Inspired by Nature: Four Easy Steps to Follow a Child’s Interests

four easy steps to follow a child's interests

Do you have bees, birds, squirrels, deer, possum, or other creatures milling around your neighborhood?

It’s been wild animal week here at Casa Tinkerlab. We had two big discoveries at our house: a wasp nest in the eaves by our back door and a bird nest tucked into a hole along the siding of our house.

Sad story, we found the bird nest on the ground today, and all of the eggs were gone, probably discovered by a band of squirrels. My two-year old has been keeping a watchful eye on that nest and her first thought went to the mama bird when she said, “I think I hear the mama bird.”

Sure enough, we saw the mama nervously flying around some nearby bushes, and my heart sank for her. We carefully collected the nest and put it back into its spot in the event that the mom can use the nest again.

wasp nest 2

This wasp nest, on the other hand, was something that I was determined to remove myself. No sad feelings here. Sorry if you’re a wasp fan, but rest assured that no wasps were harmed in the process. Basically, I knocked it down (quite heroically) from it’s post with the end of a broom.

My kids were impressed.

The nice thing about finds like this (as long as no one gets hurt along the way) is the opportunity to learn from them.

Of course my kids had tons of questions about the wasp nest. At first we thought it may have been a growing beehive, so we started to search for information on bees, and then we learned that it was in fact a wasp nest. We also noticed it first came out of our eaves it was round and firm, and that it sank into itself after about half an hour on our dining table.

My four-year old loves to join me in web searches for information, so we started off with searches like “bee hive” and “how do bees build their hives?” The hives looked nothing like our little specimen, but by this point my daughter had an idea and she asked me to collect images of bees and related images that you might find in a garden.

bee drawing

I started a Photoshop file and dragged black and white images to a file, resized them to make them all fit to scale, and then printed the images on her request.  She then spent over an hour carefully coloring in and cutting out her images, and then creating the composition you see here. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a pond, but that’s no big deal when you have a market to fill in the blanks.

Projects like this encourage children to be curious, explore, and tap into their imaginations.


  1. Pay attention to what your child finds interesting in nature
  2. If you’re on a walk or hike, take along an field pack: a backpack to save collected objects, camera, magnifying glass, binoculars, pencil, and a notebook to draw or write in.
  3. Go the library to find books on the topic or search the internet for more information or videos. YouTube is often a great resource for investigations like this. Like this, ahem, educational video on how to remove a wasp nest.
  4. Make something that documents your new-found knowledge. How does your child want to interpret his new knowledge? Maybe it’s drawing, building, cooking, writing a story, talking about it, or taking photos?


Inspired by Nature: wasp nest and bumble bee art

More ways to discover nature and follow a child’s interests

Eight Ways to Follow a Child’s Curiosities

Finding Nature with Kids

Build a Nature Table

A Question for you…

What treasures, animals, and natural discoveries have you observed around your home?

The Creative Table Project

Endless ideas for crafts, art-making, science experiments, and creative explorations on the creative table project from Tinkerlab, via Instagram.

Highlights from The Creative Table Project

If you’re not familiar with the Creative Table Project, it’s an Instagram treasure trove of real world inspiration for any parent, caregiver, or teacher who’s looking for ideas that boost kids’ creativity or who wants to share snippets of their life experiences as inspiration to others. This week’s post is a great example of how I like to set up creative invitations that encourage creative and independent thinking for preschoolers.

There are currently over 1500 Creative Table tags on Instagram so of course it was hard to choose which ones to share with you. This small collection from the past couple weeks is lovely for the breadth of ideas. Following each image is the name of the the person who shared it and their description of the image. Enjoy!

Note: If I’ve shared a photo of yours against your liking, just shoot me a line and I’ll take it down promptly!

Creative Table Inspiration…

It only seems to fitting to begin a Creative Table roundup with a young maker who’s invented her own drawing table. My heart is melting. From Jackie at My Little Bookcase. For a related twist on this, set up an invitation to draw under the table and see what happens.

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I offer my children something similar to this hand-drawn coloring page set up all the time, and it’s always a hit. While it may seem close-ended, the parameters set forth by the black and white design give children a starting place to come up with unique ideas. From Jen at Mama Papa Bubba

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Creative Table Project on Tinkerlab

This set-up is so inviting. I want to dive right in to drink homemade lemonade and make paintings with the leftover tissue paper alongside Stephanie from Spanglish Spoon. For ideas on how to set up a tissue paper collage activity with a toddler, you might also enjoy this simple set up.

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If you’ve ever spent a lot of time and thought setting up an activity, only to have a child take it in a totally different direction…this one from Cassidy at Freshly Planted is for you. Know that you’re not alone, and that moments like this are signs of your child’s ability to think for him or herself.

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We got a sneak peak at the next Kiwi Crate, and the paper making project was an instant favorite.

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I have received countless comments from parents with younger children who get into art materials, pull everything off tables, and generally make it difficult for older siblings to put on their maker-cap. This image from The Iowa Farmer’s Wife is here to remind you that it’s a phase that will quickly pass. And that you might actually miss these early days.

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If you ever thought about introducing your child to the work of well-known artists, setting up a sensory table to help them dive into the physical world of the artist is brilliant for little hands.

More ideas on exploring modern art with kids over here.

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This lovely open-ended invitation to make Mother’s Day gifts is full of so many possibilities. Don’t you want to jump right in? We once made soap for mother’s day and it was a huge success.

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Since today is officially Earth Day, I thought we could end with an easy and workable nature-based mosaic from our friends at the Children’s Creativity Museum.

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Creative Table Project on Instagram

See all Creative Table posts here.

If you’d like to play along, read these guidelines and then tag your Instagram photos with #creativetable. And here’s a look at our last roundup for another view of what’s possible.

Are you on Instagram? Instagram is one of my very favorite tools and you can find me at @tinkerlab. I hope to see you over there!

A question for you…

What’s on your creative table this week?


Creative Table: A Sticker Composition with Frames

Sticker composition that encourages creativity for kids |

Setting up Invitations to Create like this is one of my very favorite ways to encourage children to explore new ideas and develop a visual language. Here’s the basic premise:

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

Encourage Creativity for Kids in this simple provocation |

Sticker Composition with Frames

Before I went to bed, I set up two sheets of paper that were simply marked with a hand-drawn frame. Next to to the frames were a few sheets of rectangular color coding labels. You can find these at Amazon (affiliate) or any office supply aisle. Alternatively, you could set this with circle stickers, some other favorite sticker, pieces of colorful tape, or squares of construction paper and a bottle of glue.

I also placed a stack of plain paper and rolls of colorful tape in the middle of the table, just in case my kids wanted to use other materials. They didn’t.

Encourage Creativity for Kids in this simple provocation |

Here’s how my two-year old used the materials.

Encourage Creativity for Kids in this simple provocation |

And here’s how my four-year old put her composition together. The beauty of creative invitations is that children will meet them where they’re most capable.

If you’d like more ideas like this one, you might enjoy reading about the Creative Table project, checking out these highlights from the Creative Table Project, or browsing the hundreds of brilliant set-ups on Instagram by searching #creativetable,

Encourage Creativity for Kids in this simple provocation |

A Question for you…

How old is your child, or how old are the children in your class, and what creative project have you been working on? And how do you like to encourage creativity for kids?

50 Earth Day Activities for Kids

Earth Day is our annual reminder to slow down and appreciate the bounty of the earth. The following 50 Earth Day Activities for kids will encourage children to create objects from natural and recycled materials and spend more time outdoors.

50 EARTH DAY activities for kids!

I hope you’ll find some inspiration here, and if you have more ideas to share, please add them to a comment so that others can enjoy them too.

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day Activities with Natural Materials

So easy and magical! Fairy

Earth Day Activities with Recycled Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Outdoor Art Earth Day Activities

playing in mud pie kitchen

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Make a Sketch: A sketch a day keeps the dullness away

Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

Do you draw? If so, how do you create time to make a sketch?

I try to make a habit of sketching something every day. When I get really busy, which seems like a lot lately, I’m terrible at keeping this promise to myself. If you know my blog, you might remember that I started the Tinkersketch challenge last summer. Basically, it’s a simple challenge to make a drawing every day. And to motivate us to play, you were invited to share your sketches on Instagram. Sound familiar?

Like some of you, I began this challenge with a lot of energy, but then, like I said, I got busy. And maybe you did too. But even though I haven’t been good at sharing my sketches with you, I do make an effort to jot notes or images down every day.

Here’s how…

Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

How to keep a sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive

  • I carry at least one of my favorite felt tip markers in my bag at all times. Unless one of my children finds it before I do, having the right tool makes me want to draw more.
  • I carry a notebook, sketchbook, journal, stack of index cards, napkins — whatever — in my bag at all times.
  • Pull out this notebook when waiting in line or when I have an extra minute to spare. All it takes is five minutes and I’m done! More time would obviously be better, but I think it’s more important to focus on workable rather than idealized goals.

Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

A sketching story

Yesterday I was waiting, by myself (this is a rare treat), at a deli for some take-out sandwiches. In moments like this I usually pull out my phone and scan it for email updates. But it was also a great opportunity to get in a few moments of drawing. So instead of trolling Facebook, I pulled out my sketchbook and started to doodle.

My order was ready about ten minutes later, and as he handed me my bag, the owner asked me if I was an artist. I kind of stuttered over myself, not really sure how to label my current life path. At one point in my past I would have said, “yes,” but now I’m so many other things.

So my answer was, “well, I make drawings.” And then he asked me if I’d like to show my work in his cafe. Isn’t that lovely? I had no idea it was going there.

But that, my friends, is all from sitting down for a few minutes of doodling.

Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

You may have noticed that I’m sprucing things up around here. I’m interested in carrying on with more posts that take a look at what it means to be a creative adult. Not to worry, the child-focused posts will still be around, but it seems like it’s high time to expand the world of Tinkerlab.

My plan, and please forgive me for it’s a tenuous one right now, is to make this space your home for all things creative. I’m still rather busy, and trying to catch up on sleep while also dropping coffee from my diet, but you can count on weekly updates full of ideas, tips, resources, and interviews in the space of creativity and making.

A question for you…

Do you draw? If so, when do you do it and what tools do you use? And if not, is something holding you back or is it just not your thing?

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Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids

Gum nut pencil topper

I love arts and crafts books and often dream of opening a maker space where I can share shelves and shelves of inspiring books full of hands-on goodness with my friends and readers. Wouldn’t that be fun? I just added a new book to my library that I love, and I’m excited to share it with you in this virtual maker space today.

The book is Red Ted Art by UK blogger and crafter extraordinaire, Maggy Woodley. Maggy twists crafty standbys into fresh projects with clear photographs, beautiful design, and an easy-to-follow format that children can easily peruse on their own.

But you shouldn’t just take my word for it. When an advance copy of Maggy Woodlley’s Red Ted Art showed up in my house, my four-year-old got busy with a stack of sticky tabs and marked up all of the projects she wanted to do right away! 

Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids

We’re fans of repurposing materials, and Maggy is too, which made the activities especially easy to jump right into. We began with a couple projects that we had materials for, which is easy to do with this book. A quick flip through the book’s pages promise that you can complete just about every project with easy-to-find household and craft materials such as magazines, white glue, felt scraps, paint, and bubble wrap.

Project #1: Gumnut Pencil Toppers

As far as I know, we don’t have gumnuts in our neck of the woods, but acorns are aplenty and we worked on assembling our little yellow octopus friend with just a few materials.

Red Ted Art Book interior

  • To make the legs, we cut two pipe cleaners in half and then folded each of those in half.
  • We painted the acorn cap yellow.
  • When the paint was dry we used the glue gun to attach the eyes and legs.

Gum nut pencil topper tutorial

While the instructions suggested assembling this with white glue, an excuse to pull out the glue gun is always welcome in my house.

Project #2: Racing Walnut Mice

The trickiest part of this project was cutting a walnut in half, but Maggy provides clear instructions on how to split a walnut at the weakest point of the nut. I had a little trouble with this (see the chip little mouse’s mouth), but no one seemed to mind.

walnut mouse tutorial

  • Draw on a mouse face.
  • Glue on felt ears and a long felt tail
  • Place a marble inside the mouse and roll it down a sloping book.

My kids loved the little mouse so much that we never made it to the marble rolling part, but I look forward to trying that out.

Order a copy

If you’re in the UK or Europe, you can find Red Ted Art: Cute and Easy Crafts for Kids via Amazon UK.

If you’re in the US, the book will come out this fall (yay), and you can keep an eye out for it via Amazon.


Contest Details: This is an international contest and open worldwide. Deadline for entries is Friday, April 12, 2013, 9 pm PST. Winner will be chosen randomly. Please leave a comment as your entry. This contest is now closed. Congratulations to Irene, winning comment #33! You will be contacted via email.

A question for you…

What are your favorite (or most surprising ) recycled items to craft with?

Make a Simple Room Fort

Hello Tinker-firends! I’ve been busy with some family business and book edits that are taking a toll on my late-night blogging time. How are you doing?

Until I get a better handle on these details I thought I’d share some quick snippets of tinkering inspiration from our days at home and out-and-about.

Today we have a down-and-dirty favorite from my husband, our resident fort builder. Scroll down to the bottom for links to hundreds of inspiring DIY kids fort ideas.

How to Build a Simple Room Fort for Kids

How to build a simple kids fort with tape and a sheet

What you need

  • Paper Tape
  • A large sheet
  • A doorway or arch to hang the sheet in

That’s it!

How to build a simple room fort with tape and a sheet

It’s not your traditional fort, but my kids loved playing with this new-to-them hanging element. It closed off a room that’s normally open to the whole house, giving the room a feeling of theater.

And speaking of theater, you could also do something like this to create impromptu theater curtains.

More fort ideas

How to Build a Simple Clip Fort

Make a Fort from a Refrigerator Box

Fort Magic, The Coolest Fort in Town

A Playhouse under the Table, Artful Parent

Handmade Hideaways, Modern Parents Messy Kids

How to Build a Great Blanket Fort, Simple Mom

And perhaps the biggest resource of all, Fort Fridays, the weekly fort roundup from All for the Boys