How to Build with Box Rivets

rivet3

Today we’re joined by TinkerLab reader and friend, Aricha Gilpatrick Drury who’s offered to show us how to build with box rivets. Aricha is a mom to four children and has a knack for tinkering. When she shared this uber-tinkering activity on our Facebook wall, we asked Aricha if she’d be so kind to share with us today. Lucky us, she said, “yes!”

If you’ve never built with box rivets before (we haven’t), you’re in for a treat. They’re simple plastic connectors that enable you build almost anything you can think of from cardboard: castles, theater sets, play structures, and more.

How to build with rivets and cardboard boxes | TinkerLab.com

About a year ago, my father sent the kids a package of Mr. McGroovy’s Cardboard Rivets (Amazon), which took up residence, half-forgotten on a shelf. My kids all love building with cardboard boxes, but I’d assumed the rivets would require a great deal of adult help and I was hesitant to introduce them. I was pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong when I finally got them out on a recent snow day.

Supplies: Build a Box with Rivets

My 9-year-old and I gathered our supplies:

Mr. McGroovy's Rivets | Tinkerlab.com

How the Rivets Work

After a quick safety review for the punch (to avoid punching directly into one’s hand), we checked out the rivets to see how they worked. Two rivets are positioned on either side of the cardboard with the prongs at a 90-degree angle from one another. When the rivets are pressed together, the ridged prongs click securely and hold the two layers of cardboard together.

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I demonstrated once, showing my son how to punch through two layers of cardboard then press the rivet together through the punched hole. Once he had the idea, which only took one demonstration, I turned him loose to design and build.

Build with Rivets and Cardboard

He started out by gathering all the boxes together and then arranged them into the general shape of the playhouse that he wanted to make. After getting a rough idea of where each box would go, he figured out which sides needed to be cut open and how to overlap the joints to secure the boxes together. For the most part, he was able to punch the holes and line up the rivets himself, though he needed an extra hand (or a longer arm) for some spots.

Creative Problem Solving

In a few places, the cardboard didn’t overlap and we used packing tape to join the pieces. When that proved to be far less reliable than riveting, he discovered that an extra piece of cardboard could be placed over both edges and riveted together, creating a much more stable joint.

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He also discovered that he needed to do some pre-planning in a few places by securing the harder-to-reach rivets first and leaving the ones close to the edge for last.

His final touch was a door, which I cut for him using the box cutter. He designed a handle with a strip of leftover cardboard and riveted it on.

rivet3

Once the house was complete, we carried it out for the rest of the children to explore. After an initial peek inside, they furnished it with pillows and blankets. Over the next couple days it became a play house, a castle, and a place to be alone. After a week in child care (including being moved by small children), the house is still standing solid.

rivet4

Resources

Mr. McGroovy’s website has designs for using the rivets to create projects from your own cardboard boxes, as well as ideas from customers and tips for acquiring large appliance boxes.

Mr. McGroovy’s rivets on Amazon

Note: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience


Aricha Gilpatrick Drury on How to build with rivets and cardboard boxes | TinkerLab.comAricha Gilpatrick Drury is an early childhood consultant and mother of four. She comes from a long line of fixers and tinkerers and hopes to pass on a tinkering mindset to her children. She likes to test out her open-ended art and tinkering invitations in her husband’s in-home childcare program.

Engineering for Kids | Fort Building Kit

Fort Magic Kit Review

This post is sponsored by Fort Magic. Read all the way to the end for a special offer!

Do you have a child who likes to build forts? Have you heard of Fort Magic, the fort building kit for kids? 

We were first introduced to this super-fun engineering kit for kids over a year ago, and our fort-building is still going strong. You can read our original review of Fort Magic here. Since we first built that submarine, our kit caught the eye of our neighborhood friends and by some miracle it made it back to our house!

Engineering for Kid: Super Fun Fort Building Kit

So what is Fort Magic?

Fort Magic is an innovative fort building and construction toy that enables children to build 3D, kid-created, “life-size” worlds for inventive play!

The kit includes 382 poles and connectors that can be assembled to build forts of all kinds. To keep the pieces tidy when they’re not being used, they come in a handy mesh bag that has extra room and an easy-to-close velcro top. If your child enjoys Legos, there’s a good chance that this fort building kit would appeal to them.

The kit also comes with a small instruction manual that shows you how to easily assemble things like a boat or tent. 5-year old Nutmeg enjoyed the process of following the instructions to figure out how the pieces could connect. I love that she could do this on her own.

How we played with Fort Magic

To tell the truth, we actually started with a small argument. Rainbow wanted to build a Princess castle and Nutmeg wanted to build a tall rectangular structure. What to do?

We compromised and built a short rectangular structure with some arches.

And they were both genuinely thrilled.

Engineering for Kid: Super Fun Fort Building Kit

Every now and then the girls would stop and look carefully at the instructions for guidance.

Fort Magic Kit Review

Fort Magic Instructions

And while we started with the instructions, my kids quickly figured out how to manipulate the pieces in their own way. 3-year old Rainbow took it upon herself to decorate the edges with curved pipes. She was very serious about this business. And 5-year old Nutmeg devised a plan to add arches to the top.

Fort Magic Kit Review

Before you knew it, the whole thing went up. My kids put most of the bottom together on their own, with Nutmeg guiding her sister along. She turned out to be a very strong leader, and I relished the collaboration and teamwork that went on between the two of them.

I was responsible for the top level, and covering it all with sheets.

The kit doesn’t come with fabric, so you’ll want to have a few extras set aside for your fort building. We only had two spare sheets, but the kids didn’t seem to mind one bit.

After it was covered, Nutmeg added some more pieces to the front of the fort to make an entryway.

Fort Magic Kit Review

Once it was all set up, it proved to be the perfect place to snuggle in and watch a movie.

Fort Magic Kit Review

What you should know about Fort Magic

  • The kit comes with instructions to make things like a submarine, castle, tent, boat, and car.
  • The pieces come in an easy-to-close, durable bag.
  • Children can assemble forts themselves, but may need some adult help with tall forts and securing sheets to the fort with fabric clips (clips are included).
  • Sheets are not included, so be sure to have a selection of sheets handy. But stay posted because Fort Magic lets us know that fabric covers are coming soon! The kit does include a ton of clips for securing your fabric to the pipes.
  • The forts will take over your room, but it’s worth it for the problem-solving, teamwork, and hours of fun involved.

Fort Magic imagination toy

What people say about Fort Magic

We really love this toy, if you’re still wondering if it’s for you, take a look at all these reviews to get your questions answered.

Where can you buy this Fort Building Kit?

Fort Magic can be purchased right here.

Giveaway!!

We’re excited to share that we will be giving away one Fort Magic Kit, valued at $199 to one of our lucky newsletter subscribers in our next newsletter. If you’re not already a subscriber, click over here and sign up today.

Fort Magic, the Coolest Fort in Town

fort magic kit review

“Confidence is earned through doing and believing.”  -Erika Pope-Gusev

Shortly after sharing this post on how to build a simple fort, I was contacted by Fort Magic and asked if I’d like to review their fort building kit. My children make forts every single week (this week it’s a beaver dam/fort), so how I could I refuse?

There will be a generous giveaway at the end of this post.

fort magic review

When our Fort Magic kit arrived, I was impressed by the sheer quantity of materials (seven different stick sizes with over 350 pieces altogether). I spoke highly of our new toy to my lovely neighbors, and they all wanted to have a turn with Fort Magic. The kit made the rounds around our houses…a few times…and I can confidently say that it’s popular with girls and boys, and children between the ages of 1 and 7. Our 5-year old neighbor built a tent-fort over his bed and kept it there for a full month! The kit finally made it back to us and my 4-year old asked to make a submarine from the instruction manual (shown in my photos in this post).

Fort Magic was founded by entrepreneur and homeschooling mom Erica Pope-Gusev, who’s joining us today to talk about how she came about designing this imagination-building toy.


 

It’s great to have you here today, Erika! What is the inspiration behind Fort Magic?

Our family had purchased a dryer for our home.  My son, who was 8 at the time, begged me to keep the huge box.  I agreed.  He played with this box for months!  He and his friends turned that box into every imaginary item they could. Only it was large and in the way in our apartment.  This sparked my imagination and instantly I invented Fort Magic in my mind!  After 2 years of trial and error and invention we finally created the perfect Fort Building Kit for kids!  Where a child can build a fort as big as their imagination with just one kit!  Literally!  :)

fort magic review

The materials used to build with Fort Magic are both simple and incredibly smart. What contributed to your design process?

The design process of creating Fort Magic was basically being a kid myself!  We call our business the Fort Magic Fun Factory.  I originally just started building (playing!) and working with my prototypes and would think, “hmm, this could be cool,” then I would try and add something else or create something new.  After many months of building and trying lots of different sized pieces, we came up with our current kit components!

It really can build anything and it really is the ultimate building toy!  And it fits nicely in one little bag.  :)  Some companies create toys with just enough pieces that you have to buy a second to really do something cool with it.  That is NOT our philosophy.  We wanted out kit to be excellent enough to be purchased alone and STILL give a child enough to build fantastic life-sized forts!  Kids deserve it.  If a family wants 2 kits that is great also.  But it won’t be because one kit leaves feeling cheaped-out, it would be because you just want to build more cool stuff!

assembling fort

What do you hope children will gain from the experience of playing with this these materials?

Oh my goodness!  First and foremost we want kids to have fun!  But also, Fort Magic is obsessed with children becoming their best!  Our mission is the building of greatness in children one fort at a time.  :)  Our goal is to give power to children to literally create their own realities, life size!  Not only by building and creating life-sized forts of their own to play in, but by igniting a confident belief in their minds that maybe they CAN do anything else!  Confidence is earned through doing and believing.

With Fort Magic kids learn to plan their designs, build their designs, cover and decorate their designs, and see their work!  That is education: fun and confidence building in one experience!

fort magic example

Fort Magic also brings the whole family in to play.  If you look at our Facebook page you’ll see so much creativity coming from the minds of boys AND girls!  Building toys are often directed primarily at boys, but girls LOVE to build also!  The long term plan is to support our product with our online World of Fort Magic page on our website where kids can learn how to create all kinds of DIY projects, educational materials to support themes, resources for parents on how to use Fort Magic to help their kids.

There are sooo many benefits from creative building toys like Fort Magic!  I can hardly start to name all of them.  We are busy preparing a lot of material that will launch soon on our World of Fort Magic page for customers to use.  We are really excited about this!

fort magic tent

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would just like to thank all of our fans, reviewers and customers for their enthusiasm and support! We are so happy to recieve emails and notes from kids and parents on how much they love their Fort Magic kits!  It just makes our hearts soar.  :)  We get a lot of positive reviews and we love it.

We are really aiming to create the best quality product we can for children.  Safety first (highest standards of safety certification).  Everything is the absolute best quality because kids deserve it!  Our materials and are so well made they will last for generations and we love that!  We’re just a family business started by a mom who loves her kids and is a big kid herself.  Just pure, good fun toward the goal of helping our kids reach their best in life; that is Fort Magic.  :)

Check the Fort Magic Facebook page for photos of kids and their creations! Each month we hold a Fort Magic Photo of the Month contest  — winner receives an additional Fort Magic Kit, free!


To enter for your chance to win a complete Fort Magic Kit ($249 Value), click on the Rafflecopter giveaway. This is the first time I’ve used Rafflecopter to run a giveaway. I’d love to hear what you think about it. This is open to U.S. addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Easy Art: Air Dry Clay

creative kids clay

creative kids clay

Material: Air Dry Clay

Have you ever noticed that kids don’t need a lot of bells and whistles and fancy stuff to get creative, have fun, and feel on top of the world? Yesterday we foraged some cardboard boxes from a neighbor’s move because 4-year old Nutmeg has a vision of building a space station.

Today I’d like to introduce you to ONE material that helps build creative thinking, and share some tips on how to use it. The idea is to keep your life simple while supporting your child’s curiosities.

creative kids clay

Crayola makes a wonderful product called Air Dry Clay. You can buy it in 2.5 or 5 pound containers. The 5 lb. container is about $10, and if you store it properly it will last for ages. I’ve had our 2.5 lb. tub for about 5 months, we use it about once/month, and it’s still in great shape.

But why buy clay, if you have play dough?

I’m an enormous fan of play dough (here’s the BEST play dough recipe if you’re looking for one), but there are some unique benefits to clay:

  • In terms of squeezing, building, and inventing, clay and play dough serve similar purposes, but the texture of clay gives children a different sensory experience.
  • Kids will enjoy learning that clay is a special kind of dirt that can be molded and dried at high temperatures to create dimensional objects
  • Clay is more dense and requires stronger muscles to mold it and work with it.
  • Adding water to clay creates a slippery material that many children love to play with. In the real “clay world” a mixture of water and clay is called “slip” and it’s used to attach one dry clay piece to another.
  • Clay can be molded into sculptures and objects that can be saved and later painted: pinch pots, bowls, alligators, rockets, etc.

How we use it

We always pull all the clay from the bucket and divide it in two, so that each of my kids has a hefty piece. Our table is covered with a plastic table cloth,, and at the end of the project clean-up is easy with a few wipes of a rag or sponge.

To begin, I usually give my kids a pile of clay…and that’s it!

I like to scaffold my projects, meaning that I’ll slowly introduce materials to them. I do this because I find that extending a project like this improves their ability to fully explore phenomena and keeps them from being done in 3 minutes flat. You’ve had that happen right?!

Once that runs its course, I’ll give my kids a small bowl of water so that they can add it to the clay to moisten it. Older children will probably dab the water with their fingers and add it to the clay as needed. My monkeys, on the other hand, are champions of bowl-dumping. And that’s fine. If the table is getting too wet I’ll limit them to “x” number of bowls. They love playing with the clay when it’s wet…it’s a totally different sensory experience.

creative kids clay

And finally, I’ll introduce them to a simple tool such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, wooden knife, glass marbles, etc. Again, I usually try to keep this to one material so that they’re not overwhelmed by choices. Having one material to add to the clay invites them to push their imaginations and test multiple solutions to problems.

When they’re done, the clay goes back into the container. While this clay is designed to “air dry” we solely use it for the purpose of sensory play, fine motor development, and imagination-building.

Clean-up

I wipe the table down with a clean, damp terry cloth rag. Any clay that gets on the clothes should wash right out. Put clumps of clay back in the container or in the trash. It’s important that clay doesn’t go down your sink, or it will clog your pipes.

Other Materials

I’m planning to write about other art and exploration materials: is there anything that you’d like to see me write about?

Resources

mr. rogers celebrates arts

Mr. Rogers Episode 1763: Celebrates the Arts. Mr. Rogers meets potter Dolly Naranjo who forages clay from a hillside, mixes it with volcanic ash (with her foot!), and shows us how to make a coil pot. If you have Amazon Prime, you can screen it for FREE by clicking on the link.

Clay and Children: The Natural Way to Learn. By Marvin Bartel at Goshen College Art Department. A wonderful resource by a potter on teaching children about clay.

What is clay? on KinderArt. Kid-friendly definition of clay, words used in the pottery studio (wedge, kiln, slip, glaze, etc.)

Make Air Dry Pendants, from Melissa at The Chocolate Muffin Tree

DIY Water Wall

collection of water wall materials

Does it feel like summer in your part of the world? It’s heating up here, and my kids have been enjoying this easy and inexpensive new backyard water feature. All you need is a nearby water source and a wall to attach it to.

I’ve been inspired by Let the Children Play once again! Last summer Jenny gave us the idea for our mud pie kitchen (and here’s her mud kitchen), and other outdoor hands-on activities that get my kids thinking and building in the fresh air. Her water wall post (full of water wall inspiration from around the web) has been sitting in my mind since she posted it in October (she’s in Australia where it’s bloody hot in October), and it’s altogether responsible for the hours of fun my kids and neighborhood friends had with our newest backyard water feature. Thank you, Jenny!

My older daughter helped me build this one afternoon last week while my toddler was napping. She loved the responsibility of holding the bottles steady while I drilled and took a lot of pride in our finished water wall. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s a lot of fun and an upcycler’s DIY dream.

water wall build

To replicate this upcycled playscape in your own garden or patio, I’ll break this down into some simple steps.

collection of water wall materials

Four Basic Materials

  1. Plastic bottles
  2. Screws (this nifty kit came from IKEA)
  3. Drill
  4. exacto knife

With the exacto knife, cut a hole in the side of the bottle. The hole will be large enough for you to fit your hand into it so that you can easily position and drill in the screws.

score bottle and add screws

Using the exacto knife, score an “X” on the side of a bottle and push a screw through the “X” from the inside. Repeat one more time so that you have two screws poking through the bottle.

Screw the bottles to a fence or wall. Tilt them slightly downward to help the water pour through. You might have to shift the bottles around or cut the holes a bit more to make the water wall work properly. Test as you go.

water wall testing

Test it out to make sure it works. Add a bucket at the bottom to catch the water, which can then be added to plants or returned to the top of the water wall.

Invite some friends over to play.

water wall play

Set up a water-filling station and add some pitchers, watering cans, and cups.

And be prepared for eye-opening, open-ended fun.

 

How to Build a Simple Clip Fort

how to clip sheet to the table for a fort

how to build a clip fort

How was your Valentine’s Day? We had a drizzly pre-Valentines romp in the park with friends and I spent Valentine’s morning leading a fun docent training workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA). Under the leadership of Education Director, Lucy Larson, SJMA one of the most visitor-centered museums around. It’s not a huge museum, which means it’s easy to navigate with squirmy kids, and if you ever take a docent tour you’ll be surprised at how much the docents care about what YOU think. No stuffy lectures here!

So backing up a bit, I’ve been clearing the clutter from my house (see herehere, and here) –what a slow job that is with two little kids running around the house! — and I found a huge stack of sheets that we really don’t need anymore. We gave a few away to our favorite thrift store, but before I parted with all of them I asked the Tinkerlab Facebook community for ideas on what we could do with this bounty of potential fun. So many great ideas came my way that I decided I’d try a bunch of them out. So today I’m starting with building a simple fort with sheets and big kitchen clips. This activity is perfect for little kids and helps foster imagination and invention, while giving kids the opportunity to build with everyday materials.

Materials

how to build a clip fort under the table

Start by assessing your room for fort-able furniture. Anything heavy with lots of head space is good — if the piece is too light it has the potential to tip over. Move things together and shift your furniture around. Some ideas: couches, dining tables, coffee tables, kid art tables. Look for places to clip your sheets, move the sheets around and twist the corners and edges until you and your kids are satisfied with the results, and BAM — you have a fort.

These steel wire clips (above) don’t have as much reach, but I use them for just about everything in my kitchen so they’re plentiful in my house. They’re great for clipping to thin things under 1/2″ wide.

how to clip sheet to the table for a fortI’ve had these forever and couldn’t find them online, but they seem to be similar to ng this big clip (with round magnet on the back so you can stick it to the fridge when you’re not turning your house into a faraway tent planet).

clip a sheet to the coffee table

This is one of our favorite set-ups: scooting the coffee table up to the dining table for an low entry that rises for easy sitting (and sleeping). My three year old dragged a few pillows and blankets inside for an extra-snuggly spot.

take a blurry picture of your dadI was busy snapping photos when N asked if she could take a drive with the camera. So she turned the camera on my husband who is so game, and she wiggled down onto her belly to take this shot. I have a heavy camera, which makes for some wobbly (but happy) photos.

I recently came across this site, All For the Boys, which hosts a weekly Fort Friday post. It’s awesome, and if your kids like building forts you’ll get all sorts of inspiration over there. Not to mention, Allison takes photo submissions and might include your fort on her site. In her words: “If you want to share a photo of your fort to inspire us send them to info[at]allfortheboys[dot]com and I’ll share them here on Fort Friday.”


Do your kids like to build forts? What do you like to make them with?

 

Cork Sculpture

cork sculpture

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a thing for repurposing found materials. Neither of my parents were mad upcyclers, but I think I can trace this passion to an after-school class that was led by a parent-artist. This mom was (still is) AWESOME! — she died her hair, plastered her house (walls, ceilings, etc) with sequin-studded art, and encouraged us to create imaginary worlds from whatever we had on hand. Obviously I had an affinity for this sort of thing because all of my friends didn’t turn into artists like me, but this exposure helped me see the world through a lens that made things a whole lot clearer. (So thank you, Ingrid!).

Fast forward way too many years…I’m still making art with random bits and bobs — it just comes naturally to me, but it’s also a way of living. Art materials don’t have to be purchased in the store — they’re all around us. And now I’m in a position to inspire my own children as Ingrid inspired me.

Exposure is everything.

I like to offer my 3-year old, N, materials as a provocation: I’ll put a few bowls of things out and see what she comes up with and on this occasion it was: CORKS! My daughter developed her idea for this sculpture from a box of corks, bag of buttons, a few small dowels, piece of laminate, and a hot glue gun, but it could have gone in a million directions.

She built the tower as high as she wanted, and then added the buttons and dowels. To assemble it, I manned the low heat glue gun while she directed me on where to put the glue. She was in control, but I got to keep everyone’s fingers burn-free.

Baby sister was right there with us, captivated by and grabbing for all the little pieces that were potentially hazardous to her health. Who knows, maybe she’ll become a busy upcycler one day too!

If you like to create, tinker, or make art, can you trace the root of your passion back to an inspiring person or event? And do you see yourself as the source of inspiration for someone else?

This project is shared with It’s Playtime

Playing Big

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This week I’m sharing kid-friendly inspiration from the Bay Area Maker Faire.

Have you ever noticed that things can be much more fun and compelling when they’re really, really big? Think about awe-inspiring cruise ships vs. cute little kayaks or imaginative play possibilities in a refrigerator box. Today I have four show-stopping examples of play on a large scale, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you could replicate these at home or school.

Big Idea #1: Make your own Marble Machine

Open Make, a collaboration between the Exploratorium, MAKE Magazine, and Pixar Animation Studios, assembled this popular marble run installation. With a peg board as a base, participants could move various ramps, tubes, and funnels around to create the marble run of their dreams.

Grown-ups and kids were wholly engaged by this project. If you click on over to the Exploratorium’s Tinkering Studio site, you can download a Marble Machines PDF that will give you some ideas on getting your own marble run going. For more inspiration, we made these two marble runs from toilet paper rolls and cardboard boxes on TinkerLab.

Big idea # 2: Hundreds and Hundreds of Blocks!

If you plant a pile of hundreds of blocks in the middle of a sea of families, this is what you might expect to see! These structures were created by CitiBlocs, and I think they’re super cool. They’re narrow wooden blocks that seem to be great for building UP, designed for kids ages 3 and older. These structures remind me of the game, Jenga.

Big Idea #3: Baseball Bat Xylophone

Gorgeous, and simply genius!

Big Idea #4: Super size Lite-Brite

Did you remember the Lite Brite? This glowing, oversize Lite-Brite was an attention grabber, and people couldn’t keep their hands off of it.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have one of these permanently installed in the kitchen to entertain kids during dinner prep? Okay, maybe that’s just my dream! When I spotted a vintage Lite-Brite at a second-hand store last year I snapped it up for my kids to enjoy.

This photo isn’t from Maker Faire, but from a wonderful nature and wildlife center near our house, CuriOdyssey, where we’ve played with this even larger scale Lite-Brite made of colored-water filled bottles placed in what looks like a huge wine rack. I think it’s brilliant!

Photo: Frog Mom

What large-scale games are you excited about?

Ideas for Building Forts

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In case you’re just checking in, I’m sharing some of my favorite kid-related ideas from the Bay Area Maker Faire, and today I’d like to share two creative ideas for building forts. These aren’t your quick and simple throw-a-sheet-over-the-dining-table sort of forts. These actually take some time. But the pay-off may be worth it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

First up: I met up with second grade teacher Katy Arrillaga, who was busy assembling a milk jug igloo. Or, I should say, “reassembling,” because she deconstructed the igloo that stood in her classroom, somehow managed to cart 400 milk jugs to the Maker Faire, and proceeded to reattach the bottles together. Katy explained that this was a popular reading area in her classroom and the jugs were mostly donated by her students.

This is how it looked about an hour later, moving along more quickly with all of those hot-glue-gun helpers.

This picture was taken the next day. I’m not sure how long it took to complete, but the result is stunning and children flocked to this. There’s something magical about seeing so many familiar jugs on such a scale.

Image: Daniel Shiao

Next up:

The Palo Alto Art Center set up two weaving tee-pees, inspired by environmentalsculptor Patrick Doughtery’s incredible willow-dogwood-pin huts. Here’s the inspiration:

This picture was taken about a month ago when we visited the Dougherty sculpture. The scale is striking. N loved it, and spent about an hour playing in and out of this hobbit-like hidey hole.

Referencing the Dougherty sculpture, kids and grown-ups weaved long strips of fabric, yarn, and ribbon through the slats of the teepee.

Not only were there children engaged on the outside, but they were also weaving from the inside. To give you a sense of the time involved, these teepees had been up for about three hours at this point. So again, these forts take some time.

Have you or your kids built a fort?

What materials did you use? Feel free to add a link or a photo in the comments.

Related Inspiration

The Role of Cubbies in Outdoor Spaces from Let the Children Play

Milk Jug Igloo

A quick image search on “Milk Jug Igloo” turns out all of these igloos!

TeePee Forts

TeePee Art and Weaving Ribbons from The Artful Parent

Gorgeous photos of the Patrick Dougherty sculpture by Mamen Saura


Maker Faire + DIY Design

led magnet throwies

We went to the Maker Faire this weekend, a DIY design/technology/creativity festival that attracts everyone from crafty sewing upcyclers to techie hackers to wide-eyed families looking for a creative outing. It was such an inspiring event, full of tons of TinkerLab-style making, that I thought I’d dedicate the week to Maker Faire talent. I gathered tons of good projects for you, and I hope you’ll enjoy the eye-candy that I have in store for you!

Shortly after walking through the main gate, we were greeted by a giant generator-powered electric giraffe. Its maker, Lindz, scaled a small kit robot up to this grand scale that reaches 17′ when its neck extends…and it was a show-stopper for sure. If you’ve ever been to Burning Man, you may recognize her, and you can read more about her here.

Here’s a peek into what makes her work. I have no clue, but I did loved seeing all of the colorful wires and appreciate the hours of welding involved in making this animal go.

Right around the corner from the electric giraffe was a pop-up tinkering studio that was designed to show how simple and inexpensive it can be to set up your own tinkering space. I love how they set up all their pliers on a folded piece of cardboard.

Inside this studio was a 5-minute LED Throwie project sponsored by Make Magazine. This would be a really fun project for kids older than five, but my 3-year old got into the spirit of it…especially the throwing part! LED Throwies were invented by the Graffiti Research Lab as an inexpensive and non-destructive way to add color to any ferromagnetic surface (street signs, for example).

The materials are simple and can be found at Radio Shack or similar stores.

You’ll need

  • a 10 mm diffused LED
  • a rare earth magnet
  • a lithium battery
  • tape (masking or packing will work)

LED lights have a long and a short side. Attach the long side to the (+) positive side of the battery. Squeeze hard to make sure the light works. If it’s a go, take a 7″ long piece of tape and tape the LED around the battery one time. Then continue wrapping the tape around the magnet until you run out of tape. Here’s a really clear tutorial,with costs (about $1 per Throwie), from Instructables.

Your throwie is now ready to be tossed at something magnetic, maybe your fridge? The Throwie should last about two weeks. And when the battery expires, don’t forget to dispose of it properly.

What else could you do with LED lights or throwies?

Fridge Box Imaginative Play

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We got a new fridge (!!), and while I’m thrilled with the new appliance, I have to admit that I was almost as excited about the box that it came in. I had to convince the delivery team to save it for me, and was surprised that they seemed shocked by my request. Have they not delivered glorious ginormous boxes to the homes of preschoolers before?

But what would we do with it? I put the question out to my Facebook page because I was interested in gathering a wide range of possibilities for N to choose from, and the responses ranged from hilarious (Carissa said, “it would MY ‘quiet place’ for the day and then the kids could have it tomorrow.”) to the fiscal (Bron said I might be able to sell it on ebay for $50!!). Lauren at 365 Great Children’s Books suggested “a castle…a cafe…a library…a puppet theater.” I ran these along with all the other ideas past my daughter who immediately said she wanted to make a cafe. But once she saw the box, she decided that it would be a FOOD TRUCK!

I pushed her play kitchen around to the back door (sadly, it was too tall to fit inside), cut a service window on one side, and added a couple quick tires to differentiate it from a fast-food place.

N added a cash drawer and a calculator, and was ready to take orders.

I asked her about the menu and she told me that I would be eating ravioli (actually a lovely assortment of rocks). I couldn’t quite nail down the theme of her truck because the next day she was making lemon crepes. It made me laugh when she packed my food up in a to-go bag!

As the day went on more things were added: hand soap (because her customers should have clean hands before eating) and the beginning of a menu (the red paper attached with purple tape).

We also added a window to the front of the truck, a chair for driving, a lighting system, and some employees.

Activities like this are great for imagination-building and open-ended play. We’ve only had this up for 2 days, but it’s already given us HOURS of fun. For more cardboard box ideas, go on over to our Cardboard Box Challenge, which shares the cardboard creations of nearly 25 creative education/parent bloggers.

Book Links

Your turn: What have you done with a LARGE box? Or what would you do with one?

If you have a fridge box link or a fridge box photo to share, feel free to do so in the comments.

This post is linked to It’s Playtime!

Hammering (real) Nails

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Since my daughter (now almost 3 y.o.) practiced hammering with golf tees back in October, I’ve been waiting and waiting for just the right time to introduce her to REAL nails! After working really well at piercing gumdrops with toothpicks, I had a feeling that the time had come. So I dusted off an old scrap of wood, pulled out our jar of random nails, and threw in a bag of rubber bands just to make it more interesting (inspired by this post at Jojoebi).

We used the hammer from our Melissa and Doug Take Along Tool Kit, and it worked surprisingly well. I gave her a small safety lesson, where I demonstrated how to hold a nail low…right down next to the wood. She was so eager to get to her task, and was fiercely focused.

Once N decided that enough nails were hammered in, she began adding rubber bands. At first there seemed to be an unspoken rule that each nail would be surrounded by one rubber band layer.

And then the rubber bands kept on going around and around the nails. I love all of those colors!

For my friends out there who want to avoid a mess, this is as clean as projects get, and all of the materials can be reused when your child is all done with their nail and rubber band exploration.

If you have a rubber band project that you’d like to share with the TinkerLab community, you’re welcome to share a photo or a link here: Creative Experiment #4: Rubber Bands

What are you building today?