This Creative Week

Hey friends! How was your weekend? My husband has been sick, and along with that I’m trying hard to balance my life, which at the moment includes learning how to get the kids organized for school, making time to write, spending time with family and friends, turning a closet into a home office, and clearing clutter.

I sort of feel like I’m phoning it in over here in Tinker-land, and have to apologize for that, but I hope you’ll stick with me through this because it’s only gonna get better.

But, I’ve been dying to bring back This Creative Week, my weekly round-up of creative goodness. I’m also introducing a new look to Tinkerlab (I know, I do this a lot). Do let me know what you think.

creativityFall is in the air, and surprise, surprise, there’s all sorts of Autumn inspiration going around. So, I’ll be sharing a little bit of that along with creative inspiration I spotted around the virtual town this week in these categories: Autumn Inspiration, Creative Kids, Creative Goodness, Pinterest Boards of the Week. Enjoy!

Autumn Inspiration

My friend Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent released her jam-packed new eBook, The Artful Year: Autumnand it’s not-to-be-missed if you’re looking for Fall projects to do with the kids. If you don’t already follow her blog, it’s one of my favorites.




The Cardboard Collective is hosting a Cardboard Costume Challenge. Make a costume and upload it to their Flickr pool, and maybe win a prize from MakeDo Japan. The Cardboard Collective is just an all-around-inspiring-DIY zone. I love it, and imagine you will too!



I gravitate to process-based art projects, and this fist-print pumpkin activity from Roopa at Putti’s World would be a fun way for children of all ages to get into the Fall spirit.





Emma and Kerry from Science Sparks bring us 5 Science Experiments for Halloween. Science Sparks is also the recipient of Most Innovative Blog in the UK MADS (Mum and Dad Blogs) Awards. If you’re looking for science projects for kids, this is your spot.




We made a Halloween Countdown chain because my 4-year old kept asking how many days it would be until Halloween. So simple (you just need paper and a stapler or tape), decorative, good for small motor skill development, and functional.




Creative Kids

antique shopI take my kids to thrift stores, or op shops, all the time, but never the antique shop. Amy from Mama Scout challenges us to take our children to antique stores as a way to teach them about history through objects. This is brilliant, and I know my 4-year old would love it (as long as her sticky-palm 2-year old sister can stay close by). Mama Scout is also about to start a new e-Lab, a month long, daily lab for igniting and sustaining creative family living. Doesn’t that sound cool?



Danielle and her kids at 52 Brand New (her New Year’s resolution was to try 52 new things in the year, one each week) took inspiration from our tinkering experiments (What is Tinkering? Why is Tinkering Important? Tinker Tots: Take a Toy Apart) and the must-read book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), and took apart a printer. This is so inspiring!





What do you think about apps for kids? If you’re looking for some new apps, USA Today just released this list of 5 Top Apps for Creative Kids, and one of them is free. Thanks, USA Today!





Why We Save the Random Stuff is an inspiring post by Heather at Little Moments about the power of loose parts, and how children are so good about making something out of nothing. If you’re inclined to send the grandparents a long list of toys with your holiday wish list, read this first!




Creative Goodness

Can you spot the urban chameleons in these scenes? This is part of a publicity effort to promote the UK spy show, but I love how it takes body painting to a whole new level.





8 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Master the Creative Mind is a great reminder of what’s involved with creative thinking, and it’s not just for entrepreneurs. The first three ways: Forever Curious, Always Open to New Things, Embrace Ambiguity. Go check it out and let me know how you size up as a creative thinker.

 Pinterest Boards of the Week

Kids Science:
76 pins with Halloween science experiments and sparkly explosions, from Meghan Schiedel.






Playtime: 188 pins of “All kinds of good stuff to stimulate (and occupy) the kids!” from Steph at Modern Parents Messy Kids





Halloween Crafts and Ideas: 224 family-friendly pins from Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent.





And if you’re not already one of the 11,000+ who’s following my Pinterest boards, please join me on Pinterest too!

Baked Pumpkin Seeds

While it still feels like summer here in California, pumpkins are showing up at our markets and the feeling of Autumn is in the air.

How do you cook pumpkin seeds

My older daughter asked about getting a pumpkin, so we picked up a small pie pumpkin the other day and then promptly turned it into an afternoon of hacking the pumpkin, digging out the seeds, and then roasting them up. We also baked the pumpkin and made pie filling that’s waiting to be baked into something amazing.

baking pumpkin seeds

I have wonderful memories of opening and carving pumpkins with my dad, and my hope is that my children will come to embrace this season with love as a result of our cooking adventures.

How to Bake Pumpkin Seeds

The set-up was simple:

  • One cutting board
  • One pumpkin
  • Heavy kitchen knife (pumpkins are crazy tough to cut)
  • Empty pan or bowl

My kids have a set of knives from Curious Chef that are fabulous for cutting up mushrooms, scrambled eggs, marshmallows, cheddar cheese, and all things not-too-hard. I began by cutting the top off the pumpkin, and then my 4-year old asked if she could help. Ha!

Although it was clear that her beloved knife was no match for the pumpkin, in the spirit of experimentation she gave it a go. This is how kids learn! Once we got past that, we got back to digging seeds out of the pumpkin. We got most of them out before I cut the pumpkin in half, which helped us clean it out really well.

My kids aren’t really into goopy things at the moment, but children who are would probably love the sensory experience of mucking around with all the smooshy pumpkin seeds and such.

We put all the seeds into a pot of water, added a few pinches of salt, and boiled it for 20 minutes.This helps clean the seeds off while infusing them with a little flavor.

Salting things is one of 4-year old N’s favorite kitchen duties, and while I initially worried that she’d oversalt our food, she’s become very judicious after lots of practice. Our favorite salt is Maldon Sea Salt, and we keep it in a bamboo salt box like this.

how to bake pumpkins seeds

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

After 20 minutes, we spread the seeds out on a baking tray and set them aside to dry overnight. 

The next day, we mixed them with 2 tablespoons of melted butter, 2 kid-size pinces of salt, and a few shakes of garlic powder. This all goes into a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes. About 20 minutes into the baking, I turned the seeds to help them cook evenly.

The kitchen smelled like heaven.

My kids were eager to try their creation, but sadly, they weren’t fans. I think the crunchiness wasn’t that appealing, and maybe with a different flavor like cinnamon-sugar would have been more their speed. Good thing we have a few more months to tinker with our recipe!

More Fall Activities on Tinkerlab

Fall Bucket List

Negative Leaf Impressions

Capture Fall Memories with Kids

Acrylic Painted Pumpkins

No-carve Pumpkin Decorating

Do your kids like pumpkin seeds? Do you have a favorite baked pumpkin seed flavor that we could try?

On Failure

failure quote

I’ve been thinking a lot about failure lately, and how failure is nothing more than an opportunity to learn, improve, iterate, and grow.

Innovators aren’t afraid of failure, and in many cases it’s only by embracing failure that we can learn to pick ourselves up and get closer to the outcome that we envisioned in the first place.

What do you think about failure? Are you a perfectionist? How do you react when things don’t go as you planned?

What do you think stands in the way of your ability to fail, or why do you think you’re good at accepting mistakes as part of the learning process?

More on Failure and Innovation

The term “loser” hasn’t been around forever, and in the mid 19th century, Americans began to associate business failures with personal failure. Read more about this fascinating history of the beginnings of failure in America, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America

Creating an Innovation Culture: Accepting Failure is NecessaryEdward D. Hess, Professor of Business Administration and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden Graduate School of Business for Forbes.

Why Great Innovators Fail: It’s all in the Ecosystem, Forbes

Don’t Fear Failure in Innovation: Google’s Chief Technology Advocate,

Why Failure Drives Innovation, Baba Shiv, Sanwa Bank, Ltd. Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business


Styrofoam Printmaking with Kids

easy crafts printmaking kids

This project uses materials that you probably already have at home, or can easily find in your drug store. The only specialty item is a brayer, but without it you’d never expose your kids to the experience of true printmaking.

Styrofoam Printmaking with Kids

Printing from styrofoam plates can help children learn that they can upcycle everyday materials into beautiful objects and teaches them patience and planning as they work through multiple steps to reach a desired outcome.


This list contains affiliate links

What is a Brayer?

A brayer is a tool, similar to a paint roller, that allows you to apply ink evenly to a large area. You can find brayers in art stores or order them online. I have a few different brayers, and I don’t think you need to go for the most expensive version. This Speedball Deluxe 4-Inch Hard Rubber Brayer is a really good brayer that will do everything you need.

Oh, and we used tempera paint for this project, but I’m also a fan of using Speedball Water soluble Block Printing Ink. It’s not washable, but it will make a clearer image (better for archival purposes), as shown in this post where we made abstract recycled print.

If brayers seem like an item that you’ll only use once or twice, you’ll be surprised at how addictive printmaking can be and you may find that your kids will make excuses to experiment with them. My own kids (ages 2 and 4) are always eager to tinker with our brayers.

Styrofoam Printmaking


Prep time: 

Total time: 

Printing from styrofoam plates helps children learn that they can upcycle everyday materials into beautiful objects and teaches them patience and planning as they work through multiple steps to reach an outcome.
  • Styrofoam plate
  • Scissors
  • Copy Paper
  • Pencil
  • Paper tape, like masking tape
  • Tempera or Poster Paint
  • Cookie Sheet or Piece of Acrylic
  • Brayer
  • Paper or tablecloth to cover workspace
  1. Cut the rim off the styrofoam plate.
  2. Place the stryrofoam circle on top of a sheet of tracing paper, and trace around the circle.
  3. Remove the plate.
  4. Draw a picture or design on the copy paper. Avoid drawing small details that will disappear when printed.
  5. Tape the drawing on top of the plate.
  6. Retrace your drawing, pushing hard enough to press into and make a mark on the plate.
  7. Remove the paper.
  8. Retrace the drawing on the styrofoam plate, creating deep grooves in the plate.
  9. Roll a small amount of paint onto the cookie sheet or piece of acrylic, and then roll the paint over the styrofoam plate.
  10. Cover the plate with a piece of copy paper, and press it down firmly with your whole hand.
  11. Remove the paper to reveal the printed magic.
  12. Repeat as desired.

easy styrofoam prints with kids

My 4-year old saw the circular shape of the plate and took it as an opportunity to make a spider web. She’s also sort of obsessed with Halloween, so spiders it was! When drawing the designs, encourage your child to avoid tiny details, as they won’t show up well in this printing process.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my 2-year old got in on the action too. I gave her a pencil to draw directly onto the plate, and then she happily rolled paint with it. The printing part wasn’t that interesting to her, but the process of rolling was tops.


We stored our finished prints on another table. I recycled all the messy scrap paper, sprayed the table down, and dropped the brayers and sheet of acrylic into the sink. Done!

More printmaking inspiration

Abstract Recycled Packaging Prints with Printmaking Ink

Sink Mat Prints 

Cookie Sheet Monoprints

Bubble Wrap Prints

Sweet Potato Heart Prints

Styrofoam Pattern Prints

More Halloween Ideas for Kids

If you enjoyed this project and you’re looking for more Halloween ideas, you have to check out 50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids.

Discover the Art You Love

This post is sponsored by favorite artDo you love the art on your walls?

There’s not one thing on my walls that I don’t love for one reason or another, and I’m a huge advocate of filling our homes with the things that make us happy, move us spiritually, or make us think.

We have this dark, little hallway that was begging for something at the end of it. I had all sorts of ideas, but ultimately needed a place to store a collection of favorite family photos and small pieces of art. After pulling a sea of black frames together, I now have a happy collection that includes my smiling grandparents, mother-in-law as a 2-year-old, and my faraway niece and nephew mixed in with art that I love.

Art has this power to transport us to another time or place, make us smile, change a mood, or get us back on track.

I’ll give you some examples from my hallway gallery… favorite art

An artist gave me this piece because I loved it so much. Gave. It. To. Me. Artists are like that.

The wash line and tile roofs in this sweet watercolor garden scene remind me of where I grew up and of the first neighborhood my husband and I dug our heels into in Silver Lake (Los Angeles), which, by the way, was just named America’s Hippest Hipster Neighborhood in Forbes. It’s a cool spot of interestingness that I miss terribly. The Mission in SF and Williamsburg in Brooklyn came in next, in case you’re wondering. favorite art

I found this funny piece by  Jose Pulido on Etsy, and immediately fell in love with these little devils in a battle between good and evil. The skeleton, or Calavera, imagery is everywhere here in California, and this piece makes me think of my mom whose home is filled with Mexican art.

It also reminds me of my roots in printmaking. It’s an original print. See the 11/100 on the left? That means that this was the 11th print he pulled in a series of 100. And after that, there will be no more prints. Some artists scratch the plate out once the last print has been pulled, but I have never been able to bring myself to do that. favorite art

I found this upcycled art book at a gallery in Crockett, CA, right around the corner from my sister’s college. The artist turned old library cards into small, nostalgic paintings. The way she artfully repurposed these antiquated cards remind me of my own desire to upcycle and repurpose whenever I can. This piece is not an original, but it really doesn’t matter because I love looking at it.

If you’re rounding out a developing collection of art or just starting out, consider visiting for its huge selection of images. I’m actually floored by all the thing you can find there.

One of my favorite ways to search is by subject. I happen to adore maps and after a couple clicks I landed on 100’s of city maps. Not exactly what you’d expect from, right? I’m eyeing that Los Angeles map up there (no big surprise, right?). In case you’re wondering where Silverlake is located, you can spot it just above the “S” in Los Angeles.


Working with to help them launch their new site has been such a joy for me. The quantity and diversity of the images on their site is mind-boggling, and having yet another excuse to share my art with you has been fun.

If you’d like to see more of the art in my home, visit these pages:


How we fill our home with art, Part 1 and Part 2

Are you surrounded by art that you love? You’re invited to share an image in a comment, along with a story about why you love it

Halloween Countdown Paper Chain

Are your kids as bonkers about Halloween as mine are?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and my passion for it clearly seeped into my kids’ genes because my 4-year old has been filling her sketchbook with pictures of bats and spiders, and wants to know when, when, when we can put up our Halloween decorations.

The Halloween catalogues and impossible-to-miss store displays play a huge role in this premature enthusiasm, but I want to celebrate her interests while harnessing a bit of that energy.

Oh, and Halloween is still a whopping 41 days away.

So I thought we could make a Halloween countdown chain to help us visualize how many days until all that apple-bobbing goodness would be upon us.

How to Make a Paper Chain

  • Halloween-colored papers, cut into approximately 2″ strips
  • Stapler or Tape

N selected colors that reminded her of Halloween and we cut them into strips.

We wrapped the first piece into a circle, stapled it, and then proceded to interlock the rest of the pieces until we were done. N decided she had enough after around chain link #25. I think the visual cue helped because she hasn’t asked me how many days until Halloween once since we made this.

The garland was about fifteen feet long, so we draped it over a chandelier. My children jump at any chance to climb on furniture and was eager to cut her first link. Scott, my smarter-than-me husband, came home and suggested I take the chain off the hot light fixtures, and it’s since moved over to the window. I married a good one.

Just 41 more to go!

Have you given in to early Halloween requests?

Do you make paper countdown chains for other holidays or events?

Celery Science Experiment

How to set up a simple Scientific Experiment with Celery and Food Coloring :: Tinkerlab.comWhile I’m an art educator by trade, having small people pulling at my pants has turned me into a mini-alchemist who’s suddenly found herself reading books to her kids about Galileo (The Magic Schoolbus and the Science Fair Expedition) and brewing all sorts of concoctions in our kitchen (vinegar and baking soda, anyone?).

The celery science experiment is easy to achieve with basic kitchen materials and it’s embedded with all sorts of opportunities for introducing the scientific method (in short: asking scientific questions, making predictions, and conducting an experiment).


science food coloring celery experiment


  • Celery with leafy tops
  • Clear glasses
  • Water
  • Food coloring

The Celery Science Experiment

N poured water into three glasses. about 3/4 cup in each.

Then she added a few drops of food coloring — 5-8 drops, but who’s counting! — into the glasses and stirred with a piece of celery, which was left in the glass. And then we talked about what might happen if we left the celery in the colored water for a while.

science food coloring celery experiment

We oohed and ahhed over the lava-lamp effect of the food coloring as it hit the water.

The Scientific Method: Make Predictions

We started off with red, yellow, and green, but N really wanted to mix colors and added blue and red to the green water (far right). We revisited our earlier discussion and made predictions about how the celery might change.

While waiting for something to happen, I chopped the celery heart off the bottom of the stalk and set up a printing activity.

N humored me by making a few prints and then asked if she could play with colored water. Totally!

While I only have one photo of this, it was probably the highlight of the afternoon.

capillary action

When we checked the celery a couple hours later, this is what it looked like. I put a leafy top next to it so you can see how subtle the change is. Hmmm. While I could see the change, I wasn’t sure it would make a big impact on my daughter. And then I realized that I should have just put the leafy parts in the water for a more dramatic result. Done!

A few hours later the blue/green had the most pronounced shift, but the red and yellow were visibly different too.

capillary action

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the red and blue-green died celery tops, about 16 hours after the stalks had been sitting in the water. N seemed to appreciate the difference, but wasn’t nearly as impressed as her dad and I were.

How the Celery Science Experiment Works

Plants need water to survive and they draw water up from their roots through their capillaries. The capillaries are hollow and act a lot like a straw. Adding color to the water helps us visualize this usually invisible process.

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The Artful Year: Autumn, A New eBook from Jean Van’t Hul

My friend Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent releases her gorgeous new eBook today, The Artful Year: Autumn, the first of a new series of seasonal eBooks under The Artful Parent brand. If you don’t already follow her blog, it’s one of my favorites, and one of the reasons I’m blogging today.

Autumn Fall ebook

I had the pleasure of taking a sneak peek at the results of her hard work, and I can honestly say that if you enjoy celebrating the seasons with your family, you’ll be inspired by every last bit of this book.

As you know, I’m a super hands-on, crafty parent, and this book is filled with lots of new-to-me ideas that are getting me excited to whip out a batch of pumpkin pie spice mix (recipe included in the book) and make a batch of Jack-O’-Lantern Playdough (recipe included for this as well). Um, our playdough smells like candy canes, so we’re definitely in need of a seasonal facelift.

The 78-page book includes 17 Autumn Leaf Crafts, 15 Halloween crafts, 7 Autumn Recipes, and 5 Thanksgiving Projects. It’s full of clear, beautiful photographs and the instructions for each of the projects are easy to understand and well-researched.

Here’s a quick visual tour of some of the autumn goodness…

Plaster Leaf Casts

Coffee Filter Spiderwebs. Just like snowflakes — this is genius!

Apple-Cheddar Hand Pies. I’m a fan of apple pie, and have always wanted to make one with cheddar cheese — super excited about this one. Not to mention the on-the-go, individual quality of hand pies. Love this!

And one of my “art vs. craft” favorites: Not-a-hand Turkeys, where Jean gives some tips on how to draw a turkey from observation, moving children away from the rote hand turkeys we’ve all made.

More of the crafts, decorations, and recipes that you’ll find inside:

  • Yarn spider webs
  • Thankful stones
  • Painted paper leaves
  • Fall Scavenger Hunt
  • Cardboard haunted houses
  • Felt Bat Garland (we made these last year)
  • Pumpkin-oat scones

The book is beautifully organized, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. If you’d like to order your own copy for just $9.99, click here to visit Jean Vant Hul. Just think, if you did each of the the 40+ activities in this book, that’s just 25 cents/project.

Happy almost-Fall!

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