Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

I got a FB message the other day from a long-distance friend. Her message?

“Help! I know you are a published author and I need ideas for how to get my son interested in creative writing. Do you use a curriculum? I want him to enjoy writing but I don’t know how to do that. I’m not a writer!”

I responded immediately, with idea after idea for sharing the gift of writing with her son. And it got me thinking—how many times do I hear this in person? (A LOT) How many other parents might be wondering the same thing? (Probably a few)

So I thought I’d share some of the things I do to nurture creative writing with my children.

  • For computer-savvy kids, Miss Literati is a great web site for aspiring authors to hone their writing skills. Kids sign up for a free account and post stories to the web site for others to read. My teenage daughter spends hours on this site, writing stories and reading others. What started as a hobby has become a true passion for her. She has hundreds of people “subscribed” to her stories and has really been able to polish her writing skills (including grammar and spelling) by being so actively involved on the site.
  • Another Internet-based program is NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. As a former participant in the adult program, I was delighted to see them roll out a program specifically for kids. The challenge takes place in November but their free PDF workbooks are available all year long and have fantastic resources for helping kids develop characters, identify tone, set scenes, work on dialogue, etc. As an added bonus, kids who participate in the November challenge and meet their goal can submit their finished novel to CreateSpace for 5 free paperback copies! How cool is that?? (and check out their new Camp NaNoWriMo this August!)

If your kids are younger, or just not interested in computer-based writing, here are a couple other ideas we’ve used to keep our creative juices flowing:

  • Story-in-the-round. This needs, at minimum, two people but more works, too! One person begins a story. “I went for a walk in the woods and found a…” They stop and the next person continues the story. “…pair of purple sunglasses. I put them on and…” And so on. “…continued walking. Suddenly, a voice behind me screamed…” Participants can do this strictly orally or it can be written down as you go, so you can read it back afterwards. There are always lots of giggles when we do this and I’m always surprised at the direction our stories go! (For an older tween or teen, try emailing or texting your story-in-the-round…those are great fun, too!)
  • A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. Sit your kids down with magazines and scissors and have them cut out interesting pictures. They can be landscape images, people – whatever they desire. Put them all in a paper bag labeled “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.” Then, when you’re looking for writing prompts, have your kids each pull out a picture and write. We do this as a family activity and I love seeing the stories my kids come up with! Even the 6 year-old participates; she dictates her story and I write it down for her. Another fun twist: choose one picture and have everyone write their version of the story behind the picture. The differences will amaze you!
  • Read. What does reading have to do with writing? Everything! Reading opens up those windows—in your mind and in your soul—and allows kids to immerse themselves in new worlds, surrounded by new friends. Read together and read often. If you have older kids, read what they’re reading. Talk about the plots, the characters, the themes. Encourage “What if?” conversations. And then take it a step further and have your kids write about those “What Ifs.” Fan fiction (writing stories based on published books) is a great way to get kids—especially reluctant writers—to write. The characters are there, the story has started…they just get to take it one step further!

Sparking creativity and encouraging writing doesn’t have to be mundane…and you don’t have to be a writer yourself to facilitate it. Creative writing can be fun and inspiring—for both you and your kids.

I’d love to hear what others do — please feel free to comment

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Turkey Time Art Projects

Looking for some fun art projects to usher in Thanksgiving week?  Here are a couple of gems my kids have enjoyed.

Scratch Art Turkey

Art Projects For Kids provides a wealth of fun art activities and this project has been a tradition in our house the last couple of years. Even the youngest artists can enjoy this take on the popular scratch art activities.  Kids print a template of a turkey and color it with oil pastels.  Using a black oil pastel crayon, color the entire surface of the coloring page.  Then, grab a toothpick and scratch away!  Kids can experiment with different lines (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, etc.) to create texture.




Turkey Animal Drawing

Larry Weinberg, owner of Anoka’s Rum River Art Center, posted this fantastic turkey art project.  Kids can follow the tutorial to draw their very own turkey.  After creating their pencil sketch, a Sharpie can be used to darken the lines.  Kids can then use either water color pencils (shown here), watercolor paints, oil pastels, etc. to create a one-of-a-kind turkey painting for their Thanksgiving celebration.



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The forecast calls for some really hot days ahead and if you are looking at escaping into an air conditioned haven, try one of my families favorites – The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA).

I have always loved art and when we started homeschooling 6 years ago the MIA was one of the first places I took my kids. At the time my 2 sons were 6 & 7 years old. A lot of people would assume that 6 & 7 year old boys would not enjoy the MIA. But since I had so much enthusiasm for art it was hard for them not to jump on board. We have been to the MIA at least a hundred times since our first trip and each time we find something new to look at and learn from. As my children have grown the MIA has grown with them. At first they loved the swords or the period rooms then gradually that changed to historical pieces. My kids have asked to take our out of town family to the MIA when they visit, so that they can now be the guide and show off all of their favorite pieces in the institute.

Here are some ways to enjoy any art museum –

-attend free lectures and tours

-Use any of the Interactive Learning Stations found throughout the museum

-Look at a piece of art and try to “decode” it before reading anything about it.

-Take a piece apart like a detective at a crime scene.

  • What time period or geographical area is the piece depicting?
  • What was happening in that time period that would have effected the artist?
  • Why did the artist chose to include certain elements in their art? 
  • Are there clues to the time of year or mood?
  • Find contrasting/similar pieces

-As you leave the museum stop at the gift shop. Have your kids pick out a postcard with a piece of art that they would like to know more about for their next visit. They can do some research about “their” piece of art, write about it, use it to inspire them to create their own art.

Find out more information on the MIA –

Tools for teaching the arts – http://www.artsconnected.org/

MIA – http://www.artsmia.org/ (Free daily admission – closed on Mondays)

Also check out and The Walker Art Center & Sculpture Gardens – http://www.walkerart.org/

Over 70 educational activities and units are currently included on this site. The activities are organized by grade and by subject. http://www.walkerart.org/ace/ed_activities/

Also keep in mind that in the winter your family can go sledding in the park next to the MIA. My kids particularly like to do that when they can watch the school buses fill up from field trips as those kids return back to school.


Some good sites for further information – 





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Outdoor Art

Many of us have visited the Walker Sculpture Garden and seen some fantastic public outdoor art but did you know that the Twin Cities Metro area is FULL of public art in many other places also? Just driving down the road you might see a sculpture in front of a building or in a park but we don’t always have the time to appreciate them as we drive by.
My family likes to use a few outdoor sculptures as a route for a summer walk, sit and draw the sculptures and the scenery in a place we may not have visited before. The best part of the activity is how easy it is to find the public art.
Start Seeing Art (www.startseeingart.com) is a local website dedicated to mapping Twin City public art. The site is full of pictures and various maps. You can search for a certain area, a theme of the art or type of art. If you want to see murals, you can find them. If you like art about animals it will show you where to look. If you are going to a class at Como Zoo and want to know if there is any art for you to picnic by, it will tell you where. Or you can just look through the pictures till you find something you like and click on “read more” to find out where to view that work.

Visit the site, print up a map and have a little art hunt!

Both these pictures were taken from the Start Seeing Art site by searching for “fish”.

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Art Adventure

Our Art Adventure all began with a $2 game we purchased at the Goodwill store. Every Thursday, the Maple Grove Goodwill store sells children’s clothing and games at half-price. I was surprised to find on the shelf a treasured childhood memory from Chicago, the game Masterpiece.  Masterpiece is an art auction game created by the Chicago Art Institute featuring paintings from their collection. Players learn how to buy and sell paintings to amass the most money and not to lose their fortune on a forgery. My son loved counting the money and trying to keep a poker face whenever he got dealt with a forgery. I began to tell stories about the artists and paintings in the game and soon he clamored to hear more stories.

At the public library, we checked out the “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists” book and DVD series by Mike Venezia. The Mike Venezia series blends tongue-in-cheek humor with biographical information suitable for elementary students. A prolific author, Mike Venezia also writes a U.S. presidents, musical composers and an inventors & scientists biographical series.

Anna Nilsen’s “Art Fraud Detective” books, a Carmen San Diego-style whodunnit series, honed our ability to exam a painting’s composition. We began to seek out library books featuring actual paintings as their illustrations like the Jacob Lawrence’s painting used in “Toussaint L’overture: The fight for Haiti’s freedom” by Walter Dean Myers to understand how paintings reflect history.

Flushed with our success at the public library, I submitted an application to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to be a recipient of the Picturing America Award. The NEH recognizes homeschoolers as educators and we may sign-up for their materials. The Picturing America awarded its recipients a set of 40 portrait-sized paintings along with a companion curriculum book.

This past summer was the highlight of our Art Adventure when we visited the Chicago Art Institute to seek out all of the paintings we have grown to love.  My son asked knowledgeable questions to various curators who said those magical words we love to hear, “You must be homeschoolers to know so much about Art.”

I would recommend anyone seeking their own Art Adventure to attend the Free Target Family Days offered at the Minnepolis Instititute of Arts. The next Family Day is March 13 featuring a scavenger hunt, music and crafts on the Medieval Court.

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