Published by Lori Pickert on January 27, 2011 at 04:32 PM

From Core77: “ Makedo [is] a system of connectors that lets the child join a variety of material together, paper cups, cardboard, empty boxes, and whatever else you've got laying around. A series of simple (and safely blunted) tools enable the child to perform primitive construction operations and modify materials to accept the connectors, truly reinforcing the notion that you can shape the world around you with a little imagination and elbow grease.”


Wreck this journal

Published by Lori Pickert on April 22, 2009 at 08:15 PM

Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal is full of prompts to help perfectionists and nervous nellies get over the fear of making a mistake and ruining a blank journal or sketchbook.

You could also just write a whole lot of journal prompts on little slips of paper and put them in a jar. Pull one out each day or just when you can’t think of anything to do or draw. We used to do this at school; in fact, I think I have a big jar of prompts somewhere around here.

Sketchbooks/journals are valuable tools for project learning — it’s good to build your skills by exploring everything you can do with them! The more comfortable you get with facing that blank page and filling it up, the better.


Sketchbooks in schools

Published by Lori Pickert on April 21, 2009 at 05:31 PM

Sketchbooks/journals are a big part of project work — it’s important to keep your ideas, thoughts, plans, and questions together (you and your child!) and keep track of your ideas and all the iterations of your representations from the initial idea of a sketch to the list of materials you need to pasting in photographs, items torn out of magazines and newspapers, etc. etc. etc.

Sketchbooks are a fantatsic learning tool!

Check out Sketchbooks in Schools — lots of great stuff!

Hat tip: Thriving Too.

Project journal — parent’s

Published by Lori Pickert on October 14, 2008 at 02:15 PM

I use my project journal to keep track of

  • what the boys are doing each day
  • books they’ve read
  • movies they’ve seen
  • sites they’ve visited online
  • their conversations
  • letters and e-mails they’ve sent
  • photos of them working
  • photos they’ve taken
  • their sketches, models, and constructions
  • their questions
  • their plans
  • their requests — for materials, field work, etc.
  • and so on...

I use a digital camera and print out my photos on regular copy paper to glue in my journal. I also display these on bulletin boards dedicated to their ongoing projects, and I print copies of anything they want to put in their own journals.

I highlight their questions in my journal, so I can remind them later of things they wanted to investigate.

I also highlight things I want to remember to do — get them materials they asked for, make copies of some sketches for their project board, etc.

(I am not this well organized in, well, any other aspect of my life. But I know from experience that if I don’t write things down as they happen, I will quickly lose track of their plans and questions and wonderings. They speed along so steadfastly that if I’m not coming along behind with a basket to collect all of their future plans — the things they have thought of, but haven’t done yet — many of them will be lost forever.)

My journal is an important tool for me. My part in our learning relationship is to support them in their investigation, and that requires a lot of me — I have to pay attention to what’s happening every day. I have to be quiet and see what they are saying, doing, and planning, without my interference. I have to respond faithfully when they ask for things — whether it’s wire, tape, help looking up something online, or a trip to the natural history museum. I need to keep track of all those lines of inquiry they mark as a path they want to follow later, when they have more time, so they can focus on what they are doing right now.

Your journal can also be a powerful assessment tool, if that is something you need or want to do. And it is a powerful reminder of what your children can accomplish simply following their own trail of questions.

A project journal should not be simply a diary of what happened, however — focusing on the past. To be a useful tool, you must constantly review and reflect. Your role isn’t a passive one, trailing along behind your children, dutifully taking notes. Their project journals will be primarily about their topic — say, bees — but your project journal is primarily about your topic — your children and how they learn. Therefore, it isn’t a dead record of the past, but a living documentation that stretches from the past into the future.

Also see: Inside my project journal


Published by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2007 at 12:10 AM


Jack said today that he wanted to work on his bird project — this is a project that has lasted for months, and every time I think it is over, he says emphatically he's not done yet. This reminds me of the preschool students who would work almost an entire year on a single topic (which, of course, they would explore to an amazing depth and breadth) then return in the fall for a new school year, cheerfully asking to resume study of the exact same topic.

These kids and their short attention spans.

Jack is so project-oriented, I think he will forever think of this continuing interest in birds as a "project" rather than, say, a hobby. On summer vacation he brought along his bird books, his bird list, and his binoculars, and asked to buy new bird books (Western states, you know) and bird identification sheets "for homeschooling". He offhandedly informs us of random bird facts and identifies birds on the wing, looking off skyward and shrugging modestly. And whenever he spots a flash of color in the yard, he dashes off for the binoculars again. It continues.

Today he said he was going to make a model of a bird, a goldfinch he believes, although he'll be making it larger than life-size, "so you can see all the details."

After some interesting discussion of possible materials he could use, he decided to try paper maché. He wanted to dive right in, but I helped him pull out a bunch of things and then suggested he make something else first. "Something else?!" But he was amenable, and proceeded to spend a good part of the morning making a "muscle man", with a lot of extra taping and giggling.

Children need some time to just mess about and play with materials before they use them purposefully. By exploring what he could do with the paper, tape, and wire I gave him, he gained a lot of knowledge about the materials and their properties, their limitations. I'll encourage him to do more free exploration tomorrow. When he feels confident manipulating the materials, then he will be able to confidently approach solving his problem of how to model the goldfinch.

Play for young children is not recreation activity... It is not leisure-time activity nor escape activity.... Play is thinking time for young children. It is language time. Problem-solving time. It is memory time, planning time, investigating time. It is organization-of-ideas time, when the young child uses his mind and body and his social skills and all his powers in response to the stimuli he has met. — James L. Hymes, Jr.

Reuse, then recycle

Published by Lori Pickert on October 17, 2007 at 01:56 AM


Well, I managed to miss Blog Action Day (topic: environment) due to a sick child. And I've missed a couple nights of sleep as well, so I'll try not to nod off while I write this.

f-constr-guitar.JPGThe pile of trash up above isn't destined for the recycle center or even the garbage — yet. First it's going to the art studio. Actually, this pile is destined to be part of an action-figure-scale Jedi temple.

After years of building with recyclables, I can no longer throw anything away without hesitating and thinking, Would this make a good steering wheel? bird beak? rocket fin? robot brain?

All of our clean, no-sharp-edges trash gets set aside for making models during projects, sculptures, toys, artwork, etc. Actually, once you have adopted this mindset, it's hard to ever look at a plastic cookie tray or mesh fruit bag the same way again.


Not only does this save things from the garbage and the landfill, but it saves money because you buy fewer art materials, so you saved the energy to make, distribute, and sell those items as well.

Of course, there's the added benefit that your children stop clamoring for sequins and googly eyes and instead start asking for more bottle tops and spaghetti sauce lids.

And eventually, when you are all done with the model/sculpture/toy/art you made, then it can be recycled. Or better yet, go to grandma's house.



In praise of high-quality art materials

Published by Lori Pickert on September 27, 2007 at 10:43 PM


For the seven years that I ran my private school, we had an art- and project-based curriculum. Soon after we opened, I discovered the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, and learning about their methods inspired and informed the remainder of our days in the classroom.


One of the tenets of the Reggio approach is that children deserve high-quality art materials.

Why buy expensive high-quality materials for children? They just burn through whatever you give them. Can we afford to buy them expensive paper, when they can produce 25 drawings in one sitting? And that sitting only lasted 20 minutes?

Giving children high-quality materials sends a message. It’s not enough to say, “I think your work is important.” If I give my children cheap paper and paint, what can they produce? Muddy-colored paintings that dry and flake off cheap, thin paper that tears easily. My words are saying “Your work is important” but the materials are saying “Your work is not important.”


It’s true that you can’t just hand children a pile of expensive paper and a basket of high-quality markers and walk away without a backward glance. You need to convey your respect for the materials and show children how to use them properly and put them away so they’ll be good for next time.

The youngest children in our classroom — just-turned-three-year-olds — were capable of washing out their paintbrushes and palettes and putting them away. Age is no excuse for not taking care of your materials.

It’s also valuable to teach children when it’s appropriate to use “regular” paper and when an artwork deserves the better, more expensive paper. The lowest-quality paper I can accept is copy paper — not too expensive at 500 sheets for a few dollars. We use copy paper to make marker drawings, pencil drawings, mini-books, etc. We go through a lot of it. But we also have watercolor paper, large loose sheets of drawing paper, and heavy paper for painting with tempera and acrylics, charcoal, and ink. Children can learn to use regular paper for sketching, everyday drawing, and early drafts and use the best paper for their best work. Talking with them about their intentions before they work can help them decide which is appropriate. You can also encourage them to pull out the good paper after they’ve done several renditions of a drawing on regular paper.

There are many steps to introducing high-quality materials and tools to young children and teaching them how to use and care for them. For now, I’ll just say the following:

• High-quality materials convey to children that their work is important.

• High-quality materials inspire children to work more slowly and carefully.

• Children's important work deserves high-quality materials.


The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. — Loris Malaguzzi

The art of organization

Published by Lori Pickert on September 2, 2007 at 03:55 PM


Don't worry, I'm not going to pretend I can cover the topic of organization in just one post.

After all, "Real Simple" talks about it in pretty much every issue.

However, we're getting ready to gear up for the school year, we need to organize our classrooms, and parents have many of the same concerns at home. (In fact, more and more bedrooms and play rooms are drawing inspiration from classrooms.)

I am not one of those people who keep only the things which I feel to be beautiful or know to be useful (paraphrasing William Morris). My closets and drawers are crowded with the less attractive, the downright ugly, the obscure, and the "maybe some day".

At home (see above), we had a major organizing shift this year in the play room. I purchased a couple dozen of the clear bins shown, which have permanently attached lids that, when open, hang neatly at the bin's sides like a hinged open door. These were purchased at Wal-Mart when they were on clearance, and I made a second trip to get more. Bless the person who thought of the permanently attached lid.


Clear bins and containers are so nice for showcasing their contents. If a child can't see into it (e.g., open baskets and trays on a low shelf), clear containers allow them to see what materials are available.

With limited storage, it always helps to go up ... clear containers on high shelves mean materials that aren't needed everyday are still in sight, so children don't forget what you have. High shelves are also a nice way to display completed projects.

paintcan.jpgOne of my favorite finds for organizing pens, pencils, markers, paintbrushes, etc, is paint cans. The paint store sells them (new, unused) in different sizes, about 88 cents for the quart size. These are a natural material, sturdy, and .. bonus .. magnetic -- so you use magnets or magnetic labels on them.

Martha Stewart uses paint cans turned on their sides to make excellent cubbies. It's not hard to imagine these repurposed as student mailboxes in the classroom (drawings can be rolled!).

More organizational inspiration for today:

Colanders instead of baskets

Pegboard desk (Martha Stewart Kids)

Baskets, chalkboards, and cork boards (Pottery Barn Kids)

Slat shelves

Weave it to me

Published by Lori Pickert on August 24, 2007 at 01:38 AM


Karrie from Girl on the Rocks is starting a week of weaving information about looms, patterns, and more. Check out her blog for great ideas about palm-sized looms and weaving projects.

For young children, you can't go wrong with a classic plastic pot-holder loom and a bag of nylon loops. This is the type we use with kids age 3 and up in the classroom and art studio.

The loom pictured up above was a heddle loom we used in the classroom. It is useful for weaving belts, skinny scarves, bracelets, bookmarks, and headbands. You can make your own heddle with popsicle sticks; maybe we'll show you how in another post.

For large weaving projects, or shared projects on which several children can work together, you can purchase large classroom looms for about $215. Or you can do what we did — find a big, cheap wooden picture frame (thrift store, garage sale, junk shop, or clearance), drill holes along the top and bottom, and insert pieces of dowel rod you cut yourself. Total cost: approximately $4.00. We added a couple of pieces of wood at the bottom to serve as feet, strung it up, and we were good to go. (I can’t find a photo of our loom to share, unfortunately…)

Read about it elsewhere:

Purl Bee: The Lure of the Loom


eloominator blog

For a nice selection of plastic and wood looms, check out Dick Blick. Be careful: art supplies are just as enticing online as they are in person.

How to Build a clay table

Published by Lori Pickert on August 23, 2007 at 01:56 AM

If you work a lot with clay, you can build your own clay table.

First, find a cheap wooden table at a junk shop or garage sale. (Habitat for Humanity ReStores offer both used furniture and used building materials.) We paid $10 for our table.

Next, cut the legs down to size so the height is appropriate for your children. (Measure the first leg, then hold it up against the others to make sure they match exactly.)

Purchase enough plain canvas (about $2 to $4/yard from the fabric store) to cover the table top. Be sure your fabric is wide enough to wrap around each side. Before you go to the fabric store, take a look at the edges of your table to see how much extra material you'll need. Simple table tops will only require four inches or so; tables with elaborate skirting will require more.

At home, center fabric on the table top. (You don't have to cut the material to size -- just leave the extra and you can trim it off later. You just need to make sure it's wide enough and long enough to cover.)

Using a staple gun, put one stable in the center of one side of the table, wrapping the material around and stapling underneath the table top. Stretch material and continuing stapling, finishing first one side, then its opposite side, then the final two sides.

The finished canvas-covered table is perfect for working with clay. The canvas absorbs excess moisture, and clean up consists of just brushing away extra dried clay pieces the next day. If your clay starts to become too dry, give the canvas a spritz of water.

If you don't have room for a whole table, you can cover a piece of chipboard or plywood cut to your desired size, and bring it out when you're ready to pinch, poke, and roll. Just be sure you lay a towel or other protective layer between your clay board and table to prevent scratching.