Chalk it up to fun

Sidewalk chalk offers entrée to the world of art


Michelle Sussman

Last year for her third birthday, my daughter Tessa received a 60-stick box of sidewalk chalk. I smiled and thanked my brother’s family, but secretly I was thinking, "What are we going to do with all of this chalk?" I even considered re-gifting it.

Boy, am I glad I didn’t. Fast-forward to the end of summer and the chalk was gone. Tessa loved it. She learned so much through all of the games we played and I even got my first good tan, no small feat for a redhead with fair skin. Who knew that such a simple, cheap toy could consume so many hours and teach so many good lessons?

Not only is sidewalk chalk a great summertime diversion for kids; it also encourages the development of artistic expression. Rachel Weaver Rivera, an artist and the owner of Imagine Art Studio in Clarendon Hills, loves sidewalk chalk.

"It’s one of my favorite mediums to use with kids. It teaches children to feel at home in their environment and connected to the world," says Weaver Rivera.

Mixing in learning

While summer is a time for fun, it never hurts to throw a little bit of education into the mix, especially when the kids see it as fun.

During a particularly hot day last summer, we were outside playing with the neighbors. The kids were tired of playing with the same old toys and they began to whine. So I grabbed Tessa’s chalk and drew six animals on the driveway. I handed chalk to the three oldest, a 5-year-old and two 3-year-olds.

"Which animal begins with the letter B?" I asked.

Their eyes lit up as they looked at the animals and settled on the bear. All three girls raced to the bear and wrote, or attempted to write B next to it. We spent an hour playing this game and they never realized they were practicing their alphabet.

Similarly, when any image was drawn that represented something concrete, they would beg me to write its name, whether it was a dinosaur or Ariel from "The Little Mermaid." They also delighted in writing their own names and attempting to spell each other’s names. Learning their shapes and letters became fun using the chalk.

Teach children art appreciation by discussing what they’ve drawn. Don’t assume you know their intentions.

"Ask their opinion," says artist and instructor Suzanne Sebold-Suso of the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. "Let them enjoy freedom of expression with their art."

Basic games

Kids of any age get a kick out of sidewalk chalk. In a world where kids are frequently told to stay away from the landscaping and the street, and not to mess up the grass, sidewalk chalk gives them an opportunity to create their own space outside.

"All of my kids love to play with it," says Mary Zack, a Bolingbrook mom of four. "It’s great because they can make a mess that nature cleans up and they really love the interaction they get with the other kids in the neighborhood."

Have young kids sit on the ground and scribble while their older siblings or neighbors draw a hopscotch board. Little ones can help decorate pictures that older kids have drawn.

During the summer, my neighborhood looks like a scene straight out of "CSI." The kids love drawing each other’s body outlines, which they then decorate with chalk by drawing clothes, hair and even painted toenails.

Making art

And you can turn the chalk drawings into professional artwork with just a little more effort. "Gather up items to make an artistic materials kit," says Weaver Rivera. "Encourage them to explore different materials in conjunction with the chalk."

Weaver Rivera suggests visiting your local resale shop and buying varied sizes and shapes of old picture frames. Scatter them on your driveway and make a flat art gallery. Your children can create any type of image they choose within the frame using chalk, pebbles, grass and other outdoor textures. Invite friends and family over for a viewing.

Use other props that you find around the house. Wet your chalk with water to saturate the color. Use spray bottles, paintbrushes and brooms to blend colors. Bring out small items like seashells and bottle caps to make the artwork three-dimensional.

Play with your kids

Don’t just hand your child a box of chalk and tell them to play alone. Get outside with them and follow their lead. Discover how your children perceive the world by the images they are interested in drawing. Children take cues from their parents and if you show abandon with your chalk, they will learn to take the lead.

"Sometimes parents are afraid to get messy," says Sebold-Suso, "but doing art with your children is a positive experience for everybody."

Maybe the joys of sidewalk chalk are best summed up in the words of 4-year-old Alexandra Zack of Bolingbrook.

"It’s just fun!" she exclaims with a smile.

You’ll need: 2 cups of plaster of Paris 2 cups water Tempera paint

Mix the plaster of Paris and the water together. Add in two tablespoons of tempera paint, more or less, to achieve your desired color.

Next comes the fun part. Pour this mixture into the mold of your choice. Use the paper cups from your bathroom, empty toilet paper rolls or even candy molds to make chalk. Candy molds provide the most fun because you can mold your chalk in shapes from bugs to teddy bears.

Set the molds aside to dry, which can take a couple of hours to a day, depending on the size of your mold. Once the chalk is dry, remove it carefully from the mold and check for any moist spots. If it is wet, let it sit until you no longer feel any moisture.


Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer living in Bolingbrook.


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