Funnel Painting

This was inspired by an idea we found in Mary Ann Kohl’s Preschool Art. I know I’ve said this many times before, but Mary Ann’s books are brimming with creative and engaging projects, and each of mine are dog-eared in a million places. We used materials that we already had around the house — low threshold projects are my cup of tea! — and the set-up is really easy. The other thing I loved about this activity is the SCALE of it — I knew my child would be captivated by swinging a paint-filled funnel across a huge sheet of paper! Now that we’ve done this, the only drawback I could see was doing this indoors, as my daughter wanted to swing paint in every possible direction, turning me into a mini-general who curbed her enthusiasm more than I like to.

To make this happen, we used:

  • A curtain rod
  • String
  • Funnel
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Paint
  • Tape
  • Chairs to suspend the swinging funnel

My daughter helped me tape a big sheet of paper to the floor. We noticed that it wasn’t long enough, so we added some more. I could tell that the paint would come pouring out of the funnel, so I taped off the bottom of it to make the hole a bit smaller. I wrapped some string around the funnel, and taped it in place. Then I looped the string over the pole.

Ready, set…


After a few easy-breezy swings, N wanted to give the poor little funnel some heavy-duty pushes, which would have been fine if we were outdoors. After mopping up the fourth or fifth puddle of paint off my floors, we called it quits, but we’ll definitely be taking this activity outside in the near future. I can also envision sand in the funnel over a sandbox, or rice over a (really big!) sensory table.

Do you have any other ideas for funnel swings?

The Butter Experiment

Last week we made butter!

I have friends who made this fine food back in their grade school/scouting/summer camp days, but I haven’t had this pleasure until now. As such, this was much an experiment for me as it was for my child. And it was SO worth it. This project appealed to me because it hardly cost a thing, it was super easy to make, and I was rivited by the process of making my very own butter. And it appealed to my two-and-a-half year old because she could participate in the kitchen by doing many of her favorite things: pouring, mixing, and of course…eating!


  • Glass jar with tight-fitting lid. I used a clean spaghetti sauce jar
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • That’s it! Really, it’s that easy.


  • Pour cream into a jar. Fill it about 1/4 of the way to allow room for shaking.
  • Shake continuously until the cream divides into butter and “buttermilk”
  • Scoop out and pat butter into a bowl or molds.
  • Save the sweet butter milk for other recipes. Delish.

For this experiment, we made two batches: one in the glass jar and the other with a hand mixer. I hypothesized that the hand mixer concoction would whip up much quicker, so you can imagine my surprise when it never got past the thick cream phase. Given the nature of butter-making, maybe the blender would have worked better. If you’ve had success making butter with a mixer, please share your tips!

N helped with the hand mixer, gave the jar a few shakes for good measure, and then handed her duties off to me and her G-Ma.

There’s my adorable Mother-in-Law being a sport: baby-carrying in one hand and butter-shaking in the other. She’s clearly a pro. And a bonus…as you can see, my baby was enthralled by the process. It’s never too early to help a child develop critical thinking skills!

After about four minutes of shaking, the cream whipped up into a lovely spreadable consistency. Not quite butter, but still worth a taste. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that N is keeping herself busy cutting up coffee filters and snacking on raisins, while her grown-up friends labor away with butter shaking.


About 10 minutes of shaking later I said out loud, “I don’t get it, is it supposed to look like REAL butter? Are we doing this right?” And within seconds the shaking became much easier and the butter was READY! We added a little bit of salt to taste, and then steamed up some corn to put it to the test. And it was amazing.

How it works

When you shake heavy cream, the drops of fat that are usually suspended in the liquid smack against each other and stick to each other.

When was the last time you made butter, and have you tried any variations on this experiment?

Happily shared with Tot Tuesday, We Play, Play Academy, and ABC and 123, Kids Get Crafty

The Best Playdough Recipe

The best playdough recipe | How to Make play dough |

Today I’m sharing what is easily the BEST playdough recipe ever. Once you have the recipe, you’ll want to find out about the 3 essential play dough tools (that you probably already have). If you’ve been here for the recipe before, scroll down for a July 2016 update —  you will LOVE it, I promise.

My plan was to make a simple batch of play dough to replace the sparkly dried out purple stuff that happily met our cookie-making, glitter infusing, practice cutting, snowman-making needs over the past two months. I asked my daughter what color she would like this time around, and she answered with…

ALL of them.

The best playdough recipe | How to Make play dough |

Ahem. Right.

The way I have always made playdough requires that I add the color to the whole batch while it’s cooking, making it difficult to make multiple colors. But by some lucky, happy accident we managed to add the ingredients in the wrong order, which is no doubt the result of making dough with a two year old while chatting with my mother-in-law and goo-gooing at my baby! But, as that same luck would have it, I think we landed on the BEST batch of play dough yet. The texture is buttery and I was able to deliver on the multiple colors request. And this ingredient, my friends, is the secret to having strong, smooth playdough that won’t crumble.

So, without further ado…

The best playdough recipe | How to Make play dough |

This post contains affiliate links

The Best Playdough Recipe



  1. Mix everything but the food coloring 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. 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.
  3. Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board that can withstand a little food coloring.
  4. Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth and then divide it into the number of colors that you’d like to make. I divided mine into four balls, flattened each of them, added a little bit of food coloring or liquid watercolors, and then kneaded it in. I added more food coloring to get the desired shades of yellow, pink, teal, and lavender.
  5. Play with the dough right away or store it in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it’ll keep for months. For play dough tool ideas, you can read this post.

The best playdough recipe | How to Make play dough |

There you have it, rainbow play dough (aka the best playdough ever).

Updated, July 2016:

I’ve been making this dough for a few years now without too many changes. After investing in this amazing BPA-free electric kettle, I was wondering if I could make this playdough off the stove top. So I did some experimenting, and low and behold — this recipe can be even easier and still the amazing dough that we all love. Here you go…

No Stove Play dough recipe

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients.
  2. Boil water
  3. Add water and oil to a bowl and mix
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until the dough comes together.

More Playdough Recipes

How to Make Cloud Dough, the easiest dough recipe that calls for oil and flour.

How to Make Goop with just cornstarch and water.

Make amazing scented pumpkin spice playdough.

How to make Gluten-free Cloud Dough

Glowing Playdough

DIY Masa Playdough, made with masa harina

How to make Salt Dough with just salt, flour, and water.

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In case you blinked and missed it, Tinkerlab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Club TinkerLab

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the best homemade play doh recipe


What can we spin?

My daughter was glued to the spin art table at a carnival that we went to a few months ago, so when I saw this easy spin art machine from Crayola I couldn’t resist purchasing it. My friend Jean at The Artful Parent recently set up a fun spin art project for her five year old using a salad spinner and thin white paper plates. This is the same set-up we had at that carnival, and it’s an amazing low-cost, upcycled option with great results. I bet you could find a salad spinner at the dollar store if you didn’t want to run yours through the ringer.

Here’s what we did:

We added paint…

and gave it a few spins.

Added more paint

And sat back to watch the magic happen.

Like marble painting, once N got going there was no stopping her. She made MANY of these beauties and I’m thinking of turning them into bunting for her birthday. Any ideas?

I wish I could remember how it came up, but we started musing on what would happen if we used ketchup instead of paint. I’m not an advocate of playing with food, but I am an advocate of experimentation, so we brought out the ketchup to see what would happen.

It was a slurry of a mess, that got even more sludgy after we added ranch dressing. Sorry I missed snapping that…it all happened pretty quickly. The next morning, N requested eggs and ketchup…

in the spinner. Of course.

This is a totally reasonable request, right?

So we cut some plates down to size.

Scrambled up some eggs.

Squeezed the ketchup on.

And spun it around until it was good and messy. As you can imagine, the eggs flew around the spinner in every direction. Because of their flatness, I bet pancakes and maple syrup would work beautifully. What do you think?

Aesthetics aside, it still tasted good.

Have you been experimenting in the kitchen? Please share!

This post is happily shared with

We Play: Childhood 101, ABC and 123, Kids Get Crafty @ Red Ted Art

Fake Piped Frosting

Grandma and Grandpa, also known in our house as G-Ma and TD, are here for a long visit and we decided to make some tangerine ginger curd-filled cupcakes to welcome them to town. Our grocery store carries this amazing curd, and it looked like the perfect thing to pipe into our vanilla cupcakes. They were SO addictive!

After we piped the filling into our cupcakes, N thought that piping was SO MUCH FUN that I decided to make a whole activity out of it. I knew she’d want to squeeze gallons of frosting all over everything, and couldn’t bear wasting the good stuff, so we concocted a fake frosting recipe that worked great. So great, in fact, that grandpa thought it was the real deal and almost ate a huge spoonful of it.

I pulled out all of my cake decorating tips so that N could choose the ones she wanted to work with.

I have some lovely cloth bags, but with little kids I’m all about keeping it simple and pulled out the disposable bags. If you don’t have piping bags and/or tips, you could fill Ziploc bags with frosting and then cut off the tip of a corner like this.

I thought that a think finger paint recipe would work well for our “frosting,” and tried one made from flour, water, a little bit of salt, and food coloring. Why salt? I’m not sure, but it shows up as an ingredient in just about every homemade paint recipe I’ve encountered. Does anyone have an answer to this?

I showed N how to hold the piping bag, and she was off! And man, do I know my kid — she squeezed every last bit of frosting out of those bags!

Why it worked

  • My daughter expressed an interest in learning more about piping frosting, so I followed her lead. As a result, she was wholly invested, wanted to be a part of each step in the process, learned new vocabulary words, and her skills with filling and squeezing the bags improved by the end of our session. In the school world, the design plan behind creating lessons that follow a child’s interests is called an emergent curriculum.
  • N LOVES squeezing things.
  • We made the frosting pink. Her choice. In the words of our blog friends Sherry and Donna, it was irresistible.

What we used to make it happen

  • Disposable piping bags
  • Cake decorating tips
  • “Frosting”: Flour, water, salt, food coloring
  • Surface to squeeze frosting onto

Recipe for fake frosting

This recipe is a work-in-progress as I’m not completely satisfied with how it turned out.It turned out a little lumpy, and a bit of extra water and vigorous stirring seemed to make it work better. Regina at Chalk In My Pockets devised a brilliant recipe using soap flakes that looks absolutely edible and creamy. Next time we’ll have to give that a go. If you come up with another recipe, I’d love to hear about it!

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup hot water
  • Food coloring

Pour flour and salt in saucepan. Add cold water and beat with whisk until smooth. Add hot water and cook over a medium-low heat until mixture is smooth. Color as desired.


How to Make Bathtub Puffy Paint (for piping) from Chalk in my Pocket

How to pipe icing tutorial from TLC

A non-piping frosting that I’m dying to try called “The Best Frosting I’ve Ever Had.” Mmmmm. From The Pioneer Woman.

How to decorate cookies with Royal Icing. From Sweetopia.




Spring Sink Mat Prints

I spend a lot of time at the hardware store. And last week I spotted this flower mat — the Blumz Sink Mat! — I love that exclamation point! — It’s an exciting sink mat! — and it looked like something that could be fun to print with!

In honor of Spring’s inevitable arrival (yes, it WILL get warmer) and St. Patty’s Day (I married a “Doorley”, after all), we used green and yellow paint. The green is Biocolor and the yellow is tempera, for no other reason than that’s what was handy. Oh, and wait ’til you see the Leprechaun at the end of the post…

I also found a bag of ten foam brushes for one buck, so the luck of the Irish was clearly with me. I covered the work space and then my daughter painted the mat with our fresh Spring palette.

And then we added a sheet of paper, pressed it down with the palms of our hands, and pulled our first print.

Ooooooooh!! This was an experiment that worked!

We pulled three prints, which frankly was more than I had bargained for, and then the real fun began! If you followed our Jello experiment, you’ll recognize a common thread here…

And maybe you picked up on the addition of an apron. I love that focused expression.

There’s a leprechaun in my house!

What we used to make it happen:

  • Rubbery plastic sink mat
  • Paint
  • Foam brushes (roller brushes or wide brushes will also work)
  • Paper (I like the 80# sulfite paper from Discount School Supply)
  • Palette (Dinner plate covered with foil)

How are you getting ready for Spring? And have you printed with any unexpected materials lately?

Happily shared with Kids Can Craft, Made by you Mondays, Marvelously Messy

Recycled Sculpture

How to make a recycled Sculpture with kids

What you see here is one of the most successful art projects that’s hit our household thus far. And it was free! What was the allure?

  • Working on a large scale
  • Low heat Glue Gun.
  • Piles of imagination-building materials
  • Collecting objects
  • Autonomy with decision-making
  • A novel project.

Supplies for Recycled Sculpture

  • Recyclables
  • Low-heat glue gun. We use the Cool Shot — it’s fantastic for little kids and we haven’t had an incident yet. Be sure to get a few packages of extra glue sticks too.
  • Paint (optional). We used washable tempera, which is great for enjoying the process, but will not last over time (it flakes off). For paint with a more permanent bond, use acrylic paint.
  • Paintbrushes (optional). These brushes from Melissa and Doug are nice for preschoolers.

It all began when we unearthed these very cool cardboard pieces that protected our new ice-cream maker (mmmm, thank you again danielle and dave!). So we decided to paint them. This carried on for a few minutes and then we moved on while they dried.

Collect some Recyclables


Later on, we started an art-recycling bag full of more materials to paint. But the pile kept growing and growing until I guess the materials were suggestive of a new idea altogether…

Stack and Build a Sculpture

Building!! It quickly became a challenge to balance the boxes, tubes, and bottles without toppling it all over.

Making it really, really tall. You can see the painted ice cream box piece way up there. And then the fun part…

I bet you saw that coming 🙂

And then, finally, we glued pieces together to make a more permanent sculpture.


Glue Gun Tips for Kids

This is where you get the low-heat glue gun out and share a few tips on safe handling:

  • Don’t touch the tip of the glue gun
  • Don’t touch the hot glue right after it comes out of the gun.

Attach the sculptural pieces together

The learning opportunities were so rich: we talked about sculpture as dimensional art, learned about how a glue gun works, made compositional choices, and embraced decision-making skills through the selection of objects.

Although I used a low-heat glue gun (these are amazing for kids), I still manned the gun and N told me where to glue. It was great! She would select a piece and then decide where she wanted it. There were a few moments where we collaborated to discuss placement, but she was mostly in charge. You can see her pointing to where she wants that toilet paper roll glued down.

In fits of inspiration, she bolted in and out of the room to find more treasures for her sculptures. I especially like that red ribbon. Don’t you? Oh, and if anyone ever wondered what we eat in our house, wonder no more!

We made three of these sculptures that afternoon, and got very good at working with the variegated materials. Throughout the week, N collected sticks and other natural materials during our walks and would say, “Let’s take it home to make art with it!” I love this kid!

How do you or your family like to use recycled materials? Feel free to add a link or photo in the comments section!

Even Toddlers Can Sew | a Sewing Project for Beginners

Sewing With Toddlers Made Easy

This is a great sewing project for beginners! (not just toddlers)

Sewing with a toddler doesn’t have to be complicated. Today I’m going to share a simple way to sew with a toddler that you can try with materials that you may already have around the house.

There are two things about this project that make it an excellent place to start with a beginner:

  1. The needle is large and easy for small hands to hold
  2. The weave of the mesh has large holes that make it simple sewing in and out of.
  3. I know, I said two things. This is a bonus: It teaches resourcefulness by recycling used materials and it’s also low-cost!

Like most parents, I’m keenly aware of my child’s strengths (and weaknesses, but we’re not going there today!), and my little one happens to be one of those people who is comfortable with fine motor activities. If you’re looking for activities that help with fine motor skills, try glue dots and buttons or make a colander sculpture.

I thought it was high time to give her a little sewing project since she seems ready for it.

This easy sewing activity came together quickly using materials that we found around the house. I’m not sure where I first got this idea from, so I’ve gathered a bunch of good resources for you and added them at the end of this post. It’s very likely that each of these fine blogs has played a role in this project, and I humbly add my version to the mix.

Here’s what we used to make it happen…

Sewing with a Mesh Bag and Cardboard

This list contains affiliate links.

  • Large Eye Plastic or Embroidery Needle. This needle with a blunt tip is amazing for beginner sewers.
  • Embroidery Thread (Floss). This gigantic set of 100 colors of thread is an awesome deal at $11.00.
  • Cardboard Box (recycled from a package)
  • Mesh from a bag of sweet potatoes
  • Stapler
  • Scissors
  • Exacto knife. If you don’t already have one, this tool comes in handy for all sorts of craft projects.

I cut the cardboard box using scissors and an Exacto knife.

If you don’t have an Exacto, you could use sturdy scissors.

The piece of mesh is about 1.5 inches larger in width and length than the piece of cardboard, and we pulled it taught and stapled it down.

We had lots of colors to choose from.

I gave a brief demonstration on how to pull stitches through the fabric and then held the frame while my daughter practiced her first stitches. The mesh was super for this on multiple levels: it’s strong and could withstand a lot of tugging, and it’s “transparent” which allowed N to really see what she was doing.

Sewing Project for Beginners

A little practice and then she was on her own. She picked up on it pretty quickly, although she wasn’t the least bit interested in following any dusty old sewing rules, and happily wrapped her stitches around the frame.


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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.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Club TinkerLab

If you enjoy projects like this, join me at Club TinkerLab, a closed Facebook group for parents and educators who care about raising creative and curious children through hands-on making.

More Art Projects for Toddlers

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 4.50.53 PM

For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.