The Art of Tinkering – Book Review

Art of Tinkering - Book Review

We were sent a free copy of The Art of Tinkering to review, but all ideas shared here are our own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Last year I had the good fortune of getting my hands on a copy of The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich. Karen and I went to the same grad school (different years), and she invited me to join her in a virtual hangout last year, Engaging Children with Making and Tinkering, but it wasn’t until last month that we finally met. And I was lucky enough to have her and Mike sign my book!

Art of Tinkering - Book Review

Karen and Mike work at The Tinkering Studio at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, where Karen is The Tinkering Studio’s Director and Mike is the Director of the Making Collaborative. In this capacity the two of them interact with countless artists, designers, and tinkerers who invent, build, and construct wondrous things.

The book includes behind-the-scenes peeks at the creations and inventions of 150+ makers who work at the intersection of art, science, and technology.

It’s laid out beautifully and artistically, just as you would hope a book like this would be. Each turn of the page presents the eyes with a feast of tools, textures, and materials that make you want to reach right into the book and play.

The project ideas are introduced with examples of artworks that exemplify the technique, and then followed up with a how-to, so you’re not left wondering how on earth you can tap into what seems like magic.

Take a look:

Art of Tinkering Inside Pages - Book Review

Putting it into Practice

While this book caters to an adults audience, grownups with kids in their lives will find plenty of useful takeaways. So, I sat down with my older daughter (then 5-years old) and after MUCH looking she was most inspired by the toothpick sculptures of artist Scott Weaver.

Weaver creates elaborate sculptures made of thousands of toothpicks, and you can learn more about him on the Exploratorium website.

We learned that his mega-artwork, Rolling Through the Bay (see below), a model of San Francisco itself, is made up of roughly 100,000 toothpicks, the only glue that’s holding it together is Elmer’s, and it took the artist about 3,000 hours to make…over a period of 34 years!

One more thing. Do you see those tiny balls at the bottom of the sculpture? To give you a sense of scale, those are ping pong balls that run through pathways in the sculpture.

Art of Tinkering Toothpick Sculpture - Book Review

Fully inspired, we pulled out our collection of colorful toothpicks, our trusty low-heat glue gun (neither of us had the patience for Elmer’s on this day), and started to build. My daughter was thinking more geometrically, and we started gluing squares together, which soon turned into pyramids.

Toothpick Sculpture - Art of Tinkering

And then, what began as a series of squares and triangles somehow turned into a crown! My daughter added some ribbon to tie it around her head, and voila!

Toothpick Sculpture - Art of Tinkering

The toothpick sculpture is just one idea of many that has sparked dialogue and ideas in our home. The marble run page is wild and wonderful, and will give you a feeling for the Exploratorium itself.

Every few pages highlights a different tinkerer and his or her craft, along with plenty of inspiration and ideas for diving right in, material lists included! It’s not a how-to book in the traditional sense, but for anyone who likes to borrow ideas from the makers themselves, this book is a treasure and will not disappoint!

Order The Art of Tinkering

The Art of Tinkering on Amazon

More about the Exploratorium

Visit the Exploratorium

See our review of the book Exploralab, 150+ Ways to Investigate the Amazing Science All Around You

I was fortunate to hold my book launch party at Helix, a temporary outpost of The Exploratorium in Los Altos, CA.

The Exploratorium’s Education page has a host of valuable resources for home tinkerers and educators.

You can search part of their site for videos that explore all sorts of science + art phenomena.

Recommended Supplies

Our favorite low-heat glue gun

The Garden Classroom – Book Review

the Garden Classroom, an amazing book for families who want to spend time outdoors

The Garden Classroom

My publisher, Roost Books, just released the most gorgeous book for families who are interested in teaching through the garden. In The Garden Classroom (affiliate), author Cathy James introduces us to great ideas for integrating math, play, imagination, reading, writing, science, and art into the natural environment.

Hint: With Earth Day right around the corner, this book would be the ideal gift for the garden-loving family.

collage of garden classroom book

To make this post match the spirit of the book, I thought I would carry the book out to my garden and snap a few shots – sort of appropriate, right?

You can see one of our newest garden additions in the top left photos (above and below) – a succulent in a tea cup that we made with my mom. I’ll share a tutorial soon (it involves a power tool, so yeah, pretty fun). While my mom had it all mapped out, I loved spotting this same project in Cathy’s book as a Quirky Ecoplanter. 

garden classroom book

Whether or not you have a green thumb (or fingers, as Cathy says in the UK), this book will meet you where you are. I love my garden, but given my inclination to maximize my studio time, my garden is often ignored. Plus we’re in the middle of a looooong drought, so watering isn’t a big goal at the moment.

You may notice that my lavender is doing nicely. It gets just a smidge of water and boom, lavender. So beautiful.

Okay, back to the book. Let’s take a look inside (please excuse the rose – they only look this good for a few days and I’m kind of excited about it)…

The Garden Classroom by Cathy James

The book culminates with some wonderful handout-style activities that can be written on in the book or photocopied for further garden enrichment.

One page invites children to record all the produce in the garden

Another page invites children to create a snapshot of the garden by recording things like the weather, what they heard, and if they spotted any animals.

As I flipped through the pages, my 4-year old daughter kept making me stop so she could take longer looks. She already let me know that she wants to grow her own mini meadow (yes, I do too!) and she is already collecting tiny pinecones and other objects to place in a cement stepping stone.

#1 New Release!

The book has just been out for a few days and it’s already the #1 New Release in the Parent Participation in Education category on Amazon.

If you love to spend time outdoors and want to find ways to integrate the garden and nature with play and a child’s natural curiosities, this book is designed to help you get there, gracefully. I can’t recommend it enough!

Buy The Garden Classroom

The Garden Classroom, Amazon. It’s in stock, Prime eligible, and currently on sale for 20% off list.

Make a Painted Flower Pot

How to paint a planter with kids

Join me in the next post and I’ll share how to make a painted plant pots to hold a succulent (inspiration taken from The Garden Classroom).

Painted Flower Pot from the Garden Classroom book

I led this with my kids as well as our Daisy troop of 20 girls, and I’ll share lots of tips for setting up a successful painting sessions at home or school.

Catch you next time!

The New Playroom, an Ebook

The Art Pantry ebook, The New Playroom

The New Playroom, an Ebook Guide

You may remember that I interviewed Megan Schiller not too long ago for an inside look into her inspiring, light-filled tinkering space. If you’re thinking about setting up a creativity zone in your home, this picture-heavy interview will not disappoint! You can see the entire series here.

Here’s Megan and her children inside their converted sun porch art studio:

Art Pantry Megan and kids

Well, today is an exciting day for Megan as she’s launching her new ebook, The New Playroom: A Step-by-step Guide on how to set up a home art space for kids.

I got a sneak look at the ebook, and it’s full of lovely ideas for turning your kitchen, dining room table, or playroom into an art space that gets kids excited to create.

Not only is Megan a creative mom to two kiddos, but she also has a background in early childhood education and is the former owner of a thriving kids’ art studio in Mill Valley, CA. For the past year she’s been consulting clients who want to transform their home spaces into art-making havens, and now we all get to peek into her process.

Let’s look inside…

The Art Pantry ebook, The New Playroom

The Art Pantry ebook, The New Playroom
The Art Pantry ebook, The New PlayroomThe Art Pantry ebook, The New Playroom The Art Pantry ebook, The New Playroom

What’s Inside This Guide?

  • 34 pages of step-by-step instructions on how to set up an art space for kids
  • Tips on measuring, layout, organizing and more!
  • Inspiring photos and stories
  • Essential art supply list plus extra goodies
  • DIY projects
  • Tips on exploring art supplies with kids and keeping them engaged over time
  • Additional resources for shopping, design, and art activities
  • Free bonus guide (PDF) Invitations To Create: 30 days of easy art prompts

Learn More About This Ebook

For a short time, readers who purchase the ebook will also receive a bonus guide, Invitations To Create: 30 days of easy art prompts. 

Grab your copy the book here: The New Playroom (affiliate)


The Nature Connection | Book Review

The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

With Earth Day right around the corner, this book would be an AWESOME gift for nature-loving kids.

Let’s take a peek…

The Nature Connection Book Review

The Nature Connection has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

The book encourages kids (ages 8-13) to get outside, and enjoy nature. And it works!

Note: The Nature Connection is designed as a interactive journal, meaning that you write and draw right on its pages. If you’re planning to use this with more than one child, you’ll want to offer them separate notebooks or buy a copy for each child.

Take a look at this video with the author and a group of school kids:

Says Leslie,

“I’m trying to win over kids who are much more interested in Game Boys and the internet because they have not had a grandfather go fishing with them. They haven’t had a grandma go berry picking with them. They haven’t had anybody take them outside and share with them the love of nature. This is why today so many kids don’t like nature. Because nobody has shown them how to be outside.”

Yes! And this is partly why my poor suburban kids, raised by a city mama, sometimes freak out at the thought of taking hikes. Sigh.

The book begins with tips on how to be a naturalist. It also includes ideas such as what to pack in your outdoor adventure kit and worksheets for tracking the phases of the moon (see the end of this review for a link to this as a FREE resource).

We’ve been carrying Adventure Kits around for a while now (we call them “Adventure Packs”) and we got some new ideas to include clips and a pen knife that weren’t already in them. This makes sense since we started carrying these packs around from age two, when pen knives weren’t exactly needed.

This introduction is followed with a month-to-month guide of twelve sections for tracking and noticing how nature changes throughout the year. You can see a few of our entries from the winter months below.

The Nature Connection has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

Each of the “month” sections invites you to do “Nature Quests” and describe what you see. The monthly sections also include short narratives, activities, and ideas for exploring the unique qualities of each season. In February we searched for animal tracks (easy to find in snow and mud) and learned about how the groundhog searches for its shadow.

This Winter we spent some time in Lake Tahoe, California, which is far more seasonal than the sunny Bay Area where we live. While you can see snow in the distant mountains, the area has had what some call the worst winter ever and that little mound of dirt just off-shore is usually underwater. The drought has been really hard on us Californians!

Family at Lake Tahoe

While walking around that mound, my 6-year old hunted for treasures amongst the small shells and discovered what she thought was a bone. Yes, I think she was right!

The Nature Connection has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

She was fascinated by it, chose it for her “Picture of the Month” drawing, and wanted to bring it into school to show her friends.

The Nature Connection Book Review

For families like ours that have to make treks to spend time in nature, this book is a goldmine. When I tell my kids that we’re going on an outdoor adventure and mention that we’re bringing this book along, excitement mounts!

Buy The Nature Connection

You can find The Nature Connection on Amazon (affiliate) and you can download free worksheets for The Nature Connection from the publisher, Storey. We haven’t started a Moon Journal yet, and my kids are excited to give it a go. Thanks, Storey!

12 Creative Books from our Family Bookshelf

What’s on your bookshelf right now? Have you read any creative books lately that make you feel alive, help you become a better parent, or inspire you to grab life by the horns?

Yesterday I shared on Instagram and Facebook that I just acquired a new book, and I was looking for feedback on it. In the process of this, I had a question about sharing what’s currently on my reading list. This list has already been brewing in my mind, so here it is for your inspiration pleasure.

12  creative books to inspire a creative new year | TinkerLab

These are all books that I’ve acquired or started reading in the last month, and that I hope to read in the first part of the new year.  The theme that runs through this list, is that most of these books focus on parenting, making, and creativity. You should also know that I’m in a non-fiction state-of mind, so there’s just one fiction book on the list.

If you have a favorite book that you think we’d enjoy will you add it to a comment? I and other readers like you are looking for more good ideas. Don’t be shy!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through these links I’ll receive a small percentage at no extra cost to you! 

Creativity, Making, and Tinkering Books

The Art of Tinkering, Karen Wilkinson + Mike Petrich

This book was just sent to me to review, and OH-MY-GOODNESS, it’s a winner. It’s not technically available to purchase until February 4, 2014, but I’ve heard that the Exploratorium book store will start carrying it sooner than that. If you’re in the SF Bay Area, you might want to seek it out sooner.

I Just Like to Make Things, Lilla Rogers

My husband and I were gifted with a a daytime date over the holiday break, and what did we do? We spent two hours milling around a bookstore :) This is one of the books that I purchased.

Creative Block: Get Unstuck, Discover New Ideas. Advice & Projects from 50 Successful Artists (Release date: February 18, 2014)

This book isn’t out yet, but I’m so excited about it that I pre-ordered it. Written by Danielle Krysna, writer behind one of my favorite blogs, The Jealous Curator, who interviews 50 artists about their creative process and how they get things done. I’ve been looking for a book like this for ages and I’m so glad that Krysa is making it a reality.

Family Books

The Nature Connection, Clare Walker Leslie

I’ve had this book for over a year, but I’m dusting it off now because we’re kicking off the new year with it as our trusty outdoor exploration manual. If you’re interested in raising children who have a strong connection to and appreciation for the outdoors, this book is worth looking into.

Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement, Kay Wills Wyma

My kids have responsibilities, but at 3 and 5 they’re far from taking on chores like cleaning the bathroom or making an income. I’m also not very organized about helping them tackle chores, so I picked this up as a roadmap to help me set up practical tools for fostering good habits in my children. You might enjoy reading the Facebook comments if you’re thinking of getting this book.

Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book, Chronicle Books LLC

Back when I was child-less I liked to keep extensive, detailed journals. Um, that’s pretty unrealistic now that I have two kids and barely a second to myself. For memory-keeping, I like that this book only requires me to write down one or two sentences for each day.

The MoneySmart Family System: Teaching Financial Independence to Children of Every Age, Steve + Annette Economides

Oh money, why are we not better friends? I’m sadly lacking in finance skills and get all jittery when I think about balancing my checkbook or investing in my future. Brrr. Chills. Because I know that my kids will likely learn money skills from their parents, I’m nervous for their financial intelligence. This book got amazing reviews and I love the smart skills I’ve read so far.

101 Disneyland Tips, Cam Bowman

I grew up in a fun-loving Southern California family, and I’m a solid Disneyland fan as a result. This book was written by my friend Cam, who happens to be a Disneyland expert and runs a great Disney site called Growing Up Goofy. Her family has season passes and they visit with their 3-and 5-year old frequently, and all of her advice is tested and solid. If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland with small kids, this book is full of useful tips. Cam is also running a book giveaway on her site (closes on January 2, 2014).

Make-your-life-better Books

How to be Interesting, Jessica Hagy

And this is the other book I purchased on that lovely afternoon date! It’s so inspirational for anyone who wants to live a more interesting life. As a home-grown city girl, living in suburbia, this is a book I need.

Life From Scratch, Melissa Ford

This is my one fiction book. Someone recommended it to me. I can’t even remember who now? It’s about a blogger, which is probably what prompted me to pick it up.

Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry

Chris Guillebeau, NYT bestselling author of The $100 Startup says of this book, “You have a limited number of days on Earth. This book sends an urgent message: make them count!” It’s that limited days thing that really gets me, and I’m always thinking about how I can get the most out of my short life. I really like this book so far.

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, Guy Kawasaki

I follow Guy on Google+, and he’s one smart cookie. He’s also published a gazillion books, and in this one he explains why and how to publish an e-book. This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while, and I hope that Guy can guide me through the steps of this process.

More Creative Family Book Inspiration

For more creative reading ideas, check out our recent list of the Best Art and Creativity Books for Kids.