Archive for ‘Art’

February 27, 2015

Challenge #4 of Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Eco-Scientist Graphic Novels

by Melissa Harding



When you think about a hero, it is pretty easy to name the stars of comic books and movies, but often much harder to think of the real heroes who work every day to make our world a better place. One kind of hero that often goes unrecognized is the scientist; scientists devote their lives to learning more about the world around them so that society can be healthier and safer. In particular, environmental scientists work hard to learn how human actions affect the planet and how we can all be better stewards of the Earth. During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, high school students were asked to choose one environmental scientist whose work they admire and turn their life and work into a graphic novel. Students did extensive background research on their subjects, creating a biography crossed with a superhero comic book. Over 70 students participated in this challenge and the results were really incredible.

The subjects of these novels included such inspirational heroes as Rachel Carson, John James Audubon, Julia Butterfly, and Aldo Leopold; they included both past and contemporary scientists, as well environmental researchers, conservationists, writers and artists. The judges were blown away by the artistry, creativity, beauty, and humor of the submissions.

1st Place: North Allegheny Intermediate High School
2nd Place:  A. W. Beattie Career Center
3rd Place (tie): West Mifflin Area High School and North Allegheny Senior High School

Special Merit Awards:
Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 for “Poetic Imagining”
Woodland Hills High School for “Future Cartoonist”
West Greene Middle Senior High School for “Comic Style and Humor”

But don’t just take our word for it – check out some of the winning submissions in the slideshow below:

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Above photos of the winning entries were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff.




February 25, 2015

Home Connections: Paper Sculptures

by Melissa Harding


As this stretch of wintry weather continues across the country, many schools are closing their doors in face of extreme cold temperatures and high amounts of snowfall and ice. While playing outside in the snow is a fun way to spend the afternoon, being outside in negative temperatures is not very safe and many parents prefer that their children spend their time inside on days like today. If you are a parent who finds yourself in a similar situation, we have a fun craft that we think will help your kids spend the hours occupied and entertained: paper sculptures! This fun craft is a great way to reuse newspapers, junk mail, magazines or other kinds of old paper and a good excuse to raid your recycling bins. Combining repurposed materials with a healthy dose of messiness, paper sculptures are a great winter day project.

At Phipps, we make our paper sculptures out of newspaper, craft glue and water. You will also need a large bucket or container in which to create your mixture and a base on which to create it. We often repurpose shallow, plastic containers for this purpose, but anything that has a shallow lip will work.

1. Shred your newspaper into small strips; the smaller the strips, the faster they will start to disintegrate into a usable pulpy mixture.
2. Put your shredded strips into the bucket and add water until you cover them. Let this mixture soak for at least an hour to become soft.
3. Once your paper is soft and feels pulpy to the touch, squeeze out the excess water and remove it from the bucket.
4. Mix in craft glue until the mixture is a gloppy consistency and will hold a shape if squeezed. (You can also use a flour/water paste if you are out of craft glue; just add your paste until the mixture resembles paper mache.)

Now you are ready to model! Be sure to work with your paper pulp on a covered surface and keep it on the base. It will drip some water as it dries, so keep an eye out for that as well. If you want to add some flair to your pulp, using colorful paper or magazine pages will do the job. You can also try adding paint to your mixture for optimal mess and color!


Not sure what to sculpt and looking for some inspiration? Check out some field guides or nature picture books to find a plant or animal to create or research some famous sculptures. You can also look out the window and see what inspires you or take a short walk. Anything can be an inspiration for art, so use this time to encourage your child to explore some of his or her favorite subjects – dinosaurs, alligators or even robots – for ideas. Happy crafting!

Interested in repurposed crafts? Learn more about how we repurpose cardboard, plastic, and glass.

Check out this post to learn how art can foster a connection with nature.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

February 16, 2015

Home Connections: Flower Pigment Art

by Melissa Harding


“The earth laughs in flowers.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have some extra Valentine’s Day flowers laying around? We have the perfect use for them! There are many different crafts that we make with flowers – gluing them to crowns, making flower petal butterflies, or using them as paint brushes. In fact, flowers are a wonderful part of just about any nature craft; they add pops of color to nature weavings, mobiles and nature journals. One of the new ways that we have been using them recently is for their pigments. The most common plant pigment is chlorophyll, which is used primarily for photosynthesis. Other colors found in leaves, like reds and yellows, are secondary colors that also help absorb light energy. Flower pigments, the colors in the petals and sepals, are used to attract pollinators. Plant pigments are made out of a variety of molecules, including anthocyanins and carotenoids. While the biology of plant pigments is fascinating, it is also really easy to get them out of the plants themselves. So easy, in fact, that kids do it all the time (think grass stains). All you need to do is rub the plant against some fabric or paper and the pigments come right off onto the surface. With this in mind, we have being creating some fun crafts that use flower pigments as color.

Flower Pounding
A really fun way to get the pigments onto paper or fabric is by pounding. This can be accomplished in any manner of ways, but we like to use small stones. While a wooden mallet or small hammer will do the best job of evenly flattening the flowers, small stones are more kid-friendly. Specifically, we use flat, decorative driveway stones that are about 3 inches square or less in size. There is no need to hit the flowers hard; a gently tap will do it. Lay your flowers flat on the surface of your choice and place a small piece of white paper or fabric over the flower, then gently tap the flower all over with the flat of the stone. Remove the cover and peel off the flower; you should see the flower’s shape echoed in the pigment print.

The best paper to use for this project is watercolor paper. Unlike office or drawing paper, watercolor paper is thick and has dimples that will readily hold on to the flower pigments. We like to make bookmarks and picture frames out of our flower pounding projects, but the sky is the limit. If using fabric, unbleached linens and muslins will work best. Ideas for fabric include lavender sachets, cloth napkins and table runners. You will want to start with a white or cream base, as the pigments will not always be dark enough to show up on colored fabric or paper.

Flower Rubbing
Pounding is a technique that can sometimes be difficult for younger children. In lieu of pounding with a small stone, flowers can be rubbed across the surface to produce a color. In this case, it is much more difficult to recreate the shape of your plant on the base. Rather, you will end up with smears of color. However, the sensory experience of rubbing flowers to produce colored pigment is a wonderful activity for small children. The scent, color and texture of a variety of flowers will be a worthwhile nature exploration activity, even if the results are not as polished.

Not all flower are pigmented equally…
While all flowers have some pigment in them, not all of them work equally well in this activity. Some petals are too watery or too thin and will not produce a good image. Test all your flowers on scrap material or paper before you put them on your finished product. We recommend pansies, chrysanthemums, goldenrod, colored daisies, and marigolds to start out. Additionally, leaves will add a lovely pop of green to your project. Like with flowers, stay away from thick, watery leaves. Explore your yard and local green-spaces to find a variety of colors and textures from your project. Or simply buy a bouquet of grocery store flowers – any flower and leaf has the potential to make beautiful art!

Other crafts using plant pigments from around the web:
Nature Colors by Fakin’ It
“A Day with No Crayons” Flower Pounding Craft by The Crafty Crow
Flower Pounding Prints by Rhythm of the Home

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.


February 13, 2015

Give Nature a Valentine!

by Melissa Harding

Bleeding Hearts (4)

Valentine’s Day is not just for people; nature also wants to get in to the act. As well it should! After all, think about how much nature shows us its love every day – from the air we breathe to the food to we eat, plants and the natural world are responsible for our survival every day. While we are thinking about love in all of its various forms, lets show a little to our plant and animal friends while we’re at it.

Here are some easy ways that your family can spare some caring on Valentine’s Day (and everyday) for your natural neighbors:

1. Feed the birds: Tuppence a bag! Your feathered friends will appreciate the treat and reward you with regular visits to your yard.

Pine Cone Birds: The Blueberry Junkies
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow

2. Plants some seeds: Help plants grow by planting some seeds. You can add beauty and life to your home or spread that love to someone else and give them away!

Seed Packet Valentines: Spread seeds and help beautify someone’s home or garden. One Crafty Place

3. Reduce, reuse and recycle: While Valentine’s Day can mean buying gifts, try repurposing and reusing instead today. You will make less waste, which the Earth certainly appreciates, and have fun doing it!

Newspaper Hearts: Recycled materials are a valentine for the whole Earth! You are my fave
Heart Garland: Give your house some love, too! Maya * Made
Coffee Filter Hearts: Fun and compostable! The Artful Parent

4. Make some nature art: Nature is already beautiful, but you can help her out by adding your own artwork to the world.

Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

You and your family will really adore these fun craft and activity ideas. Spread the goodwill around to everyone (and every plant) that you love!

 Have a love-ly Valentine’s Day from all of us!

Photo © Paul g. Wiegman


February 9, 2015

Five Great Reasons to Come to Summer Camp at Phipps

by Melissa Harding



With all the options available for summer camps, why choose to send your child to Phipps? After all, there are hundreds of camps that are offered around the city every summer and there are so many different themes and types of programming to choose from. It can be hard to know where to put your child that will maximize both your money and their fun. We know this and want to reassure you that Phipps summer camps are a great way to do both.

Think we are a little biased?
Here are the top five reasons to come to summer camp at Phipps:


5. Make things: New friends, cool crafts and memories.

Phipps camp is a great place for kids to make things; we make costumes, artwork, bug traps, musical instruments and tons of other neat crafts. Not just stuff, but memories as well. Campers come back year after year and remind us of their favorite moments, activities and teachers. Over the years, we love to watch our students grow into confident naturalists before our eyes, and often have some sappy memories of our own.

Camp is also a great place to make friends; young or old, Phipps is an excellent place to find a kindred spirit. Many of our campers make friends during camp that last from summer to summer; parents also find camp a great place to meet like-minded caregivers that they can connect with.


4. Connect with nature: Spend time with the plants, outside and in the Conservatory.

Phipps offers a variety of unique natural environments for our visitors. Campers can be immersed in a tropical forest and then suddenly find themselves in the desert. Our glass houses allow us to transport our students all over the world, learning about and experiencing plants from different climates, while our natural landscapes provide a fun place to hunt for bugs, birds and other critters. We like to spend as much time outside as possible during summer camp, whether it is looking for treasures, gathering inspiration, reading stories, or just playing games.


3. Learn about plants and animals: From bugs to birds to bluebells, what makes them so cool?

Plants are important to our lives; they give us the air we breathe, the food we eat and even the clothes we wear. Not only do they keep us alive, but they are pretty cool, too! We have plants that eat bugs, plants that mimic animals, and even a plant that smells like road kill. That is not to mention all of the tropical treasures that grow chocolate, vanilla, coffee, spices, rubber, and citrus. We love to teach our campers the stories behind some of our favorite plants, as well as the critters that call Phipps home – hawks, song birds, frogs, turtles, fish, insects, and whole host of furry mammal friends. Every camper will spend time exploring the habitats of Phipps and learning about the flora and fauna within.


2. Gain observation skills: Look closer and ask better questions.

One of the best ways to learn about the world is through observation. Active observation sparks curiosity and a sense of wonder to ask more deeply probing questions. This is a natural way to begin to understand the scientific process, by asking observation-based questions and seeking answers through simple experimentation. One question often leads to another and soon children find themselves connected to their world with a deep sense of place. The end result is a child that approaches the world with an open mind and a curious heart. Phipps camps help children learn to be better observers, whether they are being detectives, plant scientists or artists.


1. Have fun!

More than anything else, we love to have fun! Even more than opportunities for learning, our camps are full of silly songs, dancing, jokes, stories, games, and imaginative play.  We let campers be themselves and encourage their interests and skills while still challenging them to try new things. Campers love Phipps so much that they often come back year after year! The highest compliment we get from a child is “that was fun!” and we strive to make sure that camp is always exciting and never boring.

In short, summer camp at Phipps is pretty awesome!
We are so excited about the upcoming season and hope to see you and your family there.

To sign up for summer camp, visit our website or contact Sarah at 412/441/442 ext. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

February 6, 2015

Backyard Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding


“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake.

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in January, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.


Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry JunkieS
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is send them outside and they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

The above pictures were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

January 23, 2015

Home Connections: Beat the Indoor Blues with Some Crafty Fun!

by Melissa Harding


It is very cold in Pittsburgh right now and more winter weather is on the way for the foreseeable future. If you are living in a place that is also experiencing cold temperatures and icy streets, going outside may be the last thing on your mind. In fact, you may be wanting to get inside as fast as possible!  It can be hard to feel connected to nature when you don’t want to be out in it. While it’s fun to curl up on the couch every once in a while, night after night of sitting inside can make you go a little crazy. Add to that the pressure of closed schools and bored kids and you may be looking at a seemingly interminable prison sentence: Indoor Confinement!

We have put together a little survival guide of activities to keep you and your family happy and engaged while you wait out the big freeze. Based on our Home Connections series, here are some ways to connect to nature and make some cool projects at the same time. Each link has easy to follow steps and tons of modifications to suit both younger and older children. Pull out your crayons and markers, folks, because it is time to get crafty and have some fun!


1. Plant a few terrariums: Create miniature gardens out of clipping from house plants, seeds or anything else you have stashed away in the basement. Decorate them and set them all over your windows – it’s hard to feel blue when you are looking at so much green!


2. Create a seed mosaic: The humble seed is such a versatile craft supply! Use seeds from your garage or dried beans from soup mix and create beautiful mosaic pictures.


3. Turn your old T-shirts in a jump rope: Do you have a pile of old T-shirts just waiting to go to Goodwill or be turned into rags? Try this fun idea for making them into a jump rope instead.


4. Turn your recycle bin into art: It can take lots of energy to recycle those soda cans and paperboard boxes. Turn them into fun art instead – everything from picture frames to lava lamps and everything in between. Check out how we repurpose cardboard, plastic and glass at Phipps for ideas.

Phipps Science Education Playdough (2)

5. Make some dough: Homemade dough is fun for all ages! Try colorful rainbow play dough, spiced salt dough or any other of many ideas to keep your kids entertained for hours. Build sculptures, make ornaments or just play – the sky is the limit.DSC_3087

6. Create a nature weaving: If you can brave the outdoors for a bit, grab some winter nature to turn into a beautiful weaving to hang on your wall or your door. Don’t want to go outside? Use colorful bits and bobs that you find in your junk drawer and maybe even a few flowers out of the vase.

Hopefully, these nature- and conservation-based crafts and activities will keep you and your family busily creating and connecting with the natural world, all within the warm comfort of your home! Enjoy!

Once it gets a little warmer, check out our Backyard Connections series for ideas to connect with nature outdoors.

The above photos were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff and volunteers.


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