Make a Thanksgiving Table Runner

What You Need:

  • Two 11" x 17" sheets of construction paper in a strong fall color, such as gold, red, or russet orange
  • 8–12 round coffee filters
  • 3 bingo daubers (small plastic squeeze bottles with a fabric plug) or “dot-to-dot” stamp pens in fall colors
  • Bottle of gold or silver metallic-colored liquid watercolor (available at art stores)
  • Eye dropper
  • Plastic table covering
  • Scotch tape
  • Glue stick
  • Gold or black permanent marker

What You Do:

  1. Parents, caution! This is a delightful but really messy activity. We recommend doing it either outdoors on a covered picnic table, or in a room in your house that can be wiped down later. Be sure to stay away from any fine linens or lace!
  2. Set it up. Once you've found a good spot, lay down your table covering, and then set down your coffee filters and flatten them. Drench those coffee filters with color! Invite your child to leave no white spaces. Watch how the colors move and blend—the effects can be stunning. Be careful to avoid puddles, which weaken the paper.
  3. When the paper is all colored, you're ready for an extra snazzy step: take the metallic liquid watercolor, shake it thoroughly, and then encourage your young artist to use the eyedropper to drip random drops all over each filter. Again, expect some gorgeous results.
  4. Give the filter paper a few minutes to dry on the table. If there are any puddles, try to blot them from beneath with a paper towel. Finish drying the sheets by laying them on a drying rack in the sun; you can also hang them on a line with clothespins, but be prepared for some drips on the ground below.
  5. After the coffee filters have dried, have your child fold them in half and draw leaf half-shapes along the fold in pencil. 
  6. Give your child the scissors and have them cut the leaves along the line, creating a colorful, symmetrical piece of art.
  7. Lay the two pieces of construction paper end to end and tape them gently together on the back side. Now it's time for some handwriting practice. Along each long margin help your child write, in pencil first, the name of each guest expected at your table this year. Then finish by having them write the full day and date of this Thanksgiving. When you're both satisfied, have your child trace over the letters with a sharpie marker (and remember: if you have a disaster you can always start over with new paper).
  8. Now have your child arrange the leaves artistically on the colored paper, and tack them down lightly using the glue stick. Be prepared for stunning results, and plan to make them permanent by taking the whole piece to a local copier and getting it laminated—usually a very modest expense for a piece of work that will make your child swell with pride.

And in case you were wondering—this activity also stealthily supports key first grade learning. First, the squeeze bottles and scissors exercise the gripping muscles that kids need to manage proper pen grip and letter formation. While they're at it, kids also get some extra practice in combining colors, as well as in reading names and forming their letters as perfectly as they can. And let's not forget the most important parts: it's magic to spread colors and then make gorgeous paper to share!

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