Bird Feeder & Hop Circle

Today I’m sharing two outdoor activities for creative play…

#1: Peanut Butter Bird Feeder

Our house is shaded by an enormous pinecone-dropping machine, and these little beasts can be found in all corners of our mini-oasis. They are so begging to be turned into something, right? Peanut-butter coated pinecone bird feeders, here we come! (Apologies up-front to all my gluten and nut-free friends…this is why there are TWO activities in this post!).

We started by mixing some oat bran into our peanut butter. I read that this is healthier for birds than straigh-up peanut butter because the grains break up the sticky PB and aid their digestion.

Our little set-up: Peanut butter mix, Holiday cheese knife, Bowl of Birdseed, Twine, Scissors, Pinecones, and Paper to place the completed bird feeders on.

I twisted the twine on the cones and then handed them over to the queen peanut-butter spreader, who took her job very seriously.

She then coated them with seeds (from the dollar store – huzzah!). Which reminds me, I originally bought ten bags of the seed as an alternative to sand for our sand table. I highly recommend it as birdseed feels clean, it has a nice texture, and it has little specks of color that make it pop.

And there it is…ready for the birds. Not the pesky squirrels. Okay, are you ready for the sad part of this little tale? We made FOUR of these (4!), hung two by our house and two off a tree by the street. And not one of them was hanging the next morning! I’m pretty sure the squirrels managed to bring them down, but how? Clever little monsters! Has anyone else had this problem? What could we do differently?

#2: Hop Circle

It was a beautiful day, so N moved down to the sidewalk and started on some chalk drawings. She drew a (wobbly) circle on the ground and asked me if I’d draw more of them so that she could play “Hop Circle.” Haha. I kept calling it Circle-Scotch, but it didn’t really matter.

I thought it would be fun to add in some other shapes and drew a triangle. BIG mistake! I really should have checked with the creative director first, as this was NOT in the plan. Back to circles!

Once all the circles (and lone triangle) were laid out to her liking, she hopped away. How fun! And this reminds me of another hopscotch alternative I recently saw at Let the Children Play, where the kids drew a continuous hopscotch all around the school. Take a look!

Glittery Collage with Acrylic Gloss Medium

Have you used gloss medium before? It’s a clear acrylic paint that is great for sealing two-dimensional projects.

I was cleaning out the laundry room and came across an old bottle of acrylic gloss medium and varnish. Have you ever used this stuff? It’s awesome! It’s essentially glue wrapped up in a paint bottle, and so easy to apply with a paintbrush. And when it dries it leaves a beautiful, unifying glossy finish that makes everything look purposeful.

I also have a stash of laminate and wood pieces that I thought would make a good substrate for this project. I let N go through the pile and choose the ones she wanted. You can see her two choices in the picture up there.


  • Acrylic gloss medium. I also like matte medium, but the final look is obviously different.
  • Wood, linoleum, cardboard or some other sturdy surface to collage onto.
  • Paintbrush
  • Collage papers: We used aluminum foil and bleeding tissue paper
  • Scissors
  • Bowl for the gloss medium
  • Glitter

We put the materials out together, and N wanted to cut the aluminum foil. I showed her how it’s easily torn, but she loves cutting. It’s very empowering, and I guess foil is pretty fun to cut.

While she worked on the aluminum foil, I started cutting the tissue paper. Why, I don’t know, since she wanted to do that too. I should know better.

Once it was all set up, she began painting gloss medium on the laminate…

and sticking papers onto it. We talked a bit about layering and composition, and I used language like, “You’re layering the yellow paper on top of the blue paper” and “I see you chose to put the red piece vertically, next to the green piece.” It’s the teacher in me, for sure, but language like this also helps build vocabulary and contextualize the process.

Once her fingers got a bit gooey, some of the pieces stuck to her hand and she realized she could ball them up and stick them down in a new way.

And then she spotted the glitter and came up with the idea of shaking it right into the medium. Bravo!

And oh my goodness, the party just began! This got goopy and gluey, and the middle layer got higher and higher. I can’t even remember how many times she asked if she could add more medium to the bowl.

Once dry, the medium is completely clear, allowing all of the colors to shine through. I’m really excited about this piece, and love that it was created on a more permanent substrate…perfect for hanging. It feels substantial and archival and I’m thinking it could be a pretty nice father’s day gift.

What are your ideas?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime


Rolled Easter Egg Painting

When my daughter was about 2 1/2, her very favorite art activity was rolling paint-coated marbles all over sheets of paper. We made Rolling Rock Paintings with smooth rocks and Spooky Marble Spider Webs for Halloween. With Easter coming up, I was inspired to make something fun with the plastic eggs that consume dollar stores across the country. Not only is this fun to do, but the set up is easy and it’s a novel way to celebrate the spring season. On the developmental/arts experience level, kids will make choices about the colors they use, they will be active (standing and moving!), and they’ll learn how to manipulate the uneven balance of a rolling egg (as opposed to a more predictable rolling marble).


  • Easter eggs. I used plastic, but just about any eggs will do. If you can pry the chocolate ones away from your kids, more power to you!
  • Paint. Tempera or biocolors. Washable is always preferable!
  • Paper
  • Tray to hold the paper. We used a wooden tray, but I’ve also had great success with an open cardboard box.

Before we got to rolling, N wanted to dip half-eggs in the paint…

And print them.

Then she took a closed egg, rolled it in red and white paint (because her favorite color is pink, and she’s proud of her color-mixing knowledge!)…

…and then rolled it on the paper.

A few colors later!

So much fun. And clean up wasn’t too difficult — as long as you keep those eggs on the paper and in the tray!

What do you think?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime

Abstract Recycled Prints

Back between my careers as a movie costumer and middle school art teacher, I was once a printmaker. Anyone else have a circuitous career path like that? In any case, I have an enormous passion for making all sorts of prints. While my daughter and I have made handprints galore, we’ve printed from sink mats, and stamps are a staple of our art table, this was her first foray into real printing with a brayer. If you’re new to printmaking, brayers are simply the rolling tools that help get the ink onto the plate (printing surface), and they’re easily found for about $8 at any art supply store. And once you have one, your kids will find all sorts of fun uses for it at the art table.

A print that I pulled (left) and one that my daughter pulled (right)


  • Meat/Veggie tray or Styrofoam plate. You can also buy a 12-pack of scratch-foam for about $6.
  • Ball point pen or sharpened pencil — for engraving
  • Scissors
  • Brayer, like this one
  • Water-based printing ink. I like Speedball inks. While you can use tempera or acrylic paint, printing ink has a desirable tack to it that keeps the ink from seeping into the cracks and holes of your design. The ink is permanent, so be sure to wear a smock and cover the table well.
  • Paper to print onto
  • Paper to cover the table
  • Tray or plate to squeeze the ink onto

We started by cutting a rectangle shape from the bottom of a meat tray.

And then drawing right onto the foam with a ballpoint pen. I didn’t give my daughter any direction except to make some marks. She began by drawing some long lines and then enjoyed poking holes all over the place. Lots of little dots. It was beautifully abstract and I couldn’t wait to see how it would print.

We moved to the art table I offered her two colors of ink. White or silver. She chose both, which is probably what I would do if I were almost three. I squeezed a small amount of ink near the top of a tray and then evenly coated the brayer. After demonstrating the technique once, it was all in her hands.

The ink makes a nice tacky noise that we both enjoyed.

She inked up the plate (her foam design), and was ready to print.

She chose a green piece of paper for the first print, and I showed her how we could press our weight on the plate to push it down on the paper. She had a better idea and found her rolling pin. Kids can be so resourceful!

When we pulled the print, she remarked that it looked like grapes. I quite agree! We printed one of these on some nice frame-worthy paper and sent it off to grandma for her birthday. And she loved it!

This post is shared on Childhood 101, Skip to My Lou, ABC and 123, It’s Playtime

What kind of prints do your kids like to make?

Looping Twisties through Paper

Today I’m so excited to share that I’ve been invited to write a guest post for one of my favorite blogs, Not Just Cute. Sooo, bonus for today is that there are TWO TinkerLab posts for your enjoyment. Hoorah! The Not Just Cute project will take you outdoors to make a Book of Textures, which is a great activity for kids of all ages. After you read all about it, come on back and read about looping pipe cleaners and such.

My daughter recently enjoyed building a colander sculpture with pipe cleaners, so I thought we’d push the pipe cleaner envelope and see what else we could do with them. I put the following materials out and let her figure out their purpose:

  • pipe cleaners
  • markers
  • small paper shapes with holes punched in them

She picked up the paper and immediately began weaving the pipe cleaners through the holes. Go-go fine motor skills. She worked at this for a few minutes – standing – and then I guess she got tired and/or decided to commit to the project because she eventually pulled up a seat.

Poking the pipe cleaners through the holes was easy enough, but she was challenged to bend them into the twists and hooks that she wanted in order to link them together. She wove one or two pieces together, making about eight of these mini-assemblages. She returned to the project later in the day to add little drawings to the papers with the markers.

I saved the papers, and the next day replaced the pipe cleaners with binder rings. I also added the hole puncher to the mix in case she wanted to give hole punching a go. Our hole puncher is a bit surly, and not the smoothest tool for a preschooler to use. Any recommendations for a kid-friendly hole puncher?

While she found the binder clips difficult to open, this didn’t faze her because she was intrigued by them (the novelty factor can go a long way!) and wanted to learn how they worked.

She made a handful of these before calling it quits. For older children, it could be fun to make little loose leaf books with binder rings. You could also use this technique to make a texture rubbing book, like the one we wrote about today at Not Just Cute.

What other materials would be fun to loop through holes?

Idea Roundup: Tinkering

Do you think children should learn how to use hammers and nails? Power tools? Glue guns? And how do you feel about open-ended exploration of art materials? This week’s roundup brings you some big ideas on tinkering, creating opportunities for child-directed art, and free exploration at the art table. And as a bonus, I found an inspiring journaling idea that I think you’ll love.

Co-op nursery school teacher and blogger extraordinaire Teacher Tom writes countless thoughtful articles on play-based learning and childhood exploration. And I believe he’s a philosopher at heart. I love this post: Let them teach themselves

In a similar spirit, often the best activities are those with the least amount of direction. Kindergarten teacher Sally Haughey of Fairy Dust Teaching documented a day at the invention table in her class: Creation Station
Early childhood educator Jenny at Let The Children Play invited her kids to take apart old video recorders with plyers, scissors, and screw drivers. Real tools! There’s a huge public sculpture of dissected computers in our neighborhood that has grabbed ahold of my daughter. This is definitely something we’ll be trying soon. Tinkering at Preschool: Let the Children Play
Preschool teacher and educational consultant Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute writes about providing children with art experiences with the spectrum of preschool arts and crafts in mind. There’s a place in the preschool world for crafts, but crafts are often parent or teacher-directed while art is child-directed.  The Spectrum of Preschool Arts and Crafts
And, as a bonus, Rachel Meeks at Alphamom came across this inspiring illustrated way to document the passage of time with children. It turns the scrapbook on its head with the parent making simple drawings of “a day in the life.” What a fabulous keepsake. And wouldn’t this be a great activity to do WITH a child once they could draw too? Draw Your Story: The Illustrated Journal

What good ideas have you come across lately?

Growing Big Ideas

“Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.”

-Kevin Kelly, Futurist and Author of What Technology Wants

We had a big pile of CD cases, just waiting to be repurposed into…something! BioColors paints are known for their plasticity (they don’t crack like tempera), and I thought it we could have some fun squeezing them into the cases, sealing up the holes, swirling the paint around, and then maybe peeling the paint out. That’s where my idea began, anyway. But this isn’t about me.

N loves to squeeze stuff, and enjoyed pouring paint onto the plastic jewel cases.

We worked with limited palettes to avoid that big mushy mix of brown that comes when all the beautiful colors get mixed together.

N asked for “just red and white, because it makes pink,” and also wanted to add some sequins to the mix. Pretty.

We put about five of these painted jewel cases up to dry, and then N revisited them the next day — on her own accord — with fresh ideas in mind.

Like grown-ups, children need time for their thoughts to muddle together, brew, and then emerge into something bigger. It’s important to keep in mind that good ideas have long incubation periods (see Steven Johnson’s TED Talk, below) and we shouldn’t expect kids to come up with big ideas on the spot —  these things often take time to grow. And to properly give children opportunities to innovate, it’s helpful to present them with open-ended activities that can blossom beyond an initial plan.

If you’ve been following along, you may remember N’s growing interest in pitched roofs from when we made Gumdrop Sculptures and created a cardboard Pitched Roof for a water-flow experiment. The next day…

She opened a case, spotted the pitched roof connection, and said she wanted to make a house. I recently noticed that she’s had a hankering for building things, but this blew me away and was a far cry from where we started the day before. She needed some structural assistance from her handyman/contractor/dad, who was happy to cut tape and generally hold things together. Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about the teamwork involved in building structures, and it seemed that she enjoyed the real-world connection with her own team of workers holding up windows and such.

She then requested some siding material, which her handyman cut to her specifications. And thank goodness, or else the squirrels might come in! As my daughter approaches her third birthday, it’s amazing to see her mind take on more complicated tasks and ideas, and I look forward to seeing further down the path of discovery through her eyes.


Author Seth Godin created this loooong list called Where do ideas come from? It’s brilliant and easy-t0-read.

Author Steven Johnson talks about how ideas are networks in his TED Talk: Where Good Ideas Come From

Steven Johnson writes about the importance of open innovation platforms in The Genius of the Tinkerer in the Wall Street Journal.

This post is linked to We Play, ABC and 123, Tot Tuesday

What do you think it takes to grow a big idea?

Holi Colors

Stanford throws the biggest Holi festival celebration in the Bay Area, and we were lucky enough to join in the fun this weekend. In India, Holi marks the beginning of spring and it’s celebrated by covering friends and strangers with bursts of powdered colors. It’s also a day when enemies turn friends, which I can only imagine is symbolized by everyone donning the same rainbow of vibrant colors — equalized by the power of joy and celebration.

It was our first Holi experience, and while I wanted to introduce my oldest daughter to the excitement of this holiday, I was also uncertain about she might react to being covered head-to-toe in pigment, the loud music, and the bursting crowds.

To prepare for the event, we looked at some amazing photos ahead of time, got dressed in our painting clothes, covered our skin in sun block to create a barrier for the color, and poured a little oil in our hair to protect it from the drying colors. N surprised me by embracing the colors right from the start.

And then she and her dad headed off into the crowd. I took the opportunity to snap some photos while our little one slept through the whole thing.

A festival-goer covered in color. Look at that smile! Everyone there wore the same expression. It was SO inspiring.

Another big smile. And I love how the color looks in hair.

N sang and clapped along with the Bangra music.

A sea of happy color. While time will determine the lasting effects of our outing, my daughter came home talking about “throwing color” and expressing her love for mango lassis. And I hope that the experience infused her with a perspective on the potential of crowd-generated festivals — something we could never generate behind the doors of our home.

More information on the significance and history of Holi.

Have you celebrated Holi? What joyful festivals have you been a part of?