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Help kids connect through art with these easy projects for summer

Create a poster using the #everythingwillbeOK hashtag.

Whew! It has been a school year for the record books.

Whether your kids were at home all year and logging into school virtually or going to school in person but with following new rules, wearing masks and not seeing all their friends, it was a lot, emotionally.

Art can be one way people of all ages can try to make sense of the world. 

"You're tapping into feelings and emotions that you might not be able express," says Sarah Rinner, chief program officer at Creative Action, an Austin-based nonprofit that brings art into after-school programs, including virtually during the pandemic. "You can embrace what is happening." 

By doing things like making music, playing with puppets and drawing pictures, parents can learn what kids are struggling with — listening to the stories they tell with those puppets, the songs they sing, the drawings they draw. 

Parents can ask them to draw pictures of the color they are feeling: "Is it a blue day?" "A red day?" "A rainbow day?"

Change the lyrics of a familiar song or create new ones about the day they are having. 

With puppets, parents and kids can act out how they are feeling, go through familiar scenarios and problem solve. Even kids who are not the most talkative might open up using a puppet they are controlling. 

Art doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Creative Action has been doing virtual classes using things kids have on hand. They'll hit the recycling bin to make sculpture. They'll take broken crayons and melt them on paper in the heat of the summer. They'll turn any fabric or cooking utensil into a puppet. 

Here are a few projects Creative Action recommends to keep kids imaginative and connected this summer. While these are intended to be projects to do together, some of these definitely require adult supervision.

#everythingwillbeOK poster

It started in Italy with the children during the pandemic lockdown hanging artwork from their balconies with the words "tutto andrá bene" — "everything will be OK." 

Create a poster with these words and hang it somewhere for others to see. You can draw your inspiration or create a collage. 

— Creative Action

Rainbow crystal ribbons

What you need:

  • 6 tablespoons Borax cleaner
  • 2 cups water
  • Colorful pipe cleaners
  • A wide craft stick or tongue depressor
  • A glass jar or vase

Directions: Arrange the pipe cleaners in a pattern you like and so they are flush against one another. Place the wide stick crosswise against the edge of the pipe cleaners and fold them over the stick. Make sure they are firmly folded. 

Move the cleaners to create a wavy shape, keeping the end still attached to the stick. 

Heat 2 cups of water in a teapot or the microwave. The hotter, the better (but be safe).

Pour the water into the jar. Add the Borax and stir. Adjust the amount of Borax if not all the water will fit in your jar.

Put the pipe cleaners into the jar, resting the stick across the top to hang the pipe cleaners into the Borax water. 

Once the Borax soaks into the pipe cleaners, the crystals will begin to form. With patience, it will look like rock candy. 

Pull the ribbon from the jar and cut off the stick for a cool crystal ribbon. 

— Creative Action 

Using these supplies, you can create a ribbon of crystals.

Conversation jar

What you need:

  • Clean jar with a lid
  • Stickers and decorations
  • Paper
  • Printer or marker or pen

Directions: First, decorate your jar any way you want. Print out questions found at creativeaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/4C-Conversation-Jar.pdf or create your own. 

Cut out each question and roll them or fold them up. Put them into the jar.

Shake up the jar. Then ask your family members to pull out a question and answer it. 

— Creative Action

A conversation jar can start kids talking about all kinds of things. Each piece of paper has a different question.

Homemade watercolors

What you need:

  • 4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Food coloring
  • Muffin tin or ice cube tray
  • Toothpicks or craft sticks (for stirring)

Directions: In a large measuring cup, mix the baking soda and vinegar together. Once the fizzing stops, add corn syrup and cornstarch. Mix well until the cornstarch is dissolved. 

Pour into a muffin tin or ice cube tray. If it becomes solid, stir it. 

Now mix in food coloring with a toothpick or craft stick. 

Set your paints in aside until they harden, which could take a few days. 

To paint, just grab a paint brush and a cup of water and your paints.

— Happy Hooligans

Homemade watercolors are easy to make in an ice cube tray.

Craft stick puzzle

What you need:

  • 4-inch-by-6-inch photo, artwork or magazine cutout
  • 16 4-1/2-inch-by-3/8-inch craft sticks
  • White glue
  • Tape
  • Sharp knife such as an X-Acto
  • Cutting mat

Directions: Lay the craft sticks (aka Popsicle sticks) side by side on top of the picture you want to use. 

Use two straight edges to make sure the sticks are lined up and close together. Replace any sticks that are wobbly with ones that are more straight.

Lay tape across the craft sticks to keep them together. Flip it over and spread glue all over the craft sticks. 

Slowly lay your photo on top of the glue and firmly press down the photo using another stick. Wipe away any glue that comes out. 

Let it dry a few hours.

Lay the sticks picture side down on a cutting map. Remove the tape.

With a knife, cleanly cut between each stick. (This is a job for the adults.)

Separate each stick and shuffle them for another person to put the picture together. 

— Skip to my Lou

Create a puzzle using a child's drawing glued to craft sticks. When cut to separate it, the sticks become a piece of the puzzle.

Painting with nature

What you need:

  • Paint
  • Natural objects

Directions: Go out in the yard and collect rocks, leaves, sticks, etc. Then put paint on the objects you find. Press the painted side into a piece of paper to create a print, or move the pieces of nature around as your brush to create a painting with texture. 

— Creative Action

Create prints by painting one side of a leaf and then pressing it into a piece of paper.

DIY garden rocks

What you need:

  • Rocks
  • Acrylic paint
  • Varnish

Collect your rocks. Clear any debris away.

Using bright colors, paint your rock, cleaning your brush between colors. 

Let them dry. Finish with a coat of varnish — using adult supervision — to have it last longer. 

— Creative Action

Using different shaped rocks, acrylic paint and brushes, you can create fun rocks that you can leave in neighbors' yards.

DIY recycled bird feeder

Suggested materials:

  • String or twine
  • Cardboard, such as boxes and paper tubes, etc.
  • Scissors or a sharp knife
  • Glue or clear tape
  • Birdseed
  • A stick at least ½ inch in diameter
  • Paper and coloring materials
  • Hot glue to reinforce it

Directions: Design your bird feeder any way you want it, as long as you have a flat surface for birds to perch and grab seed. Tie a string around it and then attach it to a tree. 

— Creative Action

Turn anything you can find in the recycling bin into a bird feeder by adding birdseed to a container and stringing it up from a tree.