Sensory Activity: Wet Paper

paper sensory activityDoes your toddler enjoy squishing play dough, scooping rice, or dumping buckets of sand? It’s widely recognized (read here and here) that sensory activities play a central role in infant and child brain development.

This is one of those amazing activities that just “happened,” invented by a toddler who was curious about the combination of paper and water, and could be easily replicated in a home or school.

Clean up was a snap!
sensory activitiesI placed a towel on the kitchen floor, and filled a tub of water with a small bowl and ladle for water play. My three year old was building things in the other room with paper, and little R toddled and selected these two pieces of polka dot paper. Pretty.

sensory activitiesBut that wasn’t enough, apparently. She kept walking back and forth, grabbing small handfuls of paper to fill her tub.

sensory activitiesIt seemed that the challenge was to gather paper and squash it as deep into the water as possible.

sensory activitiesI thought I’d help her out a bit when I noticed the slippery trail of water from the kitchen to the dining room.

sensory activitiesAnd then I foraged the recycling bin and tore this magazine apart for her.

sensory activitiesShe finally sat down to work through the big magazine pile, happily engrossed in this meaningful activity.

sensory activitiesAs a last step, I handed her a pair of kitchen tongs for picking up pieces of paper. She’s not quite ready to use them for picking objects up, but she enjoyed snapping them and poking at the paper.

And just so you don’t think this all went to waste, it inspired me to turn the soggy paper mess into a paper-making project the next day. Stay tuned for that!

More Paper Sensory Activities

sensory activity shredded paper

Sensory Activity: Shredded Paper (above), Tinkerlab

Papier Mache as a Sensory Activity for Autism, Sharon’s Creative Corner

Sensory Tub with Shredded Paper, I Can Teach My Child


Creative Challenge: Egg Carton

Do you enjoy repurposing and upcycling materials into new things? Do you try to instill your children with the ability to be resourceful and mindful of their footprint on the environment? Then here’s a challenge for you!

Every two months I host a Creative Challenge with the introduction of a new material and an invitation for children to create something from it. The objective of these challenges is to encourage children to trust their own ideas, build creative confidence, and envision new purposes for common objects.

The rules of the game are simple: projects must include the challenge material, they should be be child-directed, but grown-ups are welcome to join in the fun if the mood strikes.

For this ninth creative challenge, children are invited to transform an egg carton into whatever they can dream up.  To participate, all are invited to add a photo to a comment or add a blog post to the Linky at the end of this post. Over forty bloggers and readers let me know in advance that they would participate and I hope that this will be an inspirational space for parents and caregivers who want to encourage creative thinking in their kids.

And, the fabulous kids’ activity crate subscription service, Kiwi Crate, is gracious enough to offer a free crate to one randomly selected winner. Read to the end for details.

Painting Egg cartonWe’ve been staring at egg cartons for weeks now, and my three year old hasn’t been too excited to manipulate this object. Yikes.

So I set up an invitation that she was eager to accept: Six small bottles of acrylic paint, a paper plate (palette), three brushes, and an egg carton.

She squeezed the paint onto the palette in rainbow order, and then painted each cavity a different color. A few minutes before I snapped this photo she mixed all the colors on another palette together and made the putty grey color you see on the right side of the crate.

She loved the name “putty grey” and made up a little song about it as she painted. I used this as an opportunity to encourage her to invent her own color names, but she didn’t bite.

nature collection in egg cartonI thought it could be fun to fill the holes with objects and natural materials that corresponded to the paint colors. She was less than enthusiastic about this idea and asked me to throw everything back into the garden.


As we developed a new game plan, a couple of her favorite friends stopped by and invited us to make lemonade with them.

But they didn’t have any lemons. How did they know that we did?

Cue: lemonade diversion…

squeezing lemonade with kids

A few hours later my toddler and I found a fun way to use the carton, and it reminds me of a baby version of that shell game you sometimes see on street corners of Manhattan. But no gambling here, I promise.

play baby gamesAfter noticing her interest in filling the egg carton with small toys, I filled each cavity with a plastic egg shell and then poured some glass bead treasures in a few eggs.

The treasures are great for burying in the sand box to dig up and discover, sprinkling around a garden, or pouring into a water table. You do have to be careful with small children who like to mouth little objects, and because of that we haven’t played with these for a while. But when you can confidently play with them, they sparkle and make everything more spectacular.

I loosely covered each egg and then my 1.5 year old had to find the treasures. She loved this! When she opened an empty egg she’d say, “Not there!”, but would shriek with laughter when she opened an egg filled with treasure.

This carried us until bath time, and I then I packed the game right up in the carton, ready to play again tomorrow.

play baby games

Thank you to the following blogs for participating in the challenge:

Child Central Station,  Red Ted ArtSun Hats & Wellie BootsTeach PreschoolThe Chocolate Muffin Tree The Educators’ Spin On It The Golden GleamGlittering MuffinsInspiration LaboratoriesKitchen Counter ChroniclesLiving At The Whiteheads ZooMake, Do & FriendMama Mia’sheart2heartNurtureStorePlayDrMomRainy Day Mum,  The Imagination TreeToddler ApprovedReading ConfettiKindergarten & Preschool for Parents & TeachersRainbowsWithinReachMommy Labs,  Green Owl ArtReusecraftsThe Outlaw Mom BlogHappyLittleMessesExperimenting-MomDuck Duck OctopusPaintCutPasteTrain Up a ChildGrowing A Jeweled Rose Coffee Cups and CrayonsReady. Set. Read!Scribble Doodle and DrawCarrots Are OrangeJDaniel4’s MomQuirky MommaA Mom With A Lesson PlanGood Long RoadTwo2Read

Check out their posts here, or add your own:



Thank you to our lovely sponsor, Kiwi Crate, for their ongoing support and generous giveaway. One lucky Tinkerlab reader will receive a free crate.

To enter to win, please leave a comment by Sunday, April April 15, 2012. And if you have material ideas for future challenge, I’d love to hear them.

Winner will be selected by random number generator and must have a U.S. address. Good luck!

A winner has been selected! Thank you to everyone who entered.



Spring Art: How to Make a Bunny Garland

Yesterday I shared how to make watercolor paintings with kids. And from those paintings, I cut out these cute little bunnies.

bunny garland

This was all my daughter’s idea.

She mapped out a plan for Spring decorating, and one of the things on her list was “a bunny garland, with bunnies that are the same shapes as the ones in in the mobile in your bedroom.” She tends to cut right to the chase.

spring art bunny garlandI asked for some advice here and on Facebook, on how we could turn our watercolor cut-outs into a garland, and you came back with some great ideas. Jen from the amazing blog, Paint Cut Paste, shared a Pinterest Board dedicated to all-things-garland, M Wall suggested that we use small clothespins, and Megan S. gave me the idea to add small paper clips and hang them from baker’s twine.

When I was out in the morning I did a quick hunt for tiny clothespins with no luck (that would have been cute, eh?), but I like how the colorful paperclips that I found ages ago at Daiso helped pull this together.

spring art bunny garlandI clipped them all up, leaving a few inches between bunnies, and then strung them in the garden.

The very windy garden.

And they lasted about three minutes before they were scattered all over the lawn and plants. Hmmm.

spring art bunny garlandSo we brought them inside where they’re safe and sound, helping us welcome Spring on this cool and windy Spring day.

To those of you who celebrate, Chag Pesach Sameach and Happy Easter!


How to Watercolor Bunnies with Kids

Watercolor is a medium that can be as demanding and temperamental as those who choose to paint with it. But it is a colorful and exciting medium all the same – well suited to describing the many moods of the subject, as well as those of the artist wielding the brush.

–Jean Burman

how to watercolor

Do your kids like to paint? Have you had success with watercolors? Traditional dry paint palettes of color are what most of us purchase for first watercolor experiments, but my go-to supply, and one of my favorite kid art supplies period, is liquid watercolor.

Watercolors are one of my favorite mediums to paint with, and somehow I forgot about that. I became an acrylic painter in high school, and then an oil painter after college. But the immediacy of watercolors — the flowing of colors from one into another and their quick-drying quality — makes it so appealing to the parent of young children who are equally quick and impatient.

I don’t have days to wait for paint to dry and I don’t have to worry myself over toxic paint stinking up my house. But watercolors are perfect and my kids adore them too.

how to watercolor with kidsTo set this up, I removed the usual plastic sheet that protects our art table and replaced it with red rosin paper. Red Rosin Paper is heavy sheathing paper usually used as a first step to cover new roofs, and you can find it in hardware stores. It comes on a huge roll, it’s economical, and it was perfect for absorbing the watercolor paint that didn’t make it onto the art paper.


  • Table cover
  • Watercolor Paper. This paper from Seth Cole is what we used. It’s 140 lb. (it’s thick and heavy = good), professional grade, acid-free, archival, and economical.
  • Liquid Watercolors. We like Sax Concentrated Liquid Watercolors from Amazon.
  • Assorted small paintbrushes (sable or synthetic fibers)
  • Container for watercolors — I like to use an ice cube tray. A styrofoam egg carton also works well.
  • Water cups or cans
  • Cloth or Paper towels

We filled our ice cube tray with every color we own (except black). I avoided black because if it’s not used with discretion it quickly muddles up all the colors. We talked about warm and cool colors, and divided our colors into these two camps: on one side there was red, orange, yellow, and sparkly red. The other side held lime green, turquoise, blue, sparkly blue, and violet.

Set up your towels next to the paint and brushes and use them to absorb extra water or paint of the brush.

how to watercolor with kids

I like to paint across from or next to my daughter because I find that her own ideas expand when she sees me work through my ideas. I never paint on her painting, but I may test some ideas out on my own paper that can help her come up with her own solutions.

We explored two kinds of watercolor painting: wet on dry and wet on wet. Wet on dry is the process of painting on dry paper. And wet on wet is the process of painting on wet paper. She painted a little wet on dry, and then I demonstrated wet on wet for her. She’s done this before, but seeing it again got her excited and she wanted to see the colors expand on her paper. You can see the wet on wet blue dots on the left side of her paper.

how to watercolor with kids

I also experimented with tapping the side of my wet, paint-loaded brush to create dots of paint all over my page, and she did the same. She loved this, actually, and thought it was hilarious when the paint splattered her face. Good lesson in paint control!

If you’re new to watercolor painting, it helps to talk with your child about gently dragging a loaded (full) brush against the edge of the paint container before painting. This helps keep paint puddles to a minimum and also teaches your child how to control the amount of paint that goes onto the paper. I wouldn’t worry about this too much with really young children, but be three or four, your child should be able to grasp this concept.

how to watercolor with kidsAll along, her plan was to make a bunny garland to hang in our window, so we let the paintings dry and I made  bunny template that she was happy with.

how to watercolor with kidsWe placed it over the paper to see how it might look. Love it!

how to watercolor with kidsAnd then I traced them on the back of the paper. The hardest part of this process was cutting the bunnies out. Not hard, exactly, but just to warn you, this step took a fair amount of time.

how to watercolor with kidsAnd there’s our first batch of bunnies, waiting to be strung up in the window.

I’m not sure exactly how we’ll hang them. Any ideas for us? I was thinking about gluing baker’s twine to the backs, but I’d like them to be somewhat archival so that we can use them year after year.


If you enjoy watercolor painting, you’ll want to bookmark Spiral Watercolor Streamer, Straw-blown Watercolor Painting,and Candle Wax Watercolor Resist and you will want to check out The Artful Parent’s great list of 11 Fun Watercolor Projects for Kids.



Mining the Garage for Toys

Did you ever play with a Lite Brite? How about Star Wars Action figures? We dusted off some old favorites and have breathed new life into these throw-backs to my own childhood and beyond. Classic toys have a simplicity to them that can generate creative thinking. And although they may be old to us, when they’re new-to-kids they have a freshness to them can can build imagination skills and encourage exploration skills.

Lite Brite

I couldn’t believe my luck when I found this vintage Lite Brite, in perfect spic-and-span condition, at a second hand store.

The mechanics of the toy are so outdated — the tray lights up with the power of one very strong lightbulb, which assaults your eyes if you look at it from the wrong angle, and the heat of the bulb left me wondering how long I could safely leave it on this rug unattended. Not to mention the itsy-bitsy pieces that are clearly choking hazards.

However, with close supervision, once they’re done fighting over the who gets which game piece, my kids LOVE this toy.

Lite Brites have come a long way, and now you can buy the Lite-Brite Cube (Amazon). And Slinky came up with the Slinky Hall of Fame Toy Pack, a smart little all-in-one pack that includes an original Slinky, Duncan yo-yo, Crayola Crayons, and Silly Putty. Oh my.

Vintage Typewriter

I was on the hunt for a vintage typewriter for some time, and came across this beautiful machine on Craigslist. My computer-savvy kids like plucking away at the keys (no finger swiping here!), and I adore the quality of the type-written word. It’s beautiful, and comes in handy if you like scrap booking or adding a handmade look to letters, cards, or gifts.

Overhead Projector

I recently posted about our new-to-us Overhead Projector. My daughter had no idea what this object was, and before we played with it we had a fun discussion trying to figure it out. Once we set it up, we made light patterns with transparent tangram tiles.

One reader suggested that we could add transparencies of artworks or objects, and try to guess what they are as they are slowly brought into focus. Another thought is to draw on transparencies or paper-thin plastic with Sharpies. Lots of opportunities for discovery here.

Where to hunt

More 0f our Vintage Favorites

  • Playing with dad’s original Star Wars action figures and space ships. You can find new Millennium Falcons here, although there’s nothing like the original!
  • Music Boxes like these Fairy Jewelry Boxes.
  • Playing with mom and grandma’s costume jewelry.

What were your favorite childhood toys and what blasts from the past have been revived in your home?