Washi Tape and Found Paper Collage

                        “Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people. When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs”   ~ John F. Kennedy

Do you set up open-ended prompts or invitations for art-making?

Making art, and in turn creative thinking, is rooted in discovery, experimentation, and the free exploration of materials. Projects that foster independent thinking focus on the processes of creation and experimentation rather than  the final product.

 Washi tape and found book collage. A Tinkerlab Art Invitation.

If you spend any time on Pinterest, you know that the internet is full of ideas for creating beautiful kids’ crafts, but I caution you that while these projects may deliver a tidy product, they may not have your child’s best interests in mind. Your best bet for fostering creative growth is to set up open-ended art-making invitations. Not only will your child’s imagination thrive, but you’ll have less to stress over and prepare for.

To get started, choose a few related materials, lay them out on your table, and see what your child (and maybe you!) can come up with.

Our most recent art invitation included these materials:

tape and paper collage

I placed the materials on the table and began by flipping through the book in search of interesting images. My 4-year old paid attention to my curiosity and jumped right in to share which images she wanted me to cut out for her.

tape and paper collage

We built a small collection of favorites. As she glued or taped, I cut. An added surprise is that we talked a little bit about the content of the images along the way (bird houses versus bird feeders, the most colorful birds we could think of — she insists it’s the Scarlet Macaw and I can’t really argue with that!).

tape and paper collage

Washi tape is one of my more recent art material splurges. If you don’t know about washi tape, it’s a decorative Japanese masking tape, It has a bit of a glossy sheen to it, it’s usually somewhat transparent, and it makes everything look adorable.

Before leaving on a recent trip we visited the art supply store for traveling supplies, and two packs of Washi tape begged for us to buy them. Washi is not cheap, but I’ve noticed that a little bit goes a long way. While my 23-month old could use miles of it in 5 seconds flat, my 4-year old used it sparingly.

The plaid rolls come in this set of three: Kikkerland Plaid Washi Masking Tape. I heard that Target carries an inexpensive brand of washi tape (I think the brand is Smash), but they were all out when I visited. Not surprised, really, since washi tape seems to be all the rage in the scrapbooking world at the moment, but I’ll an eye out for it on future trips.

tape and paper collage

The beauty of the art invitation for us parents is that they cut down on our stress. Aside from making sure that you have some materials to work with, these invitations don’t require a lot of fancy preparations or planning. On top of that, there is no expectation to create something with a specific outcome. Keep these words in mind for successful art making with kids: The Journey is the Destination.

More on Invitations

Do you set up art invitations? How does your child respond to them?

Note: Tinkerlab shares affiliate links for products or companies that we think our readers will enjoy knowing about. If you purchase through those links we’ll receive a small percentage of the sale, which help keep our inspiration engine running!


What’s On Your Creative Table?

Where do your creative explorations take place, and what do they look like?

what's on your creative table at tinkerlab
On my journey as a blogger, I’ve become a prolific picture-taker and the majority of my photos are of my kids’ art/science/tinkering/cooking explorations. Obvious, I know.

Our experiments and projects take place everywhere, from the kitchen to the back yard. My children have a beautiful, kid-size table where most of their explorations take place, but that doesn’t stop them from taking over the dining table or kitchen floor when inspiration strikes. The kids and I are visiting their grandparents on the East Coast, so picnic and coffee tables are where it’s happening for us this summer.

Do you enjoy peeking into other people’s lives? It’s so interesting, isn’t it? I don’t get too personal on my site, but I do try to share parts of our creative journey because I hope it will inspire you to give some of our ideas a try. I’ve been inspired by enough images to know how easily one picture can pop me out of my seat and get me into a creative mindset.

Enter stage right: Instagram. I’ve become a huge fan of Instagram, where I’ve been able to witness the creative journeys of old and new friends from around the world. I’m riveted by all the cooking projects, in awe of how long it takes someone to knit a pair of socks, and enjoy the camaraderie and support of the almost daily sketches in the devoted tinkersketch group. These Instagrammers are awesome.

Yesterday, I put out a call for images on Instagram. I invited my IG friends to share a photo of their creative table. Whatever they were making, I wanted to see it. Within minutes I saw gorgeous tables full of leaf rubbings, fabric, bottlecaps, pony beads, tea-stained paper, and paper dolls. Special thanks to my lovely Tinkersketch friend Angela, Kara of Simple Kids, Jen of Paint Cut Paste, Amy of Maker Mama, and Jena of Happy Little Messes for jumping right in and showing me that this idea is worth pursuing.

What kind of pictures can we share?

Images shared with the #creativetable hashtag should document a creative project at any point in the creative process. Here’s what works especially well at inspiring other people:

  • An invitation to create: Show the set-up before you start working. Here’s a great example. 
  • Overhead shots: These images show all of the materials well and are easy to understand. Like in this example.
  • Action shots: Show how to use a material
  • After-the-fact: Share how the project turned out
  • Materials: Share all the materials used for the project

What is an Invitation to Create?

An invitation to create is a carefully designed prompt or provocation to make something. One person sets up an inviting selection of materials, and another person makes something from the materials. There’s no right or wrong way about it. While we may have an idea about how the other person will use the materials, it’s ultimately up to them to determine the outcome.

You can think of this as a sort of game with just a few rules. Adults can step in to offer suggestions or ideas, but the child should mostly be encouraged to find her own way.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Clear the table of anything that won’t be used in the invitation.
  2. Artfully arrange the materials to provoke ideas.
  3. Limit the choice of materials to just a few items.
  4. Provide clues about how to use the materials, but keep the project open-ended so that original ideas can flourish.


Join me on Instagram

  • Upload: You can add your Creative Table to Google+ or Instagram, and add the hashtag #creativetable to your post so that everyone can find it easily.
  • Photo Guidelines:
    • Take a picture of your creative table (or floor, garden, etc…anywhere that you and/or your kids create) at any point in the creative process.
    • This can be a close-up of just the materials or of your children engaged in a project, as long as the materials are the main focus. Think of how this table could inspire someone else.
    • Consider the angle and lighting of your shot. Natural light or room lights are better than a flash.
    • Please only submit photos of projects in process, rather than completed projects. The picture does not have to reflect a perfect set-up, and can show your table just as it really is.

So, what do you think? This is all really fresh in my mind and maybe I’ve missed something or there’s a better way to do this. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment

It’s summer and we’ve been doing a lot of citrus juicing in our home. Between my 4-year old expert juice squeezer and my almost 2-year old juice taster,  our simple and inexpensive juicer has been hard at work.

invisible ink science activity kids

While little Rainbow napped, Nutmeg and I gathered materials and set up the project. We talked about how we’d have to reveal the ink (lime juice) with the high heat of an iron or hair dryer, and she couldn’t wait to get started. She loves dangerous tools.

invisible ink citrus kids

We gathered our ingredients.

Here’s the full recipe:

5.0 from 2 reviews
Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment
Recipe type: Science
Prep time:
Making time:
Total time:
Lemon juice is acidic, and acid weakens paper. When paper is heated, the acid burns and turns brown before the paper does.
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Paper
  • Paint brush or Q-tip
  • Iron
  1. Squeeze lemon or lime into a bowl.
  2. Paint the juice onto your paper with a paint brush or Q-tip.
  3. Wait for the paper to dry.
  4. Heat the paper with an iron, hair dryer, light bulb, or other heat source. Be careful that you don't hold it there to long, as it could burn the paper.
Experiment with other liquids: milk, orange juice, white wine, vinegar, and apple juice are good bets.


invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

Just as we were getting started, baby R woke up to join us. She’s 22 months old now, and enjoyed the sensory experience of squeezing the limes with her bare hands, and then licking her fingers. According to my mom I used to eat lemons right off our tree, so this wasn’t too much of a surprise.

invisible ink lemon lime juice

The girls experimented with different colored papers and brushes. Afterwards I realized that Q-tips would have been perfect for this project, but we enjoyed the challenge of small watercolor brushes.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

The papers dried pretty quickly on this warm day and we were able to get right to the fun part of burning the acid with heat. N’s grandma blows her hair dry every day, and N is obsessed with this tool. Obsessed. We ran the heat on the paper for about a minute with little success. I never blow dry my hair and have a cheap blow dryer for projects like this, and maybe that’s why? In any case, we decided to move on to the iron.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

I folded a thick towel, placed the art on top of it, and she ironed away. In most cases an ironing board would have been better, but ours pulls awkwardly out of the wall and it’s too tricky to get the three of us around it safely. This worked perfectly and only took a few seconds to show its results.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

N’s picture of her and her dad (he’s above her head, slightly visible in all his heated lime acid glory).

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

I really like how the abstracted images turned out and wished I had joined them once I saw how cool these looked. I usually join in when we’re creating and somehow forgot to on this round.

How about you? Do you find yourself doing projects with your kids, or are you in more of the facilitator mode? And what do you think about the new recipe card tool and header?

15 Apron Ideas for Kids

15 apron ideas for kids

Do you have a favorite apron for messy art projects or dress-up play?

When my kids get messy, we have an arsenal of possibilities for keeping us clean (or not). Yesterday was hot, hot, hot and my kids stripped down to barely anything when we painted outside. But depending on weather, moods, and projects, they might choose their play clothes, wear a sturdy water-resistant apron, a frilly apron, or a cast-off daddy t-shirt.

Since there are so many ways to go about the job, I thought it could be fun (and potentially useful) to dig into some of the ways kids can cover up when the messy stuff comes out.

To make this even more useful, I’m excited to share the apron vs. no apron skinny from some of my favorite kid-blogger friends. I have three categories to share: Favorite Aprons, DIY Upcycled Aprons, and No Aprons at All.

favorite aprons for kids

  1. Wipeable Material: My favorite aprons for wet activities (bottom left) are from Mimi the Sardine. They’re made from organic cotton with a water-based acrylic coating that repels water. They tie on nicely, are adjustable to fit a toddler or preschooler (ages 2-6), and they’re lead and PVC free (Rachelle, Tinkerlab). Cathy of Nurture Store says “We love aprons made from wipeable plastic-coated fabric. We’ve had (ours) for 7 years and it’s still going strong, It’s easy for the kids to put on, covers up their body without being so big is gets in the way, and it’s easy to clean.” And if the apron is too big, “pop the apron on and loop the waist tie through the neck loop before you knot it. Great for aprons that are just a little too big for little ones.”
  2. Hand-made by moms: Buy your apron from a small mom-owned business. My friend Stacy and her mother-in-law run an Etsy shop, She and Me Designs, that specializes in really cute one-of-a-kind aprons.
  3. Look at your local market: “We use art smocks/aprons purchased from Whole Foods made out of re-purposed reusable Whole Foods grocery bags. We actually buy them in large quantities to give as gifts at birthday parties with art supplies.” (Patricia, Critters and Crayons).
  4. Use what you have: “I actually have huge collection of aprons. They are all frilly and lacy, but they are all I have so my son gets to wear them (top right) when we do art. He doesn’t mind now, but he may in the future.”  (Kristin, Sense of Wonder).

diy apron for kids

Do you like to upcycle cast-offs into something fabulous? I’m in love with these mom and preschool teacher-tested ideas…

  1. Turn old overalls into aprons, without sewing: Turn old shortalls into a no-sew apron (top right). You could do the same with overalls. Brilliant, right? (Esther, CraftoArt), also shared this clever idea for making a paper art smock.
  2. Upcycle an old apron into something cute: Make these whimsical owl aprons (bottom right), using a free Home Depot kids’ apron as the base. So clever. (The Educator’s Spin on it)
  3. Turn old denim into sturdy aprons: repurposed denim aprons (bottom left) are stylish aprons and go on easily with velcro. (Happy Hooligans.)
  4. Find a good pattern: Carla (Small and Friendly) and Cerys (Rainy Day Mum) both recommend Sew liberated for her FREE apron patterns. The site has a few options and they’re all super cute. Carla also recommends using daddy’s t-shirt, bunched up at the back with a hair tie. Smart!

no apron for kids

This is by far the most popular category. Many of the moms and teachers I talked with started out by saying, “I love X apron, but my child usually prefers to wear nothing.” Sound familiar?

  1. Wear Play Clothes: Jamie (Hands on: As we Grow) , Rebekah (The Golden Gleam, top right) and MaryAnne (Mama Smiles) don’t use anything special — they just use regular play clothes and make sure that the materials are washable.
  2. Use Stain Remover: Melissa (The Chocolate Muffin Tree) uses old shirts or nothing. She just makes “sure to have ‘Shout’ stain remover on hand and throw it in the wash!” Crystal (Growing a Jeweled Rose) says, “We also rarely use a smock or cover up. I am amazed by how fantastically washable art supplies wash out of clothing!”
  3. Go Naked: Aleacia (Dilly Daly Art, bottom left) gives us all confidence that we, too, strip our kids down and let them have at it with paint: Belly Prints and Body Painting
  4. Get messy in the bath: “We do our messiest crafts on bath days — have a blast, and then suds up for awhile afterwards. Bonus points if they are so messy they can change the color of the bath water :)” (Stacy from Kids Stuff World)
  5. Old men’s button-down shirts: “I’m a huge fan of this strategy. Men’s button-down shirts go on backwards, button up the back, and do an amazing job covering just about everything.”(Jill, A Mom with a Lesson Plan) These aren’t great for watery messes, but we use these often when we use acrylic paint. (Rachelle, Tinkelab)
  6. Old T-shirts: “My girls wear old t-shirts that are just too worn out to donate. They usually just put them on over their clothes, but if we’re doing an exceptionally messy project, I’ll have them take their clothes off first. I also have an old sheet I drape over the table to protect it. It’s perfect because I don’t care if it gets stained and it’s easy to throw in the washer if it gets too messy!” (Terri, Creative Family Fun)
  7. Wear something old: “We typically don’t worry about it and hope everything comes out in the wash. We have play clothes though and if I know something is going to be incredibly messy or potentially stain, I just have him wearing something that has seen better days anyways. His favorite way to go down a slide is on his knees. His pants are covered with grass stains. He rolls around on the ground. Art supplies are pretty much the least of our messy worries. Haha. I shrug it off and keep out some “nice” clothes for when he needs to look like he hasn’t spent all day playing. (Joyce, Childhood Beckons). “We paint in our ‘painting clothes,’ which are just our stained, older clothes. For us, there’s no sense in containing the mess or trying to stay clean because it will NEVER happen :-)” (Chrissy, The Outlaw Mom).

Do you have a favorite apron or a favorite way to cover up when the messy stuff comes out? Or do your kids strip down to nothing? Maybe it depends on the weather or the project. I’d love to hear more thoughts on this topic since there are so many ways to do this.

Fort Magic, the Coolest Fort in Town

“Confidence is earned through doing and believing.”  -Erika Pope-Gusev

Shortly after sharing this post on how to build a simple fort, I was contacted by Fort Magic and asked if I’d like to review their fort building kit. My children make forts every single week (this week it’s a beaver dam/fort), so how I could I refuse?

There will be a generous giveaway at the end of this post.

fort magic review

When our Fort Magic kit arrived, I was impressed by the sheer quantity of materials (seven different stick sizes with over 350 pieces altogether). I spoke highly of our new toy to my lovely neighbors, and they all wanted to have a turn with Fort Magic. The kit made the rounds around our houses…a few times…and I can confidently say that it’s popular with girls and boys, and children between the ages of 1 and 7. Our 5-year old neighbor built a tent-fort over his bed and kept it there for a full month! The kit finally made it back to us and my 4-year old asked to make a submarine from the instruction manual (shown in my photos in this post).

Fort Magic was founded by entrepreneur and homeschooling mom Erica Pope-Gusev, who’s joining us today to talk about how she came about designing this imagination-building toy.


It’s great to have you here today, Erika! What is the inspiration behind Fort Magic?

Our family had purchased a dryer for our home.  My son, who was 8 at the time, begged me to keep the huge box.  I agreed.  He played with this box for months!  He and his friends turned that box into every imaginary item they could. Only it was large and in the way in our apartment.  This sparked my imagination and instantly I invented Fort Magic in my mind!  After 2 years of trial and error and invention we finally created the perfect Fort Building Kit for kids!  Where a child can build a fort as big as their imagination with just one kit!  Literally!  :)

fort magic review

The materials used to build with Fort Magic are both simple and incredibly smart. What contributed to your design process?

The design process of creating Fort Magic was basically being a kid myself!  We call our business the Fort Magic Fun Factory.  I originally just started building (playing!) and working with my prototypes and would think, “hmm, this could be cool,” then I would try and add something else or create something new.  After many months of building and trying lots of different sized pieces, we came up with our current kit components!

It really can build anything and it really is the ultimate building toy!  And it fits nicely in one little bag.  :)  Some companies create toys with just enough pieces that you have to buy a second to really do something cool with it.  That is NOT our philosophy.  We wanted out kit to be excellent enough to be purchased alone and STILL give a child enough to build fantastic life-sized forts!  Kids deserve it.  If a family wants 2 kits that is great also.  But it won’t be because one kit leaves feeling cheaped-out, it would be because you just want to build more cool stuff!

assembling fort

What do you hope children will gain from the experience of playing with this these materials?

Oh my goodness!  First and foremost we want kids to have fun!  But also, Fort Magic is obsessed with children becoming their best!  Our mission is the building of greatness in children one fort at a time.  :)  Our goal is to give power to children to literally create their own realities, life size!  Not only by building and creating life-sized forts of their own to play in, but by igniting a confident belief in their minds that maybe they CAN do anything else!  Confidence is earned through doing and believing.

With Fort Magic kids learn to plan their designs, build their designs, cover and decorate their designs, and see their work!  That is education: fun and confidence building in one experience!

fort magic example

Fort Magic also brings the whole family in to play.  If you look at our Facebook page you’ll see so much creativity coming from the minds of boys AND girls!  Building toys are often directed primarily at boys, but girls LOVE to build also!  The long term plan is to support our product with our online World of Fort Magic page on our website where kids can learn how to create all kinds of DIY projects, educational materials to support themes, resources for parents on how to use Fort Magic to help their kids.

There are sooo many benefits from creative building toys like Fort Magic!  I can hardly start to name all of them.  We are busy preparing a lot of material that will launch soon on our World of Fort Magic page for customers to use.  We are really excited about this!

fort magic tent

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like to thank all of our fans, reviewers and customers for their enthusiasm and support! We are so happy to recieve emails and notes from kids and parents on how much they love their Fort Magic kits!  It just makes our hearts soar.  :)  We get a lot of positive reviews and we love it.

We are really aiming to create the best quality product we can for children.  Safety first (highest standards of safety certification).  Everything is the absolute best quality because kids deserve it!  Our materials and are so well made they will last for generations and we love that!  We’re just a family business started by a mom who loves her kids and is a big kid herself.  Just pure, good fun toward the goal of helping our kids reach their best in life; that is Fort Magic.  :)

Check the Fort Magic Facebook page for photos of kids and their creations! Each month we hold a Fort Magic Photo of the Month contest  — winner receives an additional Fort Magic Kit, free!

To enter for your chance to win a complete Fort Magic Kit ($249 Value), click on the Rafflecopter giveaway. This is the first time I’ve used Rafflecopter to run a giveaway. I’d love to hear what you think about it. This is open to U.S. addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway