"Everything should be made as simple as possible..but not simpler." Albert Einstein

abstract map making

My younger son LOVES office supplies.  They are his favorite thing ever and first thing on his birthday wish list.  And out of all office supplies, tape is right at the top.  He has amassed quite a stash of colored tapes and one day I was looking at them all stacked up on his worktable and thought they would be really easy to use to make a great map.

In kindergarten he made a map of his classroom and so was beginning to understand the concept of map making.  For this project I wanted to limit the variables to make it easy for him to produce something beautiful in the end so we talked about making up an imaginary map, rather than mapping something existing.  This would eliminate the measuring as well as the scaling and transferring of reality to drawing.

We looked at some subway maps for inspiration, talking about the need in a map to simplify and to show only the information that is needed, in this case lines going from point A to point B.  We also talked a bit about how how roads (and public transportation lines) need to be simple themselves, to all for efficiency.  So the straighter the better.

We got a large sheet of bristol board, some scissors and all of his tape and spread out on the floor.  Then he just stared at the paper, not sure where to start.  That big blank sheet is intimidating to all ages, I guess.  I told him to choose a color and make a line going from one place to another on the paper, thinking about how that line is a line of travel for someone on a bus or train.  Once he had the first line down, it was easier for him, and he started thinking about all the places he wanted the lines to go.

I had him extend the tape over the edge of the paper onto the floor, to help keep it in place.  I also showed him how to take a roll of tape and hold it next to a line he had already put down to test out the color and placement.  He wanted to use his favorite colors over and over again so we discussed how using the same color in more than one place would be confusing on this type of map.

As the paper started to fill up, I asked him if he thought he was done.  He indicated one corner that was pretty blank and said he felt that there needed to be something there.  He added a few more lines and then we talked again about how maps shouldn’t be too confusing, or show too much information.  And then he decided that it was “done”.

In the end this became more of a lesson in color and composition than map making.  But mapping is such a complex idea I think it is difficult for young kids to grasp all at once.  I like the fact that we were able to talk about very basic map making concepts in relationship to the art he created and that he was able to end up with something beautiful in the end that he absolutely loves.  Personally I think it’s important to set these limits early on, to allow kids to be successful in creating something beautiful.  That way they will want to continue exploring.  Maybe for our next project we’ll walk around our neighborhood and make a map based more on reality.

You can get some colored tape like my son’s here. He also used some japanese washi tape.

Two previous art lessons we embarked on:


Learning to see

modifiying my ideas of traveling

For me travel has always been about inspiration.  This certainly has a lot to do with new places and experiences, but more to do with the fact that there is dedicated time to seeing the new.

Before we had children, my husband and I traveled quite a bit.  We are both architects, so most of the travel we did consisted of visiting cities and walking.  LOTS of walking.  The first time we visited New York City together we walked from one end of Manhattan to the other in a day.  After we had a child, we didn’t consider altering this way of thinking about travel.  Our first son was quiet and content to sit in a stroller and good at fancy restaurants.  We continued to travel on our agenda, eating where we wanted, seeing the buildings and museums we were interested in.

After we had our second son things got busier with our jobs and it was harder and more expensive to travel with two children.  Vacations were spent with family instead of traveling to new places.  Until last summer.  The boys were 4 and 8 and we thought it would be a good idea to go on a family vacation -just the 4 of us.  We had been to Door County, WI when we were first married and fell in love with the interesting geography of the place.  A long skinny strip of land between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, with beautiful rocky coasts, sand dunes, midwestern fields and charming towns.  This seemed like the perfect place for a long weekend.  And so we went.  And the trip was a disaster.  The kids were unhappy, we were stressed out and there was lots of bickering.

This summer we discussed another family trip and almost immediately decided that it would be a bad idea.  But then I started thinking about WHY it had been so bad and realized it was all our fault.  We hadn’t modified our way of traveling to accommodate our changing family.  So we decided that we would try again, with a completely new attitude towards the trip.  We didn’t alter our way of traveling so much as we thought more consciously about all 4 of us and implemented a few simple strategies:

  • Plan the day out in advance and tell the kids exactly what activities are planned for when.
  • Always start the day with a KID activity.
    Our kids like seeing buildings and museums and going on nature walks, but they are also kids, and LOVE playgrounds and mini-golf.  Starting with something special like go-kart rides seemed to set a fun tone that extended through the rest of the day.
  • Be outside as much as possible.
    The exercise and fresh air helped them be calmer when we did go inside public places or to areas where they needed to be more sedate.
  • Let the kids eat foods that are normally special treats and stop for snacks periodically during the day.
    I am pretty strict about non-healthy food, sugar and limiting snacks in general at home.  On vacation we said yes to things like cinnamon rolls for breakfast every day,  and generally let them eat more often.  Having a few treats made them feel different and special -more vacation like.
  • Compromise on restaurants.
    Typically when traveling we will hunt down the restaurants that have the most interesting, local food and charming atmosphere.  These types of places aren’t always the best for kids and I feel bad subjecting the next table to my sometimes loud and squirmy boys.  I will not however go to “kid” restaurants.  We compromised by finding a wood fired pizza place that uses local, organic ingredients and an outdoor seating area.  Pizza is always a hit and outside eating areas are generally more casual and kid friendly.
  • Allow later bedtimes.
    Our boys go to bed early and get up EARLY.  We ran them hard at the end of the day, doing things like walking on the beach at 8pm (this seemed to them like they were getting away with something) when normally they would be sound asleep.  By the end of the trip they were sleeping until 7am (I know, you are all groaning) which was heaven for us.

We just returned from our trip and it was fantastic.  Magical even.  The perfect way to end the summer.


I love the simplicity of sparklers.  A stick, fire, white light.  And no jarring noises -just a pleasant buzz.  The perfect design.


I have just returned from our annual family vacation/reunion to WI.  Every year we stay in a little cottage on the lake I grew up near. Looking at this very familar sight now I wonder how this lake I spent every summer in for 18+ years influenced how I think about things today.  I will be pondering this for awhile-I don’t think I’ve ever considered it before.