Why (I think) We Stopped Using Colored Pencils

Does your child have a favorite drawing tool?

My kids adore markers, and it seems to always be their first choice when given a buffet of drawing materials.

I’ve been musing on this question of favorite drawing tools for a while, which is why I sometimes ask questions on Facebook like this or on Google + like this. I have my favorite pens and my kids have theirs, but why were our beloved colored pencils never used?

And then it hit me…

Our pencil sharpener broke down…um, months ago…and we’ve been left with a sad bucket of somewhat useless drawing tools.

dull pencils

It turns out that you actually have to maintain your drawing tools in order to use them. That’s rule #1!

In all fairness, I had my trusty sharpener since, i don’t know, college? And it seemed ridiculous that it would no longer work. I kept trying to fix it and then finally came to my senses and ordered a new sharpener. But I decided that if I was going for something new, it should also be a powerhouse that could sharpen pencils of all sizes (yes, I was actually sharpening our big pencils over the trash can with knife the other day. Do you ever do that?).

Let me introduce you to our new friend, the X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Electric Sharpener.

I did a fair amount of research on this and landed on this sharpener that seems to be a widespread favorite amongst teachers, homeschoolers, and artists. It’s fast, handles pencils of most sizes, has a huge area to catch all the shreds, and it was 48% off on Amazon. I spotted it on other sites for close to 60% more, so this looked like a deal I couldn’t pass up. While every review wasn’t glowing, there were enough 5 star comments to get me to click “Buy Now.”

I also have Amazon Prime (I love it and use it for just about everything), and it arrived just one day later!

So here’s my test: Just how fast can it sharpen 30 pencils?

PENCIL sharpener

My trusty two-year old side-kick, R, handed me pencils and we plowed through that bucket in just under two minutes! That’s fast, right?!

Not only was it lightening fast, but it was fairly quite and very smooth.


I’ve only had it for a day, but this sharpener comes with a 10-year warranty so I feel confident that it will treat me well. Ten years is a long time, people! You can bet that I’ll be mailing in my registration card.

Review of the amazing X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Electric Sharpener

Now that they’re all sharpened we’ll see if they get used more frequently. Or if we really area a marker family after all.

A question for you…

markers or crayons

Or…colored pencils, paintbrushes and paint, pencils, oil pastels, sticks in dirt, and so many other options!

Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, but we only share links to products that we adore or that we think you’ll find useful. 

Easy Art: Air Dry 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.


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?


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

Why We Would Be Lost Without Tape

Are you a “Tape House?”

We love tape in our house, and it gets used for just about everything: taping up wax paper sandwich bags, taping labels to things, taping art table creations together, taping up marble runs, taping up whimsical installations. A roll of clear tape is a fixture on the art table and we have a big box full of colorful paper tape (this tape from Discount School Supply is amazing) that enables my children to realize some of their big ideas. And painter’s tape is irreplaceable for taping up furniture and things that can’t stand up to too much stickiness.

Here’s an example:

We have a basket of diecast vehicles thats almost never taken out, but my one year old wanted to play with airplanes so we got the planes going. I saw this as an opportunity to “paint” some runways on our coffee table with blue painter’s tape.

My older daughter thought this was a great idea, but she had her own thoughts as well. I’m sure that many of you can relate!

First, she requested shorter pieces of tape and blocked my runways off with those vertical lines you see in the photo.

So, I abandoned my runway idea and made some cute little parking spaces.

That was also shot down.

N then blocked my runway with a big “X” so that the plane wouldn’t get away. I didn’t take it personally.

And then I learned the real reason for all this independent thinking!

Apparently a category 5 hurricane was on its way, and the plane was in danger of getting blown away. For extra safety, it was securely taped to the back of a large truck whose windows were also taped shut.

You know, because windows can shatter in a hurricane.

And if that wasn’t enough, the truck + airplane combination was carted off, dropped into a basket, wrapped in a blanket, covered with a pillow, and then sat on…

so that they wouldn’t blow away.

And all this started with a little bit of tape.

Now isn’t that a great way to spend $3?!

I really want to pick up some washi tape like this. Have you used it? Do you have a favorite brand?

What about you? Would you be lost without tape, too?


Creative Challenge 7: Magazines

Today I have something extra cool in store for you. Kiwi Crate and I are bringing you a super-star line-up of rockin’ kid-friendly bloggers for a no holds barred invitational kid-centered magazine challenge, and an extra-special Kiwi Crate box giveaway at the end of this post. Each of the 20+ bloggers spent some time tinkering, plotting, creating, and playing with their kids to come up with an activity that your kids will enjoy. After you read about how we manipulated and upcycled our magazines, spend some time checking out all the other ideas. Bookmark them or pin them, because you’re sure to need these ideas on a rainy or snowy day. Okay, do you have a cuppa ready? Here we go…

I spent about 20 minutes ripping pages from my favorite alumni magazine. Do you ever read yours? Loved the school, but sadly, the magazine just rolls right into my recycling bin each month. So I happily rolled the glossy pages of ho-hum stories into tubes, taped them with clear tape, and added them to a tall vase. The next morning, my 3 year old woke up to this provocation: Magazine tubes, clear tape, a stapler, and a bowl of stickers. I didn’t have a plan and was curious to see where she would take it.

She started by taping the tubes together, ignored the stapler and stickers completely, and then found another roll of tape so that I could help her. Right, tape is popular. Must remember that!

This is how it began.

Then she cut some tubes down to smaller pieces. How could I have forgotten the scissors? Tape and scissors…check. But that’s okay, we must have about 20 pairs and she knows where to find them.

Oh, and she loves ribbon too. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with provocations when she knows her own mind. She found a few rolls and brought them over to the table. We created this structure together and then she wore it on her head for part of breakfast.

The next day her dad took a turn at the table and this is what they came up with. I’m fascinated by it because my husband has a huge thing for hanging sculptures. I mean HUGE. It’s a wonder I’m not constantly banging my head on things that hang from our ceilings.

 He screwed an eye-hook into the ceiling, tied a piece of ribbon through it, and hung their masterpiece over the couch.

When standing on the couch, my daughter can bat at it, so I think I’ll call it an interactive hanging magazine sculpture. 

Creative Challenge Participants:

Child Central Station , kids in the studioTeach MamaThe Imagination Tree,Childhood101Teach Preschoolhands on as we growArtful ParentPaint Cut PasteA Mom With A Lesson PlanToddler ApprovedKiwi CrateArt 4 Little Hands,  Red Ted ArtThe Chocolate Muffin Tree,  Imagination Soup,Michelles Charm WorldMessy PreschoolersTinker LabMommy LabsPutti Prapancha, Sun Hats and Wellie Boots


Kiwi Crate has generously offered to give away one crate box to two randomly chosen winners. Each box includes all the materials and inspiration for 2-3 projects related to a theme (e.g., dinosaurs.)  Projects may include arts and crafts, science activities, imaginative play and more, and have been hand-selected and kid-tested to be open ended and encourage curiosity, exploration and creativity! I love Kiwi Crate because it embraces the same process-oriented activities that I promote on this blog, but it’s all packaged up beautifully and delivered right to your door. To enter, leave a comment with your child’s age/s and favorite upcycled materials. And then hop on over to the Kiwi Crate blog for another chance to win. Winner’s address must be in the U.S. Deadline for entry: Monday, December 12, 9pm PST. Comments Closed. Thank you to all of you for your comments. The winner is Susan P! 


Your Turn…

What would you (and your kids) make with magazines? If you have a kid-centered magazine project that you’d like to share, please add your link to the blog hop or comment section below. And feel free grab the button or copy the text into your HTML. Tinkerlab Creative Challenge Code:<a href=”http://tinkerlab.com/challenges/” target=”_blank”><img style=”border: 2px;” src=”http://tinkerlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/tinkerlab-challenge-button.png” alt=”Tinkerlab Creative Challenge” width=”150″ height=”150″ border=”2″ />

What’s One Word to Describe Your Child’s Art Materials?

I posted this question on Facebook yesterday, and I loved reading the responses so much that I thought it would be worth sharing here. The comments were surprising, fascinating, and fun, and I’d be delighted if more of us join this mini conversation. In case you’re wondering, the first idea to pop into my mind was “accessible.” My friend Rebecca said, “My son’s art supplies are… Mine. He’s a total clepto and steals sharpies and other stuff ALL THE TIME!!” Ha! What’s your word? Bonus point for the story behind it.

Here’s the list so far…

If you’re interested in art material inspiration, check out my list of 50 Art Materials for Toddlers or The Artful Parent’s 11 Great Art Materials for Toddlers.

What’s one word to describe your child’s art materials?

If you’re a teacher, what’s one word to describe your classroom’s art materials?