Scrap Wood Sculpture for Kids

scrap wood sculpture tinkerlab

If you happen to have a big bag of dowel pins sitting around like we did (thank you, IKEA, for making that necessary), Scrap Wood Sculpture is a fun way to put them to good, creative use. No dowel pins? You can have fun building glue-gun skills with kids with just about any collection of small pieces of scrap wood.

This post contains affiliate links.

dowel pin sculpture

Supplies

  1. Dowel Pins. Another option are these wooden spools or even corks!
  2. Colored glue gun sticks. Clear glue is a-okay. We like to mix it up with color for extra fun.
  3. Low-heat glue gun (ignore the mediocre reviews — this is a great tool for kids — see photo below)
  4. Scrap wood for base

low heat glue gun tinkerlab

Directions

  1. Place the dowel pins or wood scraps in a bowl.
  2. Set up a base.
  3. Add colored glue sticks to your glue gun for a fun variation on the usual — clear glue is also just fine!
  4. Introduce your child to the glue gun: While the low-heat gun should not cause any burns, it’s still smart to exercise caution when using it. Explain that you shouldn’t touch the metal tip nor the warm glue as it comes out. Young preschoolers may need extra help squeezing the glue gun. This is an excellent way to build fine motor development and work on hand strengthening.
  5. Invite your child to connect and build a sculpture using her imagination.

wood sculpture tinkerlab

Extend this!

When you’re all done:

  1. Give your sculpture a title.
  2. Make a few pieces and create museum-style labels for them.
  3. Set up a sculpture gallery and invite family members to view the art. Ask you artist to explain her work.

More glue gun ideas

Make an invention kit for open-ended discovery and creativity!

Build found object art — these junk critters are adorable!

Try your hand at recycled sculpture — this is a good one for young preschoolers!

Teacher Tom has a lovely post on the use of white glue vs. glue gun (and maybe it’s okay to use both!)

Scrap wood sculpture lesson for preschool

How to Make Melted Crayon Art

How to make melted crayon art

Today I’m sharing how to make melted crayon art. This fun STEAM project combines the art of drawing with the reaction of crayons melting on a warm griddle.

Scroll down to watch a video of the process in action.

How to make melted crayon art

Supplies

This list contains affiliate links

Hot Plate: We use Cool Touch Electric Griddle
Crayons: We like Crayola, especially when they’re free from a restaurant, but you could try any crayon.
Aluminum Foil: Use 2 layers of regular foil (in case it rips) or one layer of heavy duty foil.
Paper Towels: To clean the surface between layers

How to make melted crayon art with a griddle

Steps

  1. Before you turn the griddle on, cover it with aluminum foil.
  2. Tape the foil to areas of the plate that do not heat up. This will keep the foil from sliding.
  3. Turn the burner on to about 200 degrees, or just warm enough to melt the crayons (but not so hot that you scorch yourself!).
  4. Draw on the foil with crayons. They will melt!
  5. Peel the crayon paper back as needed.
  6. Make a print by placing a sheet of card stock or other heavy paper on the melted crayon.
  7. Wipe the foil clean and start all over again.
  8. Be safe! Use caution with hot burners.

How to make melted crayon art with a hot plate

Watch the Video

Join us

Try this project and tag your work on Instagram with #tinkerlab and #tinkerlabmeltedcrayon

More Projects Like This

If you enjoyed this activity, check out my book, TinkerLab: A Hands-on Guide for Little Inventors, for more art, science, and tinkering experiments for kids.

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STEAM art project: Create melted crayon drawings on a warming tray

http://tinkerlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/melted-crayon-drawing-warming-tray.jpg

How to Draw a Kawaii Penguin

How to draw a cute Kawaii Penguin.

I will be the first to admit that I love cute things, and that passion has been passed down to my children who are obsessed with Japanese cartoons, Kawaii characters, Shopkins, and manga. Rather than run from this passion I decided to embrace it, and bring you what I hope is the first of a series of How to Draw a Kawaii…

And we’re kicking it off today with How to Draw a Kawaii Penguin.

To make this easier for you, I created a free printable, and there’s a link to it at the end of this post.

How to Draw a Kawaii Penguin

How to draw a cute penguin with kids

One of the things I care most about as an arts educator is encouraging and supporting individual expression and ideas in art making. Prescriptive, how-to tutorials concern me as I worry about children taking them too literally.

This process, however, should be seen as an inspirational foundation or starting point from which to build personal and unique ideas. I gave the sheet to my five-year old tester, and you can see that she took it into completely original territory.

How to draw a cute penguin with kids

How to draw a cute penguin with kids

How to Draw a Kawaii Penguin

Kawaii (pronounced Hawaii) is the Japanese word for cute, lovable, and adorable. Interestingly, the word’s original meaning described someone who was blushing from embarrassment.

But for today’s purpose, we’ll go with cute and lovable. Well, that penguin below may  be blushing…

How to draw a cute penguin with kids

The penguin is drawn in six easy steps. Click here to purchase the PDF.

Once you’re done, feel free to add your own ideas, backgrounds, textures, and props.

12 Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Toddler Art ProjectsI’m often asked for activity ideas for arts and crafts for toddlers, so I collected a few of my favorite toddler art projects. Because I’m all about keeping things simple and child-centered, these art activities are (for the most part) easy to execute, don’t call for a lot of fancy supplies, and are 100% age-appropriate for little hands. In most cases, you’ll already have these supplies at home.

Toddlers are experiential and enjoy expressing themselves through creative play. You will find them working on fine motor skills, painting technique, exploring textures such as the feeling of finger paint or a bowl of dry beans. They also learn through movement, and I always encourage parents and teachers to find ways to get up and wiggle or try these projects standing or sitting on the floor if sitting at a table is too difficult.

12 Toddler Art Projects

12 Simple and Fun Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com
Make your own simple paint recipe. Making your own paint can be easy! This paint isn’t super archival and it won’t look like store-bought paint, but it’s especially useful if you have a child who likes to use a lot of paint, and you’re less concerned with a final product

Sewing with Toddlers. Use the mess from a bag of fruit or vegetables and cardboard, and you have a toddler-friendly loom that’s ready to go.

Marbleized Paper. Marbleize your own gorgeous designs with this simple recipe that calls for liquid watercolors and oil as the base.

Contact Paper Leaf Collage. This is one of my very favorite toddler art projects for parents who are mess-averse. Experience the tackiness of contact paper in this non-messy leaf-collecting + composition-building activity, and stay clean along the way.

12 Simple and Fun Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com

Squeezing Paint. For the child who likes to squeeze a lot of paint, this is for you. You might like to couple this with the “Make your own Paint” recipe (above)

Winter Collage with paper and stickers. Offer your child a selection of pre-cut paper and stickers for this age-appropriate collage activity.

Glueing Dots and Buttons. Squeeze a few dots of glue on paper and invite your child to add buttons. A great activity for hand-eye coordination and fine motor skill development.

Stringing Beads. Plastic string plus beads with big holes make this a rewarding activity for toddlers who are flexing their hand-eye coordination.

12 Simple and Fun Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com

Tracing Circles. Grab a cup, paper, and a marker, and invite your child to trace circles. It seems easy, but it can be challenging!

Butterfly Prints with paper and paint. Fold a piece of paper in half, add dollops of paint to one half, and fold. The results bring out big ooohs, and ahhhs.

Body Tracing. Invite your child to lie down on a big sheet of paper. Trace their body and then offer them pens or crayons to decorate.

{Tidy} Watercolor Painting. This is one of my favorite set-ups for watercolor painting. The whole thing happens within the confines of a tray, keeping the painting in one area.

12 Simple and Fun Toddler Art Projects | TinkerLab.com

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!

Join the TinkerLab Community

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to sign up for the weekly TinkerLab newsletter. It’s free and we often send exclusive content and opportunities that are only available to our subscribers.

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

TinkerLab Newsletter

 

Fun Science Experiments: Vinegar and Baking Soda

Baking Soda and Science Exploration | Fun Science Experiments | TinkerLab.com

My kids love fun science experiments. While cooking breakfast the other day, my three-year old asked about making concoctions with the breakfast supplies. While I’m all for mixing up ingredients with kids, I wasn’t prepared to have a lot of good food go to waste.

So we set up a classic concoction center with some baking soda and vinegar. So much fun!

Supplies: Fun Kitchen Science Experiment

I’ve included some Amazon affiliate links for your convenience

  • Vinegar – I like this big jug for the convenience of having lots of vinegar on hand for more experiments
  • Baking Soda
  • Tray
  • Small pitcher
  • Spoon/s
  • Bowl/s
  • Food coloring (optional)

Baking Soda and Science Exploration | Fun Science Experiments | TinkerLab.com

Steps: Set up a Concoction Experiment

  1. Set up a tray or deep tub and fill it with a handful of small bowls.
  2. Fill a bowl with baking soda and a small spoon
  3. Fill a small pitcher with vinegar
  4. Offer this invitation to your little scientist

Baking Soda and Science Exploration | Fun Science Experiments | TinkerLab.com

After some fizzy exploration, my daughter wanted to see what would happen if we added some salt, so we brought salt over.  In the past we’ve also added flour, baking powder, and a variety of vinegars. At this point, you could also introduce some food coloring for extra-colorful fun.

More Fun Vinegar and Baking Soda Experiments

When my older daughter was three years old, we did this same science experiment with a slightly different set-up. Hop over here to the fun Baking Soda and Vinegar Science Experiment.

Baking Soda and Science Exploration | Fun Science Experiments | TinkerLab.com

This project, like so many others that you’ll find on TinkerLab, is process-based and it’s part of the CREATIVE TABLE PROJECT. 

These projects are set up as Creative Invitations, meaning that the materials are laid out in an inviting way where the child is invited to interpret and use them however he or she likes. With creative invitations like this, I’ll sometimes give my kids a little prompt, but usually I sit back and see what they come up with…and I’m often surprised by their ingenuity.

One of my favorite things about Creative Table projects is that they’re simple. Set up takes minutes and the child determines the outcome through a process of discovery and exploration. There’s no expected outcome, which frees the parent or teacher up to relax and enjoy the process.

Around here, these creative set-ups are part of the Creative Table series, and you can find more of these ideas here.

Creative Table Project | Baking Soda and Vinegar

If you enjoyed this activity, be sure to check out our new book, TinkerLab: A Handbook for Little Inventors (affiliate link). You might also enjoy these creative invitations:

Creative Table Highlights via Instagram

Creative Table: Tape and Paper Bags

Creative Table: Paint and Looping Lines

Creative Table: Doilies and Scissors

Creative Table: Leaves and Glue

Creative Table: Stickers and Frames

 

 

OK Go’s The Writing’s on the Wall and Optical Illusions

Have you seen the new OK Go video, The Writing’s On the Wall? Holy Smokes, people — if MC Escher were alive today, this is the sort of thing he would have come up with.

OK Go's super amazing music video, The Writing's on the Wall, and the art of Optical Illusions. The post includes some DIY optical illusion activities to try after watching the video - TinkerLab

All of OK Go’s videos are impossibly imaginative, and they somehow seemed to have trumped their best work. See for yourself…

From what I’ve read, they created this in just one take! Seriously. Of course there were lots of takes that didn’t work out (50 takes preceded this one). This behind-the-scenes Mashable interview with OK Go talks a little bit about that and shares some cool insights on how it all came together:

Of course my heart flutters for geeky art + science madness like this, but I also really like the song. For more, this Rolling Stone article is worth checking out.

One of my favorite things about optical illusions like this is the seamless blend of art and science. Optical illusions wouldn’t exist without the physics of science and the creativity of art. When I watch this video, I also think of the the shadow work of Tim Noble and Sue Webster. This is Colossal reviewed the video and they cite influences such as the large-scale perspective-skewing installations of Bernard Pras, geometric projections of Felice Varini, and the photographic trick-of-the-eye masterpieces by Bela Borsodi. If you like this stuff, you’ll want to check out this links.

Talk about the Video with Kids

Whenever I see cool things like this, I often consider how I could introduce this to my kids. So, here’s a fun project for you: Watch this video with your child and then talk about what you saw. Or, try this with a friend or on your own. Optical illusions are for everyone, after all.

Some guiding questions:

  1. Which of the optical illusions surprised you? Why?
  2. Which illusion did you like the best? Why?
  3. Which illusion is still puzzling you? At this point, you can go back to the video and watch that part to try to figure it out.
  4. What other questions could you ask?

Following this discussion, make some of your own optical illusions. Some ideas follow:

Optical Illusion Activities

  • Check out these classic optical illusions via Optics for Kids, and figure out how they work.
  • Make a fish-in-a-tank optical illusion from Science Sparks
  • Try this fun bending finger trick. The short and fun video shows you how. From Julian’s Magician School, via YouTube
  • Draw your own hand in 3-D using just a pencil, paper, and markers. This video from Handimania is great!
  • Try to set up your own photographic trick-of-the-eye like Bela Borsodi’s (the video on this page is so worth watching — just to see what’s possible)
  • What else could you do? Let us know in a comment!

Should Food be used in Preschool Sensory Activities?

food preschool sensory activityEver since I dipped my toes into the world of Early Childhood Education, the hotly debated issue of whether or not food should be used in preschool sensory activities has come up multiple times. My background in the arts, where all supplies were fair game for art-making, didn’t prepare me for the variety of opinions that circle this topic.

There are many good reasons to stay away from using food in art or sensory activities, and most of them apply to preschool classrooms and daycare centers where children of multiple backgrounds and food sensitivities will be affected.

Maybe you’re like me and haven’t thought about this much until now. I encourage you to read through the thoughtful comments in this post and come to your own conclusion.

TinkerLab reader, Pam, presented this question on Facebook after I shared a post for making colored rice:

Should food be used in toddler sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

And Pam’s question reminded me of a question from our friend, Lori, just two weeks earlier:

Should food be used in toddler sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Since this question comes up a lot, I wanted to take a moment to unpack it here and share some of the pros and cons for using food in toddler and preschool sensory activities. Please keep in mind that the word “preschool” can relate to a preschool classroom setting or to the age of a preschool child who is at home. My own answer to this question (shared below) differs according to the context.

I’d love to invite you to share your thoughts on the topic, as it’s quite possible that something will be left out. My goal isn’t to convince you to take a stand in one camp or the other, but to provide you with the tools you might need to make a decision that’s right for your situation.

I pulled together some reader quotes from the aforementioned conversations and invited some blogging friends to chime in on the topic as well.

Let’s go…

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Con: Using food for Play is Insensitive and/or Wasteful

With millions of children in the world living in poverty I think it is ignorant to use food for play. Sticks, crunchy leaves, seed pod, tree slices, bark, dirt, organic sawdust, shells, small stones, sand, ice….. The list of non food, non toxic FREE play alternatives are endless. Mother Nature has provided us with all we need for sensory play. – Lee-Anne

When you fill your sensory table with rice or millet you are being playful with an amount of food that could feed a family for weeks. It teaches children that materials are abundant, and not of any great value, things that aren’t true in most of the world. In my center we use edible materials for babies but we try hard to find ways to value and honor the food that we use.  – Kendra

It is not about confusing play with food you would eat, it is more like using food in play as though it were nothing, when in reality in many countries out there, it is very expensive, heck, 1 play bin could feed a family of four for 2 meals in our own country. We do not realize how much other people struggle and it is seen as wasteful. It was mentioned on my blog how many USA bloggers treat rice and beans and lentils and the like as nothing, but in many other areas those things are expensive. Not just underprivledged struggle either, many Americans that are there for the Armed Services find those things pricey in many areas as well…it is about being informed. – Michelle

Just know your audience. If you’re working with families facing food insecurity, seeing bins or beans or rice “wasted” can seem disrespectful. I use a lot of dried beans and dyed rice in my sensory bins, but I make sure it is ok as far as the population I’m serving first. – Sarah

Best practice means being respectful period, not just the make up of your class for one particular year.  – Mary

In New Zealand we don’t use food ie dried pasta etc for play as its not Tikanga. Cultural principles around the subject. There are many many other natural resources we use to provide tactile play.  -Sarah

Play with food at the table, in the context of eating, is ok, but playing with food for enjoyment sake itself is, in my view, a real first world ignorance. It could feed a family, perhaps even one in your centre, for a day and you disregard that issue with this type of play. Also, stuffing bean bags with dried beans, rice or other such food, is not a good idea either, for the same reasons. Many cultures keep food sacred, separate from all other activities, and with good reason. I highly suggest avoiding food-play in this way. The greatest food play is getting even the youngest of children to help you prepare food- my 2 yr old loves to bake, peel carrots and whisk eggs. Making games of the meal is all part of learning to enjoy food. Hope this helps. Non-toxic toy alternatives are wool, cotton, wood, and flax, not food.  – Tota

Oh my….Food needs to be respected- not played with! Let us try as an early childhood community to raise children on the concept of respecting food, where it comes from and how it is vital for nutrition. – Cathie

It is a child care regulation in my state that food cannot be used in sensory tables nor art projects for the cultural and wasteful reasons others have mentioned.  – Genuine

Pro: Using Food for Play is not Insensitive or Wasteful

It’s funny how being respectful of food with children comes up frequently, yet the biggest challenge facing most of the global population is clean drinking water. We frequently use it for “play” and for washing off surfaces. Children in some areas are deprived of a good part of a school day because they walk hours to get fresh water for their families. In schools here we have “water tables” and “splash pools” full of drinkable water before it gets used.  I have no problem with staples being used for food play with children. Food banks and global donations always contain a surplus of those items. Fruits and vegetables, dairy, and proteins are items to be avoided for food play with children. Anyone who is struggling financially has no problem putting macaroni or rice on the table. It is the other 3 food groups that are challenging. A lot of staple foods are thrown out because they have gone stale or not eaten. Using them for educational purposes is better than discarding them.  – Alan

I prefer to use the food scraps. We have a post on vegetable scrap stamping. If the food is going into the disposal, the trash or the compost, and it presents an opportunity to learn (either by dissecting it, planting it, or doing some art with it), then it is great to use. It also affords an opportunity to have the kids in the kitchen with me while I cook, where we can do an activity together even though I’m getting chores done. – Patricia, Critters and Crayons

As a history educator, I keep in mind that food items often were and are still used in play and art all over. Consider, too, that the bag of rice you buy in your developed world grocery store won’t otherwise be going to someone living in hunger l. Global hunger is less due to a food shortage than to war, lack of infrastructure, and a political failure of will. Rather than take stand on a particular type of material, I focus on being mindful of the effects of our choices and the ways in which we can further social justice.  – Candace, Naturally Educational 

 I used a bunch of old macaroni that was stale for a sensory bin for my toddlers. Seeing as it isn’t cooked, it’s hard to recognize as “food” and I would rather use it in some way than throw it away because it never got eaten. Plus, my 2 year old tends to put everything in his mouth and I would much rather him end up with a stale piece of macaroni than sand or beads. – Christina

I don’t agree that using food in a different way is “wasting”. It’s being used, meaningfully and with great purpose. Are kids wasting finger paint? No they are using it. They are learning with it. It is valuable. I appreciate the need to be sensitive to families both socio economically and culturally but I reject the idea that use is waste.  – Kawai

We enjoy using food for our crafts and sensory play. I do understand that it may be seen as a luxury to be so wasteful with food – but then surely having a huge variety of paper, handfuls of crayons and pens and many many more craft materials could be considered a luxury too? This may be a little black and white for some, but if I can afford to buy a pack of marker pens for $5, then I can also afford $1 for a bag of rice. – George, Craftulate

We use rice in our sensory table because we have yet to find something that feels as wonderful. We’ve been using the same container of rice (we rotate) for two years now. We are not being wasteful with it and have found the benefits to be wonderful. – Melanie

In regards to the food “waste” issue, I would argue that food is not being wasted, just used in an alternative way. Is the food being digested and giving the body nutrients? No. But is playing with food stimulating my child’s nervous system in ways that non-food sensory play can’t? Yes. And in the long run, we’ll be “wasting” much less food because my child will now eat the food we played with, rather than refusing it every time it’s presented on a plate.  – –Jordan, Motherhood and Other Adventures

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Con: Preschool Kids May be Allergic to Sensory Activities

Also a consideration is food allergies or intolerances that may crop up in the classroom. It’s hard to have to make changes to the curriculum year to year to safely accommodate everyone so if you can come up with non food alternatives that may be best.  – Lissa

My daughter had a dairy allergy when she was a preschooler. It was brutal worrying about every potential craft or activity being something that could harm her. I’m grateful she outgrew it, but I remember those anxiety filled days well.   – Melinda

As a parent of children with food intolerances, I dread any food-based activities at school. Especially at preschool with my toddler, who is more likely to jam things into her mouth. In fact, when my oldest was a toddler, she viewed the sensory table as her own personal all-you-can-eat buffet. (This was before I knew how those ingredients affected her.) As a parent, I either have to hope the teacher can exclude my child from any activities involving foods she’s intolerant to if there’s a risk of ingestion, or else I as the parent have to provide enough of a safe alternative for the class to use instead. Which can quickly become an expensive burden! I do see the value of food-play, and it’s a safe way for littler ones to have sensory play without fear of choking. It’s also a great way to raise adventurous eaters, by having them interact with ingredients in multiple ways (taste, touch, smell, etc,) and by using familiar foods in different ways (a lot of kids get stuck in a rut where a food must be served the same way every time!) So as long as the teacher/school is willing to accommodate food allergies and intolerances, then I’m all for food play at school! But if a child is constantly put at risk or must be excluded from an activity, then that class may have to miss out on food activities. –Kendra, Biting the Hand that Feeds You

Pro: It’s fine if Children have no Allergies

As long as there are no food allergy issues, I’d say go for it. Kids will play with food no matter what.  – Teri

I have children that put everything in their mouths. Using food made more sense than anything else because it wasn’t going to be toxic if they ate it. It also wouldn’t leave trace on their hands and was easily replenished. We reuse the food as much as possible. I have a cupboard with jars of various food used in arts and crafts and play that gets brought out again and again. –Cerys, Rainy Day Mum

Pro: It’s Helpful to Children with Sensory Needs

As a mom of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, yes, food should definitely be used in toddler and preschool sensory activities. Presenting a child with food to play with, instead of eat, is a way to introduce new textures and smells without pressure. The child is allowed to explore at their own pace, and in their own way. My son never was willing to taste pasta until after we explored cooked spaghetti in a sensory play activity. –Jordan, Motherhood and Other Adventures

My son had sensory integration issues and was only 14 lbs at 1 year. He was on a feeding tube and went to OT. At OT, do you know what they did? Play with food!. It actually teaches them to get used to different textures and not have an aversion to new foods. I was born during the Vietnam War and there was mass starvation when the war ended due to collectivization of the farms and bombings. I personally had to get over food hoarding and being a member of the clean plate club. Like everything, moderation is the key. Be respectful and don’t throw the rice around, keep it in the container and try to reuse it afterwards (make bean bags, make maracas, stress balls in balloons, heating pads, I Spy bags, rainsticks, etc.).  – Lucy

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Con: Natural Objects should be left in their Environment

Would like to just throw out there that it seems many who have big concerns about food play are suggesting the alternative is to simply gather items from nature instead, and that idea is grand but should be approached with consideration to the natural world versus ”free for the taking”. If everyone heads outdoors to gather up sticks, twigs, pinecones, seeds, flowers, bark, etc. then you’ve now taken food and shelter from animals who depend on us leaving these things be. Absolutely, there are responsible ways to acquire some natural items within reason; e.g, from your own property, but typically most educational sites and resources do not promote this, they simply put in their lesson plans ”gather up some pinecones and make this glittery craft” or ”swoop up flowers from a nearby field to dissect or learn fractions”, etc. Squirrels and Bees would suggest perhaps growing your own flowers and pick one pinecone vs. a plethora, especially if it so happens to be a weak year of natural food. I know where we live is scarce this year due to rain last year and the bears and wildlife are hungry searching for what they can. As well, some natural found items are federally protected resources that can land you in big trouble for taking. So it really seems that providing any materials to children to play has a plus and a negative aspect to it. Perhaps looking at it altogether differently is an alternative. For example, children digging and growing a small garden themselves gives sensory experience whilst building an appreciation for food, as well as not taking food from wildlife to play with. Picking and Washing the veggies also are hands on sensory experiences. Eating and preserving most whilst using a few in crafts and games much like ancient cultures did. For example, making apple heads or bobbing for apples, creating corn dollies or even corn husk dolls. Or maybe gather natural items at a time of year they are not so crucial to wildlife and then returning them when needed (fall/winter). Another alternate idea from food; either human or animal, is building up a recycling/repurposing inventory. Milk jug tops, empty cartons, squeeze bottles, jars, cans, etc. These can be turned in to fantastic toys and play items.  – Missy Louise

Pro: Food is Natural and Healthy

I used to have a problem with it, but now I think it´s better than buying other toys/playdough etc. We reuse the dried food/homemade playdough over and over. From an environmental view I actually think it´s better than a lot of plastic, battery operated and general toys as they are often made with nasty chemicals, break and may end up in landfill. So I would much prefer to be letting them play with dried foods that will decompose! Kids naturally play with food at the table when they eat and I actually think it´s important to do this so that they can experience the food you are expecting them to put in their mouths. In saying all of this rice, flour and beans are about all we use (easy to store and re-use). At Christmas/easter time the odd potato for stamping. – Felicity

I have to say I lie in the pro-food camp. For me the benefits of using food in preschool activities outweigh the cons. I personally like using food because it is a less expensive alternative to many costly art supplies, because it encourages children to see unique ways to use everyday items, and because it makes for safe, non-toxic play materials. – Ana, Babble Dabble Do

I understand the concern but do you want your children to play or accidentally ingest toxins??? I would much rather use rice or flour than something that would harm their growth, remember this is used as a learning tool and something to keep in mind using toxins what message is that sending? I am all for organic but we must understand there is a down side to this usage also.  – Robin

My girls are 3 and they know not to play with food at meal time. They constantly do food play at school and home…..I would rather them eat a Cheerios than a plastic bead. If they are taught to understand (which they can do at preschool age) it shouldn’t be an issue. – Jessica

You could have food on plates that could be played with then eaten. You could use beans for play then plant them. I’d much prefer kids playing with biodegradable products than something that’s going to end up in the bin like the loom bands everyone has gone mad for. I think in the scheme, of things a bag of rice is fine for play, perhaps playing with food might bring children closer to understanding and appreciating it. I’ve made veggie critters with kids and it’s a wonderful activity.  – Kristy

 If we are not “pro-food” in sensory play, then what are we? Unless you’re only then reaching for natural materials, the alternative is synthetic, manufactured items that cause their own environmental footprint and sense of “disposable” waste. If properly cared for, food sensory items can be reused again and again — the same bag of quick oats, the same batch of homemade playdough.
Food provides unparalleled, multi-sensory engagement and is something that most people reading will have ready access to.
Also, if the concern is having children “play with their food,” I would suggest that allowing this might encourage children to be more adventurous with their food choices. Even painting with spices might encourage a plain-eater to try something a bit spiced up! – Jennifer, Study at Home Mama

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Take the Middle Ground

Gather materials from nature for your sensory bins. Rocks, pebbles, sticks, fresh cut herbs, dried plants, mud, etc! It’s free, teaches about our local environment, and can be returned outdoors or composted. Personally, I use limited amounts of food materials. Winter wheat berries that we then give to a farmer is great in the fall. Talk about wheats life cycle, read “little red hen”, sprout wheat, talk about wheat to flour, bake some bread. All in balance friends. No sense judging one another’s practices!   – April

Really, it’s about the balance and respect for other cultures. I do use food, even as a sensory but in the context of teaching my preschoolers about cooking and nutrition. Giving them the independence to learn how to make something and then do it at home is the best lesson I can teach them. They still get to “play” / “create” with food but in a more appropriate context that they will remember and use.  – Cathryn

I personally aim to think carefully about any materials we use in play. I want my children to have access to a wide range of materials for sensory experiences and creative prompts, and prefer open-ended, natural materials. We try not to use anything which is disposable after only one brief use, we use as many recycled materials as possible, and we try to recycle or compost what we’ve used after we have played. Using this criteria sometimes food is a better choice for us – for example some uncooked pasta which we might use as maths manipulatives, put in a sensory tub, and then paint and use for art, or threading necklaces. We use it many times before composting it to benefit our garden classroom.  – Cathy, NurtureStore

I probably think way too much about this topic. I do agree that for some young children using food is a safe alternative – if they tend to put things in their mouths (my son says I’m the most over-protective mother). Several years ago when teaching art at a preschool in a poor neighborhood it struck me as very sad that many o the children only ate when they got their free breakfasts and lunches at school. I imagined how one of those children would feel seeing pudding used to paint or an apple used to print. I stopped using food in my projects. I’ve since started again, but not in the same ways. I’ll use items I would normally toss (like strawberry tops) or I do a swap- I’ll have my son choose an items to donate to the food pantry box at our grocery store if we are going to use food in an activity. I know that the five blueberries I’m going to use or a printing project won’t cause a world hunger crisis, but it makes me feel better and teaches a good lesson on helping others to do so. I explain it a little better in this post on berry art. – Rikki, Mini Monets and Mommies

Should food be used in preschool sensory activities? | TinkerLab.com

Where does TinkerLab stand?

As I mentioned earlier, my background in the arts prepared me to think abstractly and broadly about what can be used as an art material. When I set up my first art studio, Chris Ofili’s paintings with elephant dung and Damien Hirst’s real shark floating in formaldehyde took the art world by storm, demonstrating just how far artists can push past the use of traditional art supplies. I happily made things with non-art materials like Valentine conversation hearts, resin (which comes from trees), and flowers collected from my garden. Wasn’t this better, and maybe more interesting, I thought, than spending tons of money on store-bought supplies?

Now here’s an interesting fact about store-bought art supplies: Food and natural materials are often in the ingredients. This is something to think about if you have a child with food allergies. For example: Play-doh (flour, salt), Crayola Colored Pencils (soy), Air-dry Clay (corn starch), and Crayola Washable Markers (corn syrup). If we’re to avoid food products in art then we need to consider these less obvious culprits. These ingredients aren’t included in package labels and are essentially hidden from consumers. Since food products are found in store-bought art supplies, I see very little difference in adding food to my own supplies.

Introducing my kids to natural materials is also far more interesting to me that exposing them to toxic materials. As such, we will occasionally use food for play or projects, and I’m more inclined to do so if it’s scraps, expired, or if the play/art supply will last for a long time. We do our best to recycle and return things to the earth. Some of the things we have used and made: flour and oil in cloud dough, rice flour in gluten-free cloud dough, rice in colored rice, flour in the best play dough recipe, wheat berries in our wheat berry sensory table, and sweetened condensed milk in milk paint.

Food for Play in schools: I don’t run a school, but in that context there’s a good chance that I would avoid using food for play due to allergies and a desire to respect the religious and personal perspectives of a diverse audience. When it comes to the school environment, I often look to my colleague, Deborah, at Teach Preschool. See the first article, below.

More thoughts on Food in Play

A Discussion on Food Use in the Early Education Classroom, Teach Preschool

Parents and Teachers Working Together: Should Food Be Used as Learning Materials, Early Childhood News (the discussion in the this article is so rich and will give you a lot of food for thought — no pun intended!)

Play with your food? Or not? My thoughts on Food in Play, Picklebums

Being Thankful for Food, Planet Smarty Pants

Using Food in Preschool, Interaction Imagination

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Doily and Watercolor Art for Preschoolers

This simple doily and watercolor art for preschoolers uses basic art materials and encourages children to explore the medium of watercolors through process-based creating.

Ideas to use doilies in art

This project, like so many others that you’ll find on TinkerLab, is process-based. It’s set up as a Creative Invitation, meaning that the materials are laid out in an inviting way, and then the child is invited to interpret and use them however he or she likes. With creative invitations like this, I’ll sometimes give my kids a little prompt, but usually I sit back and see what they come up with…and I’m often surprised by their ingenuity.

Around here, these creative set-ups are part of the Creative Table series, and you can find more of these ideas here.

Supplies: Watercolor Art for Preschoolers

Note: I’ve included Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

The Creative Table Set-up

Line a tray with paper: Set up a big tray, and line it with paper. We have big sheets of 18″ x 24″ paper that I cut to fit. You could also use butcher paper, a brown paper bag, or smaller papers that are taped together. This step isn’t mandatory, but it’s helpful to have a absorbent trough to catch all the extra liquid.

Squeeze liquid watercolors into an ice cube tray. We have a mini tray that’s reserved for just this purpose. I often add a little bit of water to the watercolors to extend the life of our paints just a bit.

Doilies and paintbrush. Set up some doilies and a paintbrush and/or pipette nearby.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

My three-year old enjoys the challenge of pulling doilies apart. Oh, and she’s also wearing an apron and has rolled-up sleeves. Both recommended for this potentially messy project.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

Here’s the pipette in action. Pipette’s are fun for little kids, and a good challenge as they figure out how to squeeze the paint up, and then squeeze it out again.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

We set up another tray nearby to absorb our drying, colorful doilies. Once she made a small handful of these, my daughter thought it would be fun to dip clean doilies in the pool of murky paint. What a fun experiment!! It’s moments like this that make this a Creative Table!

soaking doily

She loved seeing the paper soak the paint right up. Once we had a healthy collection of doilies, my kids remembered that we recently picked up laundry hanger at the dollar store. So we carried our trays full of doilies outside where we hung them to dry in a tree.

They’re still there, actually, decorating the neighborhood.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

And here’s a bit of the aftermath. I love before and after photos!

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

If you enjoyed this activity, be sure to check out our new book, TinkerLab: A Handbook for Little Inventors (June 2014, Roost). You might also enjoy these creative invitations:

Creative Table Highlights via Instagram

Creative Table: Tape and Paper Bags

Creative Table: Paint and Looping Lines

Creative Table: Doilies and Scissors

Creative Table: Leaves and Glue

Creative Table: Stickers and Frames