Creative Table: Leaves and Glue

This post is sponsored by New York Life. One way to pass along good is through Life Lessons: Simple but important truths that guide our everyday actions.

In an effort to help you minimize holiday stress, through the end of the year, we’ll share some of our favorite, simple Creative Table invitations. Today’s set-up was inspired by a parent-led project at my daughter’s preschool.

Two of the things that I adore about today’s creative table are that it’s low-cost and seasonal for Autumn, when fallen leaves are abundant.

The Benefits of “Leaves and Glue”

This activity will help children…

  • develop fine-motor skills
  • learn to work independently
  • build creative confidence through experimentation
  • Encourage creative thinking
  • build an eye for aesthetics by developing a composition
  • develop a broader understanding of upcycling materials (i.e. leaves) as art supplies

Creative Table with Leaves and Glue

Creative Table Supplies: Leaves and Glue

  1. Leaves
  2. Chip board or card board
  3. A sturdy paintbrush
  4. Shallow bowl or plate filled with glue

leaves and glue on paper

Step One: Clear Your Table

Remove any distractions that will take your child’s focus away from the creative invitation. Create a set-up that looks something like our photo (above).

Arrange the leaves artfully to make this appeal to your child’s aesthetic sensibility.

Once the table is “set,” ask your child if he or she would like to use/explore/experiment with these supplies.

leaves and glue painting

Challenges and Critical Thinking

One of the exciting challenges in this prompt relates to gluing down bumpy, twisted, and generally non-compliant leaves. If your child is frustrated by the non-flat quality of your leaves, or has difficulty gluing them down, this is an opportunity to tease out solutions. You could say something like, “Hmmm, I see you’re having trouble attaching the leaf to the paper. What could we do to help it stick better?” From that, ideas such as “add more glue” or “turn the leaf over” might emerge.


  • Replace leaves with paper cut into leaf shapes, circles, rectangles, etc.
  • Tint the glue with a little bit of food coloring or liquid watercolors
  • Before you set up the invitation, go on a leaf hunt together to collect your materials

Join our Active Newsletter

Be sure to subscribe to our useful and fun newsletter if you’d like the inside scoop on more ideas like this, giveaways, exclusive contests, and more.

This post is sponsored by New York Life. One way we pass along good is through Life Lessons: Simple but important truths that guide our everyday actions. You can see all the Life Lessons here and even share one of your own. This short video celebrates the spirit of passing down hobbies through generations.

Creative Inspiration

creative inspiration tinkerlab

This is our second installment of Creative Inspiration.

Today we have some inspiring holiday ideas, articles, and new blog posts to share.

Enjoy, and as always, please let me know what you think!

Education and Creativity Articles

Is Creativity in Decline? A longitudinal research study from the University of Washington Information School and Harvard University show that “some aspects of creativity — such as visual arts — have been rising over the years, while other aspects, such as creative writing, could be declining.” From Science 2.0

In Jordan, a Traveling Gallery Brings Paintings to Children. As a museum and arts educator, I really enjoyed this story about raising an awareness for art and bringing a rich arts experience to underserved children in Jordan.  “The atmosphere was uproarious as children ran back and forth to the row of easels, proudly holding their drawings next to the originals for comparison. A few of the older boys at first acted as if they were too cool to draw. Yet, in the end, they, too, produced thoughtful depictions of their homes, their friends, and the rolling hills of Ajloun.” From The New York Times

Holiday Activities

Note: some of these activities contain affiliate links. We only share products that we love and/or that we think you’ll find useful. Your purchases through our links help keep our tinker-engine running, so thank you!

Keep Christmas CozyHow to have a simple and sweet holiday: Alissa from Creative with Kids put together Keeping Christmas Cozy  to help you design experiences that build family connection. Keeping Christmas Cozy is a PDF Dowload + Email Set selling for $4.99. It includes holiday activities, conversation starters and recipes. Starting December 1st, a set of weekly Cozy Christmas Emails to help you stay centered and enjoy the holidays.

Elfin Advent Calendar Idea: My dear friend, Jen, is an art therapist. She used to run a fantastic kids’ activities site called Paint Cut Paste. Have you heard of it? She doesn’t post very often since her career has taken off, but we’re in for a treat because she just shared a Waldorf-inspired elfin advent calendar. Since there are still a few days left until December 1, I thought some of you might want to give this one a try!

Free thank you card Printable! Print out these sweet thank you card notes from Playful Learning, and encourage your child to express gratitude. From the article: “Did you know that research supports the fact that gratitude makes us healthier and happier? With this is mind I set out to find a new way for us to share what we are thankful for together.”

Hands on Holidays from MPMK

Hands-on Holidays from Modern Parents Messy Kids is an enormous e-book that’s packed with ideas for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Halloween (save those for next year!). If you buy this book by the end of the year, you’ll also get a free copy of the wildly popular Project Organize your ENTIRE Life Deal! Click here for more details and images.

New Blog Posts on Tinkerlab

Creative Table: Doilies and Scissors. If you’re a busy parent or a caregiver with a full day of meal-prep, cleaning, and activity planning, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of this invitations. All you need is some paper (maybe doilies), scissors, and tape.

Exploralab Book Review: We were thrilled to get an advance copy of Exploralab by The Exploratorium (Weldon Owen, September 2013) to review for our readers. Click over to the post for a full review and info on how you can win a free copy!

DIY Activity Advent Calendar: This oldie, but goodie, is brought back with some updates for 2013. The end of the article include a huge list of activities that can keep you busy all season long.

Join us for Sharing Friday

sharing friday

Coming this Friday: Share a photo of your Creative Table (AKA creative invitation, set-up, or provocation) on my Facebook page. The benefit? You’ll share your awesome idea and everyone comes away with tons of inspiration to carry them through the next week.

Sign up for our Newsletter

If you enjoyed this post and other from Tinkerlab, don’t forget to join our newsletter, where we’ll share exclusive offers and inside information. This week we’re giving away copies of Exploralab exclusively to three lucky newsletter readers.

Join today so you won’t miss out!

Creative Table: Doilies and Scissors

Easy set-up Creative Table Invitaiton with Doilies and tape

With the stressful holidays coming upon us, I thought it would be a great time to introduce a few of our favorite easy and simple Creative Table Invitations. If you’re not familiar, Creative Table Invitations are essentially open-ended set-ups or provocations that invite children to explore materials, test ideas, and experiment with techniques…in their own way and on their own schedule.

In addition to the aforementioned outcomes, there are two guiding goals that contribute to the design of these invitations:

  1. They should not take a lot of time to set up
  2. The materials should be readily accessible or easy-to-find

If you’re a busy parent or a caregiver with a full day of meal-prep, cleaning, and activity planning, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of these invitations.

The Benefits of “Doilies and Scissors”

This activity will:

  • Help children develop fine-motor skills
  • Offer an opportunity to work independently and build creative confidence
  • Teach scissor-skills through practice
  • Encourage creative thinking

Creative Table Supplies: Doilies and Scissors

  1. Doilies
  2. Scissors
  3. Tape
  4. Construction Paper

Doilies and Clear tape set up

Step One: Clear Your Table

Remove any distractions that will take your child’s focus away from the creative invitation. In this case, you should just have your supplies on the table.

Set them up in an inviting way and ask your child if he or she would like to use/explore/experiment with these supplies.

Cutting Doilies and Clear tape

Step Two: Sit Back

Once your child has picked up on the offer, sit back and watch…or even make your own version of the project. You could also make objective comments such as, “I see that you’re cutting the doily into tiny pieces,” or “I hear you counting as you cut.”

If your child needs help with the scissors, by all means step in and offer assistance, but the overall objective is to foster independence and creative thinking so try to keep your involvement to a minimum.

Creative Table with Doilies and Clear tape

Do you have a heavy-bottom tape dispenser like this? These are great, and enable children to independently remove pieces of tape on their own. For some reason, my three-year old wanted to cut the tape too, and removed it from the dispenser.

Doilies and Clear tape 1

My daughter spent about twenty minutes on this before starting a new one. These were promptly taped to our gallery door, so my big takeaway was that there was a lot of pride in the execution of this activity.

Doilies and Clear tape 2


  • Replace doilies with magazine pages, junk mail, construction paper, newspaper, etc.
  • Replace clear tape with washi tape or painter’s tape.
  • Tape a large piece of butcher paper to a wall and invite your child to tape their pieces to this vertical surface.

More Creative Table Ideas

Check back soon for more Creative Table ideas. If you liked today’s post, you might also enjoy:

A Sticker Composition with Frames

Why it’s important to keep a clear table for Creative Table Projects

Creative Table on Instagram

Join our Active Newsletter

Be sure to subscribe to our useful and fun newsletter if you’d like the inside scoop on more ideas like this, giveaways, exclusive contests, and more.

Exploralab by the Exploratorium, Book Review

We were sent a free copy of Exploralab to review, but all ideas shared here are our own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Exploralab Book Review

We were thrilled to get an advance copy of Exploralab by The Exploratorium (Weldon Owen, September 2013) to review for our readers. Do you know about the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or have you ever been? In a nutshell, the Exploratorium a wonder-filled interactive science and creativity center with ground-breaking exhibits that set the bar for many science museums around the world. If you’re an educator or homeschooler, the Exploratorium’s Educator pages are full of ideas that are sure to inspire, regardless of where you live.

Related to that, if you’re a fan of the Exploratorium or would love to grab a piece of its magic, this new book, Exploralab: 150+ Ways to Investigate the Amazing Science All Around Youwill transport you to San Francisco’s Pier 15 with its hands-on projects that encourage children explore science in their everyday world. 

So what’s inside?

The book is full of fun, easy-to-read science activities for parents, caregivers, and teachers to share with young children. You’ll be happy to sit down, like we did, and flip through the pages with your child to select activities together. If you have an older child, you might like to gift them a copy to browse through when that “I’m bored” feeling settles in.

The projects are a delight in the way that they break down complex science into bite-size, digestible chunks. Something else about this book that I know a lot of our readers will appreciate is that the materials and tools are generally things you can easily find in your pantry: paper, pencils, glue, scissors, measuring spoons, etc.

Still interested? Let’s take a peek inside…

The Inside Cover

Inside cover Exploralab Review

See that little window on the left? it has a clear envelope that you can open, and then pull out a cool plastic lens that does this…

Exploralab Review Inside Cover

Cool! We’re off to a fun start! The inside of the cover really sets the tone for the rest of the book, as more interactive elements follow.

Exploralab Review Lab 3 closet flaps

Engaging Labs

The book is full of “150+ ways to investigate the amazing science all around you,” that are contained within fourteen “Labs” that encompass topics such as school, nature, the city, and games. For example…

Game Hour Exploralab

Roller Coaster Exploralab

Lab #05: The Street Underneath Your Feet

My five-year old and I flipped through the pages and I asked her to pick a project that looked like fun. You can probably see that she tabbed more than one page. We decided to start with “Lab #05: The Street Underneath Your Feet.” Zoom in and you’ll see that this spread is full of ideas for engaging children in the science of the street. Ideas like using your feet as rulers to measure distance, studying shadows to understand more about how the earth spins, and making rubbings from found textures.

Rubbing Lab Instructions Exploralab review

This last idea is what we dug into.

Exploralab review rubbing directions

I really enjoyed the relief that’s set right into the book! Take a look at the bottom of this next picture and you’ll see what I’m talking about. What a clever idea.

Exploralab how to make rubbings

We ran our crayon right over the page to understand the project before hitting the streets.

Exploralab rubbing in book

Our Experience

We made a simple book from four sheets of paper, stapled three times along the edge, and then took it outside to gather some manmade and natural textures.

Rubbing Water Grate

Leaf rubbing Exploralab Review

The next project my daughter plans to tackles is the Juice-Tasting Challenge, where you change the color of familiar drinks with food coloring and challenge people to guess what they’re drinking. The eyes and tongue send off conflicting flavor messages and we’re excited to see what will happen.

Exploralab Breakfast Lab

If this looks like it could be a good addition to your library, you can find your own copy of Exploralab through Amazon. We’re an affiliate, and your purchase helps keep our Tinker-engine running, so thank you!

Exploralab BookLearn More

Visit the Exploratorium

See our review of another book from the Exploratorium, The Art of Tinkering

I was fortunate to hold my book launch party at Helix, a temporary outpost of The Exploratorium in Los Altos, CA.

The Exploratorium’s Education page has a host of valuable resources for home tinkerers and educators.

You can search part of their site for videos that explore all sorts of science + art phenomena.






Inspiration Tuesday

Inspiration Tuesday

I’ve been trying to get better at organizing some of the inspiring ideas and activities that I come across each week. I’m not yet sure of the best way to share this with you, but I’ll take a simple stab at it. Today we have some cool kids activity ideas and inspiring articles on how to educate creative children.

Will you let me know what you think?

Education Articles

School is a prison – and damaging our kids. This though-provoking article from Salon, written by Peter Gray (research professor of psychology at Boston College), makes a good argument for homeschooling and alternative forms of unschooling. We’re not a homeschooling family, but I find this topic fascinating and believe that education as we know is making gigantic shifts in this direction.

I recently wrote an article for the pregnancy and parenting site, What to Expect, called 5 Tools for Raising Creative Children. One of my favorite tips is to set up a creative corner. Here’s an excerpt:

how to raise creative children

“Set up a Creative Corner: Setting aside a space to create sends your child a clear message that hands-on making is a worthy pursuit. Your creative corner could be a child-size table that fits in your kitchen (which also happens to be a great place for the kids to get busy while you make dinner), a cleared-off dining room table, or a corner of your living room. At one point, we played with the idea of turning one of our closets into a mini art studio. Once you have a spot, you’ll want to outfit it with some art materials. To keep it simple, start with white paper, colorful construction paper, crayons, washable markers, child scissors, white glue, watercolors, a heavy tape dispenser, and a stapler.”

DIY on the Cheap

Dyan from And Next Comes L came up with a brilliant way to make color blocks with materials from the dollar store. Her set cost just $3 to make! Dollar store, here I come!

Nature Inspiration

Amy at Wildflower Rambling created a set of 30 free, downloadable Leaf Identification Cards. Thanks to the cards, my smart kids have determined that there’s a sycamore in front of our house. I had no idea — this whole time I thought it was a maple, and wondered why the leaves went straight to brown in the fall. We couldn’t find all the trees in our neighborhood, and these have inspired me to make a few cards of my own.

The photos in 7 Ways To Turn Your Fall Leaf Collection Into Art from Handmade Charlotte.  make my crafty side giddy, and you’ll want to pin, and make, them all.

Simple Play Activities

Megan from Coffee Cups and Crayons has a growing series of Busy Bag Activities that you’ll want to check out if you have little kids.  Busy bags are basically bags filled with simple activities that can keep children engaged while waiting in restaurants, waiting rooms, or airplanes. If you have travel plans for the holidays, this is for you! Even better, Megan and a few collaborators have compiled over 200 busy bag ideas on their Pinterest Page that makes finding the perfect busy bag super easy.

Join us for Sharing Friday

sharing friday

Coming this Friday: Share a photo of your Creative Table (AKA creative invitation, set-up, or provocation) on my Facebook page. The benefit? You’ll share your awesome idea and everyone comes away with tons of inspiration to carry them through the next week.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Don’t forget to join our newsletter, where we’ll share exclusive offers and inside information. This week we’re giving away a complete Spielgaben set exclusively for one lucky newsletter reader. There are some cool creative books and art material giveaways in the pipeline for our next newsletter.

Spielgaben Educational Toy Review

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

~ Friedrich Froebel, Founder of the first Kindergarten

Spielgaben review

If you haven’t already heard of Spielgaben, the new educational toy from Australia, then I’m very excited to be the one to introduce you to them.

Spielgaben is inspired by the first educational toy invented by Friedrich Froebel, who’s perhaps best known as the founder of Kindergarten. Spielgaben, meaning play-gifts, were invented by Froebel as a building, design, and manipulative toy to be used in his kindergartensFrank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and Albert Einstein played with such blocks in their own childhoods — and that might be reason enough to buy a set for your child or school!

full version Spielgaben

Inspired by Froebel’s play-gifts, this fresh new version of the spielgaben comes with thirteen boxes of materials that can be manipulated in a multitude of ways. This toy is genius, and one that will not collect dust on the shelf. The kit is something that I wish all children had access to — either at home or at school. As someone who used to purchase materials that had to withstand handling by thousands of museum visitors, this is just the sort of product I would not hesitate to recommend for a high-use learning environment. The quality is outstanding. 

When Spielgaben asked me if I’d like to review their product I jumped at the chance. We stock our shelves with open-ended construction toys such as blocks, marble runs, and Legos, and I’ve been drooling over the Spielgaben set from afar since I first read this stunning review by Anna at The Imagination Tree.

Let me introduce you to our set…

Spielgaben Store

I can’t even begin to describe the enthusiasm that met Spielgaben when it arrived at our home. We were all so excited to unwrap each of the beautifully packed gifts and my children worked together to cover this side table with a blanket and set up a “store.”

Game Night with Spielgaben

When we first opened the box my five-year old couldn’t find the instruction manual (not to worry — the kit does come with comprehensive play-guides, interactive worksheets, and inspiration cards that are full of ideas for facilitated learning and play), and quickly came to the conclusion that “we can use these however we want!”

Thank you Spielgaben for making this a truly open-ended experience for us!

With that, she invented a game! She covered a cube in painters tape and wrote color names on each side of the cube to correspond with the colors of colorful wooden rings. She then created a looping path of circles and found small pieces for our game tokens. The rules of the game were similar to Candyland, and we played for a full hour!

dice game Spielgaben

The next day my three-year old wanted to play again, and this time for almost two hours. I kid you not. The power of child-directed play was palpable.

game Spielgaben

Benefits of Spielgaben

Volumes could be written on the benefits of this toy, so let me briefly share just a few of my favorite benefits of Spielgaben:

Loose parts: The kit includes hundreds of loose parts that can be organized, sorted, and played with in countless ways. No two play sessions will be the same and the imagination will be active as straight sticks come to represent street lamps and a tower of cubes becomes a metaphor for a castle.

Spielgaben pieces

Child-directed Learning: Children will be inclined to invent their own games, stories, buildings, patterns, and ideas with these blocks. And the open-ended nature of the materials means that children can use them to direct their own unique interpretations of ideas.

Spielgaben diamonds

Fun for adults: While many children’s toys can quickly lose an adult’s interest, Spielgaben is engaging for both children and adults. Just look at the diamond patterns I made with those triangles!

Spielgaben clock

Learn while you play: While these blocks are playful, they’re also a true teaching tool. The set comes with an enormous volume of learning ideas, printables, and 8-12 years worth of learning activities and lessons. In the example above, you could create a clock shape and use the pieces to teach children to tell time. And in the picture below, a color wheel is set up to teach complementary colors.

Spielgaben color wheel

Materials: The materials used to make the sets are environmentally sustainable and non-toxic.

Spielgaben clock from above

Order Yours Today

To order, visit the Spielgaben website. If you place your order by November 23, 2013 Spielgaben promises that it will arrive in time for Christmas! Just saying. All orders include shipping. Spielgaben will ship to all of Europe, US, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and Australia. (Outside, US, UK and AU, there are extra shipping charges).

Also, Spielgaben is offering Tinkerlab readers a promotional discount. All you need to do is fill out a contact form and mention that you heard about Spielgaben from Tinkerlab, and you will be provided with a discount coupon.

Resources: Spielgaben and Froebel’s Gifts

Froebel Education and Learning with Spielgaben

Using the Spielgaben in Play-based learning Environments

Reggio Emilia and Spielgaben

The Psychology of Froebel’s Play-gifts: A free ebook by D. J. Snider, 1900

The Kindergarten Building Gifts: With Hints on Program-making: a free ebook by By Elizabeth Harrison, Belle Woodson, 1908

Note: Spielgaben sent us a free set of materials to review, but all opinions are our own. No further compensation was received in exchange for this review.