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on August 11, 2002
The secret of this book is that these art experiences are safe, fun and easy for toddlers but if you have older kids they will love them too. If you are a parent like me, you want to set up art projects that will be fun for all your kids. You also want projects that capture their interest and curiosity for a long time. I currently have twin 7 year olds and a 3 year old who have tried almost every project in this book. If you want to dive right into my top 10 favorite projects, here they are with comments based on our personal family experience:
Playclay - This is way better than the commercial playdough products you buy in the store. It sounds like a lot of effort to make your own, but this cooked playclay is so luxurious, wonderful and lasts for weeks. It is much better for toddlers than the store bought stuff since it is super soft and easier for tiny hands to roll, mold, and squeeze.
Waterpaint - Too easy to be true! Tips on taking a bucket of water and brushes and "painting" outdoors on a summer day.
Feelie Goop - A recipe of cornstarch and water with bizzare properties that fascinates toddlers, kids and adults alike.
First Color Mixing - This is such a favorite that I bought four ice cube trays and lots of food coloring and I bring this out often when my kids have friends over. I fill the trays with water, squeeze some red, blue and yellow in three of the compartments, and let them use pipettes (like easy eye droppers) from drip the colors together in each compartment. This is an older toddler variation from the book. Great ideas for the youngest toddlers are in the book.
Early Scissors - My kids loved cutting playclay worms with plastic scissors and cutting strips of paper as they mastered the use of scissors. There are lots of great tips on getting toddlers started safely with scissors.
Buckets of Bubbles - My kids love to play in this stuff. It is like an outdoor bubble bath.
Scribble Book - Toddlers are fascinated with books. Make tiny homemade books that are OK to scribble in. The book has lots of great variations and ideas for this simple art experience.
Foil Squeeze - Foil paper is fun to make into shapes. I recently gave all my kids one sheet of foil paper on a long drive to Yosemite and the 3 year old made bowls and the 7 year olds created Half Domes.
Tabletop Fingerpainting - Here's a great recipe for homemade fingerpaint to do right on you table! My toddlers were fascinated and used their fingers to make endless patterns.
Color Tube - This takes a lot of time to set up, but I saw a huge version at a preschool carnival and it was such a hit. I tied lots of tubes and funnels to a board with twists and turns in the tubes. My kids and their playmates loved pouring colored water to see what would happen and what end it would stream out of.
I hope you enjoy these and the other projects as much as we have and still do. One tip that would have helped me when it started out is where to get inexpensive great art materials. Ask your local daycare, preschool, or elementary school teachers for teacher supply stores near you or the teacher's catalogs they order supplies from. In my area, anyone can shop through these venues and you will find the greatest stuff. (Always buy washable markers and paints! We stained lots of toddler clothes before I decided it was cheaper to just buy the more expensive washable art materials.)
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on July 5, 2006
I love this book. I checked book after book of toddler crafts and toddler play out of the library, but most of them made me think, "hmm, anyone could have thought of that." This is not one of those books.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but this book is helping me be a better parent. There is nothing like the total absorption of an art project to help me be fully present with my daughter. Other times I might physically be with her, but my mind is at least partly elsewhere, thinking adult thoughts, worrying mostly, I suppose, but while doing these art projects, I truly am with her in the moment, and smiling and laughing more than I have in ages.

The author encourages the parent or teacher to present the art materials to the child and accept whatever way the child chooses to use them. That was a very helpful suggestion. It reminded me that there is no goal except exploration here.

The first project we did was finger- and sponge- painting. My daughter (19 months) made paintings, and I showed her that she could make prints of them by putting another piece of paper over them and pressing. I also provided her with some circular objects from around the house for printing on her art. Although it wasn't the goal, it's helping her learn her colors, and now she knows the shape "circle." The little paintings are also lovely, much freer and more asymmetric than I would do as an adult.

Yesterday, I was inspired for us to make "rubbery flubbery dough." It involves cooking salt and water on the stove and adding a cornstarch/water mixture, and then cooking some more. I didn't have enough salt, and I didn't have food coloring, either, but I had read the recipe for "feelie goop," made with jell-o, so I added a packet of sugar-free green jell-o for color and extra goopiness. Oh my gosh, the stuff was SO goopy, stretchy, sticky, green, funny, and fun. My 19-month-old daughter felt it, smeared it, stretched it, flung it, rubbed it on her dress, and wiped it on my back. (We did the whole project outside on a hot summer day so we could hose off after). My husband took a video of us, and I must say, I haven't seen a happier video of ME in a long time. Oh, my daughter liked it, too. We were so excited that we went to the discount store and bought 25 lbs of salt, a couple pounds of cornstarch, 25 lbs of flour, 4 big bottles of food coloring, and ran right home to make the "rubbery flubbery dough" properly, including coloring it and scenting it as the author suggests. I can't wait to pick my daughter up at preschool today to play with it.
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on October 10, 2004
This book is a great resource for grownup-type people who spend a lot of time with little people. In my case, they're my own kids (18-month-old twins), but daycare providers and other early childhood professionals could also put these ideas to good use. The author provides ideas for a wide range of art experiences that help very young children develop skills and learn about the world. They're realistic suggestions in that one- and two-year-olds can have success and enjoy themselves, and the author also gives tips on sufficient preparation, art clothes, and other ways that YOU can help the child(ren) succeed. I've been able to choose what activities I'm up for on a given day based on the notations about prep time, cleanup, active vs. quieter activity, etc. That said, you HAVE to expect a mess with kids this age; it's all relative. :)

It's a major challenge of my day to keep my kids entertained (i.e. not running amok) without singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" a billion times. This book has been a helpful source of ideas and, on occasion, a reality check that helped me keep my expectations in some reasonable realm.

Great book, very useful, used fairly frequently.
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on December 21, 2007
I purchased this book so I could have more fun with my daughter, about a year and a half at the time of this review, and teach her a thing or two about creativity along the way. When I first got the book and read it, I LOVED it. There were tons of homemade recipes for saving money, ideas seemed relatively simple, yet fun, directions thorough... However, when I started implementing the ideas with my toddler, I slowly changed my mind.
I see a number of problems with this book:
Homemade recipes sound wonderful. You save money, you use ingredients you already have in your pantry, and you feel like such a handy supermom, what's not to love, right? Well, wrong...
First, the recipes often call for things I definitely don't have in my pantry, I was not even sure what some things were. For instance, cream of tartar. I wrote down a list of things I needed for a project and asked 3 employees at the store for it and all of them pointed me to tartar sauce. So, I had to go home empty-handed and do research online to find out what it was and why I needed it and where I could buy it, what I can substitute it for, etc. Most of the sources online seemed to indicate that it is something that used to be big in baking, but hardly ever needed now that we have baking powder. It'd be nice if the author provided some substitutions. I ended up using baking powder and it seemed to work alright. I later accidentally found cream of tartar in the spices section of my grocery store - and I looked in baking to no avail.
Another things is that a lot of recipes (80%, I'd say) call for tempera paint... If I'm going to buy paint, why buy tempera paint and mix it with stuff to make finger paints, might just as well buy finger paints - will probably end up cheaper. Same goes for, for example, a home-made blackboard. You need to buy the tape that has that chalkboard surface or chalkboard spray paint. Well, both are rather pricey, so it is almost as cheap to buy a ready-made chalkboard easel (not to mention much less trouble). Also, some recipes call for things like "an old grater you no longer use" (because you're going to be grating a bar of soap, for example) or "a big appliance box". I don't know if it's just me, but I think my Mom still uses the same grater she had when I was a year and a half and I don't buy big-screen TVs on a monthly basis... So, I don't really have all these lying around the house, nor is it always easy/cheap to find/buy one just when you want to try a project - often it really is easier and maybe even cheaper to just buy whatever it is you were going to make (case in point - beads).
Also, many recipes call for huge amounts of flour, salt, cornstarch, and food coloring. While those aren't that expensive in and of themselves (and food coloring CAN be), they add up! 4 cups of flour here, 4 cups of flour there, with a lot of these recipes not having the same shelf life as the store-bought equivalents. So, once again, the savings are questionable, even if we don't factor in the time we have to spend preparing stuff versus buying it ready-made.
The quality of projects.
My daughter is a pretty determined and focused toddler when she wants to be, but a lot of those projects are too contemplative to really keep her attention for more than 10 seconds. For instance, exploring the sounds and textures of a piece of foil or the much-favored by many feeley goop. My daughter was done exploring the sounds and textures of foil in 5 seconds and she did not want to explore the feeley goop at all after the initial try, so how was I supposed to make her realize that it has some unique qualities? The same goes for quite a number of projects that are meant to just "explore", but I realize that it is highly individual and there might be children out there who love those projects, just be aware that it is not automatic. Perhaps some of these activities would work well in a group, where children can feed off of each other's ideas and where interaction is already exciting enough, but for one child they can be a tad on a boring side and are over too quickly to be called an "activity".
Another thing in the projects I often have issues with is their messiness. The author does do a good job of outlining how to prep the working space, but with some projects, the colors will get splashed all over the place - it's toddlers we're talking about! I can cover a relatively large portion of the floor and the whole table, but I can't cover the walls and the ceiling... Not to mention that toddlers are known to run away in the middle of a project. So, unless you have a whole room you don't mind getting dirty and where you can contain your child (porch, sunroom, child-proof play room?), some of those projects will be just too much of a risky business to attempt in a nicer room. We live in a fully-carpeted apartment, and there is no way I'll be able to clean it up nicely if my child decides to have too much fun with one of the messier projects.
Finally, I find some "cooking" directions a little too sketchy. I have never made this thing before, I don't know what it should look and feel like, I actually ruined a couple of projects because I did something too soon or too late, even though I thought I was following the instructions religiously - there went 4 cups of flour and 2 cups of salt :-). Just so you don't think I'm a complete idiot, I do bake regularly and cook quite a bit too, and while sometimes my pizza dough made from scratch does turn out a little drier than I like, it is always edible, never a complete failure.
Overall, I'd say it's a good book with good ideas. If I were a kindergarten teacher, or had 2 or more kids of different ages, I'd probably rate this book better. But as a parent of only 1 child, I'd probably ever use only 1/3 of all the ideas of the book, with 2/3 being eliminated for one or several of the reasons mentioned above, which I find rather disappointing, since I am not paying only for the ideas I'm using...
Our favorite project so far? The bread. It did not taste spectacular (although was edible), but my daughter loved messing with the flour, watching it turn to dough, playing with the dough, etc.
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on October 9, 2002
If you do not have any of MaryAnn Kohl's books, this will be a good resource for working with very young children. However if, like me, you already own several of Kohl's other books (Scribble Art, Global Art, Preschool Art, etc.) you might not need this one. I found that many of the ideas overlapped those in her other books. There was not a lot of new material here that I could not have adapted from Scribble Art (my favorite of her books, which can be adapted for all ages) or Preschool Art. The ideas in this book do allow for a lot of creative exploration, which cannot be said of a lot of other childrens' art books (many are more concerned with cute results than the child's experience). For that reason I would recommend this author's books very highly, just not necessarily this one!
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on December 6, 2006
What an excellent idea for a book! I have only used 2 of the recipes in here, the feely goop and the stretchy dough. But, my 2 year old loved both of them. They were easy to make-with things I usually have around the house. Although, I have since begun buying things that are used in some of the other recipes in here. The stretchy dough is similar to playdough-I think it's better, myself. But, the author says kids won't eat it once they have one bite because it's SOOOO salty. My daughter, however, tried to eat it several times-and said yummy after her first bite. So, to each his/her own I guess. Nevertheless a great resource for parents of the toddlers and twos set.
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VINE VOICEon February 25, 2009
I got this book for all of the obvious reasons. I haven't had a problem finding and buying ingredients, but where I have had problems is with the mixtures. For instance, "The Need to Squeeze" called for 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of salt, and 1 cup of water which you mix together then put in a squeeze bottle for the kids to squeeze out. My kids would like to squeeze all the glue out of the glue bottle (as the author notes) so I thought this would be perfect for them. The author also encourages the parent to let the kids be present for the mixing of the ingredients. So that's what I did. What I ended up with was a dough that was REALLY hard to squeeze out of a squeeze bottle (not a glue bottle with a tiny hole, either). It was hard for ME to squeeze out, let alone my 2 year old. This was a fairly easy fix as I just had to figure out what was wrong and add more and more water (somewhere between 1.5 cups to 2 cups) to make the dough more similar in consistently to glue than playdough (as it started out). Then my 2 year old was able to squeeze it out to her heart's content.

Unfortunately, that's not the only example of inaccurate mixing ratios or time expectations. For instance, my experience with plaster of paris is that it takes closer to 10 minutes to harden than 2 minutes - and even I got bored with "Sculpture in a Bag" before then, and I like to think my attention span is a bit longer than my 2 year old's. I won't even dwell on the flimsy sandwich bags (recommended by the author) that broke or the "sculpture" that fell apart when trying to remove it.

I've had to make several correcting notes in the book. I'm finally understanding that I need to practice new activities before I start them with my toddler. Set up is often a significant part of the activity, and when you're encouraging your toddler to help you so that you can do something fun, and then you have to start over because it didn't turn out right, and it takes twice as long to get to the "start," my toddler's attention span has been spent. Yes, yes, I realize that we got to do something together - playing with the ingredients - but I'd like the art part of it to play out too.

I thought about giving this book 3 starts because of the issues I've had doing the projects, but I'm giving it four anyway because it does have a lot of ideas that I wouldn't have thought up on my own, and now that I know I have to do a test run before actually trying the things (those that require mixing and creating the medium, anyway) I expect to get a lot of use out of it.
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on June 17, 2002
I wish this book would have been written 10 years ago when I struggled to collect this extensive list of art recipes and ideas for my (then) toddler. Now, 4 children later, I have this wonderfully complete art book to reference whenever the fever strikes us! The structure of this book makes it easy and quick to find the specific areas of art that we are looking for. We have also used this book successfully to spark ideas when we are not sure what we want to do. We highly recommend First Art!
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on March 4, 2005
I love this book. I have a 3 1/2 year old and 2 year old and I lead a playgroup. I have seen lots of great ideas for kids, but this book has a format that makes it so easy to put together. I rarely plan ahead and do art on the spur of the moment. I have read the book so many times (I've owned it a couple of weeks) and know the projects. There's a list of everything you need to prepare so I can do it quickly. Plus, I really like the general info. on process art, clean-up and how to make everything kid-friendly and creativity-friendly. I highly recommend it and a number of my friends have already bought their own copies!
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on June 11, 2002
Ms. Kohl has outdone herself again...another magnificent art book! This time, Ms. Kohl has put her focus on "Toddlers and Twos" - and has produced a work that is developmentally appropriate, organized and easy to use. The book begins with some developmental information on the age group of Twos and Toddlers; the art processes follow, divided into sections. These "processes" are adaptable to older children - my four and five year old class LOVED sculpture in a bag, as well as the "Toilet Paper" sculpture! (It has to be done to be believed!) I have never been disappointed with a book by Mary Ann Kohl...and I am eagerly awaiting the next one!
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