Negative Leaf Impressions

It’s been unseasonably warm around here — check out the flip flops and dress! And the Easter Basket there…well, would you believe it’s for collecting Fall leaves?

We don’t have a lot of Fall color yet, but enough leaf beauties have hit the pavement that we ventured out for some Leaf Pickin’.

N picked up all of her favorites. She was only limited by the amount of space she had in the basket. My plan was to take them home and make some negative space impressions of the leaves with a spray bottle.

When we got home we laid them all out on huge sheets of paper. And then had a snack. Snacks are important. If we hadn’t been so impatient, pressing the leaves for a day would have made our leaf impressions clearer, but I was working with three-year olds, and, well, they like to do things when they think of them. Patience only goes so far.

I filled a spray bottle with a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 orange liquid watercolors. And oh-my-goodness if this wasn’t the most fun part of the entire project. It could have been the project all by itself. And we could have done it outside. That would have been smart. But fortunately our table was covered with paper and plastic, and the kids sprayed to their heart’s content.

Despite the curling leaves, you can see that the impressions are still pretty clear. It worked best when the kids stood up on a chair and sprayed straight down. Once dry, we hung one above our play kitchen.

And once this was done, we went back outside for bike riding, popsicle eating, and watermelon seed spitting. Really. It’s been that warm.

How are you enjoying these first days of Fall?

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Prepping the DIY Drop-in Studio {GIVEAWAY}

While I’m lucky to stay at home with my super-rad kids, I’m also lucky enough to squeeze some extra fun “work” into the nooks and crannies of my life. No small task (did you see my In Search of Life Balance post?), but completely worth it. One of my big projects is about to come to fruition and I’m so excited to share it with you. I’ve been helping the newly-branded Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco design a 12-month curriculum for their DIY art space. Yay!

We’re kicking the series of projects off with BUILD: Critter Habitats. Each of the projects has the TinkerLab stamp of approval for being open-ended, valuing process over product, and including found and raw materials. My kids and I spent the better part of today unpacking supplies and helping the staff with set-up, and I couldn’t believe how helpful and good my little ones were. The Museum officially opens this Saturday, October 15, with FREE admission and free rides on the 1906 Playland-at-the-Beach carousel. Please come on down and visit if you’re in the area.

If you can’t make it this weekend, I have a VIP Family Pass to give away to one of my readers at the end of this post. Woop!

Isn’t this a fab setting? It doesn’t hurt that the weather was beyond gorgeous today. It is fall, right?

These are the fun little critters, made in animation clay, that greet you as you walk through the front door.

N was a hard worker today and took the task of building a model critter habitat very seriously with some of the wonderful materials we picked up at RAFT. The space is so close to completion, but you can see that there’s still lots to be done.

While I talked shop, N and R “helped” sort stickers and scissors. Please don’t judge me for allowing my one year old to handle scissors…she was looked after very closely and she couldn’t be pulled away from this activity.

The space is gorgeous — big, bright windows, handmade furniture, and creative surprises at every turn. If you have children between the ages of 3 and 12, I hope you’ll stop by and tell me what you think. We’ve tested this project on my 3-year old and handful of interns, so I’m naturally curious to see how it goes when hundreds of kids come through the doors this weekend. Eeek.


Also, I’ve been nominated for the Most Awesome Local Blog award over at Red Tricycle. I’m in the running with some stellar Bay Area blogs, and totally humbled by the nomination. If you have a chance, would you pop over there for one sec to vote for me before coming back here to enter the giveaway?


If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or plan to visit one day soon, the Children’s Creativity Museum has offered to give away a VIP Family Pass that’s good for admission for up to four people ($40 value). Shipping address must be in the U.S. (sorry to all my International friends).

To enter:

  • Leave a comment here with a story about your favorite children’s museum experience
  • Extra entry: Tweet about it. Tag me, tinkerlabtweets, so that I can see it
Submissions accepted until 5 pm PST on Tuesday, October 18. Winner will be chosen by Random Number Generator
Good luck! Anne’s name was chosen by Random Number Generator and the Contest is now closed.


Halloween Ideas | No-Carve Pumpkin Decorating

We enjoy simple Halloween ideas, and this one takes the cake with the toddler and preschool crowd.

We had a play date with some good friends last week, and N came home with two cute little pumpkins — one decorated for her little sister with glitter glue and the other decorated with glitter glue and foam Halloween stickers. She was glued to the art table (really, no pun intended) and wanted to make more of these at home.

no carve pumpkins for kids

The next morning we found ourselves at the market where she spotted, and wanted to buy, some absurd anthropomorphic pumpkins with purple and green feathers for hair. I wish I took a picture. To move us along I mentioned that we had feathers at home and could make these ourselves. She liked the idea so we bought a few sugar pumpkins on the spot and set it all up that morning.

The first thing to go on the table: a bowl of feathers. White glue worked really well for this step.

After gluing the feathers in place, she had trouble securing the buttons she selected to the pumpkin with white glue (gravity!). I didn’t feel like hauling out the glue gun and suggested we could draw on the pumpkin with permanent markers or paint on it with acrylics. Neither solution appealed to her, so she worked on getting two buttons to stick to the side before calling it a day. Maybe I should have bought a bag of foam stickers!

But I do love how this turned out…simple and sweet.

Are you making no-carve pumpkins this year? What bits and bobs would you add to your pumpkins?

Oh, how I love Pinterest: more no-carve ideas from around the web…


Five lovely no-carve ideas, including these made with ribbons, from Good Housekeeping

Beautiful no-carve pumpkin projects from Real Simple Magazine

Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Pumpkins

More Halloween Ideas

If you enjoyed this post, you have to check out 50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids.

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Candle Wax Watercolor Resist

Ever since my 13-month old turned one she’s been fascinated with candles, so every week or so we bust out a birthday candle and sing five or six rounds of Happy Birthday to her. One of these candles was lying around and N, my three-year old, decided to draw with it. I immediately saw the opportunity to turn this into a wax-resist watercolor lesson — you know, where you paint with watercolors on top of a waxy drawing in order to reveal the lines of your drawing — and I ran to grab the watercolor paints, brushes, water, and paper towel.

By the time I settled down and got it all set up, N was ready for the paint.

The set up: Watercolor paper, birthday candle, paper towel (for blotting saturated brushes), bowl of water, watercolor paint palette, brush.

N has been painting with watercolors for a couple years now, but every time we sit down with them I have to remind her how to clean the brush by making it “dance in the water,” and how to use the paper towel to blot excess water. But of course she never uses the paper towel. In my experience, watercolor paint is not the best painting medium for young children because it doesn’t allow for fluid mark-making as much as other gooey + runny paints like tempera might, but it’s appealing to parents because it’s cheap and far easier to clean up than tempera. So, if you’re inclined to use it, go for it, but don’t expect the paint cakes to hold onto their distinct colors for long!

My one year old couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join in — it’s impossible to distract her away from the art table when we’re working at it, so she got her own paints, etc. Did you catch my rookie move up there? Dont’ worry, I caught it quickly…

Orange smock to the rescue! We have all sorts of aprons, but I find that my kids are most comfortable in my old t-shirts. If we’re working with really wet stuff, a waterproof apron is still the best way to go. Little R was interested in holding a brush, but this became a fingerpainting/pick-the-paint-cakes-out-of-the-case project for her.

Ahhh, a lovely quiet moment of art making. Circling back to the wax resist part of this post, I imagined that N would be enthralled by the magic of it, especially since she initiated the candle drawing in the first place. But she wasn’t all that impressed and turned her watercolor painting efforts toward other things in subsequent paintings. It was still an afternoon full of passion and industry, so no complaints here! And while our final product didn’t turn out so “spectacular,” I urge you to give this project a go if you think your child will enjoy it.

How do you respond to self-initiated art activities?

Halloween Tree

Are you getting into the Halloween Spirit? At the first site of Halloween costumes (um, I think it may have been in August), my older daughter was overwhelmed with excitement to pull our decorations out of storage. I made her wait until September, which also seemed ridiculously early but at least it wasn’t August! We’ve already tackled at least five Halloween-related projects, so I have plenty to share with you in the next few weeks. If you’re looking for process-based Halloween projects, definitely check back soon!

One of the things I dug out is a glittery, black Halloween tree. We had orange, black, and green paper on the table from a collage project, and N decided it would be fun to make ornaments for the tree. Ha! I never would have thought of this, and adore how inventive children can be. Two of my favorite things about this project: it’s low-cost (assuming you already have the tree) and it’s a great way for little ones to work on cutting, stapling, and decision-making.


N had a plan to cut shapes out of the paper, staple small pieces on top of them, and color some of them with markers. I loved it! When her ornaments were ready, she told me where to poke the holes and then I strung them with partially opened paper clips. Do you know this trick? Someone recently told me how you can use paperclips as ornament hangers in a pinch, and I had no idea that this random bit of knowledge would come in handy so soon!

And there it is, our Halloween Tree. What do you think?