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

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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

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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.






DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Make your own advent calendar

{This post was first shared in November, 2010…and we’ve updated it for 2013!}

When the winter holidays come around, our family gets into a deep DIY groove. How about you? In that spirit, making an advent calendar is a great way to introduce children to the less commercial side of Christmas through hands-on making.

Although my kids adore their chocolate-filled advent calendar, each envelope in this activity advent calendar holds a description of a holiday activity inside:

One day we’ll make our own ornaments and another day we’ll go ice skating. To keep my life simple, I only put things inside the calendar that are already on our agenda. No need to make the holidays more stressful than they already are!

For a full selection of ideas, scroll to the bottom of this post.

The Benefits of this Activity

I didn’t grow up with advent calendars, but my children adore them. This handmade calendar, made with the help of children, gives young people the opportunity to:

  • participate in a holiday tradition
  • exercise fine motor skills
  • generate enthusiasm for the festivities to come. 

And if you celebrate Hanukkah, you could make something similar for the eight nights of Hanukkah. I know that I would have loved that when I was a kid!

How to make an advent calendar with kids

DIY Advent Calendar Supplies

Making twenty-four envelopes takes a bit of time, but nothing insurmountable. The steps, however, are beyond simple.

I have a daughter who is thrilled by holidays and had a hunch that she would enjoy mkaing an activity-based advent calendar. When we were still going strong after an hour of folding and gluing, I silently patted myself on the back.

How to make an advent calendar with kids


How to make a Paper Advent Calendar

DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Step 1: Cut your paper  to the desired size and fold it in thirds. One side should overlap the other by about 1/2 inch.

Step 2: Fold the bottom up about 1/2 inch and crease the paper.

Step 3: Open everything up. Make two cuts (see photo).

Step 4: Fold the paper together and add glue to seal it up.

Step 5: Add some more glue and seal up the bottom.

Make 23 more, and you’re ready to go.

Step 6: Punch holes in the back of the envelopes, run string through them, and hang the calendar.

Decorate away! And don’t forget to add some numbers.

How this worked for us

This project is more crafty than our usual process-based happenings, but my little one was deeply engaged in the industry of selecting images and do-dads to glue onto the bags. The benefits that I witnessed were:  

  • developing fine motor skills
  • making aesthetic choices
  • practicing with a glue bottle
  • commitment to completing a fairly large project. 

I also think she really enjoyed the camaraderie of working side-by-side with me, and I must admit that she’s pretty good company. Oh, and did I mention that she was invested in this for a solid hour? Seriously!!

DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

Our calendar is filled with holiday activities, written on pieces of paper, but you could certainly put small treats in each envelope if you’d like. Here are some ideas for activities:

If you make an activity calendar like we did, my best advice is to keep it simple. The holiday can be a stressful time, full of so many activities, parties, and travel.  I like to put things in the calendar that we’re already planning to do, so that this doesn’t add more work to an already busy time of year.

Go easy on yourself and don’t overcommit with this project!

What activities do you have planned around the holidays?