Eleven years ago, we stumbled on a lovely way to embrace the change so many of us feel as the days become shorter each fall— make lanterns to light up and welcome the darkness. Eleven years later, we continue to make lanterns as part of our Tinkergarten Lantern Walk—a beloved annual event enjoyed by Tinkergarten families and their friends all over the country!
From Diwali to the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated in China and Vietnam to Germany's St. Martin's Day festival, cultures around the world celebrate late fall and early winter with festivals of light. This time of year is an incredible opportunity to stop and be mindful of the cycles of nature. It is also a chance to teach kids not to fight but to lean into change—a habit of mind that will help them navigate life. And, what better way to construct a learning moment than to take children outdoors at night with a colorful lantern that they have made?
This activity is also featured in our fall Wellness Tinkergarten curriculum.
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Watch a 3-minute video to see how to turn an ordinary jar into a beautiful, homemade lantern.
Step 2: Get an empty jar.
Mason jars are ideal, but you can use any jar that has a screw-top lid. Grab enough for you and kids to make your own, side by side.
Step 3: Cut or rip tissue paper pieces.
Cut up sheets of tissue paper of various fall colors into small 1-2" pieces. Or, invite kids to use their hands to rip the tissue paper into pieces (a super satisfying sensory experience!).
Step 4: Prepare glue mixture.
Make a 1:1 ratio of water and school glue. Grab some paintbrushes too.
Step 5: Demonstrate how to apply tissue paper.
Use a paintbrush to apply the glue/water mixture to a small portion of a glass jar. Then, pick a piece of tissue paper and press it on top of the gluey surface. Repeat until you’ve covered the jar. You can also layer fallen leaves, flower petals and ferns between the layers of tissue paper, too.
Step 6: Let the kids do their making...and let them make a mess!
The product should look like a little kid made it, and it will still look gorgeous all lit up! If kids need help, put your hand inside the jar and let them paint/apply tissue paper. Let the lanterns dry for a day or two.
Step 7: Attach a string handle.
If you have a mason jar, remove the center of the lid, leaving only the metal rim. Tie a knot around the lid on two opposite points (i.e. at 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock), then close the lid on the jar.
Step 8: Celebrate light and join us for a Lantern Walk!
You can also make lanterns part of any wintery celebration. Or, make your home extra cozy during the short, cool days of late fall or early winter. This fall we’ll share resources to help families lead their own lantern walk with families and friends.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Turning ordinary jars into lanterns that can light up the darkness of the evening, helps kids (and us) learn to embrace change and connect to the cycles and rhythm of nature. Kids will use multiple senses (touch and sight) as they work with glue-water mixture and colorful tissue paper. As kids use a brush to apply glue mixture and carefully place tissue paper, they'll develop their fine motor skills as well as their ability to direct and sustain focus. Creating something of their own design nurtures creativity and confidence.
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
Focus & Self Control
What is Focus and Self Control?
We think of self control as a child’s ability to focus on something in such a way that maximizes learning. In order to do that, they first need to direct their attention and focus on a single thing. They also need to discern which information around them is most important and deserving of their attention. Thirdly, they need something called “inhibition.” Think of inhibition as the ability to control impulses, block out distractions and continue attending to the same thing. Focus, discerning and inhibition all require rather fancy brain work and are thought to be part of the “executive functions” or the set of cognitive processes involving the prefrontal cortex that help us manage ourselves and the environment to achieve a goal.
Why does it matter?
Our world is full of distractions, more today than ever. Kids who are in any learning situation need the ability to control their impulses, block out noise and attend to the person, objects, events, or discussions that are central to learning. As classroom teachers, we saw that kids who did this ruled the classroom. As outdoor educators and parents, we know the same holds true outside of school.
But don’t take our word for it; the research is impressive. It turns out that these executive function skills are closely tied to success in the classroom, higher level education and life beyond school. Experts like Adele Diamond of the University of British Columbia have shown that, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functions—working memory and inhibition—actually predict success better than IQ tests.” Although these skills are difficult for young children and don’t crystallize until adulthood, the more kids practice them, the better at them kids become.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What are Fine Motor skills?
Fine motor skills refer to how we coordinate small muscle movements in the hands and fingers in conjunction with our eyes. Children begin with whole arm movements at birth and refine their movement, using smaller muscle groups as their bodies develop. With time and practice, children are able to enhance and strengthen the movements in their fingers, becoming able to manipulate small objects and perform a range of important life and learning tasks.
Why does it matter?
Kids need fine motor skills in order to perform every day tasks like using fork and knife, turning a door knob, cutting with scissors and catching and throwing a ball. These same skills are essential for tasks associated with higher level learning like hand writing and typing on a keyboard. If kids enter school without good fine motor skills, they can not only fall behind, but learning can become very frustrating. Moreover, they can develop lasting negative attitudes towards learning and themselves as learners.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
What is Self Esteem?
Self esteem can be described as a sense of who we really are. It does not mean feeling good about ourselves or feeling successful at all times or in all situations. To us, true self esteem has three key components: kids experience and understand their own strengths and struggles; kids trust that the treasured adults in their lives both understand and value them, including both their strengths and struggles; and that kids believe that they can learn and grow, strengthening both strengths and weaknesses.
How do we help our kids build self esteem? Look for chances to show that we understand their likes, dislikes, abilities and challenges and that we value them for all of it. How do you find such chances? Great opportunities can be found in activities that are challenging but not too frustrating so that they can both find their limits and experience genuine, well-earned success. Help them as needed but make sure that they still feel ownership over the work and play they are doing. Praise their effort and appear fascinated by their decisions, preferences and passions.
Why does it matter?
Children who have positive self esteem feel like they have something worthwhile to contribute and a sense of internal worth. They are able to take on new challenges, persist towards their goals, work collaboratively with others and welcome life with anticipation and joy. If children have poor self esteem, they will likely struggle or even withdraw from many aspects of learning and may even struggle to find and feel happiness. New research shows that the ability to accurately and compassionately assess one’s own strengths and weaknesses enables kids not only to become more emotionally balanced but also increases motivation to improve which, ultimately, leads to greater success.