Fall Crafts: Glycerin Leaves

Make Glycerin Leaves

We’re ga-ga for all the multi-colored maple leaves of the season, and my older daughter, N, is likely to burst into a chorus of “red and yellow leaves” as we drive down the road. I’ve been reading up on how to preserve the leaves so that they’ll last more than a couple days and it turns out that you have a few choices, some of them being : preserve them with a glycerin solution, seal them with hot wax, press them between sheets of contact paper, or melt them between sheets of wax paper.

We had a bottle of glycerin in the cabinet for bubble-making, so I thought we’d try our hands at making glycerin leaves. I have to tell you upfront: the process was fantastic and my kids really got into it. The results, on the other hand, meh. Not so spectacular. More on that soon.


  • 1/4 c. glycerin
  • 1/2 c. water
  •  Fall leaves
  • Two pans that can stack inside each other
  • Spoon for mixing

Mix the glycerin and water in your pan. Add leaves.

If you don’t have enough solution to cover the leaves, make another batch. My 4-year old loved taking charge of this step and we ooohed and ahhhed over the leaves as they went into the glycerin bath.

Find another pan that’s a bit small than the first, and place it on top so that all the leaves stay submerged.

Put this aside for three-ish days, or until the leaves are super-supple. At this point, the leaves should have absorbed enough of the glycerin solution to retain their color and texture.

Remove the leaves from the glycerin solution and pat dry on a towel. Your leaves are now ready to display.

For those of you who might be banking on this recipe as a way to preserve your leaves for years to come, I think this is worth the experiment but it may not be foolproof. About two weeks later, our leaves have not turned brown, but they definitely haven’t retained their original color. I decorated a corner of our mantle with them, and they look pretty good, but not spectacular. I found this recipe that added surfectant (found in garden supply stores), and it sounds like that may help the glycerin soak into the leaves.

This minor detail has not affected my kids, however, who have been incorporating the leaves into their projects.

Have you ever made glycerin leaves?

Any tips or thoughts on what may have gone wrong? Or was I expecting too much?


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We only think when confronted with a problem

“We only think when confronted with a problem.” — John Dewey, American philosopher and educator

What do you think about this quote by John Dewey? 

I spend a lot of my time considering how to set the stage for open-ended discovery as a way to foster a child’s confidence and independence. If you caught my last post, Organizing a Self-serve Creativity Zone, you’ll see a thread here. Children who set up their own problems are invested in the process of learning and are motivated to see a project through completion.

If you were to put paint pots, blocks, or a basket of acorns in front of your child, what expectations would you have? Do you think you would have a specific outcome in mind or would you be curious to find out what he would make of these materials?

When I place materials on a table or in the garden as a learning invitation, or provocation, I can’t help but guess or imagine how my children might use them. Maybe that’s human nature.

The other day I invited my 4-year old to draw some pumpkins that I placed on the table. I imagined  that she might draw a round, orange image with a green stem on top. Instead she started with a round, orange pumpkin shape, and then added a pattern of orange circles, a grid of orange lines, a windy brown flower-covered tree trunk, and then she filled the rest of the page with Halloween stickers and polka dots. In all, she spent close to an hour working on this project. An hour.

If I instructed her to draw a pumpkin as I imagined it, you can guess how long that might have taken her.

So I try to get past any expectations I might have because my children always surprise me with their own clever interpretations that often extend far beyond the box of my adult mind. Not only that, but these invitations are fun for me because I get the chance to learn from my children and witness how they think about the world.

Today I challenge you to place some intriguing objects in front of your child as a provocation to explore, create, invent, and problem-solve. Be open to exploration, wonder, and curiosity. Pay attention to where their own thinking leads, as it might surprise you.

Maybe you already do this — yay! If so, I’d love to hear about how you set up successful provocations and what makes them work in your home or school.

Ideas for Provocations

  • An opened-up paper bag and a black marker (see above)
  • A jar of fresh flowers or colorful Autumn leaves, paper, markers or crayons to match the flowers/leaves
  • Multiple cups filled with vinegar, one cup filled with baking soda + a spoon (See Vinegar and Baking Soda)
  • A basket of toy cars, cut pieces of cardboard (that could become ramps or bridges), boxes
  • A couple sheets, kitchen clips (See How to Build a Simple Clip Fort)
  • A tall jar of water, assorted liquid watercolors in jars, pipettes
  • Large piece of paper covered with circles of multiple sizes, container of markers
  • Clay or Play Dough, small bowl of water, popsicle sticks (See Clay)
  • Piece of canvas, wood or felt; bowl of small stones, sea glass, or shells
  • Containers filled with different scrap paper, glue, large piece of paper (See Self-serve Valentines)
  • Child-friendly knife, whisk, mushrooms or other soft food, cutting board, bowl (See Cooking with Toddlers)

Silently step aside and observe. What does your child do with the materials? What problem is he trying to solve? You might want to step in periodically to help problem-solve or prompt further discover with open-ended questions.

How do you set up provocations and what makes them successful in your home or school? If this is new-to-you, I’d love to hear how what you think about this process for discovery.

Organize a Self-Serve Creativity Zone

“The drive to master our environment is a basic human characteristic from the beginning — from birth.”

-Jack P. Shonkoff, Harvard University (From Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky. New York: Harper Collins, 2010).

Do you have self-serve spaces in your home that are dedicated to creativity, art, science, and tinkering? Today I’m sharing our creative zone, the space where most of our art and creative explorations take place.

The key to this space is that it’s all self-serve. I jump in and participate, of course, but my kids know where everything is and it’s all accesible to their little hands. And they’re capable of cleaning it up when they’re ready to move on to the next thing.

We live in a small home, and I’m not suggesting that our plan will work for everyone, but the general spirit of it is something that I think we can all stand behind: when children can execute on their own ideas, it builds their confidence and encourages curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.

My objective is to give my children room to take charge of this space in order to test and follow through on their big ideas.

This space has moved all over our house, but for now it’s in our dining room space, just off the kitchen. It’s perfect for us because the light is the best in the house and there’s room for our self-serve art supply furniture. The table and chairs (Pottery Barn) are sturdy, meaning that grown-ups can comfortably sit in them and there’s plenty of natural and artificial light.

In order to execute on their ideas, children need to have access to creative materials, so all of ours are stored on low shelves where my kids can find them (and then, theoretically, put them away). Having a garbage can (Ikea) in the space is also key to keeping it neat. I don’t know why it took me so long to get a waste basket for this area!

Not all of our creative materials are stored here: I keep less-often-used materials like bottles of paint and play dough tools in a closet and the garage. I also introduce new materials when my children seem to tire of what’s in the space — maybe once a week. This week our table is consumed with a big batch of slime! If you’re interested, you can watch our video tutorial on how to make slime here.

There’s a letter writing center on top of one of the book shelves, which includes envelopes, cards, small homemade booklets, string + tape (both in action at the moment), a stapler, art dice, compass, and an address stamper. Next to this is a 3-tiered dessert tray, repurposed to hold collage materials and stamps.

Beneath this shelf is storage for clean recycled materials (including a phone book that just arrived — I can’t believe they still make these!), sketchbooks, a magnifying glass, and this hammering activity.

Next to the shelf is a unit of drawers, and one of them is dedicated to my kids and their creative pursuits. It’s filled with various tapes, extra clear tape (we race through this stuff), scissors, hole punchers, extra scissors (because mine constantly walk away, like socks in the laundry), my card readers, and a few other odds and ends. This drawer is in flux, but for now it’s working for us.

The other day I set out this invitation of pre-cut paper and a bowl of stickers to greet my kids when they woke up. So simple and it took me three minutes to arrange it. When my kids saw the table, their imaginations turned on and they got right to work, dreaming up all sorts of possibilities as they pulled various materials out to help them realize their visions.

More Creative Zone Inspiration

Organize your Art Station

New Creative Studio Corner

Art Supply Organization

Organizing Art Supplies: Day One

Organizing Art Supplies: Day Two

Organizing Art Supplies: Pantry Labels

Art Table in the Living Room

What are your self-serve tips and tricks?

Bonus: 50 Art Materials for Toddlers

50 Art Materials for Toddlers is a fun post that rounds up our favorite supplies for little hands. We asked our readers to share some of their favorites, which are added in the comments. See what you think!

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Organize Your Art Station

Is your furniture constantly moving around your house, or are you the kind of person who finds the right place for something and it rarely moves?

Me, I’m a mover. My furniture may as well have wheels underneath it thanks to all moving it does.

And now I have one more excuse to rearrange my home…

My littlest is officially a toddler and I can finally get rid of the portable crib, rattles, baby carriers, and boxes upon boxes of baby clothes. It’s been bittersweet, but I’m happy to regain some space and  enjoy a less cluttered home because of it.

The process of designing and redesigning our creative spaces has been going on for some time now. As my children change, we’ve shifted things around to accomodate our current needs. The creative zone has moved all over the house in search of the best light or to be closer to the kitchen so that I can chat with my kids while washing dishes.

I’ve purged our cabinets and consolidated materials that came into my house quicker than I could classify them, but I’m starting to see the light.

If you’d like to take a peek at the various organizing iterations, here’s a look-see.

New Creative Studio Corner

Art Supply Organization

Organizing Art Supplies: Day One

Organizing Art Supplies: Day Two

Organizing Art Supplies: Pantry Labels

Art Table in the Living Room

Check back next time for a look at our new + improved self-serve art station.

Other Updates:

I’m working with Art.com, and they have a Pinterest page! Be sure to follow them for good home decorating ideas. And, hint hint, they have a big shopping spree giveaway coming up that you won’t want to miss.

Subscribe to our mailing list if you haven’t already. I’m planning to send out monthly newsletters (No more than that…promise. And if I do, go ahead and drop me) with fun creativity ideas that you won’t want to miss.


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DIY Paper Pyramid Lanterns

I have such a heavy heart today, friends, because we lost one of the good ones in this world. My dear friend, Steve, who happens to be one of the funniest, wisest, and most generous people I know lost his long battle with cancer.

I wasn’t planning to post anything today, but the glow of these paper lanterns made me think about Steve’s shining light, and I thought I’d dedicate this post to him and his incredible wife, Jen.

Grab a few battery-operated tea lights, a favorite paper (in this case security envelopes!), scissors, and tape, and you're ready to make these simple DIY lanterns to illuminate a dark winter night.

These were inspired by the Paper Lanterns from Willowday, and if you change up the paper patterns (or maybe make your own), these could become party decorations, Halloween luminaries, or bedroom night lights.

If you you happen to make these lanterns (and why wouldn’t you — they’re rad!), I like to think that the glow might remind you that we’re each filled with enough light to brighten a friend’s darkest hour. Go on — spread some joy today. Life is truly short and we each have the capacity to touch the lives of others.

So let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need…

How to Make Paper Lanterns

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Hole Puncher
  • Clear Tape
  • Ruler
  • Battery-operated votive candle
Because I drew my triangle free-hand, and you shouldn’t have to go through all that trial and error, here’s an equilateral triangle for your printing delight:
equilateral triangle
If you know me, you know that I like to get my kids involved in hands-on learning, and this is a good way to teach children how to carefully outline shapes, which in turn teaches patience and accuracy.

make a paper lantern

Step 1: Draw an equilateral triangle (or scale and print it) and cut it out.

Make paper lantern

Step 2: Trace it onto a sheet of paper FOUR times.

We drew ours onto a security envelope because we like to upcycle around here. And I’m super crazy about the patterns on these.

how to make paper lanterns

Step 3: Cut the whole shape out.

Step 4: Tape it together and punch holes into the sides if you’d like.

Step 5: Add a battery-powered tea light (not a real candle, please, safety first) and decorate like mad.

how to make paper lanterns

I love you, Steve and Jen. You’ll always be in my thoughts.

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