Boston Children’s Museum Pop-Up Recycle Shop

Boston Children's Museum Pop-Up Recycle Shop | Tinkerlab

We spent some time in Boston over the winter break, and had the great pleasure of happening upon the Boston Children’s Museum’s Pop Up Recycle Shop. The Recycle Shop has been a staple of the museum for over 35 years, and lucky us, they’ve brought it back just for the holidays.

If you find yourself in the Boston area in the next few days, it’s open through January 1, 2014, and totally worth a visit. Hours posted here.

We were lucky to meet the Alice Vogler who oversees the space, as she gave us a little tour and talked with my children about the various materials. Alice writes an outstanding recurring blog for the Children’s Museum website called Creative Confidence, and you should check it out if you like learning about how to raise creative children.

recycle pop up shop bags and room

The Pop-up Recycle Shop is located on the second floor, next to the Art Studio.  When you walk in, grab a bag and fill it with industry cast-offs that most kids see as treasures, full of potential for sculpture-building, art-making, and all sorts of inventions. My children each filled a big bag with shiny papers, tubes, and materials to make bird’s nests.

recycle pop up shop bags

According to the museum, “all of the materials are provided by Extras, a clearinghouse that recovers tons of material from being burned or thrown away and redistributes it for creative educational use.”

There’s a similar organization near our home, located in San Jose, CA called RAFT. I’ve been thinking about compiling a list off all of these reuse spaces — would you find this useful? If there’s a creative reuse organization near your home, will you add its name in the comments? [UPDATE: You can find a complete list of creative reuse centers here, courtesy of Lancaster Creative Reuse]

recycle pop up shop collecting

The space is only open for a few more days, but Alice mentioned that it’s been a huge success and will probably return again.

After filling a bag with goodies, move next door to the art studio, where you can make an upcycled character from wood scraps, felt, cups, and other found materials. I love how the simple act of adding googly eyes or eye stickers to an object brings it to life.

I’ll share a few photos as inspiration, because even if you’re not in the Boston area, these little figures are easy to replicate with found materials that you likely already have lying around the house.

recycle pop up shop characters2

recycle pop up shop stuff

recycle pop up shop characters

Happy Making!

DIY Paper Pyramid Lanterns

I have such a heavy heart today, friends, because we lost one of the good ones in this world. My dear friend, Steve, who happens to be one of the funniest, wisest, and most generous people I know lost his long battle with cancer.

I wasn’t planning to post anything today, but the glow of these paper lanterns made me think about Steve’s shining light, and I thought I’d dedicate this post to him and his incredible wife, Jen.

Grab a few battery-operated tea lights, a favorite paper (in this case security envelopes!), scissors, and tape, and you're ready to make these simple DIY lanterns to illuminate a dark winter night.

These were inspired by the Paper Lanterns from Willowday, and if you change up the paper patterns (or maybe make your own), these could become party decorations, Halloween luminaries, or bedroom night lights.

If you you happen to make these lanterns (and why wouldn’t you — they’re rad!), I like to think that the glow might remind you that we’re each filled with enough light to brighten a friend’s darkest hour. Go on — spread some joy today. Life is truly short and we each have the capacity to touch the lives of others.

So let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need…

How to Make Paper Lanterns

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Hole Puncher
  • Clear Tape
  • Ruler
  • Battery-operated votive candle
Because I drew my triangle free-hand, and you shouldn’t have to go through all that trial and error, here’s an equilateral triangle for your printing delight:
equilateral triangle
If you know me, you know that I like to get my kids involved in hands-on learning, and this is a good way to teach children how to carefully outline shapes, which in turn teaches patience and accuracy.

make a paper lantern

Step 1: Draw an equilateral triangle (or scale and print it) and cut it out.

Make paper lantern

Step 2: Trace it onto a sheet of paper FOUR times.

We drew ours onto a security envelope because we like to upcycle around here. And I’m super crazy about the patterns on these.

how to make paper lanterns

Step 3: Cut the whole shape out.

Step 4: Tape it together and punch holes into the sides if you’d like.

Step 5: Add a battery-powered tea light (not a real candle, please, safety first) and decorate like mad.

how to make paper lanterns

I love you, Steve and Jen. You’ll always be in my thoughts.

If you like what you see here, we’d love to have you join our 7000+ member community on Facebook.

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


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!


Making Paper with Kids

Making paper with kids is a rewarding experience, and today I’m going to share how you can do it.

Making paper with kids - so easy!Have you ever made your own paper?  It requires some patience and preparation, but it’s not tricky and the process is worth exploring with children or anyone who’s curious about how to make paper.

After my toddler created a sensory bin full of paper and water, I saw an opportunity to upcycle that mushy paper pulp into some new-to-us paper. We had most of the materials handy, but had to make a trip to the hardware store to buy a small window screen (affiliate)

The hardware store happens to be across the street from an ice cream parlor, so my kids were okay with that.

Two ice cream cones later, we returned home, put my youngest down for a nap, and got busy with some paper-making…

Let’s start with the materials (full printable recipe at the end of this post):

How to make paper with kids | TinkerLab

Supplies: Make Your Own Paper

  • Window Screen. This sliding window screen (affiliate) is economical and reusable.
  • Two Plastic Wash Tubs (affiliate) or similar
  • Washcloth/rag/burp cloth/large piece of felt
  • Water
  • Torn paper from newspaper, tissue paper, magazines, etc. Be sure that it’s staple and tape-free
  • Blender (affiliate). <<This is my favorite economical workhorse machine. 
  • Small seeds (optional)

Steps: Homemade Paper with Kids

To get into the spirit and expand our knowledge of paper making, we watched a Mr. Roger’s episode about paper making. If you like this video you’ll also love learning about how crayons are made. Alternatively, here’s the video-free step-by-step (all from PBS Kids).

how to make paper with kids

Tear the paper into tiny strips, about 2″.

how to make paper with kids

Place your window screen on top of one of the plastic tubs

how to make paper with kids

Add paper to the blender, cover it with water, and run the blender on a low speed.

Since you will squeeze all the water out of the paper pulp, you can’t really have too much water, so if the blender doesn’t move easily, add more water.

Make paper with a blenderRun the blender a little bit faster until you get the paper mixture into a nice, smooth pulp. Ours is kind of chunky because my kids wanted it that way. Yours can be smoother.

how to make paper

My toddler wanted to play with the pulp right away. She squeezed it, scooped it, and carried bowls full of pulp into the living room. It’s so fun and a rich sensory experience, so leave time for this if you have a little one.

how to make paper with kids

Next, spread the pulp thinly and uniformly across the screen and then layer a cloth diaper or towel on top to absorb the extra water, while also pushing the water through the screen into the tub. Get the kids involved.

how to make paper

Place one hand firmly on top of the cloth while you flip the screen over onto a table or countertop that can handle water.

how to make paper

Remove the screen and put the cloth with paper pulp in a spot where it can dry, undisturbed, for about a day. The thicker the paper, the longer it will take to dry.

Make paper with a screen

Later the next day, this is what it looked like. Not your typical paper, but beautiful nonetheless. We haven’t done much with it yet, but I’m thinking some Sharpies or watercolor paint might be a good fit. And with the seeds embedded in the pulp, we could cut these up and give them away to friends, with the invitation to plant them in their gardens.

how to make paper


How to Make Paper with Kids
Recipe type: Sensory, DIY
Making paper teaches children how one of our most ubiquitous materials -- PAPER -- is made, and it's also a fun sensory project for kids of all ages.
  • Screen (we bought a $10 sliding window screen)
  • Large Tub
  • Washcloth/rag/burp cloth/large piece of felt
  • Water
  • Torn paper from newspaper, tissue paper, magazines, etc. Be sure that it's staple and tape-free
  • Blender
  • Small seeds (optional)
  1. Shred the paper up into little pieces (roughly 2" square)
  2. Add paper to the blender, cover it with water, and run the blender on a low speed. Since you'll squeeze all the water out of the paper pulp, you can't really have too much water, so if the blender doesn't move easily, add more water.
  3. Run the blender a little bit faster until you get the paper mixture into a nice, smooth pulp. Add more water if your pulp is still chunky.
  4. Spread the pulp in a thin and uniform layer across the screen
  5. Cover this with a rag or cloth diape to absorb the extra water, while also pushing the water through the screen into the tub.
  6. Place one hand firmly on top of the cloth and then flip the screen over onto a work surface.
  7. Removed the screen and put the cloth plus paper pulp in a spot where it could dry, undisturbed, for about a day. The thicker the paper, the longer it will take to dry.


Easy step for making paper with kidsMore Handmade Paper Inspiration

Allison of No Time for Flashcards used and Immersion Blender to make Recycled Paper Hearts.

Jen of PaintCutPaste made Handmade Blooming Paper.

Rebekah of The Golden Gleam made Recycled Paper Ornaments for Christmas, but you could easily make these with ornaments of just about any shape.

Kristi of Creative Connections for Kids made Wildflower Paper Ornaments (using the same screen as us!).

Melitza of Play Activities made Earth Day Seeded Paper.