Category Archives: Create

Valentine Art You Can’t Buy

I’ve struggled to find Valentine decorations I like.  I’m really trying not to have “stuff” for the sake of “stuff”.  Similar to the guide used by Tsh of Simple Mom, I’m trying to choose things for my home that I find beautiful, useful, or meaningful.  And the standard decor in the Valentine aisle wasn’t fitting any of those three targets.  Inspired by these posts by the Nester and Childhood 101, I decided to make these Valentine canvases with my three boys. 

They were fun and easy and produced decorations for Valentine’s Day that will be beautiful and meaningful for years to come.

We were having so much fun painting, I didn’t think to take pictures until after we were done.  Here’s the quick run down:

I simply base coated the canvases, then cut hearts from vinyl for my boys to decorate their boards.  (I assume contact paper would work as well.)  With the vinyl in place my boys set out painting over their designs using a variety of acrylic craft paints and texture tools (rollers, slinkies, combs, sponges, and brushes).  After the painting was done, I used a razor blade to loosen the edges and remove the vinyl (the paint was partially dry). 

It’s a fun, quick, creative activity that you could do today as a part of your Valentine’s Day festivities.  Have your child sign the back and add the date, and you’ll have a beautiful, meaningful decoration for many Valentine’s Days to come!  You’ll love the reminder of those little hands creating the art, and your children will gain a sense of value and ownership as their own art is used to beautify your home.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!
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Will You Be My Valentine?

Valentine’s Day is rolling in!  I have some Valentine favorites from the past that I often use, like these Five Valentine Treats ,and the sweet math activityValentine Candy Heart Count , and I always bust out my post office dramatic play area to coincide with the season of love letters.  But I’m always looking for some new ideas, and so I thought I’d share some of the posts that got me excited lately!

Check out these great Valentine-inspired activities:

:::It’s no secret that I love the Frugal Family Fun Blog.  The title has so many of my favorite words!  There are loads of Valentine ideas there.  Just two great examples of the funness and the frugalness are the paint chip Valentines and thumb printed hearts.

:::If you’re looking for some new inspiration for a Valentine holder, check out these Valentine baskets from Nurture Store.  (And the lollypop flowers look plenty fun too!)

:::Life as Mom offers some free printable coupons that are darling, customizable, and did I mention free?  She even includes some ideas for ways you can use the coupons.  Talk about making your life easier!

:::MaryLea at Pink and Green Mama shows you how to make darling, easy Valentine hair clips, as well as resourceful stitched cards.

:::The Love Birds project from Moments of Mommyhood isn’t just a darling project, but also a great opportunity to talk about symmetry!  (And that “I love you” card up there in her header’s pretty clever too!)

:::Even a toddler could help decorate this fantastic heart sun catcher from Teach Mama.  I love its adaptability and open-endedness. (Could someone call Mr. Webster and check on that word?)

Have some fun with your Valentine!

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography.
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Playdough Play Time

Playdough is a staple of childhood.  It always amazes me how long it can keep a child’s interest, squishing, pounding, rolling, and cutting.  I personally prefer homemade Classic Playdough, because it’s cheaper, better smelling, a bit softer and easier for little hands to command, and I have a little less to worry about when my son snitches another pinch to eat. (Should I worry about the fact that he’ll often turn his nose up at the dinners I make, but will gladly eat playdough?)

Rolling out the dough and using your favorite cutters is always fun, but playdough is all about limitless creativity, so here are some ideas that might help you shake things up a bit.

  • Add a shaker bottle of glitter.  Cover some of the holes so it doesn’t come out too quickly!  Let  your kiddos sprinkle it on as “cookie sprinkles” or knead it in for magical glitter playdough.
  • Supply “loose parts” like pipe cleaners, beads, googly eyes, toothpicks, even accessories from Mr. Potato Head!  Pushing these pieces into playdough not only encourages a lot of creative fun, but it also builds the same fine motor strength and control needed for writing.
  • Bring in the scissors!  Kids love to cut playdough!  It helps build cutting skills in a non-threatening, fun way. 
  • Extruders like these are a blast to play with and they build that hand strength as well.  (As I mentioned before, if your kids have been frustrated by these in the past, try it again with the Classic Playdough.)  If you need an impromptu extruder, try using a garlic press!

What is your favorite way to use playdough?
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Simple Ways to Keep Little Hands Busy at Christmastime

This is an exciting time of year!  And sometimes that excitement, left unchanneled, can wreck havoc on your sanity.  If you’re finding that the nervous energy in your house is being directed into whining, fighting, or general destruction, consider ways you can redirect that energy in positive, productive ways.  To paraphrase from my e- book, it isn’t enough to tell children to STOP what they’re doing.  To be more effective, you need to give them things they CAN do.  It’s like trying to stop water from running down a hill.  You can’t just tell it to stop, or even try to force it to stop with a dam – it eventually runs over the top.  But you can dig a ditch, a channel, to move it in a more constructive direction.

After linking to the simple Candy Cane Painting idea on my weekend reads, I got thinking about other simple ways to channel that excited energy that fills our children this time of year.  Here are a few more ideas:

Beaded Candy Cane Craft – I used regular round craft beads and no bells (just wrap the pipe cleaners around the end beads.  So simple, so fun, and a great way to incorporate fine motor skills and patterning.  Some of the kiddos alternated red-white-red-white, others went with something more complicated like red-red-white or red-red-white-white.  It’s fun to see what they come up with!  You can simplify even more and just make candy canes by twisting or braiding pipe cleaners together and bending them into shape.


Cinnamon Spice Playdough – Whip up a batch of this and your kids will spend plenty of time and energy working that dough into cookies, pies, and who knows what else!  As a bonus, your whole room will smell just delightful!

Make Snowflakes – Even if you live in Florida, you can have snow for Christmas!  I love cutting snowflakes out of coffee filters (one of the most versatile and inexpensive items to have in your craft closet) because they’re already round and thin for easier cutting.  You can have some fun by painting them with watercolors first or go bold and use some brightly colored paper like these fancy ones at Why Not Orange

You can also make fun snowflakes with Q-Tips, glue, and some black or blue paper.  My son made one that looked less like a snowflake and more like the Millennium Falcon….but that’s part of what’s so great about this project.  It’s so open-ended!  That open aspect encourages their creativity, but also keeps them interested longer because the possibilities are endless!  It’s also a great opportunity to talk about math concepts like whole and half or shorter/longer as you trim the Q-tips to different sizes for your designs.

 Simple Gingerbread Houses – Once upon a time, I was crazy and made a real gingerbread house out of real gingerbread. Then I realized how ridiculous that was for me to do with such little kids, so now I hot glue graham crackers and set the boys loose!  So simple and they love it!

Designer Wrapping Paper – Set your little elves loose designing your own homemade wrapping paper.  The Artful Parent gives some great action painting ideas, and Creative Jewish Mom shares her ideas here.

Get Outside – Being in nature often has an inherent calming effect.  Add to that the way the open space welcomes all that energy and large motor movements, and it’s an easy outlet for little ones waiting for the big day.  Check out some of these ways to have fun outside in the snow.

And last of all, remember to enjoy your little ones and this wonderful time to be together, even if that includes dripping paint, cookies with too much icing, or candy canes without stripes.  Check out this post by Tsh of Simple Mom about planning a peaceful Christmas by embracing imperfection.

Enjoy this magical week!

Top photo by Déz Magnér.  Cinnamon photo courtesy of YappsCotta.

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It’s Turkey Time!

With Thanksgiving right around the bend, it might be a fun time for a little turkey craft at the kiddie table.  That’s right, I used the word craft.  Remember, there’s a Spectrum of Preschool Arts and Crafts.  There are times when a craft may better fill your objectives, but as I mentioned in last year’s Turkey Time Craft, you have to be sure your craft matches the abilities of your children, that you have the time and extra adult assistance that crafts require, and that you are willing to let go of the final product and let the children own it.

With this year’s activity, you need craft glue, googly eyes (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term:), brass fasteners, about five colored feathers cut from construction paper, one oval cut from non-sticky brown craft foam (I cut two from one sheet), one circle cut from sticky-back craft foam in a different shade of brown, a yellow triangle out of sticky back foam, and a tear-drop shaped waddle from red sticky-back foam. 

Before starting the project, you might want to read a Thanksgiving story.  I recently enjoyed reading The First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene (followed by this snack activity) and then The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing.  After the second book, we had a great discussion about similarities and differences between the two stories.  Then we got ready to make our turkeys!

We began the turkey craft with a review of shapes.  Then, as I walked through how to build a turkey, I was able to refer to the oval, the circle, the triangle, and even the tear-drop shape.  It’s a great way to emphasize that knowledge of shapes so that the children incorporate that knowledge into the experience. 

So here’s the quick version of the instructions:  Use the oval as the body, the circle as the head, the triangle as the beak, with the tear-drop as the waddle.  Use the glue to attach the eyes.  Next, attach the feathers with the brass fastener.  I swear the first time I did it, I popped right through the foam and all five fasteners, but I’ve yet to repeat that performance!  It seems easiest to go through just the foam first, then the feathers (two or three at a time).  Then fan out the feathers for a complete turkey! 

In addition to incorporating shapes, you can also talk about the colors used in the feathers, as well as counting how many there are.  You could even count by fives, counting all the feathers in your group if your children are at that level.  If you want to add a whole language element, ask the children what they’re thankful for, and write what they say on each of the feathers.

And since this is the season for gratitude, I really need to express my gratitude to you, the readers of Not Just Cute.  Thanks for reading, sharing your ideas, offering your support, and challenging me with questions.  Thanks for tweeting, liking, linking, and sharing with your friends.  My life is blessed by you.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


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A Few New Takes on an Old Favorite: Shaving Cream Painting

Whoever coined the phrase “less is more” certainly wasn’t under the age of six.  Young children love piling it all on, especially when doing art.  It’s more about the experience than the exhibit, and that’s the way it should be. 

But if you’ve ever done shaving cream painting with young children, you’ve seen them sculpt huge mounds onto paper, and then watched it all flutter away as soon as you take the paper from the drying rack. 

Here are a few ways to prevent this problem:

1 – Try Bev Bos’s glue/shaving cream combo.  It’s sturdier and can even hold lightweight collage items.

2 – Ditch the art table and take that cream straight to the sensory bin!  Toss in some colored ice cubes and get ready for some gooey fun with Iced Shaving Cream!

3 – Use plain old shaving cream, but forget the whole “product” idea and just paint onto a tray or table top.  Children can mound it, swirl it, or spread it flat and write with a finger.  

4– Follow idea #3, but then make reverse prints with paper!  Plop just a little dollop or two and let the children work it to their hearts’ content.  When they’re ready, press a paper onto their tray and peel it back for a print.  Making the reverse spreads the cream a bit more thinly on the paper, allowing it to dry more thoroughly without the fluffy residue that flies away afterward.  Plus, it’s fun to draw pictures into the cream and then see them reproduced onto the paper!

Shaving cream is a wonderful (and cheap) resource for a fun sensory, creative, and fine motor experience.  And now, you can try an old favorite with a new spin!

Do you have another fun way to use shaving cream with preschoolers?
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What Would Your Pet Monster Look Like?

Halloween may provide an ideal window, but there’s really not a bad time for Laura Numeroff’s book,  Ten Step Guide to Living with Your Monster.  From the same author who wrote the “If You Give a…” series, this whimsical spin on monsters explains how one should select and care for a new pet monster.  It’s hard to hang on to any fear of monsters as this story shows them playing the banjo, blowing bubbles, and drinking from the bathtub!
I wrote about this book last year, explaining how to use it to create a whole language journaling activity.  This year, combine that writing activity with a sculpture!  Using classic playdough and add-ons like craft eyes, toothpicks, beads, and pipe cleaners, children can bring their monstrous creatures to life, supporting their creativity and small motor skills simultaneously!  Strengthen language skills and math concepts as well by talking about these monsters as they’re being built, introducing descriptive words, counting and comparing accessories as they’re added, and getting your children to share their ideas about what these monsters might be like.
Finish it off with the whole language activity, recording your child’s dictations with the monster’s name and story, and you’ve got yourself one enjoyable, high-powered, and open-ended learning activity! 
Enjoy your pet monsters!
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