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Sheet Sensation

  • Children icon Age: 0 to 8+
  • Clock icon Time: Under 1 hour
  • Leaf icon Materials: plain bed sheet, mallets (optional), rolling pins (optional), colorful objects from nature, colorful kitchen spices or berries (optional)
An important part of learning to be resilient is learning to adjust when kids hit challenging situations. How? Through games/activities in which the rules and expectations shift unexpectedly. This week at Tinkergarten Anywhere, inspired by the book The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater, we invite kids to imagine how they could turn a mistake into something beautiful.  In this activity, we pose the challenge: How can we create colorful art without paint? Fortunately, nature is full of color and with a few simple tools, kids can transform an ordinary sheet into a vibrant display of Nature’s Tie-Dye!  It’s good, productive, messy fun -- creative and gratifying for all involved.

This activity is featured in our October Activity Calendar. If you don't yet have your free copy, get it here

To play along with us this fall, click here to sign up for today for Tinkergarten Anywhere or to check out the free lesson and companion activities and resources. 

The Guide

Set the stage

Select an old bed sheet or a few old pillowcases (the types you won’t mind donating to the cause). Plain and light-colored works best. Gather the sheet, some water (with spray bottles if you have them), a mallet or rolling pin, and head outdoors. Talk about how you can take this ordinary bed sheet and turn it into “our special sheet,” making it festive and colorful. Wonder together, “Where could we find color out here?”

Collect colorful (and fragrant) stuff

Walk around together, keeping your eyes peeled for colorful plants and other features of your landscape. Give each child a bucket and carry your own sack to collect items. Announce, “Let’s gather as many colorful things as we can!” Then snip berries (reminding children that these do NOT go into mouths), small tree limbs, flowers, and other greenery. Even if the colors aren’t vivid, herbs like sage and basil can be especially stimulating on a sensory level -- the smells are fantastic. (If you feel like you need a few more colors, toss in couple of pantry items -- turmeric, paprika, and beets are great examples of natural pigments.)

Experiment with your found materials

Bring your stash back to your sheet and ask, “How can we get the color from these objects onto our sheet?” Now is a great time to introduce a little bit of water and model how to use it -- a spritz or sprinkle will help the pigment from flowers, grasses and other plants stain the sheet. Magical! Let kids get creative and find their groove with this.

Channel I Love Lucy

Remember the episode where Lucy and Ethel stomp grapes? Place some berries under a corner of the sheet, and use a mallet, stick, or your hands or feet to smash the berries into the fabric, oohing and ahhing as you do. Once you’ve got the kids intrigued, welcome the group to tuck their berries and other plants under the whole sheet, throw off shoes, and stomp away. If you are into singing, sing and stomp to make this even more joyful -- and make use of just about every one of the senses. Talk about extrasensory perception!
Want more ideas like this? Transform a bed sheet into a starry night sky with our Paint the Stars DIY or explore the rainbow of colors in nature with our Deseo de Arcoíris (Rainbow Wishes) DIY.

Why is this activity great for kids?

This activity is sensory stimulation without actually being overwhelming. Because the ingredients are natural and the project is low-key (it’s just an old bed sheet, after all), kids can engage their senses of sight, smell, and touch as they work. It’s also a surprisingly physical activity for what’s essentially an art project. So much learning during the early years takes place through direct physical experience, and this activity calls on your child’s whole body. Kids also learn a lot about cause and effect as they turn natural materials into pulp (not to mention a clean sheet into a tapestry). The very act of transforming objects is an engaging brain-building behavior pattern that children exhibit in all cultures. Finally, even very small children are building a foundation for creative, flexible thinking when they confront an open-ended “problem” and come up with a (very messy) way to “solve” it. All this -- plus plain old fun -- from an old bed sheet!
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