Happy Holidays!

We’re taking a little tinkering break to spend some time with family and friends, and we’ll be back in the new year with more creative experiments for kids. There are a few other fun surprises for next year that I’m excited to share with you.

Meanwhile, wishing you and yours a joyous holiday season and healthy 2011.

Tracing Circles

Some of you have mentioned that you’re building up ideas for foul-weather-indoor-play, and I’ve got something for you that requires very little preparation and can be pulled together with materials that we all have on hand.


  • marker/pen/pencil
  • paper
  • tape
  • cups

I taped a sheet of paper to the table and showed N how to trace around a cup. I’m in love with blue painters tape, and can hardly imagine what we’d do without it. I wasn’t sure how this activity would go…would she find it too simple, boring, thrilling, or challenging? Turns out it was a good challenge for her, as she requested cups and markers for more tracing the next day.

And as you can see from her circles, this involves a lot of fancy handiwork, small motor skills, and hand-eye coordination for wrapping the marker all the way around the cup. I think my child is inherently right-handed, and it’s interesting to see her draw with both her right and left hands in order to draw all the way around the cup. Good problem-solving!

If your child enjoys this, a good extension would be tracing cookie cutters, tape rolls, food storage containers, etc.  Even better…ask your child to think of other objects to trace. And if you move away from tracing disposable things, shift from markers to pencils. A good lesson in preservation!

What are your favorite simple rainy day activities?


More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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Paint *With* Me

I picked up some inexpensive kitchen basting brushes for art making with the idea that it would be fun to experiment with various types of mark-making materials, and specifically, a variety of brushes. N picked two paint colors, red and purple, and I dropped the basters in the paint. As usual, I wasn’t sure where this activity would take us. After smooshing some paint around on the paper, she decided to paint her hand and have a go at hand-printing. And then a moment later, she asked me to join in the fun. Huh? Oh no, I thought, I’m just here to facilitate this experience. And then she asked again. “Mom, do you want to paint your hand, too?” Not really, I thought, but how could I say “no” when I’m trying raise my daughter to embrace play, experimentation, and risk-taking?

And it reminded me of a fabulous book that I use during Docent Training called Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up. If you’re looking for a last-minute holiday gift, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s a great read. When Ibrought it on a trip with my parents last Christmas, my mom devoured it in a few hours. And our docents raved about it too. The first chapter of the book is called Say Yes, in which the author makes the argument that we should say yes to everything and accept all offers. To quote the book, “Say yes to everything. Accept all offers. Go along with the plan. Support someone else’s dream…Yes glues us together. Yes starts the juices rolling…Saying yes is an act of courage and optimism; it allows you to share control. It is a way to make your partner happy. Yes expands your world.” The opposite of yes, of course, is “no,” which is a blocking word, and it indicates to others that we have a better idea, we’re critical of the idea on the table, or we’re simply uninterested. What kind of message would I send to my child if I said “no?” Instead, I gave her a whole-hearted “YES,” and I’ve lived to tell the story!

After making handprints, N painted in my mostly red print with purple paint.

And then added some more paint, snowflakes, and sequins. When we washed up, the red paint stained our hands a lovely pink color that reminded me of our joint effort to experiment, play, and take risks.

The YES challenge (via Improv Wisdom)

  • Agree with those around you
  • Say yes if someone asks for help and you can give it
  • For one day say yes to everything, and notice the results. (obviously, use common sense!)

If you take on this challenge, I’d love to hear about the results!

Candy Cane Still Life

At least half of the art activities that happen in our home are improvisations. Today was another rainy day, and after setting up a marble run, sommersaulting off the couch, playing with neighborhood friends, and jumping in puddles, I pulled Candy Can Still Life out of my rabbit hat. It was a short activity, but totally worthwhile and applicable, I think, to a wide variety of ages. In terms of creating a still life, my toddler (is 2.5 still a toddler? I’m not so sure.) isn’t at all interested in depicting objects realistically, but at her age we could take inspiration from the colors of candy canes.


  • Black paper
  • Silver Sharpie
  • Red and White Chalk

I started by placing a black paper in front of her and asking, “What color are candy canes?” After a silent pause, I brought out the glass full of canes for further investigation, and we saw that they’re red and white!  This was my cue to “dig up” some red and white mark-making tools. I also asked if she’d like the silver sharpie. Um, yeah, have you ever met a toddler who didn’t want to draw with a Sharpie? Not likely.

After drawing with the Sharpie, she played around with the red chalk, and became fascinated with how it broke apart when she made forceful polkadots on the page. The smearing was pretty interesting, but after getting covered with a handful of red dust she was done. Fair enough.

I like how the vivid colors pop off the black background. While my child-art-projects generally have a focus on process over product, as this one does, I also really like how it turned out. The coherency of the final product seems to be the result of working within the constraints of limited materials. Professional artists work well with constraints, and I believe that children benefit from a similar approach to art making. So there you have it…a Candy Cane Still Life, of course!

If you try this out, I’d love to hear from you! Happy Drawing, and Happy Holidays!

Frozen Wreath

Until a few weeks ago, I thought Halloween was the best “season” to celebrate with little kids, but now I’m beginning to think it’s got nothing on the winter holidays. My two year old is enamored by holiday lights, menorahs, ornaments, snowmen, animatronic lawn decorations, Santa, nutcrackers, and gingerbread houses. And the list goes on and on. When I picked her up from preschool this week, I found out that she led her class in a round of Jingle Bells! So, this wreath project is clearly the icing on a very well-frosted gingerbread bundt cake!

To make the wreath, N and I foraged for berries, rosemary sprigs, red leaves, and green sweetgum tree balls on our way home from the park, and then set to work making magic happen when we got home. We filled a bundt pan with water, added our beautiful natural finds, waited for it to freeze, added a ribbon and some more water, and then froze it some more. The perfect spot to hang it ended up being a post by the street, where we could enjoy catching many of our neighbors stop in their tracks to take a closer look. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me, as little creative surprises can be mood changers and eye openers, and it reminded me of Keri Smith’s fun-to-read book, The Guerilla Art Kit.

I stole this idea from the very thoughtful and creative Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent. While our warm California weather renders a wreath like this useless after an hour or two, the lore and magic of winter evoked by this project make the process so worthwhile.

Thanks for the fun idea, Jean, and happy winter!