Ideabox: Seeds

"Tangle" by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps.  Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

“Tangle” by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps. Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

We’re down to the last days of seed-pods before winter settles in and gets comfortable in our neighborhood, but if you’ve got a pocket full of acorns from your last nature walk, this post is for you.  Since we’re on quite a tree-kick here at the Art & Nature Center, I’m focusing on tree-seeds for this Ideabox:.  However, if you have great seed-based activities for other kinds of plants, please do share them in the comments below!

ideabox seeds

Visual Art

Seeds in homemade paper, seeds glued to burlap for a plant-able ‘mosaic,’ seeds preserved like jewels in resin (See more of Beth Galston’s works)–there are a lot of cool options for making art with seeds!  My favorite is below:

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it's in Dutch!)

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it’s in Dutch!)

Science

Take a sock-walk!  Collect seeds from trees (and other plants) by putting an old fuzzy pair of socks on *over* your walking/hiking shoes.  Head to the nearest green space/meadow/park/forest preserve/backyard/hiking trail and see what you pick up from the sides of the trail.  Pair this with a seed identification book and see how many species you collected.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch.  Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch. Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Plant a tree!  Fruit trees are a great option for trying some sprouting experiments, because it’s easy for kids to relate to them.  Here are a few sets of recommendations for sprouting trees from your lunchtime leftovers:
Apples
Peaches
Lemons
Cherries

Math

Combine some hands-on, soil-on botany with math by measuring, tracking, and graphing your seed-germination experiments!  What percent of seeds planted sprouted?  What is the average sprout height after two weeks’ growth?  If you give each plant pot a half-cup of water (or considerably less, depending on the size of your pot!) how much water is that in milliliters?

Literature & Dramatic Arts

There are lots of good stories out there about famous tree-planters (Wangari Maathai, Johnny Appleseed, etc.) but here are a few other ideas for talking about tree seeds through literature and dramatic interpretations:

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme!  This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum.  Click for source.

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme! This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum. Click for source.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Click for Powell's link.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book by Jerry Pallotta about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Very fun for drawing those animal/plant connections or as an intro to taking a seed-walk.  Click for Powell’s link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring.  Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler.  Click for Powell's link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring. Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler, could be fun as a kick-off to a seed-collecting expedition. Click for Powell’s link.

seeds - up close

Beautiful photography of tree elements, including amazing seed images of sorts familiar to a New England audience in several stages of development. By Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. Click for Powell’s link.

What did I miss?  Share your favorite seed activities, stories, and more in the comments below, or explore other tree-related posts.

You may also like:

Ideabox: Bark
Ideabox: Leaves
Ideabox: Twigs
Trees in the News

Throwback Thursday: Fair-Weather Forts and other Sunshine Notions

It’s Throwback Thursday, and a beautiful day outside, so grab your recycling bin full of last week’s newspapers and a roll of tape and build yourself a backyard fort! (Just don’t use it to hang your child’s playpen out the window…)

Brain Popcorn

It’s warming up, it’s almost school vacation week here in Massachusetts, and as the leaves are starting to unfurl I thought I’d offer up some paper-craft options for fresh-air fun.

That’s an idea whose time has fortunately gone by, but if you’ve got that spring-air fever, may I recommend a fair-weather fort made of newspaper?

Indulge your architectural side and build a geodesic dome out of rolled newspaper struts.  (Alternate directions also available here.)  This is a great activity in small scale or large — I’ve done it with visitors both ways, and it’s always a big hit.  Just typing this makes me want to build one in my backyard.  There’s some fun inspirational architecture-via-recyclables here: Amazing Recycled Architecture.

And while you’re into the newspaper-folding mode, and out in the backyard, try out a six-sided kite or these neat biodegradable newspaper seed-starter  pots. Or make yourself…

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Ideabox: Twigs

It seems like Spring’s only just decided to stay, but at the museum we’re already looking towards the fall and the September opening of Branching Out, Trees as Art.  I’ve been gleefully anticipating this show for a while now, and it’s finally getting close enough to start telling you about it!

ideabox twigs

As we’ve been investigating artists who work with assorted tree materials in surprising ways, I’ve come across some fun interdisciplinary ideas for exploring trees (especially twigs) in and out of the classroom.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Science

Winter twig study – Indoor and outdoor ways to explore what trees are ‘up to’ in winter

Identifying parts of a tree (foldable) – A good way to practice scientific drawing and make an interactive vocabulary flashcard, from the Inspired Classroom blog.

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

A magnifying glass or dissecting scope will only get you so far, but check out these amazing photos of slivers of branches thin enough to distinguish the layers of cells:

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Math

Twig math?  Really?  Yes, really.  Check out this astonishing set of directions on how to make Skewer Hyperboloids – and then try it with twigs of the same approximate size!

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Literature & Drama

From "Not a Stick" by Antoinette Portis

From “Not a Stick” by Antoinette Portis

Paeans to imagination are always a hit in my book, and Not a Stick is a  great option for dramatic play as well.  Round up a few helpers and one of the world’s simplest props to act out the scenes imagined in Not a Stick, then challenge your audience to do the same with some other every day material–blankets? Paper plates? Cardboard tubes?  See what other suggestions they come up with for imaginative play.

 Book buying options for Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis0
Pinterest collection for Not a Box/Not a Stick activities

Art

twig painting

Twig or branch, individual or collaborative, painting can bring out natural bark patterns, and encourage close looking at details like knots and buds

A few weeks ago during the Mass Poetry Festival, we had a guest calligrapher, Elissa Barr, who demonstrated brushwork with a variety of natural materials as well as traditional ones.  One of my favorites was using a pine twig with needles still on as a great variegated brush.

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

A Posey of Printmaking Possibilities

It’s horrendous and snowy and rainy and just overall gross outside today, which makes me dream of bouquets of spring flowers, and also makes me want to stomp things.  Put those two impulses together, and you get a handful of colorful ideas for making prints with unusual materials that I’ve been collecting for the past few months, just waiting for an excuse to try out!

Printing with Natural Materials

Using a tree cookie as a pattern: like woodblock, but less carving required! Click for source.

Using a tree cookie as a pattern: like woodblock, but less carving required! Click for source.

Printing with celery and other vegetables. Pinecones don't work as well as you'd think, based on my previous efforts, but starfruit are great!  Click for source.

Printing with celery and other vegetables. Pinecones don’t work as well as you’d think, based on my previous efforts, but starfruit are great! Click for source.

Printing with Recycled Materials

Cardboard tubes are one of the most useful things ever.  I bet it would be fun to squish them and make different shapes to print as well. Click for source.

Cardboard tubes are one of the most useful things ever. I bet it would be fun to squish them and make different shapes to print as well. Click for source.

There are entirely too many plastic bags under my sink.  This seems like a genius way to give them some bright new life.  Click for source.

There are entirely too many plastic bags under my sink. This seems like a genius way to give them some bright new life. Click for source.

Probably my favorite of the lot--surprisingly pretty and definitely helping with my wintry mix grumpiness. Click for source.

Probably my favorite of the lot–surprisingly pretty and definitely helping with my wintry mix grumpiness. Click for source.

Printing with Surprising Materials

Definitely click through for this one: they made a lego print Millenium Falcon!  Click for source.

Definitely click through for this one: they made a lego print Millenium Falcon! Click for source.

This one has all kinds of possibilities based on how you mix the paint and how much you 'squish' the balloon in printing.  I love the element of chance involved! Click for source.

This one has all kinds of possibilities based on how you mix the paint and how much you ‘squish’ the balloon in printing. I love the element of chance involved! Click for source.

Negative Prints

Looks surprisingly sharp for rolling paint over a pan of jello.  I like the way the give of the substrate means you get nice even pressure.  Click for source.

Looks surprisingly sharp for rolling paint over a pan of jello. I like the way the give of the substrate means you get nice even pressure. Click for source.

For a softer look, using liquid watercolors in a spray bottle works great.  Seems like a 'let's do this outside!' activity if you don't want to have to do a lot of clean up, though! Click for source.

For a softer look, using liquid watercolors in a spray bottle works great. Seems like a ‘let’s do this outside!’ activity if you don’t want to have to do a lot of clean up, though! Click for source.

 

Inspiration from the Greats: Women Artists

Representation matters, and if you too noticed that all the artists mentioned in my previous post were guys, I am here to fix that with a round up of fun activities inspired by some great women artists.  If you know of other fun activities inspired by female artists that belong in this list, let me know!

Kahlo

Over at Mommy Maestra they’ve collected a bunch of possibilities for exploring Frida Kahlo’s work at different age levels (though mostly younger).  I was especially glad to see a  number of great books recommended!

Photo of Frida Kahlo.  Click for source link

Photo of Frida Kahlo. Click for source link

And in honor of the lady’s signature hairstyle, a fun set of directions on how to make a Kahlo-inspired floral headband.

O’Keefe

There are a couple of useful links at Practical Pages, part of a long list of artist resources, in fact.  The two stand-out activities for O’Keefe feature setting up a still life inspired by her Skull & Roses painting, and using a computer-assist to emulate O’Keefe’s ‘zoomed in flowers’ style.  I personally think you could skip the computer step and instead experiment with a variety of magnification tools instead.  I’m a fan of the loupe style that means one can work hands-free (like the Private Eye style) — or a big tripod magnifier.  That way you can work in some math and science with thinking about scale and identifying flower parts.

Computer-zoom and 'pencil sketch' filter + watercolors

Computer-zoom and ‘pencil sketch’ filter + watercolors

And be sure to hop over to Grant Snider’s blog, “Who Needs Art?” to check out his beautiful webcomic about visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

Cassatt

Lots of the ideas I found for Mary Cassatt focused on process and on content (the importance of connection between the people in her paintings) as opposed to signature style.  Check out the directions for a cute pastel drawing activity, or these mixed media works inspired by Children Playing on the Beach.

Child's pastel drawing inspired by Mary Cassatt.  Click for source

Child’s pastel drawing inspired by Mary Cassatt. Click for source

Morisot

Over on Practical Pages again, there are a few fun explorations of Morisot’s paintings.  The author relies more than I would on using traced outlines of actual paintings by the artist–but trying to pencil in the right proportions when copying a Sargent watercolor nearly defeated me last week, so I’m not going to object too strenuously.   I will, however, say that philosophically, I think sketching/doing one’s own line work is better in the long run for exploring the creative process.

That said, the blogger and her daughters made some amazing collages inspired by Morisot’s “The Cradle,” each turning out differently despite using the same line art to begin.

Collage inspired by The Cradle. Click for source.

Collage inspired by The Cradle. Click for source.

She also has a painting activity inspired by “The Butterfly Catchers,” which just begs for a unit done outside, with butterfly nets and a combined art/science observation lesson.

Finally, just as a new year reminder, Brain Popcorn also exists in a (less formal, more frequently updated) tumblr version, with bonus occasional posts about politics, geekery, and women’s issues to intermingle among the museum and education posts.  Drop by to say ‘hi!’

Dinosaurs, Art Photography, and…Toddlers?

Though you’d never know it from my last several posts, there are actually numerous cool and exciting things happening at the Peabody Essex Museum which are not related to Eye Spy.  However, since the Art & Nature Center is all about things interdisciplinary, we are frequently invited to come play in other departments’ sandboxes.

One great example was yesterday’s program planned by our Family Programs staff– “Dinosaurs at the Museum.”  Capitalizing on young folks’ interest in all things dinosaur, this program tied in to the current photography show on exhibit, Imprints: Photographs by Mark Ruwedel.

Klondike Bluffs Trail Site, #15 1999; Mark Ruwedel; Gelatin Silver Print; Collection of the artist, courtesy Gallery Luisotti (Santa Monica, CA)

A screening of the cartoon classic Land Before Time kicked off the morning, followed by make-your-own dinosaur feet (which tie on over your shoes, adorable!).  The program finished up with a trip upstairs to Imprints to see the very cool photographs, and yours truly in a pith helmet, hanging out with a pair of real dinosaur footprints in stone (three-toed carnivorous, 215 million years old), and a fossilized dinosaur tooth, both from PEM’s natural history collections.

The dinosaur tooth was my favorite story of the day: donated to the museum in a ladies’ scissors box from the  1800’s, it had with it a calling card and a sketch of a model from Harvard’s museum of natural history, back when it was called Agassiz Hall.  Interestingly, the card claimed it was a phytosaur tooth, but the sketch also identified it as belonging to a desmatosuchus.

Sketches from one of the fossil's owners which was donated with the probable-phytosaur tooth.

When my research on phytosaurs turned up nothing that looked like a desmatosuchus, I dug a little deeper to find out that while both are ‘archosaurs’ — precursors to the dinosaurs and looking rather like crocodiles — desmatosuchus was a plant eater and phytosaur a carnivore. I then got to present all the clues to our smallish (and even tallish) visitors and ask them which dino *they* thought our mystery tooth belonged to.  Great fun all around, and at least three short visitors, two of them girls, informed me that when they grew up they were going to find out for sure.  It made me smile (and think about the book Boy Were We Wrong about Dinosaurs, a fun read).

What did we decide about our mystery tooth, after all that?  Given the pointy nature of PEM’s mystery fossil, I’m throwing in my vote that our tooth once graced the mouth of a phytosaur, and the majority of yesterday’s visitors agreed with me…but I’d be happy for an actual paleontologist to come by and prove me wrong.

And so today I offer you some more ways to share the dinosaur-joy.

The World of Dinosaurs

National Geographic: Prehistoric World — Want to know what’s new in the world of dinosaurs and their neighbors?  Great articles, artistic reconstructions, and meaty issues here.

Jurassic Gardens — Create a terrarium populated with your favorite model dinos!

  • Useful list of supplies and possible plants from National Geographic here.
  • Inspiration for an outside dinosaur garden at Lucy’s Garden here.
  • Go organic with some of the other plant and compost suggestions from Organic Flower Gardening with Kids here.
Dinosaur fossil art created with the 'glue-resist' technique.  Credit to Gail Bartel. See link below.

Dinosaur fossil art created with the 'glue-resist' technique. Credit to Gail Bartel. See link below.

Fossils!

  • Making fossil-impressions with salt dough and coffee grounds from Kaboose here.
  • Pteranodons and T-Rex skulls from milk bottles directions here.
  • Glue-resist dino bones art directions  here.

Dinos Walking

  • See Sue run!  Make your own T-Rex flipbook, downloadable from the Field Museum here.
  • Songs and Fingerplays from AtoZkidsstuff.
  • Origami Dinosaurs, from simple to complex, with information about their species, here.

Light, Shadow, and Trees

It’s been blinking hot, which means that everyone I know has been in search of and grateful for even a tiny scrap of shade when forced to be outside the last few days.

One of the things I love about shade on a sunny day is looking up through the leaves to see the patterns and variations of green that you get from the overlapping leaves.

Photo credit to chamberlain_tim

One of the artists featured in Eye Spy clearly feels the same way.  Mary Temple is an artist who works primarily with concepts of light and shadow — tree shadows falling on buildings, through windows, across floors, etc. Many of her works are either photocollage or painted to the sharpness of a black-and-white photograph, but one of my absolute favorites of hers is neither.

Corner Light (Grape Arbor), 2006 by Mary Temple

In Corner Light (Grape Arbor), the image you see is actually part of the paper–sections of it have been washed or scratched away to create a translucent window within the paper which the light then shines through.  Though this piece is a lot less in-your-face whiz-bang-wow than a lot of the works in Eye Spy, in the early mornings when the Art & Nature Center is quiet it’s one of my favorite pieces to just savor for a little while.

If you’d like to make your own light garden piece, try out my Layered Light Quilts activity.  It’s creation by addition instead of subtraction to make it easier for kids and also easier to find the supplies–but if you hang one in your window you’ll get some of that same dappled-leaf glow.

Download the pdf directions here:  Layered Light Quilts directions

Raise (detail) from the series "Light Installations, 2002-present", 2008 by Mary Temple at Western Bridge, Seattle WA