Amazing Space

amazing spaceThis summer, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art  to do a program in their lovely, lovely Art Studio. The program was a version of the Cars and Trucks and Things that Go event we had at my library last spring.

Located in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Carle Museum was founded in 2002 by Eric and Barbara Carle. The museum was created to honor picture books, both as works of art and for their educational value. The Carle’s heartfelt mission is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books. The museum has an international collection of picture books and picture book illustrations, beautiful exhibition galleries, scores of educational workshops, public programs, a bookstore, and a library.

It also has an amazing, hands-on, all-ages Art Studio.

The first thing you notice when you enter the studio is that one wall consists entirely of windows, flooding the space with beautiful, natural light. The ceilings are very high, giving the room an open, airy feeling.

studio 1The studio seamlessly combines areas for artists of all ages. For very young children, there’s this area with a low table. On the day I visited, it was stocked with paper, crayons, and interesting objects to trace. Learning toys were heaped in big, bright containers on a comfy rug.

toddler artOn another wall of the studio is this fun activity panel at toddler height.

activity panelNearby is a light table with transparent color shapes to discover and arrange!

light tableScores of studio tables, chairs, and art supplies stand ready for you to embark on artistic adventures. There’s always a project (or two) for you to try.

studiostudio 2windowsHigh above are colorful mobiles. Here’s my favorite:

mobilesScattered here and there are clever book displays to reinforce art and literacy connections. I was especially drawn to this one. The stuffed duck! The bright blue eggs!

duckAt the far end of the studio is a well-stocked resource library (the museum also has a reading and research library in a different area of the building). Awesome textured artwork on the wall, yes? Don’t you just want to pet it?

resource shelvesIn the center of the studio are cabinets. The storage, oh the storage! Tons of counter space. Three sinks! My crafting heart goes pitter pat, pitter pat! On the top right of the cabinets are the adorable animal creations that started off this post (I especially love the elephant with the milk lid feet).

cabinets and sinks And while we’re on the subject of storage, may I draw your attention to this devilishly clever use of a low table? Not only does it offer another layer of table space, it allows even the smallest child an opportunity to browse the art materials. Practical and thoughtful!

clever little tableHere’s the low table all loaded up for the Cars & Trucks program (and there was still room for storage boxes underneath). I’m totally going to do this at my next event!

art supply tableAs you can imagine, Mr. Frumble and I had a fantastic time at the Cars & Trucks program. You can read about it (and see fantastic photos) here! A huge shout out to Meghan Burch, Guided Art Programs Educator, for welcoming Cotsen and making the program possible. Another big thank you to Studio interns Hannah Pancione and Beth Caronna for their enthusiastic energy and mad car creating skills! It was an amazing day in an amazing space.

mr frumble at the carleThe Carle Art Studio has a fantastic blog if you’re looking for hands-on ideas, programs, or if you just want to be blown away by their creativity. I especially enjoyed this post on mixing art and science. You should also check out their snow stencils, handmade paint brushes from natural materials, magazine paper tree, window art color wheel, super cool pasta machine printing press, and decorative post-it wall that doubles as a written memory project!

In addition to making a delightful, creative mess in the Carle’s Art Studio this summer, the Cotsen Children’s Library is a recipient of a 2015 Carle Honor!  For more information, and to see the other honorees, please click here.

You’ve Got Mail

you've got mailWaiting for that special letter from a special pal? Wait no more! We made hats and mailbags, and then headed to the post office to collect and deliver. When the job was finished, there was a lovely letter (and Seuss stamps) at the counter, just for you!

letter and stampsWe read A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion Books, 2014). Leo the mailman (or technically speaking, the mailanimal) is always busy delivering boxes, letters and packages to the friendly citizens of his town. Sadly, however, Leo has never received a letter himself! One day, he rescues a lost baby bird named Cheep. As time passes, the two friends become a little family. But when spring arrives, Cheep needs to rejoin to his flock. They bid each other a tearful farewell, and Cheep flies away. Leo returns to his regular rounds, but life doesn’t feel the same anymore. Then, one day, Leo receives a letter from…guess who? A little birdie with a big heart! This is a warm and beautiful book, and, if you really want to choke up, check out the final illustration!

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of blue poster board (approximately 3.25″ x 22″)
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board for hat brim (approximately 4.5″ x 7″)
  • 1 hat brim template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board (approximately 7″ x 9″ )
  • 1 strip of red poster board (approximately 1″ x 22″)
  • 1 manila folder
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Hole punch
  • 1 piece of ribbon (approximately 41″)
  • 1 small envelope (mine was 4.75″ x 6.5″)
  • 1 letter template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white printer paper
  • 1 strip of stickers to use as “stamps” (optional)
  • 1 post office and post office game (more on that later!)
  • Pencil, scissors, stapler, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished mail hatBegin with the hat! Circle a 3″ x 22″ strip of blue poster board around your head, and staple it closed. Print and cut the hat brim template, then trace the template onto a square of blue poster board. You’ll notice that there are three dotted lines on the template. Keeping the template on top of the poster board, cut along the dotted lines. You now have 4 tabs in the hat brim like so:

hat brim step 1Set the hat circle on top of the brim. The edge of the hat circle should just cover the bottom of the hat brim tabs. Soft-fold fold the tabs upwards, creating a soft crease on each tab.

hat brim step 2Remove the brim from the hat circle, and hard-fold the tabs along the creases.

hat brim step 3Return the brim to the underside of the hat circle, and fold and tape the tabs inside the hat.This will bend the hat circle into more of an oval, but that’s totally OK! I found that it was easier to tape the brim with the hat flipped upside down like this:

hat brim step 4Now place the top of the hat circle on a rectangle of blue poster board. Use a pencil to trace its perimeter onto the poster board.

top of hatCut out the oval, and tape it to the top of the hat. Finish by taping a red poster board strip around the hat as a hat band!

finished mail hatTo make the mailbag, cut a manila folder until it is approximately 8.5″ x 10.5″ Staple the sides together (but not the top of course) and used colored masking tape to cover the staples. Decorate with markers if desired. Punch a set of holes at the top, and knot a ribbon through each hole to create the strap. You’re ready for your rounds!

mailbagWe had a huge cardboard box just begging to be made into a post office. Katie took the lead on this one and I must say, she totally surpassed herself. Look at that sturdy counter! The fancy tiled roof! The red border!

post officeWe also made 5 mailboxes with 5 matching letters or packages. Mainly, we used wrapping paper tubes, oatmeal containers, craft boxes, patterned paper, construction paper, and some items from the Bling Bin.

green mailboxyellow mailboxorange mailboxred mailboxblue mailboxThen we whipped up some mail route cards. Each card was labeled “Deliver” or “Collect”  and color-coded to a particular mailbox and piece of mail. The game began with a Deliver card. A kid came to the post office, picked up a Deliver card, and put the 5 pieces of mail in his/her mailbag. Then, following the color-coding on the card, he/she delivered the mail to the correct mailboxes.

delivery card and mailboxWhen the job was done, he/she returned to the post office to find that a letter had arrived for him/her, as well as a set of “stamps” (i.e. spare stickers I had in the art cabinet)! The letter replicates the sweet message Cheep wrote to Leo (such a wonderful book). Ten bonus points if you noticed that I put the letters in purple envelopes, completing the rainbow created by the 5 mailboxes. Heh heh.

letter and stampsAnd thus, the mail was delivered. Next, another kid came to the post office and received a Collect card. He/She had to travel to all the boxes, collect the mail in his/her bag, and return it to the post office. Then the whole process started again with another kid and a Deliver card.

Color matching? Logic? Sequential thinking? It sounds awesome doesn’t it?

Well, I’ve promised to report the good, the bad, and the ugly on this blog, and therefore I must report that we had a complete activity fail. There were 2 dozen kids at story time that day. They loved the activity, but it…took…way…too…long. In the beginning, blazing with optimism, I positioned the 5 mailboxes around the gallery so kids could walk to them.

trip to red mailboxWell, walking took some time. So did figuring out the color coding. So did opening the little mailbox doors and adding or removing the mail. So did stuffing the mail in the mailbag. So did removing the mail from the mailbag.

As the clock ticked waaaay past the end of story time, I had to make some on-the-fly adjustments. I squished all the mailboxes together. I asked the kids to leave their mail bags at the post office and carry the mail in their hands. I opened the doors of the mailboxes to allow for quicker stuffing and removal. It still took ages.

lined up boxesIf I was to do this over again, I would still have 5 mailboxes and 5 matching pieces of mail. But I would have each kid deliver or collect just 1 piece of matching mail, not all 5. That way, you could have 5 kids out on route at a time, which would move things right along. Ah well. The good news is that everyone (finally) got a turn, everyone got some stamps, and everyone received a lovely letter.

cute mail bagBy the way, you don’t have to make a fancy post office or mailboxes to play the mail game. A tabletop will do just as nicely as a post office. A couple of shoe boxes wrapped in colored paper make great mailboxes. You can even skip the mail boxes and deliver the mail directly to your favorite stuffed animal friends!

Pick a Card

pick a cardA few weeks ago, I shared this fabulous hands-on education activity from Monticello. Today, I’d like to share another educational gem, this one from the Princeton University Art Museum.

Every spring, the Art Museum hosts a free Family Day for the community. It’s packed with activities, performances, refreshments, and a scavenger hunt. This year’s scavenger hunt involved one of the niftiest little card decks I’ve ever seen. The cards are the brainchild of Brice Batchelor-Hall, Manager of Student & Community Outreach.

Each card in the 30-card deck features a piece of art from the museum’s collections. During the scavenger hunt, kids used the cards to locate specific pieces of artwork in the galleries. Every time a kid correctly identified an artwork, a museum volunteer would reward him/her with a duplicate card.

matched cards

Later (and this is my favorite part), the two sets of cards could be used to play the game, Memory! But instead of matching two red apples, you’re matching two Masks of the Oculate Being. Or two slender vases with wisteria design by Gotō Seizaburō.

memory gameThe cards came in a stylish little clam shell carrying case too. Nice!


What a great way to introduce kids to art and simultaneously familiarize them with museum collections, connect them with volunteers, AND provide an opportunity for further fun at home. Not to mention the decks are super stylish (design credit goes to the talented Lehze Flax) and completely transportable. They can nestle in a purse or backpack, ready to pop out when your children need a quick diversion. But how many diversions also open the door to discussions about art, history, design, color, line, creativity, and a whole host of other concepts? Perfect. Simply perfect.

If you wanted to get literary with it, how about a deck of famous book characters? Historic writing implements? Iconic objects in your public library? Ooo! All the foreign edition covers of the first Harry Potter book!

All objects shown are from the collections of the Princeton University Art Museum. Photographs are by Bruce M. White and are ©Trustees of Princeton University. Many thanks to the University Art Museum for letting us share!