Make a Milk Jug Shovel

Make a Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

I spotted a milk jug shovel online. Gasp! Given that I adore all things DIY, especially if they involve my recycling bin, I had to try this.

I dug and dug (pun intended…I love puns) for the original source of this spiffy idea, and nothing came up. So, as a public service to my amazing readers, I pulled this very simple tutorial together for you, with the help of my trusty 3-year old assistant.

Make a Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

Thank you, little R!

Supplies

  • Milk Jug
  • Sharpie (or other permanent marker)
  • Scissors

Make a Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

Draw a shovel shape onto the milk jug with the permanent marker. Use the photo (above) as a basic guide.

Make a Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

Cut along the marker lines (simple, right?) until the shovel comes out of the jug.

Make a Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

Take the shovel outside for some digging fun.

Shovel Tips

  • As you might imagine, the shovel is somewhat flimsy, which makes it a better tool for dry sand. The shovel will have more trouble digging up soil and wet sand.
  • Following up on the last tip, this shovel is great for emergency digging but I wouldn’t recommend this in lieu of a regular shovel since it’s not super-sturdy. Like, if you’re on vacation at the beach and you forgot a shovel at home, you might want to visit a local coffee shop and ask them for a milk jug.
  • Although it’s not the greatest shovel in the world, making one of these is still a fun exercise and introduces children to recycling cast-off objects into something new.
  • Try making shovels from different kinds of plastic bottles. How will they vary from one another?

Make an Easy Milk Jug Shovel | TinkerLab.com

Easy Crafts for Kids | Flower Bouquet

Simple Pipe Cleaner Flower Bouquet | Easy Craft for Kids

This flower bouquet project is part of our new series of easy crafts for kids, and takes about 5 minutes to set up and encourages children to make aesthetic choices. We also love this flower bouquet because it’s…

  • Mess-free
  • Supports fine-motor skills
  • Turns into a one-of-a-kind bouquet for gifting

Simple Pipe Cleaner Flower Bouquet | Easy Crafts for Kids

This project was actually born out of my daughter’s own cure for boredom, and it’s since become one of our favorite easy crafts for kids. A stack of pipe cleaners (or chenille stems — which word do you prefer?) sat out on our art table for a week, They were turned into all sorts of projects, and then one day she decided to stick buttons and jingle bells on the ends of them. After making a small handful, it became apparent that she has created a bouquet.

It’s easy enough to make, and occupied my pre-schooler for a long while. I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

Flower Bouquet Supplies: Easy Crafts for Kids

Note: This supply list includes Amazon affiliate links for your convenience

Simple Pipe Cleaner Flower Bouquet | Easy Crafts for Kids

How to this up

  1. Set up a small stack of pipe cleaners, a bowl of buttons, and a bowl of jingle bells
  2. Offer your child the materials and invite him or her to push the buttons and bells onto the end of the pipe cleaners
  3. Add a few baubles to each pipe cleaner and then place a bouquet of them in a jar.

Simple Pipe Cleaner Flower Bouquet | Easy Crafts for Kids

More pipe cleaner projects

More Easy Crafts for Kids

11 Classic Summer Camp Crafts for Kids

60 Egg Activities for Kids

Fall Crafts: Glycerin Leaves

Salt Dough Magnets: A Childhood Classic

Doily and Watercolor Art for Preschoolers

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art | TinkerLab

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.

Easy Watercolor and Doily Art for Preschoolers | Tinkerlab

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

Introduce Kids to Calligraphy

Introduce Kids to Calligraphy | TinkerLab

Introduce Kids to Calligraphy | TinkerLab

Introduce a child to calligraphy, and you’ll open him up to a world of penmanship, which is especially important in a time when cursive writing is being eliminated from public schools (Washington Post). Children will also learn to work with a dynamic and somewhat unforgiving drawing media and gain first-hand experience into the history of fancy writing.


 cal-lig-ra-phy (noun)

fancy penmanship, especially highly decorative handwriting, as with a great many flourishes*


A Short History of Calligraphy

Calligraphy, or beautiful writing, has roots in more than one culture. Early examples of calligraphy can be found in China from more than 4000 years ago with characters inscribed into clay with metal tools. Other early examples are found in the Egyptian hieroglyphs, carved into clay tablets and dating back over 5000 years. From these early beginnings, we can now find early examples of calligraphy in Japanese, Arabic, and Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. This nice, short video about writing in 15th century England is a fun trip back in time to the root of what we now call modern calligraphy.

Modern Calligraphy

As a counter-balance to our high-tech online lives, many of us yearn for a little slice of handmade and hand-drawn. If you have an eye on Pinterest or pay attention to fonts on today’s menus, catalogues, and other forms of graphic design, you’ve probably noticed that calligraphy is having a comeback. Modern calligraphers use pointed dip nibs to write in script, and these pointed, sharp nibs allow them to make the swirling flourishes and thin strokes that make this style popular today.

Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls at Makeshift Society

One of my favorite modern calligraphers is Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls and I had the great pleasure of taking a class with her at Makeshift Society in San Francisco (photos below). Quick tip: While Maybelle is based in the SF Bay Area, she travels around the world and you can see if she’ll be heading to your town here. I loved this class, and if you have any interest in calligraphy these popular (and often sold out) classes are well worth the effort.

Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls at Makeshift Society

You don’t need a lot to get started!

For our class, Maybelle made each of her students a sweet wooden block to hold our calligraphy ink, and gave us a bottle of ink, calligraphy booklet, and a pen. Here are some similar supplies to get you started today…

Calligraphy Supplies

Introduce Kids to Calligraphy | TinkerLab

How to Introduce Kids to Calligraphy

Step 1: Clear the table

Step 2: Set up your supplies. Calligraphy pen, ink, paper

Step 3: Show your child examples of calligraphy. Ask, “how is this writing different from the writing that we use to make lists or write our names?” See reference books below for calligraphy resources.

Step 4: Practice drawing and writing. The object here is to have fun with the pen/s and not worry too much about how the writing actually turns out.

Introduce Kids to Calligraphy | TinkerLab

We drew right in our sketchbooks, which is nice a nice place to keep a running record of our drawings. The biggest challenge of using a calligraphy pen boiled down to how you hold the pen. I gently held the pen in my own hand to show my kids how to best twist the pen so that the nib was positioned properly on the paper. I didn’t worry too much about real calligraphy form.

The idea here isn’t to teach my kids how to write in perfect calligraphic form but to introduce them to a cool material. In the image above, my 3-year old used a drawing nib and shared with me that this was the most comfortable grip for her. She had a great time playing with the pen and drawing a picture (of me, on a swing, by the way!).

Introduce Kids to Calligraphy | TinkerLab

My 5-year old has been rocking flourishes for a while now, and used a pointed calligraphy nib for her lettering. She really enjoyed the challenge of adding swirls and spirals to her letters.

Calligraphy Books

These are all Amazon links for your convenience.

* calligraphy definition: Dictionary.com

How to Set up an Art Cart

How to set up and Art Cart for easy-to-reach, everyday art suppiles| TinkerLab

If you’re looking for ways to organize your most frequently used art supplies, the rolling, portable art cart could be a great solution. While we haven’t always had an art cart, I now appreciate that our everyday supplies have their own place, and that the cart can roll around the house and park itself right next to wherever my children decide to make their mark. 

How to set up and Art Cart  for easy-to-reach, everyday art supplies | TinkerLab

What’s on the Art Cart?

There are three broad categories of materials that go onto our cart. You can fill your cart with exactly what you see here, or substitute some of the items for things that are used more frequently in your home. The materials on our cart reflect my kids’ daily interests in drawing and making 2-D art. While you won’t see building and paint supplies on our cart, we do store these other art-making supplies nearby.

How to set up and Art Cart  for easy-to-reach, everyday art supplies | TinkerLab

Here’s what goes into our cart, for children ages 3 and 5

Top Shelf: Drawing and Cutting Tools

  1. Washable Markers
  2. Pencils and Colored Pencils
  3. Crayons
  4. Scissors
  5. Paintbrushes

Middle Shelf: Attaching Tools

  1. Tape: Colorful washi tapes, colored masking tape, and clear tape
  2. Glue: White glue, colored glue, and glue sticks
  3. String: baker’s twine, cotton twine 
  4. Stapler

Bottom shelf: Treasures

  1. Stickers
  2. Pom-poms
  3. Sequins
  4. Wiggly eyes
  5. Buttons
  6. Color coding labels
  7. We sometimes store our sketchbooks on the bottom shelf too

Other ideas

Dough Tools: Sculpting Cart

  1. Play dough
  2. Play dough tools
  3. Air dry clay
  4. Mini muffin pan
  5. Spoons and bowl

Building Tools: Tinkering Cart

  1. Low-heat glue gun
  2. Recyclables
  3. Broken toys and appliances
  4. Hammer
  5. Tacks
  6. Goggles
  7. Duct Tape
  8. Scissors
  9. Screwdriver

Paint Tools: Painter’s Cart

  1. Tempera Paint
  2. Watercolors
  3. Paintbrushes
  4. Rags
  5. Water containers
  6. Apron
  7. Paper

How the Art Cart Works

When my kids want to create something, the art cart is self-service. They can find what they need, remove it from the cart, and then put it back in its place when they’re done. These are some of the projects we’ve worked on with materials form our art cart (top to bottom):

How to set up and Art Cart  for easy-to-reach, everyday art supplies | TinkerLab

  1. Sequins, beads, and buttons stuck into dough
  2. Homemade crown with Sharpies, glue stick, and scissors
  3. Office stickers and Tape in paper frames
  4. Paper doll with clear tape, stickers, and permanent marker

Where to buy an Art Cart

Ikea:

  • We love our Raskog Kitchen Cart. Like anything IKEA, you have to assemble it yourself, but it’s not a difficult assembly. The cart is sturdy (made of steel), the casters are solid, and I don’t imagine we’ll have to replace it any time soon.
  • As of this date, these come in turquoise, dark grey, and beige.

Amazon:

There are lots of choices on Amazon. We’re an affiliate and selected a few carts that look promising.

Do you like this post? Pop over here to see our Art Cart in Action

 

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.

rivet1

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.

rivet2

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.

How to Felt a Wool Sweater

How to Felt Wool Sweaters | TinkerLab.com

Have you ever wondered how to felt a wool sweater?

Today we’ll show you how how to felt a wool sweater and how to make felted wool flowers to use as pins or barrettes.

The inspiration for these instructions and post came from one of our favorite new books, This Book was a Tree by Marcie Cuff (Perigree, 2014). We reviewed the book here (and there are links to other reviews) in case you’d like to check it out!

How to Felt a Wool Sweater – Step 1

Collect your 100% wool sweaters. They should be 100% wool, and the thicker they are, the better. Alpaca is wool, and felts beautifully! I’m not sure if you can tell much about the weight of the sweaters from the image below, but the one on the right felted MUCH better than the other three, which were on the thinner side.

How to Felt Wool Sweaters | TinkerLab.com

How to Felt a Wool Sweater – Step 2

This step may be a little painful at first if you’re using a sweater that you kind of love.

Cut the Sweater at the seams. Cut off the necks, arms, and slice right up the side seams. Cut off the edges so that the sweater has a better chance at felting. The following pictures give you an idea of what you’re after.

Use sharp scissors. I LOVE my Gingher scissors. These were recommended to every costume design student at UCLA (and I won’t even tell you how many years ago I was there!). Suffice to say that these last FOREVER. I swear, I’m that old! These scissors are pricy, but if you want really great sewing scissors that will last, these are the ones.

Anything with ribbing is probably destined for the scrap bin. You’ll notice a few squares of ribbed cuffs in the bottom of the stack of the last photo (below). I was hoping that these would felt nicely, but they were a mess.

How to Felt a Wool Sweater | TinkerLab

Toss your scraps. See those scraps in the bottom right hand corner (above)? Those get tossed. The ribbed cuff pieces should be tossed too.

Wash on HOT. Put all your sweater parts into a hot water wash with some detergent that will help agitate the fibers. Wash and then dry on hot. Marcie suggests doing this two times, so I washed and dried mine twice to maximize the felting.

Now you should have a mad pile of felted wool that you can turn into all sorts of wonderful things. Are you ready to make something now? Let’s get started with a felted flower!

Felt Wool Sweaters into a Felted Flower

Supplies

  • Felted Wool Sweater Pieces
  • Strong/thick needle
  • Thread
  • Ruler (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Hot or low-heat glue gun
  • Barette clips. We used alligator clips like these, but your favorite type of clip will be great.

How to Felt a Wool Sweater into a Flower | TinkerLab

Steps

  1. Gather Supplies
  2. Measure and cut a piece of felt to be the center of the flower, about 15 cm (5″) long x 4 cm (1 1/2″) wide. Marcie’s instructions of 15 cm long x 1.5 cm will make for a flatter flower.
  3. Roll the piece of felt up
  4. Secure the felt with needle and thread
  5. Cut another piece of felt, about 10 cm (4″) long x 5 cm wide (2″). Cut loops or zigzags at the top of this second strop to look like petals. Wrap this second piece of felt around the center piece. Secure with needle and thread.
  6. Cut another piece of felt, about 10 cm (4″) long x 5 cm wide (2″) and wrap it around the flower. Secure with needle and thread.
  7. Cut two 6 cm x 3 cm leaf shapes and stitch them to the bottom of the flower.
  8. Wrap a small piece of felt around the top part of a barrette and glue it in place with a glue gun (no photo – so sorry!). The idea here is to cover the shiny silver barrette with felt. Then, glue the flower to the felt that’s attached to the barrette. Voila!

How to an old wool sweater and turn it into flowers | TinkerLab

We made two felted flower barrettes, and now I have an enormous amount of felt just waiting for the next project. Any ideas for us?

More Felted Wool Sweater Projects

Felted Bird Ornaments

Felted Alpaca Purse

Recycled Wool Throw Pillows

Felted Wool Snowflake Pin

Felted Wool Blanket

Note: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience!

 

Creative Snapshot | Sorting Wool

Sorting Wool Kids

Do you follow Amanda Blake Soule’s blog, SouleMama? Her blog is one of the first I ever laid eyes on. I’ll save that story for another time (it’s a good one), but I mention Amanda’s blog today because she has a cool weekly (every Friday) ritual called This Moment. For these posts, she shares one photo (usually no words) that captures something special about her week. It’s lovely.

About a year ago, my friend Elizabeth suggested, in the nicest, most diplomatic way possible, that I share more “quick posts.” Less talk and a fast something to say, “hey, I’m alive, and here’s what’s rocking my world.” She loves the blog Girl’s Gone Child, and suggested that I try writing some simple posts like this.

Creative Snapshot

I haven’t really found the right way to do this, but today I’ll give it a quick try. With a hat tip to SouleMama, Girl’s Gone Child, and my friend Elizabeth, I’ll give this a go with a weekly Creative Snapshot of some creative happening or observation. If this seems like a total fail, you may never see me do this again, but man, with my busy life it’s a major relief to keep this short and sweet.

If this post inspires you, feel free to share your own Creative Snapshot here (link to it in the comments) or on Instagram (hashtag #creativesnapshot)

Sorting Wool

Sorting Wool Kids

Last week we dove into This Book was a Tree, the new book by Marcie Cuff, and started a felted wool project. This image was taken just after the wool came out of the dryer, and before we upcycled it into felted flower barrettes.

********

Note: This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. 

Origami for Kids: Origami Rabbit

origami rabbit

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

We’ve been digging through a fun stack of origami paper (from Daiso) to fold up a family of origami rabbits.

When I was in grade school, I loved origami. One of my good friends was Japanese, and I have strong memories of folding cranes and boats in her house to hang on a community Christmas tree. The cranes were tricky, but learning the series of folds tested and strengthened our memories, while the physical folding was good for fine motor skills.

And when I taught middle school, my students and I were inspired by the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes as we folded 1000 cranes to hang around our school in memory of Sadako and the victims of the Hiroshima atom bomb.

When I first did this with my 3 year old, she didn’t have a hand in this project, but once she turned four she could easily fold up a batch of these origami rabbits in one sitting.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Origami Rabbit Supplies

  • Origami Paper. You can find origami paper in shops such as Daiso, Paper Source, Jo-Ann Fabrics, and Amazon (affiliate link).
  • Sharpie

How to Fold an Origami Rabbit

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Fold your paper in half to make a triangle.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Fold the creased side of the triangle up about 3/4″.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Fold one side toward the center, line up the points, and crease.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Match it on the other side.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Turn it around, and fold the bottom up about 1″. This will be the base.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Flip it over.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Fold the top point inside to create the top of the rabbit’s head. Crease.

How to make a simple and cute origami rabbit. It's so easy that kids can do this successfully. Perfect for Easter!

Give your rabbit a face.

I used a Sharpie because washable markers would smear on this paper, but you may want to experiment with different kinds of drawing tools. Make one or make a bunch. Because they’re so easy to make, I find the process is pretty addictive and made a little family in a matter of minutes.

Display somewhere festive, hide them around the house, or plant them in funny spots around the neighborhood where friends might find them. If you’re looking for more Easter ideas this week, hop over to our list of 60 egg activities for kids (and grown-ups too) and The Chocolate Muffin Tree’s 10 Egg Activities and Experiments.

And do let me know if you make any bunnies yourself or if you or your kids have a favorite origami project.

Recycled Art Sculpture | Mystery Box Challenge

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

Do you have a box of recyclables with a plan to turn them into art or something amazing? Today we’re sharing one of our favorite recycled art projects using found objects, inspired by this project at the Boston Children’s Museum.

Recycled Art with Upcycled Materials

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

I recently led a fun maker station for the California Museum Association’s (CAM) annual conference that we called the Mystery Box Challenge. While we often share child-led projects here on TinkerLab, the participants in this challenge were all all museum professionals. To see how my children interpreted the same prompt, click here. This project was inspired by the Art Studio at the Boston Children’s Museum.

Mystery Box Challenge

For the Mystery Box Challenge, I prepared a bunch of boxes by filling them with all sorts of interesting found objects and trinkets: pieces of wood, surplus plastic, cupcake holders, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, etc. Each participant received their own box with a prompt to make a critter from any or all of the supplies in the box.

Recycled Art Sculptures with Found Objects | Mystery Box Challenge | TinkerLab.com

I found the boxes at the craft store, and most of the supplies came from RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching, a non-profit that sells low cost surplus materials for education), and a local party store. We were also lucky to receive a generous donation of low heat glue guns and glue sticks from Blick Art Materials.  Thanks Blick!!

My colleague and art buddy Danielle and I set everything up, and then we waited for people to show up.

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge | TinkerLab.com

The table got busy and it was amazing to see the high level of focus from our incredible makers as they cut, glued, assembled, and invented their characters.

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge | TinkerLab.com

TinkerLab Mystery Box Challenge | TinkerLab.com

Once their critters were done, we invited everyone to have us take a photo of their inventive designs. Those who were on Instagram tagged their images with #tinkercritter. One of the best things about an open-ended prompt like this is to see how differently each person interprets the invitation and materials.

We were blown away by the creativity and ingenuity in the room!

Recycled Art Sculptures with Found Objects | Mystery Box Challenge | TinkerLab.com

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

Margie, Director of Education and Public Programs, Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Mary, Graduate Student, University of Washington

Tyrena, Camp Coordinator, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

Jamie, Mutual of America

Elizabeth, Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Carl, Director of Education, Curiodyssey

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

Maria, Museum Studies Student, San Francisco State

Elise, Long Beach Museum of Art

Dawn, Curator, Heidrick Agricultural History Center

Recycled Art Sculpture | Tinkerlab.com

Conny, Graduate Student, San Francisco State

Kristine, Community Education Director, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Mandi, Exhibit Envoy

Invite us to your School or Event

Thanks to everyone who played with us in Napa at the CAM Conference. It was so nice to meet each of you. If you’d like to have us come out and lead this or another maker project at your school or event, shoot me an email at rachelle at tinkerlab.com

 

Found Object Art | Junk Critters

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

I’m a huge fan of breathing new life into long-lost materials, and I’ve been making found object art pieces like these since I was a kid.

Last weekend my friend, Danielle, and were in Napa to lead a fun, fast-paced Maker Session at the California Association of Museums annual conference.

For our workshop we brought these cool hands-on maker kits that my kids oohed and ahhhed over before I headed off to play in wine country.

Maker Kits - Tinkerlab.com

The kits carried similar materials, but the nature of collecting found objects meant that each maker box was unique. I’ll share images from the workshop with a close-up on how adults interpreted these materials shortly, but I thought you might be interested in seeing what kids made of these.

My kids were my prototype testers, after all.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Collect your junk supplies

Before the boxes were even filled, we experimented with some basic materials like ribbon, wood scraps, fabric swatches, paper baking cups, markers, and plastic party beads.

You’ll need:

  1. Junk
  2. Something to cut the junk (scissors)
  3. Something to attach the junk (glue gun – Amazon link to our favorite one)

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Invest in a low-heat glue gun

There are always people who gasp when they see kids handling hot glue guns (maybe that was you…no worries) and I’m here to tell you that kids are capable of using glue guns.

Here are a few glue gun tips for kids:

  • Use a low-heat glue gun like the Cool Shot (Amazon link). I’ve been using this model for years, and it’s fabulous. If you spend more than a few seconds touching the tip you could theoretically burn yourself, but I have yet to see this happen.
  • Explain the glue gun rules to your child ahead of time: don’t touch the tip, try not to touch the hot glue with your bare hands

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Add some eyes

My 3-year old worked on this one. She added goggly eyes to make it come alive, but of course you could draw eyes on or cut eyes from paper. Googly eyes are an awesome invention, and truly animate anything they’re stuck to. We have a pair on our stapler, and “he” looks like a little alligator.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

We foraged the recycling bin for more objects and had some fun with building blocks and pom-poms: all stuck on with the miraculous glue gun.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Share your found object art critters

When you’re all done creating, put your critters on display, play with them, take photos of them, carry them on a walk and take photos of them in different places. The options are endless. More sharing ideas:

Share on Facebook

And if you’re really brave, snap a photo and share it with me on my Facebook page!

Instagram

When I was at the conference we asked participants to take a photo of their critter and tag it with #tinkercritter. Here’s on example. I love it! Go check out their critters and upload your own to Instagram. Don’t forget to tag it with #tinkercritter!

More Found Object Art

This cool Pinterest board from Mary Briden

Louise Nevelson painted on assemblages made from wood scraps in the 1950’s.

Joseph Cornell made these gorgeous diorama boxes that were filled with all sorts of curious ephemera.

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.