beautiful and useful to teachers, they are classics because of their universal meaning.
Swimmy is a perfect classroom story and a lesson about cooperation and leadership.

First, I read Swimmy to my daycare kids. My son is the astronaut in the red shorts, he's now twenty four. We made a big mural tacked to the side of our house. The fish were sponge printed and the creatures were drawn in poster paint. Then, we imagined a sequel and each beginner illustrated one page in black washable marker. I took the pages to the library and copied them so that everyone could have a copy of their story. Finally, they colored their books with crayons. 

That was my first adventure in self publishing...

When I got my own Pre-K classroom, I decided that a Swimmy mural would be a good first project. I wanted to create a sense of unity and cooperation in the class.  We were a Pre-K class in an independent elementary school, so we pretended that the big kids were big fish as we walked together along the busy halls to the library or gym. Each day we chose a line leader and she was called the Swimmy for that day. This method worked well all year.

Below a few beginners take their turn creating the sea, by mixing yellow and blue poster paint directly on the mural paper. They are making an environment for their little fish.

 In general, I recommend using real poster paint, not washable paint. The washable colors are thin and the red has too much orange to mix accurately. 

Of course, it's impossible for anyone to paint and stay neat. Smocks are helpful, especially these plastic ones, after I have cut about six inches off the sleeves, and rolled up the beginners' shirt sleeves underneath. Each child contributes one smock to a mutual supply, so there is less fighting over whose smock is whose. 

Swimmy would appreciate this concept...

  At the same time, the rest of the class is working at the table, each decorating a pre-cut construction paper fish with bright Craypas. For this project, I removed brown and gray from  the color choices to maintain the lively color scheme. 

When the paint is dry, the red fish and one black fish are pasted swimming in the same directionto form one big fish. At this stage you might notice one or two little fish who want to swim in the opposite direction; this mural is for them, because the idea of this mural is individuals who cooperate.

For the last layer, each child uses Craypas to draw a sea creature that they think their fish will meet. These drawing lessons are from DRAW! a book I  created so that kids and teachers can learn to draw in the classroom, while they learn to write.

Copy these pages and pin them in sight of your artists for reference.  This is the class' first attempt at figurative drawing, so I am expecting the basic idea of a jelly fish (the easiest.) Some beginners may need to practice, with your help, on a seperate piece of paper.
This activity is not only a great social lesson, but it introduces drawing and painting cooperatively and the magic of mixing colors. And the result is spectacular!

This year jelly fish were expected...

This mural isn't finished yet, so far there are two sharks, a few scary fish and sand at the bottom...

more art for the classroom...

Useful methods used in this activity: We created a layered piece of art that takes a few days to complete. Children learn to delay gratification by working carefully in stages. This layering allows my beginners to produce a more complex project that evokes an amazed and enthusiastic response from anyone who sees it, reinforcing all that work and cooperation with applause and recognition.

 Parents love it, it combines individual expression and cooperation. 
It is a perfect teaching metaphor.

Many hands make useful and meaningful art...become ARTiculate.

CLAY PLAY - family

More magic for YOU to do for your beginner... when you do the building you are modeling  fine motor skills and creativity. For a young beginner this is the best way to learn and a really enjoyable way to spend time with you. She will think you are very cool! And you may notice that she is more peaceful after this rich experience.

This game will remain a favorite until she least 6 yrs. old.
Of course, by then she will be making the magic and you'll be playing her game.

On this day we got out our big multicolor mix of clay. 
This clay sticks together very well which can be either good or bad. The mixed clay is great for pulling and pounding and squeezing...all wonderful for developing the muscles in her hands and wrists. Also good for rolling into balls or bracelets. 

After five minutes of free play she gave me our signal - let's play...
 "What's in this ball of clay?" 
First she held the clay to one ear then both, in stereo! I got the hint. 
Since she has a brand new brother (happily asleep) I thought that we should make her family in clay. Of course, I was prepared for my creations to be squished immediately.

 I made a mommy, a daddy, a baby and the big sister (of course they all had hats.) She made a cradle, and she didn't squash any of them. We played family for twenty minutes. The sections of the highchair tray became beds and who was sleeping with mommy was the focus of our play. She seemed very understanding of her sibling's need for Mommy.

With all the clay people needing hats and hugging and sleeping in cradles, the clay was stuck here and there, so we added it to the big clay ball, ready for our next adventure.

Storing this kind of clay:  While we still have balls of separate colors, I lay them in the zip lock bag somewhere out of reach and not touching each other. This will preserve individual colors a bit longer.

So, as we played, I saw new signs of maturity in my beginner...she initiated our game and she played constructively with all the clay figures until they were put away.
These little steps in a beginner's growth are important and a joy to experience for a Gran, a teacher, a caregiver or a parent. Of course, Grans have the luxury of  time...

A Tale Of Peter Rabbit...

This is a view of my flower garden... 30 years old and a pleasure. We have always had a lot of shade, but we overcame it, because of the huge variety of beautiful shade loving perennials available. I have vanquished the voles that haunted the garden for years. 
And so I feel satisfied.

Below is my vegetable garden... 10 years old, built by my talented husband with perfect drainage and good soil in raised beds.  It has never, ever been satisfying.

In general, vegetables require more sun than we have. Although I eke out some tomatoes and my sage plants are bountiful, most crops have been disappointing. 

So, I did some research and found that vegetables we plant for leaves, such as lettuce and broccoli rabe, are the best choice for low light. So, this year I gave up on Zucchini and stuck to the leaves with the goal of lettuce and tomato salads.

And peas, they recommended peas as well. 

I'm sure you can see where this is headed... 

I like to take my morning tea on my stroll through the gardens. I take note of weeds or bugs that must be dealt with and admire the dependable daylies and the roses in their hard won spots of sun. One morning, I was surprised to find that the peas, that had been very optimistically climbing their way up the pea brush, were eaten down to their stems and there was no sign of insects. 

The next day my son observed a rabbit in the flower garden. Oh no! we've never had rabbits... but then we've never had lettuce.

For as long as I can remember, I have sympathized with poor little Peter Rabbit, but the next day on my walk I noticed the beautiful mixed greens, with their shades of ruby and chartreuse, were completely gone.

Since then, I have developed a strong empathy for Mr. Mcgregor.

These are the things Peter doesn't like - arugula, sage, marigolds and nasturtiums. 
All good stuff, but not enough for a whole salad. 

Unlike squirrels, which can be very aggressive and nasty, rabbits are really sweet and unassuming... so this summer, I let him have his fill. Next year, there will be a rabbit proof fence!  And we are cutting down a few storm damaged trees, so there will be more light as well. I live in hope.

 I can't resist a teachable moment...

I  got going on a long planned little lessons project. I am passionate about children learning how to draw. I have decided to design a series of lesson packets that will enhance the NYS first grade core curriculum. Apparently, they will be reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Below is the first packet... It has 14 lessons, including rabbits and a farmer and a vegetable patch. Everything a student needs to illustrate a new story. 

I believe that everyone should be able to draw as well as they can write.

The downloadable e-packet below can be purchased here.

“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality."  - Beatrix Potter 

 For more information on Beatrix Potter, who was a very interesting woman go here.

Zen and the art of finger-painting...

Finger-painting is the closest a child can come to real meditation. They become completely absorbed. Think Zen sand gardens...

With finger-paint, her pleasure comes from the creation of forms and colors. Learning comes from connections between the paint and her fingers and her brain, strengthening the understanding that her movements can be intentional rather than random.

All the colors are beautiful. When she is older we'll create a COLOR WHEEL and she'll learn to control the colors. Now, watching the color changes and lines and making hand prints is satisfying. More...


 I have just made a huge discovery for doing art with beginners.
I'm sure everyone knows this already but...

There was a sale at my favorite big box store and just as they hoped... 
I bought a set of cookie sheets because I needed new ones... after all, the holidays are fast approaching and my pans are all brown from roasting veggies.

At the same time, I was planning on finger painting again with my granddaughter and considering how to contain the mess.

Then, I remembered my new shiny cookie sheets... serendipity!

Not only is the rimmed sheet the right size for finger painting and light enough to see the designs but it also stays put and fits in the sink to wash. 

This is just the beginning... I plan to introduce my beginner to stringing pasta next. Everything will stay in place, the pastabilities are mind boggling! 

Thank you big box store for inadvertently furthering ART.



little blue and little yellow

When I was a student teacher, twenty five years ago, I did my student teaching in a wonderful kindergarten class. The teacher in charge (and my mentor) saw that I was the creative and adventurous type, so she encouraged me to design lessons. 

Little blue and little yellow had been a family favorite, so I bought clay and I did what has become a classic lesson in color mixing. As I read the story each child squished small balls of yellow and blue clay and by the end of this short and charming story about friendship the clay had become green (magic if you've never done it before.) The lesson was a success.

I had borrowed the book from the school library and I wanted to buy a copy to use in my teaching. We tried to find it, but at that time it was out of print! Hard to imagine but true.

At the end of the year I received this handmade 
and laminated copy from one of my students and his mom.

This was the first of many insightful gifts  and notes from parents of my students.

Parents should know that teachers value a personal note expressing their appreciation. 
I kept every one that was specific and personal.

Of course, if you are really lucky they might make you a book...

I used this wonderful book in class until the story was finally reissued in a paperback edition, then I put it safely away.  In case you've never read little blue and little yellow it's about two friends who hug so hard they turn green. Even their parents don't recognize them until...

Your beginner will be amazed when, after much squishing and pulling, the blue and yellow balls of clay turn into one green one just like little blue and little yellow. (Squishing clay is great for strengthening muscles in little hands.)

And then there's little red and little yellow! Could be a sequel...