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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Diet Coke Mentos Experiment

My 4-year old and our neighbor enjoyed witnessing this explosive soda and Minty Mentos experiment. Have you tried it? It doen’t require a huge set-up, and the show is pretty awesome. I have to warn you that the explosion itself goes by quickly, so you might want to have an arsenal of soda containers on hand so you can conduct multiple experiments.

diet coke and mentos explosion

Ingredients for Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment

  • Diet Coke
  • Minty Mentos
Hee hee — pretty obvious, huh?

mentos and diet coke

Take the Mentos out of the wrapper.

mentos and diet coke experiment

Almost as soon as the Mentos hit the soda, the explosion begins, so f you’d like to try dropping more than one into the Soda bottle, make a paper tube and fill it with all your Mentos.

filling mentos into a tube

Take it outside. open the bottle, drop in one (or multiple) Mentos, and then step back!

kids mentos and diet coke

The explosion happened so fast that I was unable to capture it with my camera, so you’ll have to try this experiment for yourself and see how it works.

Experiment ideas

  • Try this with other types of soda. I read that diet soda is recommended because it’s less sticky than regular soda, but regular soda should work too. Compare the results of regular and Diet Coke.
  • The carbonation is what’s supposed to trigger the reaction: try this experiment with carbonated water. What happens?
  • Compare the results of fruit-flavored and mint-flavored Mentos.
  • What happens when you add other ingredients to the soda: salt, rock salt, sugar, baking soda, peanuts.

soda science experiment

The Science Bit

According to Wikipedia, “the numerous small pores on the candy’s surface catalyze the release of carbon dioxide(CO2) gas from the soda, resulting in the rapid expulsion of copious quantities of foam”

Taking this 100 Steps Further…

Eepybird.com (Entertainment for the Curious Mind) shared that  the exploding Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment was first introduced by University of Chicago chemistry professor, Lee Marek. The Eepybirds later recreated this experiment in a spectacular multi-bottle show on David Letterman.

 Your Turn!

So, are you ready to run out and pick up some soda and Mentos? Have you tried this experiment? What did your kids think about it?

Make Your Own Birthday Cake

kids diy make and bake birthday cake

If you know a little bit about me and my parenting philosophy, you’ll know that I welcome opportunities to get my children into DIY mode. The only way they’re going to learn how to do something is by getting involved, so I may give them a few pointers and then I’ll step back and let them take the lead.

My youngest, R, who I sometimes refer to here as Baby Rainbow, is no longer a baby. Sniff. She just turned two! When we’d ask her what she wanted for her birthday, her response was consistently “vanilla cake.”

Not only do I also drool over vanilla cake, but this simple request made for a totally low-key, low-stress birthday that I look forward to repeating again with future birthdays.

Baking Cakes

To get started, my 4-year old, N, and I mixed up one box of vanilla cake mix from Trader Joes. It doesn’t get easier than that, and the ingredients are actually fairly healthy.

We pulled out our rotary hand mixer/egg beater, which my daughter uses any chance she can get. Not only is it fun for kids to use, but it gets them involved in the kitchen and it does wonders for developing hand-eye coordination and motor skills.

kids use rotary mixer


After she mixed the batter up, we divided it into two 9-inch cake pans and cooked as directed on the box.

Meanwhile, we mixed a batch of our favorite frosting: Buttercream Frosting. Oh-my-goodness. If you’ve never made it before, it’s not only easy, but it’s also highly addictive. Yum.

My kids are always promised a beater to lick at the end of baking, which helps keep hands out of the bowl while we’re assembling.

Once the cakes cooked and cooled, we popped them out of the pans and started in on our grand assembly plan.

Cake Recipes

My 2-year old’s request: Vanilla Cake

My 4-year old’s plan: Two-tiered vanilla cake with vanilla frosting and strawberries in the middle layers. The top will be covered with sprinkles, Happy Birthday letters, a “2” birthday candle, and fairy cupcake toppers (basically, everything we had in the cabinet).

frosting cake with children

Decorating Step 1: The kids used butter knives to cover the bottom layer with raspberry jam (this was my suggestion, and they did not protest). Then we added a thick layer of vanilla frosting.

kids decorate cake

Frosting for Cake

Decorating Step 2: My 4-year old thinly sliced the strawberries and the kids layered them on the cake.

frosting cake with kids

We placed the second cake on top of the strawberry layer, and then covered the whole thing with frosting. When you’re working with children, it helps to value the process over the product. You can’t worry too much about how the cake is going to look. It’s a bonus, of course, if it looks amazing, but the important thing is that they have take pride in make something amazing happen.


We started gussying the cake up and R requested jelly beans. There were only six left in the box, and she eagerly plunked them into a corner of the cake. This ended up being her piece!

kids bake in the kitchen

And when we were done, they got the frosting bowl as a bonus.


For more of our kid-led cooking experiments: How to Invent a Recipe with Kids, Cooking with Toddlers, Cooking with Kids (exploring butter and rosemary)

Also, one of my friends and favorite bloggers, Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent recently wrote about a birthday cake her daughter made: A Kid Made Birthday Cake. I think my kids would feel right at home in her house!