Ornament Games

Using ornaments to build perceptual skills

Whether you like white or multicolored Christmas lights, both look magical when viewed with Holiday Specs.  These holographic lenses are a “surprise for your eyes” because they transform Christmas lights into holiday images such as stars, candy canes, angels, and snowmen. 

Our pair of Holiday Specs enables us to see snowflakes on every bulb of our Christmas tree turning it into a snowy kaleidoscope of Christmas.  The beauty of these twinkling snowflake lights inspired me to create the following eight activities to use with the decorations on a Christmas tree (the ornaments).  Most of the activities build perceptual skills.  Visual perception helps a child make sense of what he/she sees and is useful both within the classroom and in everyday tasks. 

Using ornaments to build perceptual skills
  • Gather ornaments from the tree that look similar in style.  Give each person an ornament, and have him or her write a description that distinguishes the ornament from the others.
  • Display an assortment of ornaments.  Ask each person to select one.  Group children into pairs and ask each pair to find three ways in which their ornaments are the same and three ways in which they are different.  Switch partners and continue.
  • Gather ten or more ornaments and ask the children to sort the ornaments into two or more categories.  Have them describe how they defined the categories.  Compare and discuss the different classification systems. 
  • Select an ornament.  Ask each person to write a simile for the ornament.  A simile is a figure of speech in which two unlike things are compared using the words “like” or “as.”  For example, a shiny ornament might be described as “shiny as sparkling sapphires.”  Share the similes, and have each child illustrate his/her simile for an ornament themed display. 
  • Play “I Spy” ornament.  Each person selects an ornament and describes it to the others in “I Spy” terms. “I spy something blue, I spy something with 5 points,” etc.,  until the others can guess the “spied” ornament.  
  • Discuss what makes an ornament valuable.  What determines its value?  Are some ornaments more popular than others?  Why?
  • Make a list of clues about ornaments, and ask the children to find each ornament that fits each clue.  Create some clues that can be answered by different responses and others that are specific.  For example, you might have them find an ornament that is green and man-made (or natural) or find an ornament that has a shiny red nose that glows. 
  • Place children into groups and have them create funny captions, names, or short stories for selected ornaments. 
Using ornaments to build perception skills

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How Would You Market Your Favorite Toy?

What are your favorite toys?

As King Moonracer tells Rudolph in the classic Christmas special, “A toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child.”  Classic toys, like Lego, inspire creative play and have been loved for generations.  Other toys, such as Beanie  Babies, achieve fad-like status only to fade away in popularity.  Regardless of how long a toy remains popular, marketing is a key part of a toy’s success.  How would you market your favorite toy? 

Sixty-two classic toys have been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, which is part of The Strong, a wonderful “interactive, collections-based educational institution devoted to the study and exploration of play." Comparing these classic toys to Ebates’ recent listing of the most desirable children’s presents since 1983 would make a fascinating research project for upper elementary/middle school students.  They could investigate toy trends, target audiences, and toy marketing strategies. Teaching students how companies sell products is an invaluable skill that builds critical thinking skills.  For example, nostalgia marketing builds excitement for this year’s retro-styled classic Nintendo system:  “Play the system that started it all.”

To add a social history component to the toy project, students could interview/survey people of different ages and cultures about their favorite childhood toys.  This would build engagement with parents, grandparents, and other community members. Students could plan an awards ceremony for the favorite toys through the ages.  The ceremony would showcase the toys with the biggest impact and include information about why/how they were significant. 

My favorite childhood toys were my Matchbox cars and trucks. I spent hours creating road systems for them. I really liked the snowplow – I still have it!

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How would you market your favorite toy?

Animal Classification is the Conversation

Each animal on the planet can be classified –thanks to Carl Linnaeus

With trick-or-treaters still categorizing Halloween candy, it is a good time to introduce students to Carl Linnaeus.  He liked putting things into categories too – especially plants and animals.  In the wonderful children’s book, The Right Word:  Roget and his Thesaurus, Jen Bryant describes Carl Linnaeus as a man who “put the names of animals and plants in categories, and that made nature much easier to study.” His classification system has seven levels, and each animal on the planet can be classified within his system. 

Carl Linnaeus, "The Father of Taxonomy"

Linnaeus in his Lapland dress, Library of Congress Image


The University of Michigan’s online Animal Diversity Web (animaldiversity.org) provides a wealth of information about animal classification, natural history, distribution and conservation. Prepared by professional biologists, the Animal Diversity Web includes thousands of species accounts.  Students can put in names of animals, learn their classifications and find the genus and species names of their favorite animals (southern right whale dolphin = Lissodelphis peronii). 

Students can then use genus/species names to make a “What Am I?” game.  Generate a list of animals for students to classify.  In small groups, have students research the animals' habitat, food, appearance etc. and their classifications.  Students will use their research to devise clues for the “What Am I?” game.  For example, I am a marine mammal.  I am a carnivore that eats krill.  My tongue can weigh as much as an elephant.  My scientific name is Balaenoptera musculus.  What am I?  (Blue Whale) 

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The Cucurbit Family's Colorful Characters

Autumn's colorful icons:  Pumpkins

Photo courtesy of Frey Farms

Cinderella, Fairytale, Lumina, Aladdin, Baby Bear, and Sugar Pie.  When you read these names, perhaps you think of Disney or fairy tale characters. However, you might be surprised to learn that they are characters in the Cucurbit family, which includes cucumbers, zucchini, melons, gourds, squash, and pumpkins

From the orange Jack-o’-Lantern to the ghostly white Lumina, pumpkins are autumn’s icons. While we often use them for decorations, they are also delicious to eat and filled with the important antioxidant, beta-carotene. No one knows this better than “America’s Pumpkin Queen” Sarah Frey.  She has developed a new line of tasty pumpkins called “Pumpkins of the World.”  She also grows a range of unique varieties with interesting shapes, sizes, and colors.  (The beautiful pumpkin photos are courtesy of her business, Frey Farms). 

Colorful Fairytale Pumpkin

Fairytale pumpkin

Photo courtesy of Frey Farms

Pumpkins’ unique attributes make them an excellent choice for educational exploration.  This time of year, I always had a pumpkin or two in our classroom.  Part of the fun was selecting  names for them. Students would make a list of each pumpkin’s attributes and submit suggestions for a class vote.  Displaying different varieties yielded the most creative suggestions.

Pumpkins make perfect research projects too. Topic ideas include: growing techniques, nutrition, measurement/statistics, historical origins, recipes, and creative pumpkin uses.  For example, student groups can research pumpkin varieties, share the information, and devise/conduct a survey to determine the overall favorite pumpkin. They can also design a brochure or promotional campaign illustrating the many varieties/uses of pumpkins. For pumpkin-lovin’ artists, Pinterest is filled with ideas.

So, what are you waiting for?  There are countless types, shapes, textures, sizes, and colors.  Go pick your pumpkin(s). 

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Building an Independent Project

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright

All children have interests or hobbies.  Whether it’s a favorite sports team or a passion for photography, individual interests are excellent opportunities for personalized learning.  Not only does independent study allow students to learn more about topics, it also teaches them how to problem solve and present knowledge in creative ways. 

When supervising student projects, it’s important to help students focus their research with a specific guiding question.  For example, if a student wants to research photography, we might discuss recent innovations that have improved photography.  The student’s guiding question might be, “What digital photo enhancements are most beneficial, and what are the best software programs for editing and enhancement?”


Recently, I came across a great independent study project idea for students interested in engineering, architecture, historic preservation, or history.  To commemorate their 125th anniversary, Architectural Record chose 125 of “the most important works of architecture built since the magazine’s founding in 1891.”  What a wealth of material and history to investigate!  From the Chrysler Building in New York to Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, students have 125 options to  select from.  They could investigate why a building was built, who designed it, and why it was designed it a certain style.  They might focus on physical features such as form, size, materials used, color, design etc. 

Other investigations might include research into the “forms of value” attached to the buildings.  Author Graeme Talboys has written about researching a building’s forms of value such as the following:


Symbolic value – For example, a castle is a symbol of power.  The way it was built and sited can increase or diminish that role.

Sentimental value – The building you live in may have more sentimental worth than monetary worth.

Social value – Hospitals are buildings of great social value.

Economic value – Factories, airports or railway stations.

Historic value – Any building where historical events have occurred or buildings that are outstanding examples of their type.

Spiritual value – A church, mosque, synagogue, temple or a place of peace and contemplation.

Cultural value – Museums, arts galleries, gardens etc.

Whatever topic your students decide to research, it is important that they express their own ideas about how they will gather, organize, and present their information. While teaching independent research skills is quite an undertaking (and worthy of another post), the skills students learn lead to success in school and in life. 

Woolworth Building, Cass Gilbert
Woolworth Building

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Create a Whimsical Fairy House

A Leaf-Roofed Fairy House

If you and your children love the outdoors, walks in the woods, and playing make-believe, then you must create your own whimsical fairy house.  These small dwellings are filled with wonder, fun, and creativity.  Best of all, they can be made from things found in nature.  There is no need to purchase store bought materials.  Simply gather leaves, grass, acorns, rocks, shells, petals, pine cones, bark, sticks, etc. 

Build a dream house for any tiny creature, it doesn’t have to be a fairy. How about a little friends of nature headquarters, a cricket condo, or a  ladybug lodge?  Create the floor with leaves or pebbles.  Use small twigs or pine cones for walls and bark for the roof.  The possibilities are endless. 

The following houses were made at Mackworth Island, Maine.  The island trail offers beautiful views of Casco Bay and plenty of pine cones, tassels, driftwood, shells, and seaweed for fairy house inspiration.

At Mackworth Island you, “. . . may build houses small and hidden for the fairies, but please do not use living or artificial materials.  The best materials are found in the landscape of the village itself, but if you chose to bring in natural materials, please return with those that you didn’t use. . . This helps keep the fairies coming back.” 

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Thinking About My Favorite Things

Thinking About My Favorite Things:  My mother's handmade baskets

Many of my favorite things are priceless, yet they are worth little money. I value them for sentimental reasons. Some played important roles in my life, like my first stuffed animal.  Others are associated with beloved family members, like my mother’s handmade baskets or family photos. 

We learn much about the world through the objects we save and treasure.  An object’s sentimental or symbolic significance reveals our customs, interests, values, and traditions.

Examining the role of “favorite things” is a creative way for children to express their interests and feelings.  Ask children to think of (or bring in) an object that is special to them.   How does the object represent their interests?  What impact does it have on their lives?  Use the following questions to expand their thinking:

What is the object? 

What makes it a favorite thing?

When and how did you receive it? 

What is the object used for?

How does it make you feel? 

What does the object reveal about you and your life? 

How would your life be different without the object?


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Thinking About My Favorite Things

Hats Off!  Using Architecture as Creative Inspiration

Beautiful Corinthian columns

Once upon a time, I worked for a historic preservation organization.  I attended many tours and social events in historic properties not usually open to the public. Traveling to these events was entertaining and informative because my colleagues would point out various house styles and identify architectural features.  They would get excited about such features as, roof forms, paint colors, windows, porch supports, and decorative details.  I learned a lot and often think of them whenever I see an interesting house style.


My favorite part of the job was creating and implementing children’s educational programs. One program involved making really tall architectural hats. First, we walked through a neighborhood to examine columns (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) and their capitals (the design at the top of the column).  We also took photographs to help us remember the details. 

Ionic Column:  Using Architecture as Inspiration

We used poster board to create the brim and crown hat pieces.  For the crown, we rolled poster board into cylinders and placed them on our heads for sizing.  We  inserted the cylinders into the brims and adjusted as needed.  (We cut notches on the crowns in order to attach them to the brims).  We decorated the hats with paper scrolls, leaves, spirals, flowers, fruits, animals and many other ornaments.  Inspired by architecture, our creative column hats were a big hit! 


Recently, I spent some time walking around our nation’s capital, and the architecture reminded me of the hat project.  Perhaps it’s time to make a hat of my own. . . 

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Using architecture as creative inspiration

Geometry and Art:  Exploring Shapes with Second Graders

The Red Balloon, Paul Klee, 1922


Red Balloon, Paul Klee, 1922

I recently taught a lesson to second graders who were learning about 2D and 3D geometric shapes. They were eager to share their prior knowledge, so I had them classify various shapes and justify the categories.  Their geometric language of attributes such as sides, angles, faces, vertices and edges told me they had learned a lot.

We used this knowledge to explore artworks with geometric shapes and discussed how people who work at museums use attributes to organize and display exhibits.

While examining the artwork, students noticed how 2D plane shapes create 3D shapes.  Visualizing these concepts extended their understanding and helped them develop an appreciation for geometry through art. 

Exploring Shapes with Second Graders:  How Many Faces Do I Have?

Developing Creative Fluency

A warm-up is a short activity at the start of a lesson.  Warm-ups help jump-start students' thinking and have many purposes including:

to introduce a new topic

    to reinforce skills

    to motivate students

    to prepare students to learn

    to assess how much students know

    to develop students’ creative thinking    

The following warm-up uses an everyday object, a measuring cup, to encourage students’ creative thinking.  It is adapted from Gilford’s Alternative Uses Task (1967) in which participants list as many possible uses for a common house hold item.  The warm-up develops fluency, which is the ability to generate new ideas.  Fluency, along with flexibility, originality, and elaboration are behaviors often associated with creativity.


List all the things a measuring cup can be used for (other than to measure ingredients).

Developing Creative Fluency:  List all the things a measuring cup can be used for

What else. . .?

A Conversation About Fashion

A Conversation about Fashion:  What styles are in fashion today?

Library of Congress Image:  Illus. in: The Delineator. New York : The Butterick company, inc., v. 109, no. 2 (1926 August), p. 28-29.


Fans of the popular television drama, Downton Abbey, probably know about the traveling exhibition, Dressing Downton, which showcases a selection of exquisite costumes and jewelry from the series.  Set in the early twentieth century,  Dressing Downton highlights a time in British history when “industry, fashion, and politics were changing drastically.”

The changing of fashions can be an engaging discussion to have with children. The conversation can lead to further inquiry about current events, history, design, art, geography, global commerce and much more.  Use the following questions to get started . . . in a logical fashion:


  • What clothes are in style today?
  • How do you decide what to wear? 
  • Is what you wear important? 
  • Do you ever make judgments about people based on what they are wearing? 
  • Do certain people set fashion trends? 
  • Are some of these trends expensive?  
  • Why do we desire these clothes?
  • Who made your clothes?  
  • Where were they made? 
  • What clothing was popular when your parents went to school? 
  • Why do fashions change? 
  • Are there any fashion styles today that might seem silly in 100 years? 

What Books Comprise Your Ideal Bookshelf?

What Books Comprise Your Ideal Bookshelf?


As a result of their passion for reading, artist Jane Mount and writer Thessaly La Force asked 100+ creative people to assemble their ideal “bookshelves.”  This select group represented a variety of disciplines, and many of them cited reading as a gateway to their creative pursuits.  My Ideal Bookshelf  will inspire you, help you find new books to read, and make you think about your own ideal bookshelf.  Included is a template that allows you to create your own bookshelf. 


What Books Comprise Your Ideal Bookshelf?
What Books Comprise Your Ideal Bookshelf?

Bookshelf of Nancy Pearl, librarian

What Books Are On Your Ideal Bookshelf?

Bookshelf of Candy Chang, artist + urban planner

Ask your children to assemble their bookshelves (and illustrate the book spines too).  The following prompts (taken from the book’s cover illustration) will get them thinking: 

The Best Book I Ever Read
The Book I Read Again and Again
The Book That Makes Me Cry Every Time
The Book I Love the Most
A Book That Changed My Life
The Book That Makes Me Who I Am
My Favorite Book


They could also assemble bookshelves for historical figures or fictional characters.  For example, what book might Harry Potter love most? 

Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity



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