How to Build a Simple Clip Fort

how to build a clip fort

How was your Valentine’s Day? We had a drizzly pre-Valentines romp in the park with friends and I spent Valentine’s morning leading a fun docent training workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA). Under the leadership of Education Director, Lucy Larson, SJMA one of the most visitor-centered museums around. It’s not a huge museum, which means it’s easy to navigate with squirmy kids, and if you ever take a docent tour you’ll be surprised at how much the docents care about what YOU think. No stuffy lectures here!

So backing up a bit, I’ve been clearing the clutter from my house (see herehere, and here) –what a slow job that is with two little kids running around the house! — and I found a huge stack of sheets that we really don’t need anymore. We gave a few away to our favorite thrift store, but before I parted with all of them I asked the Tinkerlab Facebook community for ideas on what we could do with this bounty of potential fun. So many great ideas came my way that I decided I’d try a bunch of them out. So today I’m starting with building a simple fort with sheets and big kitchen clips. This activity is perfect for little kids and helps foster imagination and invention, while giving kids the opportunity to build with everyday materials.


how to build a clip fort under the table

Start by assessing your room for fort-able furniture. Anything heavy with lots of head space is good — if the piece is too light it has the potential to tip over. Move things together and shift your furniture around. Some ideas: couches, dining tables, coffee tables, kid art tables. Look for places to clip your sheets, move the sheets around and twist the corners and edges until you and your kids are satisfied with the results, and BAM — you have a fort.

These steel wire clips (above) don’t have as much reach, but I use them for just about everything in my kitchen so they’re plentiful in my house. They’re great for clipping to thin things under 1/2″ wide.

how to clip sheet to the table for a fortI’ve had these forever and couldn’t find them online, but they seem to be similar to ng this big clip (with round magnet on the back so you can stick it to the fridge when you’re not turning your house into a faraway tent planet).

clip a sheet to the coffee table

This is one of our favorite set-ups: scooting the coffee table up to the dining table for an low entry that rises for easy sitting (and sleeping). My three year old dragged a few pillows and blankets inside for an extra-snuggly spot.

take a blurry picture of your dadI was busy snapping photos when N asked if she could take a drive with the camera. So she turned the camera on my husband who is so game, and she wiggled down onto her belly to take this shot. I have a heavy camera, which makes for some wobbly (but happy) photos.

I recently came across this site, All For the Boys, which hosts a weekly Fort Friday post. It’s awesome, and if your kids like building forts you’ll get all sorts of inspiration over there. Not to mention, Allison takes photo submissions and might include your fort on her site. In her words: “If you want to share a photo of your fort to inspire us send them to info[at]allfortheboys[dot]com and I’ll share them here on Fort Friday.”

Do your kids like to build forts? What do you like to make them with?


6 Kids Valentines Day Activities

6 Kids Valentines Activities and Homemade Valentine Gifts

We’ve been crafting up a Valentine’s storm, which mostly means that three-year old N has been collaging all our self-serve bits and bobs of Valentine goodness into a taped-up, glued, and spackled hodge podge of Valentine craziness. In other words, we’ve been having fun, but it’s not something anyone else would likely take inspiration from or worth blogging about!

That said, we have been playing with an amazing batch of Valentine play dough that’s always good for open-ended exploration and imagination-building. And, for my 1.5 year old, it’s great for hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skill development. 

valentine play dough

I keep my play dough in a big sealable bowl or zipped bag, and it will last for months. I use this recipe, and it’s hands-down the best one out there for the play dough job. Here are the ingredients, but click over to the recipe for all the deets:

valentine play dough station

The Ingredients

  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1 1/4 c. salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 5 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors. I really like Wilton Icing Colors or Liquid Watercolors (from Discount School Supply), which make gorgeous shades of play dough to match any occasion, mood, or toddler request.


For our Valentine Play Dough Station, I made a batch of white dough and a batch of dark pink, and then the kids helped me loosely mix them together to make this fun, mottled Valentine concoction. Oh, and we added peppermint oil to the mix to give it a nice, fresh smell. This would be perfect for Christmas too…something to keep in mind for later.

valentine play dough

I gave my kids a new set of heart-shaped cookie cutters, which proved to be too difficult for my little one to effectively use on her own. But that didn’t stop her from trying! I cut a few shapes for her, which she really enjoyed pulling out of the dough and then breaking into three or four pieces. Some of the hearts were too challenging for her to pull out on her own, so I’d break the dough walls, which helped her remove the hearts somewhat intact.

She also enjoyed playing with the rolling pin and practiced rolling snakes.

valentine play dough

I was recently asked which of our art materials is absolutely indispensable, and while there are many, play dough is one of those materials that appeals to a wide variety of ages because the threshold is so low. Very young children know exactly what to do with it, and as children get older their ability to manipulate it and use it for imaginative play grows along with them.

Play dough, I love you…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Interested in more Tinkerlab-style Valentines?

Deconstructed Valentines

deconstructed valentines

Valentine Garland

Valentine Garland With Kids

Self-serve Valentines

self serve valentines

All-in-one Valentine Envelope

all in one valentine envelope

Valentine Snack

cut out valentine snack

Happy Valentine’s Day!




Tinkerlab on Instagram

rainbow whirly birds

Rainbow Whirly Birds

Hi all! It’s been a rough couple of days with a one year old who’s not afraid to fight sleep. I think she’s teething, but who really knows, and coffee has been getting me through the days. I had big ideas about sharing Valentines projects and more paper bag experiments, but the reality is that I have a huge pile of dishes to contend with and bags under my eyes.

today's chalkboard drawing

today's chalkboard drawing


However, I’ve been able to snap a few shots of our creative days via Instagram, and thought you might like to see a snapshot from our lives. I’ve been a fan of Instagram since it first came out, and just set up a Tinkerlab account, and if you’re an Instagram fan too, maybe you’d like to follow me!

stanford barn

stanford barn

I like to take the girls on field trips, and last week we wandered over the Stanford Barn to check out the horses. My one-year old is enamored by “neigh-neighs”…from afar…not so much up close and personal…and has been saying “neigh-neigh poop” since last week’s visit. Props to me for the educational trip!

spring time in california

spring time in california

And today we played outside in our garden. We’re having a mild California winter and were able to enjoy an hour in the sand box, do a little seed planting, and pick some wild flowers.

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram, I’m Tinkerlab, or follow the link to set up your own account.

Oh my gosh…shortest nap EVER!! Okay, I’m off. Hope to be back tomorrow 🙂

Paper Bag Museum

In case you missed yesterday’s post, we’re hosting a super fun Paper Bag Creative Challenge that brought over 50 kid-directed paper bag projects together in one spot. Today I’m excited to share our own take on the challenge.

paper bag art oil pastels

This is how our art table looked the other morning.

paper bag art table

Me and the girls crafting up a paper bag collage storm.

My one year old colored paper bags with oil pastels and glued hearts and sequins to a paper bag while my 3 year old went to town — all day long — making paper bag collages that quickly took up all the ceiling space in the room.

collage installation

My 3-year old, N, called these her Valentine Collages and Paper Bag Art. She recently picked up on how museums have multiples of one type of thing, and decided that this would be her Paper Bag Museum. In case you’re wondering, I was told that it was okay that some of the things in the museum weren’t made with paper bags. She’s the curator, so I couldn’t really argue with that.

paper bag museum

We set up a Vistor Services Desk with information about our admission policies and hours. It’s really important for people to know that they can’t hang out in our house at dinner!

paper bag museum

We gathered up all the paper bag creations that weren’t hanging from the beams and displayed them here. Maps are in the basket on the left and she set up an interactive activity in the paper bag “basket.” More on that in a sec.

paper bag museum maps

We talked about how museums share all sorts of informative collateral for visitors to pick up, like maps, schedules, and catalogues. I cut a big paper grocery bag into squares and she decided to turn them into maps. To make this map, we started with a “you are here” dot, and then she added trails into the various rooms of our house, also marked by dots.

paper bag museum maps

But why stop with one map when you’re expected a big audience!

interactive museum prompt with kids

Then she handed me a stack of post-its and dictated this participatory prompt to me.

The museum educator in me was so proud!

This wasn’t going to be some stuffy old museum — oh no, she was thinking about her visitors’ experience and wanted to make sure their voices were heard!

paper bag museum

Our first visitor woke up from her nap just in time for the opening, and got right to work with a drawing. The prompt worked!

The museum is now closed for the installation of a new show. My one year old is enamored by fish, so maybe we’ll figure out a way to build her an Aquarium!

What’s your child’s favorite kind of museum? Could you set up an imaginative play area based on it?


If you’re interested in reading more about participatory museums, Museum 2.0 is one of my favorite sites, and it’s run by Nina Simon, Executive Director of The Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz and author of The Participatory Museum.


Creative Challenge 8: Paper Bags

A few weeks ago I put out a call for entrees in our 8th Creative Challenge: Paper Bags, and I’m excited that today is finally here and we get to see what everyone has been working on! The rules of the game are simple: projects should be child-directed, but grown-ups are welcome to join in the fun if the mood strikes. And at least one paper bag (of whatever variety) has to be used.

paper bag maps

I sometimes share what my kids and I have been working on, and today I’ll just give you a taste and turn the spotlight over to all the great ideas that are coming in from around the world. But come on back tomorrow and the rest of this week for more paper bag inspiration and highlights from the today’s Challenge.

Pinterest Contest

I’m a huge Pinterest fan (find me here:, and I thought it would be fun to interact with this challenge through a Pinterest Contest. Simply share a link to your project and we’ll upload it onto a Pinterest Board for everyone to see. The project with the most repins by February 29, 2012 at 9 pm PST will win a $100 VISA gift card and 3-month subscription to Kiwi Crate (Kiwi Crate subscription is only open to U.S. residents).

Following are some of the blogs that have joined this challenge, and more can be found in the Link Party below.

Paint Cut Paste, Imagination SoupHands On: As We Grow, Child Central Station, Putti Prapancha, Irresistible Ideas for Play-Based LearningTeach Preschool, The Chocolate Muffin Tree, Nurture Store, Small TypesThe Imagination Tree, Toddler Approved, Red Ted Art, Sun Hats and Wellie Boots, Come Together Kids, Mommy Labs, Kids in the Studio, Rainy Day Mum, Glittering Muffins, Sense of Wonder, Mom To 2 Posh Lil Divas, Come Together Kids, Kitchen Counter Chronicles, A Mom With A Lesson Plan, Angelique Felix, The Golden Gleam, Share and Remember, Clarion Wren, Living at the Whitehead’s Zoo, Let Kids Create, De tout et de rien, PlayDrMom, Rainbows Within Reach, No Time for Flash Cards, Creativity My Passion, Messy Kids, The Outlaw Mom,Glitter, Mud, and Duct Tape A Childhood List Kiwi Crate, Tinkerlab

If you have a paper bag post to share, you’re invited to add your inspiration to the Link Party at the bottom of this post. Everyone who links a paper bag project to this post will be added to the Paper Bag Pinboard on Pinterest.

 And feel free to grab our cute lil’ button for your own blog:


  • Add your Paper Bag project to the Link Party. We’ll ‘Pin” the image that you’ve uploaded to the Link Party, and share the description that you added to your link. Links that don’t relate to this challenge will be removed.
  • If you have another way that you’d like us to describe the pin, please leave the description in the comment section.
  • If you don’t have a blog, you can still enter! Simply upload your project onto an online photo storage site like Flickr or Picasa, and share your photo’s URL in the link party.
  • Grab my button and share it or a link to this page in your post.
  • Leave a comment if you’d like to participate in the next Creative Challenge, and I’ll be sure to add you to my list.
  • If I’m not already following you on Pinterest, leave your Pinterest URL in a comment and I’ll be sure to follow you.
  • Spread the love!! Take a few minutes to visit at least five of the participating sites and leave them a nice comment. Repin your favorite posts. Share this challenge on Facebook. Tweet about it. Whatever works for you.


  1. Contest ends February 29, 2012 at 9 pm PST
  2. The pin with the most repins will be selected as the winner
  3. Projects should be child-directed, although adults are welcome to join in if the mood strikes. Projects must include at least one paper bag.
  4. Kiwi Crate subscription is open to U.S. residents only. $100 VISA gift card is open to all entrees.
  5. Participants are welcome to share their pin widely to encourage repinning
  6. Tinkerlab and Kiwi Crate reserve the right to edit descriptions or select post images at our discretion.
  7. You do not need to have a Pinterest account to join
  8. One entry per person, please
UPDATE: Congratulations to Child Central Station on winning this challenge!!

Upcoming Challenges – Mark your Calendar!

April 2 – Egg Cartons   {NEXT CHALLENGE}
June 4 – Flowers
August 6 – Milk Jugs or Cartons
October 1 – Dried Beans or Seeds

Thank you to our lovely sponsor, Kiwi Crate, for their support and generous giveaway.


Yeast and Sugar Science Fair Project

Yeast and sugar science fair project

In this Yeast and Sugar Science Fair Project, we’ll watch yeast feed on sugar to fill a balloon with air. A fun science project for kids that’s with household, everyday materials.

Our Inspiration

I’ve been baking bread just about every day for the past three weeks (nothing too crazy since it’s all done in the bread maker), but last week my 3.5 year old and I got into a discussion about the properties of yeast.

We like to tinker and  experiment — big surprise, I know — and decided to see what would happen if we mixed yeast with warm water.

My preschooler took this job very seriously, poured the water into a bowl, added a couple teaspoons of yeast, and waited a few patient minutes before she said, “it makes a brownish color.” True, and to make it bubble like it does in bread, we needed to activate it with sugar.

What’s so great about an experiment like this is that it’s easy to do with household materials, and it’s ripe for authentic child-generated questions and observations. When I asked what she thought would happen if we added sugar to the yeast she said, “I don’t know! Let’s mix them and find out!.”

In this Yeast Sugar Experiment, we'll watch yeast feed on sugar to fill a balloon with air. A fun science project for kids that's with household, everyday materials.

Supplies: Yeast and Sugar Science Fair Project

  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 packet or 2 1/4 tablespoons
  • Balloon
  • Warm water (105-115 degrees F, 40.5-46 degrees C)
  • Mixing bowl + funnel
  • Bottle that you can fit a balloon over

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

Mix the yeast and sugar into the warm water and stir. I noticed that N was sniffing the concoction and asked her what it smelled like. She said “poop.” I could see what she was saying. Consider yourself warned.

Once it all dissolves, pour the mixture into the bottle and cover the bottle with the balloon.

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

After a few minutes you’ll be amazed by something like this!

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Expriement

Will it blow off the bottle?

N wanted to feel it as it filled with air. She noticed the balloon was getting bigger and wanted to know how big it would get, wondering out loud, “will it fill up all the way and blow off the bottle?”

Good question!

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

My handy-dandy ship captain sister (no joke — that’s her job!) was visiting, and put herself right to work as chief measurer.

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

Move it to a safe spot

Once the bottle filled up completely, we moved the whole yeast sugar experriment to the sink. The bubbles were slow-moving, and there was nothing to worry ourselves with, but N enjoyed pulling the balloon off and watching the foam slowly pour over the bottle’s top.

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

Ideas for Extending this Experiment

As we went through the process, I thought of a few fun extensions for older kids or those who want to take this further. You could play around with food coloring/liquid watercolors, have a few bottles going at once and compare the results of different sugar:yeast ratios, or compare the results of different water temperatures.

I found my recipe at The Exploratorium’s Science of Cooking series, where we also learned that as the yeast eats the sugar it makes carbon dioxide, which is essentially the same process that yeast goes through in our bread dough.

Mmmmm. I’m off to eat some whole wheat cranberry walnut oat bread. Toasted. With butter and Maldon salt. How do you like your bread? And have you played around with yeast concoctions?

More Science Experiments for Kids

If you enjoyed this project, you’ll love this article: Science Fair Project Ideas.

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In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Valentine Garland + Some Other Stuff

It’s February! And you know what that means? Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and we get to geek out on hearts, pink, and glitter. I’m over at the Kiwi Crate blog today, sharing this Valentine garland that my three year old and I made together. It’s so simple and turned into an excellent activity for practicing hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and home decorating. Home decorating is a life skill, right?!

Are you getting ready for the Paper Bag Creative Challenge (February 6-29)? If you need an excuse to get all DIY crafty, look no further! Jen from Paint Cut Paste and Cathy from The Nurture Store shared these mysterious work-in-progress shots of their kids in action. I love the paper bag hat, although Cathy says that’s not even the project, and it looks like there’s some painting going on over at Jen’s house. You don’t have to be a blogger to play…this invitation is open to parents, teachers, grandparents…anyone, really, with some sort of paper bag and an enthusiastic, imaginative child.

There’s also a big prize attached to this challenge, which promises to make it a lot of fun. Interested? Click here for more details.

AsSeenIn-Feb2010 And finally, I just got the official word that Tinkerlab has been selected as a Top Mom (and Dad!) Craft Blog for Kids. If you’re looking for inspiration, I discovered some fab new-to-me blogs like this one and many of my favorites like this one!

What are your Valentines plans? Will I see you at the Creative Challenge next week? And what fun plans do you have this month?