7 Upcycled DIY Paper Flowers

We’re flooded with flowers this time of year, but soon enough we’ll have to make our own flowers to brighten up the dark corners of our wintery homes. These would make great DIY hostess or teacher appreciation gifts. I wandered around some of my favorite sites and found a little sampling of some easy and charming recycled paper flowers — these can all be made with materials that you most likely have around the house.

DIY Paper Flowers

DIY Paper Flowers with Coffee Filter Flowers, TinkerLab

If you do a search for coffee filter flowers, this is the TinkerLab post you’ll land on. These are made with watercolors and chenille stems.

Aunt Peaches Paper Flowers

Coffee Filter Peonies, Aunt Peaches via Design Sponge

These beauties are made with water-based paint, green tape, and ordinary straws.

Flowering Lampshade for a Flamingo, Aunt Peaches

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Take those coffee filter flowers that you learned how to make in the Design Sponge post and attach them to an old lampshade with hot glue.

Paper Napkin Wall Flowers, Dana Made It

Made from Paper Napkins (it looks like the IKEA brand), these are stronger than flowers made from tissue paper. And they’re big enough to make a dramatic statement on a wall. I’d love to try painting these like we did the coffee filters.

Pop-up Magazine Flower, Pink Paper Peppermints

This one is so cool! Cut out a bunch of flowers and then glue them together in a unique way that makes them pop up. It makes me realize that I need to start subscribing to more colorful magazines!

Recycled Paper Flowers, How About Orange

Made from any ol’ paper you have in the house: magazines, books, wrapping paper…They don’t require any glue or tape, and the tutorial even includes a free downloadable PDF with the flower shape.

Cupcake Liner Flowers, Martha Stewart

Would this list even be complete without mentioning Martha Stewart? The picture by itself is a great tutorial.

If you have a favorite recycled paper flower post, please share a link…the more ideas the merrier!

A Little Business + Make a Name Badge

I have a few new things to share today before jumping into our project.

First of all, I’ve received lots of questions about where I get our materials, so I added a tab up in the navigation bar called Supplies that you can click on. As I discover new things or think of other materials that we like to use, I’ll add them to this page. If you have any favorite materials, please feel free to share them. I love to learn about new things.

Second, I’m excited to share that TinkerLab is nominated for the “Best Craft for Kids Blog” at Parents Magazine. If you think this is a valuable resource, please click here and give us your vote! You have to register, which I know is a pain, but I’d be so grateful for your support.

And finally, do you know about the new TinkerLab Forum? It’s been up for a couple weeks and it’s a great place to ask your creativity-related questions or share your expertise on everything from how to use art materials to tips on visiting art museums with small children. There are over thirty topics up on the forum right now and the growing community has been quick to share their expertise. I also try to repost big questions on the TinkerLab Facebook Page when I think the Facebook community can help shed light on a question or idea. Please pop over and check it out.

And now, making a name badge…

When I spotted clips like thesein the office supply store I was sure we’d find a use for them. Within a week, my daughter found them, discovered their purpose, and decided that her dad needed a name badge so that his co-workers would know his name. My husband doesn’t normally wear a name badge at work, so clearly this would help! N doesn’t write yet, so she asked me to write her dad’s on a piece of paper. She decorated it, tried it on for size, and then sent him out the door with his new name badge.

This wasn’t a complex project, but it gave my daughter confidence in manifesting her own ideas and connected her to real world solutions. Plus, my husband went to work decorated in polka dots.

Styrofoam Prints and Baby “Painting”

Printmaking is one of my passions, so we invariably make a lot of prints in my house. I was about to recycle a styrofoam tray (I think it was from a pack of corn) when N asked if we could print with it. Why yes, we can! We’ve printed with these before (Abstract Recycled Prints) and the technique is the same except this time we printed the pattern found on the tray instead of creating our own design.

I like this project because it’s inexpensive, helps children look to their surrounding for inspiration, and utilizes the pattern found in the tray.

We cut the tray into a flat piece.

My daughter squeezed tempera paint onto a cookie sheet, rolled it with a brayer, and then rolled it onto the styrofoam tray. She chose a red + white paint combo.

N moved the tray (or “plate”) onto a clean sheet of paper, covered it with another piece of paper, and then pressed it to transfer the paint.

Checking the print. Yay — it looks good.

Carefully peeling the print off the plate.

Meanwhile, Baby R, who now stands and walks along the furniture (i.e. cannot be contained with a happy basket of blocks) was desperate to join the fun and made a nuisance of herself, grabbing papers and reaching for paint . While she made the printing difficult, we wanted her to join us and came up with this alternative:

Baby Painting!

I scooped some yogurt onto her highchair tray and added a few drops of red food coloring to match our paint color. (The food coloring, India Tree Liquid Natural Decorating Colors, is made from plants and completely natural. I love that I can feel safe giving this to my kids).

While N continued to pull prints (without the distraction of baby sister grabbing her papers), R happily stirred her paint and ate away.

Prints, and most art projects for that matter, often get turned into other projects. N decided this one should be glued to a card.

And Baby R continued to enjoy the activity until is was gone.

Have you tried printmaking, and have you “painted” with yogurt?

This post is shared with It’s Playtime.

Four Creative Thinkers to Follow

Since I started this blog I’ve been following a lot of cultural thinkers through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, and I’ve come across some incredible leaders who have changed the way that I look at the world. This list is a small sampling of who I’m paying attention to (mainly the result of time limitations…babies can only play by themselves for so long) so I welcome you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and see more of the people that I follow.

I’d also love to know…who do you think should be on this list?

Happy reading!


Gever Tulley, Tinkering School: http://twitter.com/#!/gever

His Twitter Page: i make stuff – http://gevertulley.comhttp://www.tinkeringschool.com/

Why you should follow him: Tulley is the visionary behind Tinkering School, a place where “children can build anything, and through building, learn anything.” He’s opening a new school this fall in San Francisco called Brightworks, where “students explore an idea from multiple perspectives with the help of real-world experts, tools, and experiences, collaborate on projects driven by their curiosity, and share their findings with the world.” If I could justify the drive, I would be over-the-moon if my kids attended this school. He also wrote a book called Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). What’s not to like? Tulley explains Tinkering School here in about four minutes.


Maria Popova, Brain Picker: http://twitter.com/#!/brainpicker

Her Twitter Page: Maria Popova, Brooklyn, NY. Interestingness curator and semi-secret geek obsessed combinatorial creativity. Editor of Brain Pickings. Bylines for @WiredUK @TheAtlantic @DesignObserver http://brainpickings.org

Why you should follow her: Brain Pickings is a well-curated blog of all sorts of interesting ideas from the worlds of design, science, psychology, art, you name it! From her blog (because it’s hard to classify this one): “Brain Pickings is a discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” You just never know what you’ll find there, but you know it will always be good. Maria also writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and tweets all the gosh darned time. Just look at her profile picture — she’s out there, finding the best of the best for you and me to devour. For example, check out this recent article from The Atlantic:A round-the-world tour of children’s bedrooms. So freakin’ interesting! She also has a popular Facebook page.


Sir Ken Robinson, Author: http://twitter.com/#!/SirKenRobinson

His Twitter Page: Sir Ken Robinson, Los Angeles, CA. http://www.sirkenrobinson.com

Why you should follow him: Sir Ken comes from the world of arts education, and has grown to become one of the most forward-thinking leaders in the realm of creativity. He wrote Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative and The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, which I’m reading right now. Not only is his writing friendly and approachable, but he’s also a riot to listen to. The word “brilliant” barely begins to describe him, and you’ll want to know what he knows. If you haven’t already heard of Sir Ken Robinson, watch this video and you’re sure to become his newest fan.


Nina Simon, Museum Director: http://twitter.com/#!/ninaksimon

Her Twitter Page: I design participatory, interactive, slightly strange museum exhibits all over the place. http://www.museumtwo.blogspot.com
Why you should follow her: Nina runs a blog called Museum 2.0, where she talks about participatory museum experiences and making cultural institutions more relevant (and less stodgy) spaces. She wrote a book on the same topic called The Participatory Museum. In a world full of buttoned up museums, Nina’s voice stands out as controversial. She’s been bucking the system as a consultant to museums, and now she’s running her own show as the ED of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. In this recent post, Nina writes about a newly installed Creativity Lounge where visitors can look at art WHILE assembling a jigsaw puzzle. This leaves the artist feeling like her work is compromised, but the museum’s visitors love it. Follow her for big thinking on breaking down traditions that may be holding on for the wrong reasons.


Who would you like to see added to this list, and why?

How to Build an Easy DIY Light Table

Have you ever wanted a light table, and wondered if there was an easy way to build a DIY light table yourself? Well, this easy DIY light table could be your answer! Once I figured out which materials to use, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble.

Note: This light table is designed to hold salt or sand in the top layer. For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

How to build an easy DIY light table for kids

*Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

After seeing the beautiful glow that illuminated from the easy light table at Teach Preschool and the pop-out pictures created in salt over at Child Central Station, I’ve been on the hunt for some DIY materials to make my own easy light table.

I had a few rules:  No paint, no saw, and no nails. It also had to be simple to assemble and economical. So when I spotted a large, gently used acrylic box frame — like this — at SCRAP (San Francisco’s reuse center for artists and teachers), I knew I had my answer. If you don’t have any acrylic box frames lying around (who does?!), I’ve found that this can easily be replaced with a basic plastic storage container like this.


  • Acrylic box frame or storage container— Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
  • Large Plastic Storage Container like this one. This Rubbermaid Storage Box is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • String of Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container. Christmas lights do a great job!
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Wax paper
  • Two 26 oz. containers of salt
  • Toys and gadgets to create textures

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

How to build your DIY light table

1. Run your string of lights into the bottom container

My husband has a thing for lights so I raided his stash and we came up with these interesting bookcase light strips from IKEA that worked really well. Granted, these lights aren’t cheap, but we already had them so it didn’t really cost me anything. If these didn’t work I would have used Christmas lights. Just be sure that  you use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this. 

Option #2: You could try setting this up with the bottom container’s lid on and off. We’ve set this up both ways with different containers. See what works best with your container.

Option #3: You might also try flipping your bottom container upside down, and then placing the second container on top of it, right side up. Does that make sense?

2. Place the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed plastic container

When not in use as a light table, we use our containers all the time  for messy sensory projects like the Dry Ice Experiment and Vinegar and Baking Soda.


Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

2. To diffuse the light, cover the bottom of the box frame or top container with wax paper.

3. Then, to keep the frame from wiggling, tape the wax paper in place with clear packing tape.

4. Pour salt into the top container.

Make it as shallow or as deep as you like. I found that 1/4″ is a good place to start.

My friend Aude gave me about five pounds of salt that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I pulled it out and poured a healthy amount into the frame. (In case you were wondering, don’t waste your time with flour — I did, and it doesn’t work.) And that’s it.

If you only have one container, if it has a deep groove on the bottom, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights. Then pour sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our example, but it might work in a pinch.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Play with your DIY Light Table!

We built this while the kids were asleep, so I got to play with it first. Yipee. Initially there was too much salt in the frame, making it difficult for the light pass through, and I tinkered with the salt until I liked the results.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comPressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and I couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Kid-tested DIY Light Table

As an invitation to play, I initially made some loopy marks in the salt with my finger and then turned the glowing salt table on. No tools. She was curious, but not intrigued enough to play.

So I placed a few clay tools with various textures next to the table for her to experiment with, but that didn’t come on like gangbusters either. I hoped that N would get into this cool, open-ended textural play, but her lack of interest made me all the happier that I only spent about $2 on the project. I must have known.

And maybe the light table is most successful in the dark of night, which is long after bed time in the middle of summer? So I poured the salt back into the bag, disassembled the whole thing in about five minutes, and we’ll try again one day soon.

Light Table Success

Sometimes projects with kids take a bit of patience. A child’s mood, interests, or developmental readiness can affect how he or she interacts with an invitation to play. I have since brought this back with variations and it’s been more successful! Here are a couple things that we’ve tried:

One more DIY Light Table

For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table


Upcycled On-The-Go Art Bag

I love DIY projects, and was beyond thrilled when my friend Danielle (artist, best friend ever, mom of two) sent me this picture of an art bag she whipped up for on-the-go art supplies. Isn’t it inviting? And here’s the best part…the materials she used are super clever. Can you guess what she made it from? I’ll give you a sec to look closely.

She needed art bags for an upcoming trip and couldn’t justify spending money on something she thought she could make herself. Are you like this too? I know I am! So she used some old pajamas (brilliant, right?!), stitched them up quickly and trimmed the edges. In Danielle’s words:

“I sewed them fast. No fancy work. Now it’s all contained. I made two in twenty minutes; set-up to clean-up.”

So, are you ready to turn your stash of outgrown or stained zippered jammies, shirts, and hoodies into something fabulous?


Your Turn

If you have a favorite DIY project that relates to creativity, feel free to add a link in the comments or send your project my way for possible inclusion in a future post.

Water Scooping for Babies

Water Scooping for Babies

While my older daughter tore up the grass with the Slip ‘n Slide, I set my 10 month old up with a bucket of water and some measuring cups. And she got right to work, filling and emptying the cups. It was interesting to watch her attempt to fill the cups when they were upside down, and then exciting when she figured the “problem” out and corrected for it.

And then, presumably, she was proud of one of her many accomplishments.

The provocation is simple — Set your project up outside (since most babies thrive when there are airplanes to track and birds to listen for) and provide your baby with a low bucket of water. Tools are optional. And then see what discoveries come about.

Sensory Play: Water Scooping for Babies

Any other ideas for playing in water with babies?