Maker Faire + DIY Design

We went to the Maker Faire this weekend, a DIY design/technology/creativity festival that attracts everyone from crafty sewing upcyclers to techie hackers to wide-eyed families looking for a creative outing. It was such an inspiring event, full of tons of TinkerLab-style making, that I thought I’d dedicate the week to Maker Faire talent. I gathered tons of good projects for you, and I hope you’ll enjoy the eye-candy that I have in store for you!

Shortly after walking through the main gate, we were greeted by a giant generator-powered electric giraffe. Its maker, Lindz, scaled a small kit robot up to this grand scale that reaches 17′ when its neck extends…and it was a show-stopper for sure. If you’ve ever been to Burning Man, you may recognize her, and you can read more about her here.

Here’s a peek into what makes her work. I have no clue, but I did loved seeing all of the colorful wires and appreciate the hours of welding involved in making this animal go.

Right around the corner from the electric giraffe was a pop-up tinkering studio that was designed to show how simple and inexpensive it can be to set up your own tinkering space. I love how they set up all their pliers on a folded piece of cardboard.

Inside this studio was a 5-minute LED Throwie project sponsored by Make Magazine. This would be a really fun project for kids older than five, but my 3-year old got into the spirit of it…especially the throwing part! LED Throwies were invented by the Graffiti Research Lab as an inexpensive and non-destructive way to add color to any ferromagnetic surface (street signs, for example).

The materials are simple and can be found at Radio Shack or similar stores.

You’ll need

  • a 10 mm diffused LED
  • a rare earth magnet
  • a lithium battery
  • tape (masking or packing will work)

LED lights have a long and a short side. Attach the long side to the (+) positive side of the battery. Squeeze hard to make sure the light works. If it’s a go, take a 7″ long piece of tape and tape the LED around the battery one time. Then continue wrapping the tape around the magnet until you run out of tape. Here’s a really clear tutorial,with costs (about $1 per Throwie), from Instructables.

Your throwie is now ready to be tossed at something magnetic, maybe your fridge? The Throwie should last about two weeks. And when the battery expires, don’t forget to dispose of it properly.

What else could you do with LED lights or throwies?

Blending Chalk Pastels

We started with a box of chalk pastels and construction paper. I happened upon this amazing box for $5 at an art studio sale. They’re wonderful, but really, any chalk pastels will do. I’m not  inclined to recommend construction paper because it’s not at all archival, but its toothy nature makes it a good substrate for chalk pastels (as long as you’re not planning to keep these forever).

After mentioning to N that I like the look of bright pastels against a dark paper, she asked for a piece of black paper. It’s a striking contrast, no?

I explained that one of the unique properties of chalk pastels is that they can be blended, and that we could try blending ours with a tissue. N remembered a bowl of cotton balls that we used to make  our Glittery Cotton Ball Collage, and wanted to use those instead. Good idea!

She found this process exciting, and was in a big hurry to put chalk on the paper for the express purpose of wiping it away.

This was followed by a series of mini blended chalk drawings. We went through a lot of cotton balls, and now I think she has a pretty good understanding of how chalk pastels work!

Do your kids like to use chalk pastels? When I was teaching, there were always a few kids who didn’t like to use these because they didn’t like the dust or the texture. Something to keep in mind if your child doesn’t take to it. And while it’s not quite the same, oil pastels are a nice alternative medium…they can also be blended, only with a little more effort.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime

Fridge Box Imaginative Play

We got a new fridge (!!), and while I’m thrilled with the new appliance, I have to admit that I was almost as excited about the box that it came in. I had to convince the delivery team to save it for me, and was surprised that they seemed shocked by my request. Have they not delivered glorious ginormous boxes to the homes of preschoolers before?

But what would we do with it? I put the question out to my Facebook page because I was interested in gathering a wide range of possibilities for N to choose from, and the responses ranged from hilarious (Carissa said, “it would MY ‘quiet place’ for the day and then the kids could have it tomorrow.”) to the fiscal (Bron said I might be able to sell it on ebay for $50!!). Lauren at 365 Great Children’s Books suggested “a castle…a cafe…a library…a puppet theater.” I ran these along with all the other ideas past my daughter who immediately said she wanted to make a cafe. But once she saw the box, she decided that it would be a FOOD TRUCK!

I pushed her play kitchen around to the back door (sadly, it was too tall to fit inside), cut a service window on one side, and added a couple quick tires to differentiate it from a fast-food place.

N added a cash drawer and a calculator, and was ready to take orders.

I asked her about the menu and she told me that I would be eating ravioli (actually a lovely assortment of rocks). I couldn’t quite nail down the theme of her truck because the next day she was making lemon crepes. It made me laugh when she packed my food up in a to-go bag!

As the day went on more things were added: hand soap (because her customers should have clean hands before eating) and the beginning of a menu (the red paper attached with purple tape).

We also added a window to the front of the truck, a chair for driving, a lighting system, and some employees.

Activities like this are great for imagination-building and open-ended play. We’ve only had this up for 2 days, but it’s already given us HOURS of fun. For more cardboard box ideas, go on over to our Cardboard Box Challenge, which shares the cardboard creations of nearly 25 creative education/parent bloggers.

Book Links

Your turn: What have you done with a LARGE box? Or what would you do with one?

If you have a fridge box link or a fridge box photo to share, feel free to do so in the comments.

This post is linked to It’s Playtime!

Dry Ice Experiment

Dry ice is a favorite mysterious Halloween material, perfect for spooking up a witch’s cauldron, but did you know that you can experiment with it too?

Dry ice is so cool (couldn’t resist!), and makes for a fantastic (ventilated) kitchen or outdoor experiment. Have you ever worked with it? The big caution is that you don’t want to touch it less it burns your skin. Got that? So it has to be handled with tongs and/or insulated gloves.

Read up on  the cautions of using dry ice before proceeding, and always use your best judgment. I went through all the warnings with N, and the dry ice earned a great deal of her respect. She kept asking questions about how ice could burn us (it wouldn’t make sense to me either if I were her age), and was very curious about how it “smoked” on its way from our porch to the kitchen.

In case you’re wondering, I think it’s smart to introduce kids to “dangerous” things. They’re naturally curious about how the world operates, and given the proper instructions and parameters these introductions can give them a good foundation for critical and creative thinking. Have you heard of the The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls? I have a copy of the latter that I know N will love when she gets to be a bit older.

I found the dry ice at our supermarket, and asked the manager to help me pack it up. They come in big bags (perfect for cooling a fridge full of food, but far too much for this experiment), and I understand that they may break smaller pieces for sale…it sells by the pound at our market. To do this experiment, we used two pieces, each the size of a button mushroom.

I filled the bottom of this metal travel mug with about a cup of warm water, and dropped a piece of dry ice in with kitchen tongs. The ice makes a surprising sound when handled by the tongs!

The smoke is perfectly okay to touch.

And blow.

Then we got fancy. N squeezed some dish soap into the mug.


And it got even more exciting with the addition of red food coloring.

And green, blue, and yellow food colorings, too!

This project is great for encouraging curiosity, setting the groundwork for scientific investigation (observation and experimentation), and building creative confidence. A+ in my book!

The Science behind Dry Ice

Dry Ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which dissipates into carbon dioxide gas when it melts. It’s called Dry Ice because it turns directly into a gas from its solid state, without ever becoming a liquid, and therefore there’s no puddle of water in its melted state. This process is called sublimation. Also, Steve Spangler Science is my new best friend, and it’s where I gleaned tons of good information for this post. If you like science experiments, do check this out.

More Ideas from Tinkerlab

Get more Halloween ideas on my Halloween Pinterest Board.

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No-carve Decorated Halloween Pumpkins 

Little Fabric Hanging Ghosts

Drippy Slimy Gak

Late last week we made a batch of slime called Gak — see this post for the recipe — and it’s been a huge success with my almost 3-year old. On day one, N experimented with various ways of interacting with it (rolling, stamping, cutting, pulling), and was excited to introduce her dad to Gak the next day (he loved it, too…it’s really fun stuff). Later that day she wanted to revisit it with her play kitchen tools. We talked about its drippy, viscous nature and thought it would be interesting to test it out in the play colander.

After it sat in it for a few moments, her grandmother lifted it up for us to observe. It began to drip through!

The drips came slowly, so we rigged this pot holder from some CD cases that we painted (post on this crazy activity is coming soon!) in order to watch them come down.

And then we sat back and enjoyed the show. N cut a few blobs off with her little-kid knife before the whole thing “timbered over.” Ha!

Gak is pliable and plasticy, and we also tried our luck at blowing bubbles into it. To do this we took a small piece of Gak, smoothed it out into a disc shape, and then pulled it around the end of a straw before blowing into it. Finessing it took a little practice, but it worked! N wasn’t able to wrap the Gak around the straw herself, but she did enjoy blowing bubble after bubble.

Next time we bring out the Gak, it would be fun to test it in a variety of porous objects. Can you think of any other tools or materials that could interact with Gak?