Chalk It Up
Set your child up with a bucket of chalk and a chunk of virgin sidewalk, and she'll be following in a tradition that can be traced to 16th-century Italy. Back then, itinerant artists known as madonnari wandered from village to village, sketching religious pictures in white chalk and charcoal (often the Madonna, hence the moniker) on sidewalks in front of the village church or town square.
Your child's tableaux may not exactly resemble Renaissance masterpieces, but with as much fervor as those madonnari, she'll cover every inch of blacktop with smiling cats and rainbows. Kids like chalk because it's the king of big honkin' art. "Sidewalk and wall chalkboard surfaces entice kids," says Wendy Yaffe, a longtime children's art teacher in Amherst, Massachusetts. "Here they can draw freely, dramatically, cooperatively, and very, very large."
And just as Navajo sand paintings exist only fleetingly, so too the sidewalk artist's efforts — one good storm and the slate's wiped clean for a brand-new gallery opening.
What is chalk anyway?
That stuff your kids love to scrape all over the driveway? Technically it's not chalk. Real chalk, what's used on chalkboards (see Arielle, above), is formed by the accumulated remains of gazillions of microscopic marine organisms. Outside chalk is actually gypsum, a mineral that crystallizes out of evaporating seawater. Gypsum is also the white filling in construction drywall and a dough conditioner in Twinkies.