How Painting Furniture Can Build Happier {Paint-Speckled} Kids

Have you ever painting furniture with a child?

If you’re striving for perfection, this project is not be for the faint-of-heart, but if you have some wiggle room and aren’t concerned with extra drips, this is a fantastic way to build a child’s confidence by giving the child a real-world project to work on.

painting furniture with kids via Tinkerlab

We started with this the BEKVAM IKEA step-stool (if you don’t have one, I bet you know someone who does). It’s an amazing stool and we use it multiple times a day.

It’s also been through a couple transformations in its short life. When N was about two, we painted it white and Mod Podged pretty paper from Paper Source to the tops of the steps. Here’s a flashback to that look. I loved it.

Despite lots of sealant, over time the paper started to wear away and we thought it would be fun to paint a fresh of something on top.

But what?

My five-year old suggested black paint, and given the constant beatings this poor stool takes from my active kids, I agreed that this was the perfect choice.

How painting furniture builds happier kids | Tinkerlab

If you decide to give this a go, here a few tips and suggestions…



  • Fill the cup about 1/4 of the way with acrylic paint
  • Mix in some water acrylic medium if it’s too thick
  • Hand your child the paint and a brush, along with any instructions.

These were my instructions:

  • When you paint, try to move the brush side to side
  • If you have too much paint on the brush, you can gently tap the extra paint off your brush before you remove it from the cup
  • Keep your brushes nearby so they don’t get on anyone else’s body

How painting furniture builds happier kids | Tinkerlab

We stated out with a plan to just paint the tops of the steps where we peeled off the paper.

Um, why did I think my kids had that kind of painting control? After little R got carried away with putting black paint wherever she pleased, we all agreed that an entirely black stool was a much better idea anyway.

Here’s a little snapshot of a conversation on this topic between my kids…

N: Let’s just paint it all black!

R:  Oh, I have an idea. When it dries we can paint flowers and butterflies on it.

Yep, this is how my toddler thinks. Clearly we’re on the same page!

The stool is still all black, but my little one keeps asking about the flowers and butterflies. I think the stool is done, but maybe we need another furni-painting project.

As we were painting, N gave me a job based on my expertise in the area of smoothing out lumps of paint:

N: Mom, you be the smoother and I’ll hold the cup of paint.

Me: I like being the smoother. I’ve had a lot of practice with this job and I think I’m pretty good at it.

N: How long have you been a smoother?

Me: Oh, since I was your age, at least.

A few minutes pass as N focuses on her painting.

N: Look what I’m doing! I’m a smoother too.

A note on Acrylic Paint

The kids loved this activity (and got very well painted in the process). Acrylic paint will not wash out of clothing, and somehow we managed to avoid getting any on our clothes. However, arms and toes were might speckled. To remove acrylic from the skin, use a damp cloth and gently rub it away. Acrylic paint is plastic-based and will actually peel off the skin.

If you’re not sure where to start, Liquitex Basics offers a good value for quality acrylic paints. You can order these via Amazon. 

Since the stool was already covered with a base-coat and our black paint was quite thick, we only needed one layer of paint to cover the stool. You may need two layers, depending on the paint you’re using.

A question for you

Have you painted furniture with a child? Do you have any tips for making this a fun and successful activity?

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. We only share links to products that we love or that we think you’ll find useful.

Why (I think) We Stopped Using Colored Pencils

Does your child have a favorite drawing tool?

My kids adore markers, and it seems to always be their first choice when given a buffet of drawing materials.

I’ve been musing on this question of favorite drawing tools for a while, which is why I sometimes ask questions on Facebook like this or on Google + like this. I have my favorite pens and my kids have theirs, but why were our beloved colored pencils never used?

And then it hit me…

Our pencil sharpener broke down…um, months ago…and we’ve been left with a sad bucket of somewhat useless drawing tools.

dull pencils

It turns out that you actually have to maintain your drawing tools in order to use them. That’s rule #1!

In all fairness, I had my trusty sharpener since, i don’t know, college? And it seemed ridiculous that it would no longer work. I kept trying to fix it and then finally came to my senses and ordered a new sharpener. But I decided that if I was going for something new, it should also be a powerhouse that could sharpen pencils of all sizes (yes, I was actually sharpening our big pencils over the trash can with knife the other day. Do you ever do that?).

Let me introduce you to our new friend, the X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Electric Sharpener.

I did a fair amount of research on this and landed on this sharpener that seems to be a widespread favorite amongst teachers, homeschoolers, and artists. It’s fast, handles pencils of most sizes, has a huge area to catch all the shreds, and it was 48% off on Amazon. I spotted it on other sites for close to 60% more, so this looked like a deal I couldn’t pass up. While every review wasn’t glowing, there were enough 5 star comments to get me to click “Buy Now.”

I also have Amazon Prime (I love it and use it for just about everything), and it arrived just one day later!

So here’s my test: Just how fast can it sharpen 30 pencils?

PENCIL sharpener

My trusty two-year old side-kick, R, handed me pencils and we plowed through that bucket in just under two minutes! That’s fast, right?!

Not only was it lightening fast, but it was fairly quite and very smooth.


I’ve only had it for a day, but this sharpener comes with a 10-year warranty so I feel confident that it will treat me well. Ten years is a long time, people! You can bet that I’ll be mailing in my registration card.

Review of the amazing X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Electric Sharpener

Now that they’re all sharpened we’ll see if they get used more frequently. Or if we really area a marker family after all.

A question for you…

markers or crayons

Or…colored pencils, paintbrushes and paint, pencils, oil pastels, sticks in dirt, and so many other options!

Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, but we only share links to products that we adore or that we think you’ll find useful. 

Bird Seed Sensory Box

I’m always happy to have cheap, simple, educational, and entertaining activities for my kids, and I know a lot of teachers who feel the same way. How about you?

I learned this bird seed trick from one of my daughter’s first preschool teachers, and I’m happy to pass it along to you.

I LOVE cheap, simple, educational, and entertaining outdoor activities like this for my kids (great for toddlers and preschoolers).

Bird Seed Sensory Box

Step 1: Pour in the bird seed.

Tip #1: Do this outside. Bird seed will spill everywhere and you’ll be grateful that it’s not all over your carpet.

pouring bird seed sensory tableStep 2: Play

Simple, right?

Tip #2: If you have a lot squirrels in your area, cover your bird seed table at night to discourage those pesky foragers from finding their next meal in your bird seed oasis.

sensory table with bird seed scoopingTip #3: The bird seed lasts indefinitely, and when your child is done with it you can use it to, um, feed birds! Nothing is wasted here, friends!

sensory table with bird seed

If you like to keep your projects in a recipe box or binder, feel free to print this nifty card that has all the info in one easy-to-read place:

Bird Seed Sensory Box

Prep time: 

Total time: 

Set up a fun sensory experience that encourages hand-eye coordination and helps children explore measurement and volume.
  • Bags of Bird Seed
  • High Wall Water Table or Under-the-bed storage box
  • Tools such as scoopers, spoons, and bowls
  • Access to natural materials such as flowers and twigs
  1. Fill a water table with bird seed. We used three 16 oz bags, but could have easily used more.
  2. Offer your child some tools to scoop and pour the seeds.
  3. Encourage your child to bring natural materials to the table and build fairy homes/ design seascapes/make natural patterns.

And if you like this activity, you can give it some love by clicking on a whole bunch of stars with a comment below. Thanks!

More sensory materials

Wheat Berries — like bird seed, just different.

Wet Paper — soak some paper and tear it up.

Water Beads — our second most popular post.

Cloud Dough — our most popular post!

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A question for you

What do you find is the most challenging thing about setting up sensory experiences for your child?

SoCal and Disneyland Summer

Happy Monday, friends!

If you follow my blog, maybe you noticed that I’ve been on vacation? Maybe not…that’s okay too. I can barely find time to answer emails and follow the news, and I don’t expect you to either.  I should have left a note to say, “hello, I won’t be around for a few days,” but I’m not super thoughtful like that. Will you forgive me?

In case you’d like a peek at some of the cool business we were up to, I’ve got some photos for you of our recent trip to southern California.

We wanted to travel light, so everything here is snapped with my iPhone (please consider this my formal apology for the lackluster shots). However, I highly recommend traveling sans camera. There’s so much less to worry about and the memories are mostly all up in the ol’ noggin.

We ventured south on highway 101 toward Los Angeles (destination Disneyland! Woo-hoo), and first hit ground in one of my favorite weird California spotsBubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo. My kids were disgusted, but Scott and I think it’s rad. Local historians say that this sticky project started as far back as the 1950’s, and if you find yourself in the area you can add your bubblicious to the 1000’s of others that preceded you.

bubble gum alley san luis obispo slo

We spent a few days with my parents before heading down to California Adventure and Disneyland. While I practically grew up at Disneyland, it was our first visit to California Adventure. Whatever I think about Disney and princesses and commercialization, I have to admit that they do an amazing job at creating a rich immersive experience that makes me 100% present the whole time I’m there. Incredible.

We got there at the crack of early, and it was totally worth it to miss the summer crowds. My almost 3-year old’s favorite ride was Mickey’s Fun Wheel, which you can ride stationary or swinging.

We went for swinging…toddler’s choice.

I screamed every time it dropped and my little one thought that was hilarious.

My older daughter is a thrill-seeker and her vote went to the Radiator Springs Racers. Here’s a tip if you’re going: get in the Fast Pass line for this ride as soon as the park opens. The line may seem long, but it’s so much shorter than waiting two hours to get on the ride.

mickey's fun wheel ferris wheel california adventure

Another California Adventure highlight was the Animation Academy, where an artist walks you through the simple steps of drawing some of Disney’s most popular characters.

california adventure animation studio

The set-up is awesome, and I was surprised to see my 2-year old got in on the action (complete with a crown, of course).

drawing mickey mouse animation studio california adventure

The next day we ventured over to Disneyland and started our day on my little one’s favorite ride. The cuteness of it never wears thin…

dumbo ride at disneyland

N, my now five-year old, has slightly different tastes, and went on all the big rides more than once.

Tip for families with both little and big kids — if both parents want to go on the fast ride, but they have to also hang out with a child who’s too small for it, they’ll give you a “Rider Switch” pass.

And there we are: my 5-year old riding Splash Mountain for the second time and me holding on for dear life…

Screaming on Splash Mountain Disneyland

A trip to Disneyland is never complete without a visit to It’s a Small World. The clock tower opens up every 15 minutes, and the characters prance around on parade. Did you know that this ride was created for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair? 

It's a small world

We were in LA to celebrate N’s 5th birthday. If you happen to live in California or know anything about California kids birthdays, you might recognize what’s going on in this next photo. That’s my little brother, the U.S. Marine, making magic happen.

Any guesses? Leave them in a comment and I’ll congratulate you personally!

tree climbing pinata

When we visit Southern California, no trip is complete without a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. My husband wanted to see the Stanley Kubrick and James Turrell exhibits, so while he was off learning and growing his brain cells, the girls and I revisited this favorite: Penetrable by Jesus Rafael Soto. 

lacma spaghetti art penetrable jesus rafael soto

After playing in the sea of yellow spaghetti for what could have been hours (I had to drag them out), we went to buy our museum tickets (yes, the spaghetti is free). But wait, our tickets were free too! I’m so excited to share (and maybe you already know this) that LACMA has an amazing new program for young museum visitors under age 18. It’s called NexGen, and all kids are eligible to receive a free museum membership until they turn 18…and the membership admits them and their adult.


With our free memberships in hand, we moseyed over to the Boone Children’s Gallery where an ongoing watercolor painting project was underway. The room was beautiful and truly honored the children who were creating in the space. I appreciated the simple decor inspired by the nearby Korean collection, sturdy wooden tables, high quality art materials, and patient staff who kept the space in elegant order.

We easily spent a full hour painting in here!

lacma boone childrens gallery

We met Scott for some yummy snacks at C & M (Coffee and Milk), and then headed over to check this piece out at the James Turrell show:

lacma james turrell

If you ever have a chance to see Turrell’s work, go! If you live in or near San Francisco, one of my favorite pieces by Turrell lives in the sculpture garden next to the De Young museum. And since it’s outside of the museum, it’s free!

And then, after all that fun, I returned home and got down to business sorting through the copy edits for my book.  In case you’re wondering, that Mint Mojito coffee from Philz works wonders for powering a gal through over 200 pages of edits. I’m sure this won’t be the first time I’ll say this, but major props go to my amazing editor, Jenn, for her overarching vision and linguistic clarity.

book copy edits

So, that should bring us up-to-speed!

I’m hoping to deliver more tinkering/maker/creative wonders in the upcoming weeks, but I know that you’ll understand if I slip away to enjoy the pool with my kids, visit our local museums and amusement parks, and work on the design of my book. I’m thinking about popping in with quick ideas and updates since I’m sure that you’re just as busy as me. If you’re still reading this, a million thanks.

And now I’ll expect you to get back to your summer.


Some questions for you…

What’s my brother up to in that tree?

Do you have a favorite Disneyland or Southern California destination?

And finally, what has been the highlight of your summer so far?