Category Archives: children’s art

Forest kindergarten

Imagine being at a school where you look up and see, not a ceiling, but a canopy of leaves and branches high above you.


Or being told you can shout all you want – just shout out into the forest. Where you can climb trees, use a saw or pocket knife to cut wood, fashion your own seesaw out of a rope and logs, and watch the lifecycle of bugs and birds in real time.

That's what it's like for children at a "forest kindergarten," where I spent a serene morning one day last week when I visited Germany. 


The way into the forest was magical, with birds singing everywhere. The trees were high, stately, and utterly humbling. I really felt as though there is practically no better way to spend your days as a child than this. 


I was in Europe because I got a book deal (hence the recent silence on this blog – I have been busy!) to write a book about parenting around the world. I went to Germany and also visited Finland, where I met friends, spoke with children of all ages, and was able to speak at length with many teachers. I also enjoyed the food (berries! bread! porridge!) and the beautiful Nordic summer sunlight.


Visiting schools gave me a fresh perspective on how different children live all around the world. For instance, the primary school students I spoke with in Finland told me that they have only four hours of school on Fridays, and that they get a LOT of recess.

I enjoyed seeing the children's artwork as well. Below are a few pictures of primary school art from the schools I visited in both Germany and Finland. I love the birch tree representations below – they bring back memories of the beautiful birches I saw in Finland. 



I took my two little girls with me on this trip, and while my schedule was really busy, we had time to take long walks.



If you have something to share about what life is like for parents and children where you live, let me know via email or a comment – I'd really love to hear from you!



Stamping and a fall giveaway

A few weeks ago I found myself totally riveted by Filth Wizardry's blog post on stamping, using plasticine to make amazing prints. I used to love stamping as a child. And who didn't? Ink, paper, and magic. I loved that breathless anticipation as I waited to see what would emerge when I lifted my hand. 

As far as crafts go, printing and stamping have that blend of stillness (as you press down and wait for the ink to set) and instantaneousness that just appeals to little kids. We spent a whole happy afternoon making many different kinds of stamps while little A. cooperatively napped. 

Do check out the link above, as well as this one from Floating Ink – I love her handcarved stamps! Have any of you carved your own stamps? I'd love to carve stamps like these someday.

Here are photos of our session. There was stamping with erasers and plasticine and wiki stix, using toothpicks, cutters, sharp pencils, and so forth to carve our designs. 







 Stamping-111(Hmm….I seem to have a thing for birds right now, don't I?! I tried them in every way – molded as well as in low and high relief.)

In the end I think that it was beeswax, (which we collect stray bits of in a jar on our windowsill) which made for the most durable stamps. 



My kids have also made prints with potatoes and lotus root at school. Lotus root was particularly beautiful. What else can you think of to stamp and print with? 

Now the fun part: a little giveaway to celebrate autumn, since it seems to finally be cooling down in Japan. 



These sweet little stamps are not handcrafted, though they do look like it. There's a little autumn-themed stationery set too. Comment below and tell me one craft you'd love to learn, to enter the giveaway. For an extra entry, join Origami Mommy on Facebook, so I can start putting blog updates on there. You can also tweet about this giveaway – just be sure to let me know. I'll pick a winner at random two weeks from now, on Friday November 5th at 8 PM EST!

Finding the time to craft

How do you all find the time to craft or indulge in other personal pursuits? That's been my challenge for the last few weeks since summer vacation started. The children are pretty used to doing their own crafts alongside me, but of course I am much more distracted than usual. I'm trying to keep my projects to small, manageable and simple things right now – dreams of dresses and other such things are put off till the fall. 

I started getting really excited about beading because I finally got a small kit of tools. I'd never realized before how accessible and easy professional-looking bead projects are to make if you just have a wire cutter, pliers, and the right little components. It is very quick, too. While I was doing it the boys were digging through all the beads themselves and looking for all sorts of treasure – they've always loved beads and beading but I never expected them to get excited about beads for "real" jewelry. 

This is one that I got started on – since it's a "floating" style necklace it is very fast; the only tricky part is making sure the beads are spaced equally apart.


While I worked on that, the boys were making their own things. B loves anything with gold in it. Daniel is into crystals.



Then I moved on to tiny sewing projects. I loved these tissue holders because they take 10 minutes, max, to make. 



They're both made of Japanese fabric. I want to get more of the polka dotted one by Lecien – I realize I don't have enough plainer fabric to use as lining when I make bags and pouches.

Speaking of which this is a bag I made yesterday. I made it very quickly because I just had to try a tote bag to see how it's done. You know? I wanted to get it out of my system. I was excited to try out the french seams mentioned on this tutorial at Sew, Mama, Sew. However, I learned that if the material I use is too heavy, it won't work well. Both the fabric and the lining were fairly thick and it was hard to make the corners as sharp as I'd like, plus I now have to handsew the top sides down because they wouldn't go through my machine.


Here's a closeup of the strap and lining. The strap is described in the Sew, Mama, Sew tutorial and I really like it. 


While I made that, the boys were seriously busy making a fleet of paper airplanes, because B had discovered a trick to make them fly far and fast. So I was sewing while paper airplanes were flying around my head! Kind of a typical moment in my life actually.



I finally finished my first needlework, about a week ago, using a Wee Wonderfuls pattern, and was waiting for some inspiring idea to come to mind about what to do with it. Frame it? put it in a hoop on the wall? Finally I decided to make a pillow out of it. Here it is and the blue is what I think I'll use for the back of the pillow. I am going to wait to finish it until I get a pillow form so I know how big to make it.


If you do needlework, what's your favorite way of showcasing it when you're done? I will add embroidery to little baby items (once I get or make little baby items!) but what do you do with larger projects? 

I also made a few baskets lately – again, to figure out how they're made. I am really happy with how this basket turned out. It's quite small and I think I will make a couple of these as gifts.


It gave me a chance to practice boxing the corners in. I also tried this basket, but it was larger, and ended up a little floppy, and handles this thin were hard. Mia loves carrying it around though. I also made the baby blocks inside but wasn't as pleased with them – it's hard to get them right with just batting, not foam blocks, which I'd rather not use. So I think I'm done making baby blocks!



One last basket photo – this one turned out okay. It was the first one I made. These handles were better, though too thick. One of these days I'll get them right! Though it shaves a lot of time off this project not to put any handles on at all.


If you want to make a basket of your own, the tutorial I used for basic reference is here.

Finally, the boys have been playing around with paper lately. We have a tiny little paper maker – just postcard sized – which Daniel really likes. I wish there were a way to make the pulp without using a blender – if anyone knows, please tell me! The original kit came with some pieces of dried pulp that kids could shake in a bottle with some water and marbles (to help agitate them). Maybe I could make a big batch in the blender and then divide it up and dry it. I think Daniel would make paper more often if it didn't involve having to ask an adult to blend the pulp first.


And a final paper project – both boys enjoyed this – just watercolor paints and salt. Here's a beautiful blog, Kleas, with a link. It's a very easy project – you should give it a try!


Sushi play food tutorial


One of my favorite memories from my boys' kindergarten years in Japan was an event held every year. The oldest children in the school would work for weeks preparing all sorts of items for a huge play store. They'd make toys, fruit and vegetables, sushi, sweets and ice cream, jewelry and bags, all from recyclables. Some of the materials they used included newspaper, milk cartons, water bottles, straws, shopping bags, gift wrap, plastic wrap, cardboard, toilet paper rolls, etc. Meanwhile, the younger children in the school would make their own little shopping bags, wallets, and money, and then the store would open, the young ones would troop in, and the older ones would proudly "sell" their gorgeous little creations. This always led to weeks of exciting follow-up play in our own home. 

Making handmade items for house play or store play seems to be really popular here.  Adult make things like felt sweets.  Children make their own versions from paper and recyclables. The sushi shown here is quite easy for children to do.

First of all you will need a few of these or some other similar styrofoam packing. Here,  this is used to wrap fruit in in the grocery store. To be honest, I'm not sure if they even use this back home – if not, you can easily substitute with styrofoam peanuts, shredded paper, or even small amounts of wadded up paper towels or tissue.


Make a small cylinder using the stuffing of your choice, then wrap it with black construction paper and tape. Cut to the length you want your sushi to be. That's all there is to it! Add on bits of red maguro (tuna), green cucumber, or yellow pickles with glue and then line them up in a little container (such as take-out sushi containers). You can cut the green "grass" that comes inside take-out sushi, and then use a wadded up small piece of green construction paper as wasabi and pink paper as pickled ginger.

Children get a real kick out of play food, especially if they make it themselves. I'll be posting more tutorials for other play store items in the next few weeks.

Recent random projects

Yesterday Daniel came home from school and proudly showed me this:

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Such a happy dancing boy! I so love the joy that bursts out of children's art. This was made from a piece of recycled cardboard, around which he wrapped a piece of used, crumpled foil which he had smoothed out. On top he put a piece of substantial plastic wrap (the kind that might be used to wrap flowers or produce), taped all in place, and then made his drawing with permanent marker.  I like the way these layers, and especially the foil, give his piece texture. 

While he was making more of those, I made a few of these:

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These paper stars are so, so easy and addictive. 

I find I'm doing more papercrafts these days because I really crave the meditative zone I fall into. Like origami, these stars satisfy because they are logical and geometrical but charming and beautiful. It also helps that I can complete a batch quickly as opposed to my never-ending, languishing fabric and yarn projects. The boys like to simply make and collect these stars but Mia loves to steal them and feed them to her dollies.

Mia's latest crafting endeavors mostly consist of drawing on random bits of important papers she finds lying around the house, along with the occasional wall or piece of furniture. For her the whole world is a canvas. She's also learned how to use our craft punches, and I keep discovering random piles like this in secret little corners: 


which kind of makes up for the just-as-random but less delightful scribbles on the walls. 

Our great, big, almost-9-year-old Benjamin is serious about his work as an artist, and works slowly and methodically. He's been putting touch-ups on this mountain scene for awhile. 


What I like is how he has pulled many Japanese countryside scenes out of his memory even though we are stuck living in a city. I like to think that maybe our infrequent trips to the Japanese mountains have managed to leave imprints on his heart, and that makes me feel a little bit less sad about our Tokyo urban surroundings.

Speaking of heart, DH and I celebrated our 11th year anniversary recently. The children secretly prepared confetti and showered us with a burst of color. 


Cutting was as much fun as tossing. A sweet end to a sweet day.