DIY Baby Fabric Bucket Toy

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in April, 2011.

If you’re looking for ways to mix up your baby play time routine, you might enjoy trying this simple activity with materials you may already have in the closet and recycling can.

DIY Baby Fabric Bucket

I often wax poetic about my preschooler’s creative pursuits while my little one makes the occasional appearance in the background of photos. So I thought it was about time I brought her (and her “generation”) to the forefront of this site.

I’ve posted before on creative exploration for babies (See Sensory Play for Babies), and thought you might like to see this idea that supports a baby’s natural curiosity, fine motor skills, and focus. If you’ve ever placed a baby near a box of tissues, you’ve most likely witnessed complete removal of every single tissue, along with multiple attempts at eating half the stash. Playing off of this idea, I created a reusable “tissue box” from a tall yogurt container filled with tissue-sized scraps of colorful fabric.

I cut a hole in the lid that was wide enough for her to drop a hand into.

Then I sat back to watch her grab pieces of fabric,

…and pull them out!

The focus was incredible and reminded me how serious babies can be about their “work.”

More Baby Resources

  • View more Baby activities on Tinkerlab
  • For a wide variety of well-written articles about fostering a baby’s growth, one of my favorite writers on the topic is Janet Lansbury.
  • Anna of The Imagination Tree, wrote this must-read post about Baby Treasure Baskets. I have at least two of these in my home at all times that engage my daughter’s senses and capture her thoughts. She also has a Baby Play category on her site that’s well worth exploring.

This post was shared with It’s Playtime

Drawing over Old Photographs

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in August, 2011.

Drawing over old photos ::

Drawing over over old photographs is a fun way to turn old images into new treasures. Not only is the process totally enjoyable, but the product can be turned into postcards that are fun to mail to family and friends.

Old photos can be found in thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, reuse centers, and mom’s attic. Can you think of anywhere else?

To start, I collected a big, random stack of photos when we visited the San Francisco re-use shop, SCRAP, with the idea that we’d use them for some kind of collage.

And then I remembered doing a fun photo painting project at some point in my own past, which inspired the direction we took this.

N recently started representing objects in her drawings, so I thought she might be at a point where we could have some fun playing with the intersection of realism and abstraction.

N likes to find new places to create, and on this day it was the kitchen floor. To do this project, all you need is a stack of old photos and some paint pens like these Elmer’s Painters Pens. Sharpies would work too, but with a slightly different effect.

Print a Recipe


Drawing on Photos
Recipe type: Drawing
Prep time:
Making time:
Total time:
Drawing over photos with paint pens is a fun way to mix realistic imagery with abstract coloring.
  • Paint Pens (such as Elmer's Paint Pens)
  • Old Photographs (or photos printed on photo paper)
  • Covered table or work area, since paint pens can be permanent
  • Smock to protect clothing
  1. Place a stack of photos and a bucket of paint markers in the middle of the work area.
  2. If your pens are brand new, depress them ahead of time to get the paint flowing.
  3. Offer your child a stack of photos to sort through and choose from.
  4. Each of you will choose one photo to work with.
  5. Draw over the photos in any way you see fit.
  6. Display the photos or turn them into postcards and mail them to friends and family.

If you don’t have any *actual* photos lying around, you could try sourcing them at a thrift store, cut images out of a magazine, or print your own photos onto photo paper or card stock.

As you can maybe tell from the images above, we collaborated on a few of the photos. I marked up a photo and then handed it to N, and then she added her own ideas.

After I drew on a photo that she started, N said to me, “you do it your way and I’ll do it my way.” Yikes. I’m usually really sensitive to drawing on kids’ art, and I learned that she didn’t see this as a collaboration — she was okay drawing on my photos, but didn’t want me to draw on hers.

So, I took a few big steps back and allowed her to do it her way!

A few of our creations — both “collaborations” and our own works of art. We turned these over later in the day and made some of them into postcards.

What do you think? Have you tried this yourself? Any other ideas on what we could do with these works of art? Do you have a favorite spot for collecting treasures for reuse?

Re-use Shopping Resources

I Heart RAFT (SF Bay Area)

National (US) search for contractor/building reuse: Building Materials Reuse Association

Find FREE stuff on Craigslist: List of SF Bay Area resources

Find FREE stuff in your neighborhood through the Freecycle network

SCRAP Portland

SCRAP San Francisco

Surplus Sales at Stanford University

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse (Berkeley, Oakland, CA)

Reuse Resources via East Bay Depot Creative Reuse


Scanner Art Experiments

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in February, 2011.

This low-mess project kept my preschooler busy for a whole morning. Lots of fun for curious kids!

scanner art experiments

Not too long ago we had a big print job in our home, which peaked my daughter’s interest in the printer. The noises, lights, and moving paper were all new and exciting, I’m sure. Every time I printed something, she volunteered to rescue it from the machine. So we set up a scanning project, just for her. For the first run, we helped her select some objects to scan. Once she got a hang of it, she was off on her own!

Setting up materials on the printer bed.

Soooooo exciting!!

She experimented with different materials: puzzle pieces, acorns, baker’s twine, and her own hands. And she experimented with different colors of paper.

While this quickly became HER project, I was lucky enough to be invited to join her.

If you don’t have a printer/scanner, you could easily do this in your local printshop (which we’ve done too!). N thought this was cool field trip. I think she liked the big machines, the whirling sound of copies as the come out of the printer, and the novelty of it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Cause and Effect: How placement of objects on scanner affects the image output
  • Exploring the functions of machines and how they can help us
  • Composition and Selection: Making choices about what objects to place, and in which location

You might also enjoy

Follow my Tinkering board on Pinterest

Your turn!

Have you tried scanning with your kids? If this inspires you to do some scanning, please come back with your stories with me.

This post was shared at We Play @ Childhood 101. Go ahead, give it a click for more play ideas.

Thrifting for the Garden

Is it warm in your part of the world? Are your kids spending lots of time outdoors?

Summer is here and our garden is getting so much attention. My kids are happy when they’re outside, so I’ve been thinking up ways to turn our outdoor spaces into play pockets and learning laboratories.

thrifting garden

In addition to our water wall, fairy garden, and outdoor drawing studio, my children and I headed over to one of our bigger thrift stores in search of low-cost inspiration for building out some new creativity corners in our garden.

thrifting for the garden

Going to a thrift store with kids can be overwhelming, and I wouldn’t recommend it if yours like to run in every direction, but the experience can be educational as well as fun. We donate a lot of our gently used toys and clothes to the thrift store, so the full-circle story of use and re-use is not lost on my children You can give older children a budget and allow them to make some purchases of their own, and watching children play with toys can help you decide what’s worth buying.

The home goods section of our thrift store is nicely organized, and I decided to head straight for the wood and basket areas to keep our focus on objects that would fit in nicely with our outdoor space.

thrifting for the garden

I found all of these nifty pieces for about $25. So what did we get?

  • My one-year old chose a cute little hand-made wooden bench for $5 that fits her perfectly
  • A few baskets that are perfect for treasure hunts
  • A table-top easel
  • Wicker picnic basket
  • Small wooden manger turned into doll house

manger doll house

Everything we picked up has been put to good use. Most popular, fo far, has been the basket-treasure hunt game with my 21-month old. We’ll scatter treasures and rocks all over the garden, which she collects. And then we start all over again.

thrifting for the garden

My favorite thing about this experience is that I spent a minimal amount of money for maximum impact. And my second-favorite piece is that you just never know what you’re going to find, and that element of surprise is perfect for kids’ toys and activities.

My children don’t care if something is brand-new or not, but high quality is important to me. I’d rather spend $3 on a nice used wooden stool than $10 on a brand-new plastic stool. I don’t always have such good luck on thrifting adventures, but with a little bit of luck and effort I usually come home with something wonderful.

How about you? Are you a thrifter? What treasures have you found in your second-hand shops?

DIY Water Wall

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, recycled plastic bottles, and a wall to attach it to.

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

DIY Water Wall Supplies

Plastic bottles

Screws (our nifty kit is from IKEA)

Drill. The one in the photo is no longer with us. Sniff. However, our brand new, favorite drill is a cordless wonder is the Makita DT01W (affiliate). It comes with two sets of rechargeable batteries, so you’re never without power!

Exacto knife. This one (affiliate) is a good deal

DIY Water Wall Steps

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.

Inspiration for this project

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!