Why (I think) We Stopped Using Colored Pencils

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

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.

PENCILS 2

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. 

Glowing Playdough Recipe

glow playdough recipe | tinkerlab.com


Today I’m joined by Tinkerlab reader Natasha Levochkina McCain, who’s sharing her glowing playdough recipe with us today. This is one of the coolest ways to update play dough, and I think you’ll get a kick out of it. We sure did.

Enjoy!

Glowing playdough recipe | Tinkerlab.comThis play dough inspired my whole family.

Not just my two sons (three and five years old), but even a very busy and sometimes moderately grumpy Dad and our 15 year old.

Not only was it exciting for the kids to stay up after dark to play with the dough, but they also created space landscapes, alien creatures and even an alien alphabet. While it was not an entirely accidental invention, it was not too far from it.  

glow playdough with handprints | tinkerlab.com
The intension was to make some fun looking play dough for a 6 year old boy as an impromptu present. His sister was going to receive some flower scented dough and I could think of nothing better than this for a boy. 

I started mixing the ingredients before I realized that I only had unbleached whole wheat flour left.

Disaster? Not at all!

I decided to go ahead and to make the dough anyway. I used my favorite Tinkerlab play dough recipe (with exception to the whole wheat flour) for the playdough itself:

5.0 from 2 reviews

Glowing Play Dough Recipe
Author: 
Recipe type: Play Dough
Prep time: 
Making time: 
Total time: 
 
Make traditional play dough…that also happens to glow!
Ingredients
  • 5 cups water
  • 2½ cups salt
  • 3 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors (optional)
  • Glo Away by Plaid (glow in the dark paint via Amazon)
  • Black Light
Instructions
  1. Mix everything but the food coloring and the glo-away together in a large pot until somewhat smooth. It will be lumpy. Not to worry, the dough will get smoother as it cooks.
  2. Cook the dough over a low heat. Mix frequently. The water will slowly cook out of the mixture and you’ll notice it starts to take on a sticky dough appearance.
  3. Before it gets too sticky add a few tablespoons of Glo Away
  4. Keep mixing until the edges of the dough along the side and bottom of the pan appear dry. Pinch a piece of dough. If it’s not gooey, the dough is ready.
  5. Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board or cooking tray that can withstand a little food coloring.
  6. Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth
  7. Store the dough in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it should keep for months.
  8. Turn the lights down low and illuminate the play dough with a black light.
 
While cooking it and while the dough was still not solidified I added about 4 oz (1 small bottle) of Glo-Away glow in the dark gel by Plaid and continued mixing. The texture is rather coarse because of the type of flour but it provides a unique benefit in the end result.

The glowing particles distribute themselves differently because of the larger grain fragments. While kneading the dough on a plastic cutting board (to avoid stains) I added some green food coloring to it.

And of course, you’ll need a black light to illuminate the glowing dough.

Here’s what it looks like in the dark:

glow playdough in the dark

The next day I also made “regular” play dough with regular “white fluffy” flour. I added no color to it, just the Glo Away

glow playdough with white dough

The glow pigment looks different in this one and it is fun to use them both for creating amazingly fun extraterrestrial creatures and landscapes.

glow playdough character

About Glo Away:  The manufacturer says that it’s “Safe to use on fabric, wood, glass, plastic and ceramics. Non permanent washes away with soap and water. Certified AP non-toxic. Great for decorating kids rooms and ceilings.”

Thanks for joining us today, Natasha! If you have a favorite art recipe to share, email us at rachelle at Tinkerlab.com.

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

Natasha Mc Cain About Natasha Levochkina McCain.
I am a teacher and I love children, animals and living. My husband says I am strong and I think I am feminine. So, here I am.

 

Is this your first time here? Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter here.

 

Homemade Card Idea: Peek-a-boo Cards

Make Homemade Cards: Peek-a-boo Cards

“Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.”

- Lord Byron

Do you make time to hand-write letters? I have piles of stationary that I used to adore writing on, but now these delightful pieces of artful ephemera seem to collect a whole lot of dust since everything has become digital.

Card Making: Peek-a-boo Cards | Tinkerlab

I’d love to get back to the fine art of letter writing, but time and energy have taken this once-adored task away from me. Hmmm, I should find a way to get back to it. My kids, on the other hand, will write and make letters for just about anything. No occasion necessary. I’m inspired by this desire to connect with loved ones through their art and words.

Couldn’t we all use a little more connection in our lives?

And that brings me to this…my mother-in-law is a saint on earth.

She’s always putting other people above her own interests and loves my children with all her heart. I’m a lucky one, I know. The other day, this sweet card arrived in the mail from her, and my four-year old couldn’t stop talking about it.

cut out shape cards

After investigating the mechanics of the card, N wanted to make her own version…as a thank you card for her grandmother’s card. Awwww.

cut out shape cards 2

Note to all the grandparents out there: I promise you that the little things you do for your grandchildren do not go unnoticed. Keep on giving of yourselves and the rewards will come back to you.

cut out shape cards 3

We talked about how the card had two folds, and the front of it had a cut-out shape. N asked me to help her cut a shape out of the first panel, and thankfully she requested a simple heart.

Maybe you noticed the cute little backwards “N” up there. My daughter has decided that this is how N’s are written, and there’s no changing her mind. She’s strong-minded, and I love that about her.

Fiskar Squeeze Punch

For making cut-outs, you could also use squeeze punches like these. We recently picked up a few of these awesome Fiskars Squeeze Punches at the craft store, and they would be great for making these peek-a-boo cards in bulk. I was first introduced to this tool at my kids’ preschool, and I noticed that most four-year olds can handle them independently. They take a little bit of muscle — too much for my 2.5 year old  and they’re too large for her smaller hands — but older kids love these things!

Make Homemade Cards: Peek-a-boo Cards

A few words of love and some more decorations, and then the card is ready for mailing!

With Father’s Day just around the corner, you might want to give this homemade card a go for the amazing dads in your life.

More homemade card projects

30 Valentine Activities for Kids

How to set up a self-serve card-making station

How to make an all-in-one heart envelope

Press your own flowers, and make them into beautiful cards

Make pounded flower cards, like these bookmarks

A question for you…

Do you make handmade cards? Can you tell me about the last piece of personal mail that you sent or received? Do you have a memory of receiving a special gift, mail, or package from a grandparent?

Simple Matching Sticker Game

Matching Sticker Game from Tinkerlab

The human brain is an incredible pattern-matching machine. 

- Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com

Matching objects or shapes is a skill that can help children in so many areas of their lives. The process of matching images and symbols is a precursor to matching combinations of letters to words, and this, of course, is a pre-reading skill. Matching is also useful for developing math skills, as understanding one-to-one correspondence teaches spatial reasoning and pattern recognition. 

Fun for travel

If you have any big trips planned, make a stack of these ahead of time and bring them along for a surprise game that might keep your child entertained through a flight’s take-off or during a long road trip.

Matching Sticker Game from Tinkerlab

Materials

  • Stickers: at least two of each kind
  • Plain paper
  • Maker, crayon, or pencil

Matching Sticker Game from Tinkerlab

Set-up

Place the stickers in columns on two sides of the paper. Mix them up. Offer your child a pen or crayon and invite him to make lines that connect the matching images.

Matching Sticker Game Trader Joes

We always pick up stickers at Trader Joe’s — they’re perfect for this project!

Matching Sticker Game Hand Drawn

If you don’t have any stickers, not to worry! This project can be done with some simple sketches. I’ve done this with simple shapes (circle, square, triangle, etc.) and a variety of expressions (happy, sad, surprised).

More Ideas

  • For emergent readers: Make one column of stickers and then in the other column, write words that match the stickers.
  • Rather than use columns, draw pairs of shapes or attach stickers in random spots around the piece of paper.

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Seven Tips for Setting up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio

Bundt Cake

The other day we had the most amazing weather, so we set up a garden art studio…

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

When I was in college I always loved those teachers who took their classes outside on a nice day. So why not recreate that magic with our kids? Did you know that most children don’t spend enough time outdoors?

Why Making Art Outdoors is so Awesome

  1. Being outside is calming, restorative, and resets the mind.
  2. Nature is fodder for the imagination.
  3. Getting messy isn’t an issue.
  4. You can get up water some plants/play/dig a hole, and then return to making.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

I offered my children a few after-lunch options that included reading in the garden, making art outside, and going on a hike. Can you tell that I wanted to spend some outdoors? The weather was that incredible.

My older daughter liked the idea of setting up a blanket on our lawn and helped me hatch a plan to create an art studio picnic. 

Within moments of setting it all up, which took us about ten minutes, the girls were deep into making. At this point I gleefully broke out my new garden sheers and tackled mountains of overgrown plants. Hack hack hack. Things had gotten so out-of-hand in my poor garden, which now looks rather normal, that it initially appeared quite bald as I managed to fill our entire composting bin with greenery.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Meanwhile, I’d pop over to check on the kids periodically and captured 4-year old N as she decorated a big river rock with paint pens. More details on drawing on rocks over here. 

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Her little sister has been invested in painting lately and we knew that she’d enjoy easel painting. If you really can’t get outside, 10 Steps for Easy Indoor Easel Painting will help you bring the magic indoors.

I also have a stand-up easel, but I thought this would be a nice way to have the girls work side-by-side. It was a great strategy until the watercolor jars were knocked over onto the blanket. Ahem, we only own washable paints for moments like this.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Also, this little easel has a tray to hold paint on both sides and I knew both kids would want to paint at the same time. All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon and just the sort of experience that I imagine we’ll invest in all summer long.

Tips for setting up an Impromptu garden art studio

First of all, it’s important to address that you don’t need a sprawling lawn to make this happen. A patio, stoop, or balcony work just fine. The important thing here is to get outside and enjoy some fresh air!

  1. Wear play clothes, aprons, or nothing at all. 
  2. Wait for a warm day.
  3. Keep the materials simple and choose one or two basic projects. We chose watercolors + easel and rock painting.
  4. Have a water source nearby for washing up.
  5. Set up a picnic blanket so that little makers can get comfortable.
  6. Make sure you have a camera to capture these moments.
  7. If you’re painting, lay dry pieces out on the ground to dry. If it’s windy, dry them on a clothesline or indoors.

Outdoors + Kids Resources

Tape paper to the wall for an Instant Outdoor Art Studio

Six Ways to Take Art Outdoors

Start a Family Nature Club with this Nature Tools for Families Toolkit (FREE download) from Children and Nature Network. I’m dying to start one of these, so if you live near me give a holler if you’re interested! The Children and Nature Network is run by Audubon medal winner Richard Louv who wrote the bestseller, Last Child in the Woods. 

If you’re in the Bay Area, get your hands on a copy of Bay Area, Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area by Laure Latham. I just got it and it’s awesome!

A fabulous roundup of ideas for building outdoor forts and shelters for kids, from Let the Children Play.

A question for you…

What one word comes to mind when you think of the last time you spent time outdoors?

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

How to Set Up an Apple Printing Station

How to make apple prints with kids

how to set up an apple printing station from tinkerlab

Have you tried your hand at apple printing?

I suppose it’s a traditional Fall craft, but since apples find a way into our pantry year-round, I thought this was a fun project to share in these weeks leading up to Summer. You know, when you might need something fun to keep the kids entertained during the long summer days.

Apple Prints are an old stand-bye that my children always enjoy. The other day, 4-year old N asked me for some paint and apples so that she could make envelopes for all of her teachers. She had another plan for filling the envelopes that involved a sprinkling of sequins and some hand-made drawings. My two-year old is always game for printing, and in a matter of minutes apple printing was in full force!

Ingredients

  • Apples, cut in half vertically
  • Paper plates — to use as paint palettes
  • Washable tempera paint or Biocolors
  • Covered Table
  • Large pieces of paper
  • Clear space to contain the drying prints
  • Damp rags for wiping messes and dabbing painty fingers

apple prints closeup apple

The Set-up

  • If you have a precious work surface, cover it with a cloth or paper. We use brown kraft paper and oil cloth (pictured here).
  • Have your child choose a couple colors of paint. I like to limit it to two colors to keep the whole matter simpler. Squeeze the paint onto some paper plates. When you’re done, these can be dropped in the recycling bin.
  • Place a big sheet of paper in front of each child.
  • Place a damp rag next to each child. My kids always get painty fingers when we do this, and constantly get up to wash hands. The rag saves them the trip until they’re completely done.
  • Hand each child one apple, cut into two pieces.
  • Invite your child to stamp away!
  • Place completed prints in a drying area.

apple prints table

This project is great for little and big hands alike. My two-year old was challenged to press the apples down hard enough to make her prints show up while my four-year old worked on creating color patterns of apple prints.

apple prints making print

While I had to do a little bit of maintenance, such as collecting completed prints, while the kids printed, I enjoyed stepping back to allow them to experience the medium and develop independent ideas.

Some people are opposed to using food as a source of art-making because it can send the message that food can be wasted. With so many people going hungry, I understand the argument for this. My children’s nursery school won’t use food for art-making, which is the case with many nursery schools around the world.

However, compared to making prints from rubber stamps which can be derived from felled trees and rubber, apples and other vegetables seem like a decent alternative. In addition, so many of our traditional art-making materials are derived from food and other naturally found products. If you have an opinion on the matter I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to make apple prints with kids

Ideas to take this further

  • When the prints dry, use a Sharpie permanent maker and add designs to your apple prints
  • Print with other vegetables such as okra, celery hearts, and carrots
  • Make prints from found objects such as egg cartons or bubble wrap
  • Source more ideas from this Pintererst Board that’s dedicated to Apple Crafts
  • If your child really enjoys printing, try your hand at Cookie Sheet Monoptints

apple prints

A Question for you…

What do you think about using food for art-making?

The Creative Table Project

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 11.08.34 PM

Endless ideas for crafts, art-making, science experiments, and creative explorations on the creative table project from Tinkerlab, via Instagram.

Highlights from The Creative Table Project

If you’re not familiar with the Creative Table Project, it’s an Instagram treasure trove of real world inspiration for any parent, caregiver, or teacher who’s looking for ideas that boost kids’ creativity or who wants to share snippets of their life experiences as inspiration to others. This week’s post is a great example of how I like to set up creative invitations that encourage creative and independent thinking for preschoolers.

There are currently over 1500 Creative Table tags on Instagram so of course it was hard to choose which ones to share with you. This small collection from the past couple weeks is lovely for the breadth of ideas. Following each image is the name of the the person who shared it and their description of the image. Enjoy!

Note: If I’ve shared a photo of yours against your liking, just shoot me a line and I’ll take it down promptly!

Creative Table Inspiration…

It only seems to fitting to begin a Creative Table roundup with a young maker who’s invented her own drawing table. My heart is melting. From Jackie at My Little Bookcase. For a related twist on this, set up an invitation to draw under the table and see what happens.

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I offer my children something similar to this hand-drawn coloring page set up all the time, and it’s always a hit. While it may seem close-ended, the parameters set forth by the black and white design give children a starting place to come up with unique ideas. From Jen at Mama Papa Bubba

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Creative Table Project on Tinkerlab

This set-up is so inviting. I want to dive right in to drink homemade lemonade and make paintings with the leftover tissue paper alongside Stephanie from Spanglish Spoon. For ideas on how to set up a tissue paper collage activity with a toddler, you might also enjoy this simple set up.

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If you’ve ever spent a lot of time and thought setting up an activity, only to have a child take it in a totally different direction…this one from Cassidy at Freshly Planted is for you. Know that you’re not alone, and that moments like this are signs of your child’s ability to think for him or herself.

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We got a sneak peak at the next Kiwi Crate, and the paper making project was an instant favorite.

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I have received countless comments from parents with younger children who get into art materials, pull everything off tables, and generally make it difficult for older siblings to put on their maker-cap. This image from The Iowa Farmer’s Wife is here to remind you that it’s a phase that will quickly pass. And that you might actually miss these early days.

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If you ever thought about introducing your child to the work of well-known artists, setting up a sensory table to help them dive into the physical world of the artist is brilliant for little hands.

More ideas on exploring modern art with kids over here.

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This lovely open-ended invitation to make Mother’s Day gifts is full of so many possibilities. Don’t you want to jump right in? We once made soap for mother’s day and it was a huge success.

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Since today is officially Earth Day, I thought we could end with an easy and workable nature-based mosaic from our friends at the Children’s Creativity Museum.

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Creative Table Project on Instagram

See all Creative Table posts here.

If you’d like to play along, read these guidelines and then tag your Instagram photos with #creativetable. And here’s a look at our last roundup for another view of what’s possible.

Are you on Instagram? Instagram is one of my very favorite tools and you can find me at @tinkerlab. I hope to see you over there!

A question for you…

What’s on your creative table this week?

 

Creative Table: A Sticker Composition with Frames

Sticker composition 4

Sticker composition

Setting up Creative Invitations like this is one of my very favorite ways to encourage children to explore new ideas and develop a visual language. Here’s the basic premise:

  • Clear the table of anything that won’t be used in the invitation
  • Artfully arrange the materials to provoke ideas
  • Limit the choice of materials to just a few items
  • Provide clues about how to use the materials, but keep the project open-ended so that original ideas can flourish.

Sticker composition 4

Sticker Composition with Frames

Before I went to bed, I set up two sheets of paper that were simply marked with a hand-drawn frame. Next to to the frames were a few sheets of rectangular color coding labels. You can find these at Amazon or any office supply aisle. Alternatively, you could set this with circle stickers, some other favorite sticker, pieces of colorful tape, or squares of construction paper and a bottle of glue.

I also placed a stack of plain paper and rolls of colorful tape in the middle of the table, just in case my kids wanted to use other materials. They didn’t.

Sticker composition with Frames, on Tinkerlab.com

Here’s how my two-year old used the materials.

Sticker composition 2

And here’s how my four-year old put her composition together. The beauty of creative invitations is that children will meet them where they’re most capable.

If you’d like more ideas like this one, you might enjoy reading about the Creative Table project, checking out these highlights from the Creative Table Project, or browsing the hundreds of brilliant set-ups on Instagram by searching #creativetable,

graphic for sticker composition

A Question for you…

How old is your child, or how old are the children in your class, and what creative project have you been working on?

Note: There are affiliate links in this post, but I only share links to products I love or that I think you’ll find useful. 

50 Earth Day Activities for Kids

Upcycled Box Bugs

Earth Day is our annual reminder to slow down and appreciate the bounty of the earth. The following 50 Earth Day Activities for kids will encourage children to create objects from natural and recycled materials and spend more time outdoors.

I hope you’ll find some inspiration here, and if you have more ideas to share, please add them to a comment so that others can enjoy them too.

Happy Earth Day!

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Earth Day Activities with Natural Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Earth Day Activities with Recycled Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Outdoor Art Earth Day Activities

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Make a Sketch: A sketch a day keeps the dullness away

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Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

Do you draw? If so, how do you create time to make a sketch?

I try to make a habit of sketching something every day. When I get really busy, which seems like a lot lately, I’m terrible at keeping this promise to myself. If you know my blog, you might remember that I started the Tinkersketch challenge last summer. Basically, it’s a simple challenge to make a drawing every day. And to motivate us to play, you were invited to share your sketches on Instagram. Sound familiar?

Like some of you, I began this challenge with a lot of energy, but then, like I said, I got busy. And maybe you did too. But even though I haven’t been good at sharing my sketches with you, I do make an effort to jot notes or images down every day.

Here’s how…

Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

How to keep a sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive

  • I carry at least one of my favorite felt tip markers in my bag at all times. Unless one of my children finds it before I do, having the right tool makes me want to draw more.
  • I carry a notebook, sketchbook, journal, stack of index cards, napkins — whatever — in my bag at all times.
  • Pull out this notebook when waiting in line or when I have an extra minute to spare. All it takes is five minutes and I’m done! More time would obviously be better, but I think it’s more important to focus on workable rather than idealized goals.

Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

A sketching story

Yesterday I was waiting, by myself (this is a rare treat), at a deli for some take-out sandwiches. In moments like this I usually pull out my phone and scan it for email updates. But it was also a great opportunity to get in a few moments of drawing. So instead of trolling Facebook, I pulled out my sketchbook and started to doodle.

My order was ready about ten minutes later, and as he handed me my bag, the owner asked me if I was an artist. I kind of stuttered over myself, not really sure how to label my current life path. At one point in my past I would have said, “yes,” but now I’m so many other things.

So my answer was, “well, I make drawings.” And then he asked me if I’d like to show my work in his cafe. Isn’t that lovely? I had no idea it was going there.

But that, my friends, is all from sitting down for a few minutes of doodling.

Three simple steps for keeping a daily sketching practice (at least a little bit) alive.

You may have noticed that I’m sprucing things up around here. I’m interested in carrying on with more posts that take a look at what it means to be a creative adult. Not to worry, the child-focused posts will still be around, but it seems like it’s high time to expand the world of Tinkerlab.

My plan, and please forgive me for it’s a tenuous one right now, is to make this space your home for all things creative. I’m still rather busy, and trying to catch up on sleep while also dropping coffee from my diet, but you can count on weekly updates full of ideas, tips, resources, and interviews in the space of creativity and making.

A question for you…

Do you draw? If so, when do you do it and what tools do you use? And if not, is something holding you back or is it just not your thing?

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Jellybean Matzo House

DSC_0047

 This article was first shared in April 2011.

How to build a jellybean matzo house for Passover.

We had more than our fair share of Easter sweets this weekend, but I had a plan all along to purge our house of all that extra sugar by “gluing” it to some sort of base, like a paper plate, and calling it art.

As I talked to my almost three-year old about the idea, we mused over what we could glue our candy to. Something bigger than a cracker. Something flat. Something hard. Something we already had in our pantry.

And then it occurred to us — Matzo!

The irony of mixing Easter jellybeans with Passover matzo isn’t lost on me. As I laughed about this with my husband, we also realize that this is a fair representation of of our melting pot family. And I’m sure we’re not the only ones these ingredients on hand?!

What I especially love about this project, which looks oh-so-similar to the beloved gingerbread house, is the reminder that we can borrow ideas from other seasons. Here’s another seasonal mash-up from last summer: Easter in August.

How to build a matzo house

N started with some matzo and enjoyed breaking it into smithereens. She’s two, after all. Totally unusable for this project, but super fun.

If you’ve ever broken matzo with the intent of making neat little sandwich, you know that matzo has a mind of its own and can be completely unpredictable.

First, break your matzo…carefully

After accepting my fate that we would use uneven pieces, my husband messed around and came up with this strategy: Place the tip of a knife into the middle of the matzo, on the groove that you want to break…

And then press down.

It’s still a little wobbly, but it worked SO much better than my sad attempt at breaking them by hand.

I since found another strategy that sounds worthwhile: dip your finger in water and run it down the groove you intend to crack. It will soften the matzo just enough so that you can get a clean break.

Then we attached the pieces together with ornamental frosting, which dries hard. Our ornamental frosting was too runny for the job, but I’ll share the recipe below just in case you want it. Instead, I’d recommend the royal icing recipe that we used for our gingerbread houses.

Recipe for Royal Icing

Recommended

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

Ornamental Frosting

Used in the pictures of this article

  • 4 cups powdered sugar (one box)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 egg whites

Blend it together until smooth. If you’re not using the frosting right away, cover the top of your bowl with a damp towel to keep it moist.

We attached the “wall” pieces to a large matzoh base.

And then added jellybean decorations. That leaning wall is the result of one of my hand-breaking attempts. Sad. Looks like a foundation problem.

I finally conceded to the frosting-coated jellybean eating request. I can be tough!

We thought the white frosting made this was looking way to wintery, and not at all spring-like…

…so we colored our frosting green.

And then there was more…eating! It looked a bit like Roman ruins…

How to build a jellybean matzo house

So we added a roof. Voila! Jellybean Matzo House (with icicles) for Spring.

Resources

Do you have a good idea or tip for making candy houses?

This post was shared with Craft Schooling Sunday, Skip to my Lou, Sun Scholars

Vegetable-Dyed Easter Eggs

Dye for Easter Eggs

Have you ever thought about making vegetable dyed Easter eggs?

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets.

I’m trying to make a move away from synthetic food dyes and wanted to use natural, homemade dyes this year. Not only are these colors absolutely healthy for human consumption, but the process of making them is a wonderful lesson in creating art materials from scratch and can help children think critically about  how to achieve various colors colors.

As I was cutting the onions and beets I asked my daughter what colors she thought they’d make. I also asked questions like, “If I wanted to make blue dye, what might I make it with?”

She had fun making guesses based on what we had in our kitchen and garden, and also came up with her own wild suggestions such as, “let’s take the skins off the bananas to make yellow dye!”

How to Make Vegetable Dyed Easter Eggs

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets.

Supplies

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Skin from one onion, two beets, large handful of spinach, half head of red cabbage
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Bowls
  • Ice cream scooper
  • Rubber Bands
  • Stickers
  • Crayons
  • Parsley Sprigs
  • Cheesecloth

Make the dye

I set up four pots of dye:

Pot #1: Onion Skins

Pot #2: Beets

Pot #3: Spinach

Pot #4: Chopped Red Cabbage

Add about 3 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar to each pot. The vinegar helps the dye set onto the egg.

Cook the dyes for about 30 minutes and then strained the colored water into some bowls.

*Note, you could also experiment with hard-boiling your raw eggs in the dye itself. I’ve heard this works really well. 

Three Decorating Techniques

While the dye cooks and cools, this could be a good time to get your eggs ready for dipping.

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets, and ideas on how to decorate them..

1. Wrap the Eggs with Rubberbands

We wrapped some eggs with rubber bands. Fine motor skill training for my almost 3-year old!

2. Cover Eggs with Stickers

We covered eggs with spring stickers and office stickers.

3. Color the Eggs with Crayons

And we drew on eggs with crayons. Nothing too crazy. The crayon will resist the dye. White crayon would make for more drama in the end, but my 2-year old had her heart set on blue.

How to Dye Easter Eggs

Some people like to use tongs or whisks to grab their eggs, but our ice cream scooper made for a good egg scooper.

Do you see that barely green water up there? That’s what transpired from cooking our spinach…for thirty minutes! Pale green water. As you can imagine, it didn’t do much to our eggs. Next time I think we’ll try using more spinach…or use green food coloring.

Have you had any success achieving a vibrant green color with natural dyes? I’ve heard that liquid chlorophyll is the best thing to use for green, but I haven’t tried it personally.

Pale Yellow from Onions

We unwrapped the eggs to reveal the hidden images!  This pale yellow color was made by the onion skins. We’ve also made yellow dye from ground turmeric (cooked the same as above), which it works really well.

Grey from Beets

It looks brown here, but the beets made a grey-ish color. Dye seeped into the openings of the bunny sticker, revealing a blotchy silhouette that’s still quite nice. A bunch of these all over an egg would be kind of cool, or a simpler sticker would look nice (scroll down for an example).

I’ve had success making a pale pink from beets, and I’m not quite sure what happened here.

Blue from Red Cabbage

But small stickers like this little butterfly left a clear impression. Lovely.

Brilliant blue came from the red cabbage! To make this egg, we wrapped cheesecloth around parsley sprigs and then dipped it in the cabbage dye. If you have pantyhose, that could work even better.

Hole Reinforcement Stickers on Easter Eggs

I found a new life for a stack of hole-punch reinforcement stickers! Don’t you love this? The grey color came from the beets (sad, because I was hoping for pink, but still beautiful), the egg in the back is a brown egg dipped in red cabbage dye, and the yellow egg is colored by onion skin.

Before tossing the cabbage leaves out, I wrapped them around an egg and popped it in the fridge overnight. Tie-dye egg!

This is part of a collaboration with my friend Melissa’s from The Chocolate Muffin Tree. For more natural egg dying ideas, visit Melissa at The Chocolate Muffin Tree.

More Egg Dying, Decorating, and Science Ideas

Three Easy Tricks for Blown Out Eggs

Egg Geodes Science Experiment

How to Make a Floating Egg

How to Walk on Raw Eggs. Really.

60 Egg Activities for Kids

Have you colored eggs with natural dye?

If you have, please share a tip, link, or photo!!