Gumdrop Sculptures

The provocation: A bowl of gumdrops and a handful of toothpicks.

The first question: “Can I eat these?”

Oh yeah, I guess they do kind of look like a snack.

The second provocation (after we each ate a gumdrop, just to get that elephant out of the room): A square base of four gumdrops, attached together with four toothpicks, and one more toothpick sticking straight up out of the base.

And with that, the race gates opened and the horses were off! Without saying another word, N quickly understood the challenge and got right to work. And what small child on a minor sugar high wouldn’t be excited to work with colorful toothpicks and rainbow-colored gumdrops?

Notice little sister in the background. I promise some baby-related activities one day soon.

A few months back I set up a similar provocation with marshmallows and toothpicks, and while we were able to build some simple structures, it was a small flop. It’s easy enough to pierce the marshmallows with toothpicks, but they don’t do as good of a job holding a complex structure together. I also tested jellybeans, but the hard candy surface wasn’t forgiving enough. The gumdrops are really malleable and my daughter didn’t need too much of my help manipulating them. So empowering!

She decided this structure was a cable car — we live near San Francisco, after all — so we found a couple passengers interested in taking a ride.

After she built this form she exclaimed, “It’s a pitched roof!!” Ah, I love witnessing the transfer of knowledge. You never know when these moments are going to hit, and it’s so fun to be there when they do.

And this is what she accomplished before it was time to get dinner ready. After dinner she and her dad kept working on these, and then there was more building the next day. As the structures got bigger and more complex, we talked about the strength of triangles, which added a a new dimension to what she was able to build. Stay tuned for day two!

More on the science behind this project can be found through one of my very favorite sites (and places to visit), The Exploratorium: Geodesic Gumdrops.

 

Colander Sculpture

This surprisingly fun sculptural activity kept my 33 month old engaged for a long while. And the added bonus is that it’s also great for strengthening fine-motor skills, making color choices, and developing spatial understanding by making sense of the exterior and interior of an object.

The set up

A handful of pipe cleaners and a colander on a low table.

N wasn’t sure what to make of it at first and asked me to play with her. So we sat down together and I started poking the pipe cleaners in the holes.

Ahhhh, now she gets it. Once the ball got rolling I stepped back to let her explore on her own.

This is so much fun!

Once the top was “full,” she started working on the sides.

Colander Sculpture for Kids | TinkerLab.com

And then she wanted to know what was happening underneath the colander.

After working on this for about 20 minutes, N figured out that she could loop the pipe cleaners and stick both ends into the colander. Cool.

As of late, my daughter has shown a huge interest in building and sculptural activities. Maybe you remember my last post when she rejected the easel? So I’ll continue to continue to support this growing interest of hers and see where it takes her…and you can probably expect more sculptural activities here in the upcoming weeks.

While I can’t remember where I first saw this idea, if you’d like more pipe cleaner-colander inspiration, Anna and her daughters at The Imagination Tree did a similar project where her older daughter incorporated play dough into the sculpture! She packages this and other similar, stimulating activities as “Discovery Boxes,” which you can learn more about here. And if you don’t have pipe cleaners at home, but you do have straws, she also offers a Straw Discovery Box that is a super alternative.

This post was shared with We Play: Childhood 101, Skip to my Lou

Rubber Band Painting

One of the almost-weekly segments of this site is called Creative Experiments, and last week’s experiment was to create something with Rubber Bands. Danielle and her daughter Simone were the first to participate with their Elastic Project, which you can view on Danielle’s blog. I love how they hung the piece from the ceiling. I’ve had rubber bands on the mind all week, and thought I’d make a fun paintbrush out of them. To make it, I secured about six rubber bands of roughly the same length to the back of a paintbrush with another rubber band, wrapped tightly. Now, keep in mind that this is an experiment, and sometimes experiments don’t go as planned!

To get the new brush into action, I pulled our easel out of hibernation because N lost complete interest in it a couple months ago (and it takes up way too much real estate to go unused). When she woke up from her nap she took one look at the easel and immediately complained that the paint pots were missing their lids. Where was that “I missed my easel and I’m so glad to see it again” enthusiasm I had hoped for?! I should probably back up and say that 90% of the time she wakes up from her naps grumpy, but still!! Once she settled into being awake, she said she would paint with the caveat that we collaborate, but she wanted nothing to do with the super neat-o rubber band brush that I made. That’s fine, of course, but I hoped that at least the novelty of it would appeal to her.

So, up there you can see her yellow marks surrounded by a few red rubber band painting marks made by yours truly. The texture created by the brush is pretty random and silly, and I imagine that a child inclined to paint at an easel (unlike mine. sniff, sniff), would probably enjoy testing one of these out. When I was her age I adored easel painting, so this obviously comes as a surprise. But I also know it can’t hurt to keep offering the materials, and if one day she’s ready they will be there for her. There it is: Rubber band experiment 1.0.

Have you been surprised by your child’s distaste for something you really enjoy?

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…

GO!

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!

Ingredients

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


Directions

  • 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.

Mmmmmm.

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 | Tinkerlab.com

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 | Tinkerlab.com

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 | Tinkerlab.com

This post contains affiliate links

The Best Playdough Recipe

Supplies

Instructions

  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 | Tinkerlab.com

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

no cook playdough (1)

No-cook Playdough Recipe:

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-Cook Play dough recipe

What Else Can you do with Liquid Watercolors?

Liquid watercolors can be used for so many other recipes and projects such as:

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.

the best homemade play doh recipe

What can we spin?

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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. I found another kid-powered (no batteries required) spin art machine for a less money (by ALEX) that’s also worth checking out.

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.

If you want to go the salad spinner route, check out this article: Salad Spinner Spin 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.

Resources

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.