How to Make Paint: Sweetened Condensed Milk

sweetened condensed milk paint diy from tinkerlab

This recipe is a keeper because it comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably have on hand, and it expands the way children think about art supplies. When children have the opportunity to invent things and imagine new possibilities (in this case, making their own paint, inventing colors, and imagining what they can create with the paint), opportunities for creative thinking are greater.

Not to mention, both of my kids (21 month Rainbow and 4 year old Nutmeg) enjoyed painting with it, and, um, eating it too. Once dry, the paint has an attractive shiny coat to it. Because there’s sugar in the milk, I’m not going to guarantee its archival quality, but after we’ve had our paintings for a month they still look brand-new.

I get a lot of questions about activities that can be enjoyed by kids of multiple ages. Generally, my opinion on this is that children will adapt the materials in front of them to meet their own level of ability. This project will work for toddlers on up to adults; just expect that the results will vary.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

My 4-year old’s completed paintings.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint


  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Food coloring
  • Small mixing bowls
  • Paint brushes
  • Tea spoons for mixing
  • Card stock or other heavy paper for painting on

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

Pour a little milk into a bowl, add a couple drops of food coloring, and mix.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

My 21-month old got into the mixing action too.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

Our painting set-up: I have a big, clear plastic tablecloth that covers the art table. It’s perfect for sticky + wet projects like this. I taped my toddler’s paper to the table to keep it from slipping.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

These paintings takes some time to dry. Rainbow did not have a delicate painting hand and her paint went on quite thick. The painting on the right had a deep puddle on it that took a good day to dry. And when it finally dried it caked up a bit and had a nice crackled effect to it. Just something to keep in mind in case you’re looking for a quick-drying paint…this is not it!

Have you tried this before? What kitchen supplies have you tried painting with?

And be truthful, aren’t you just a little bit curious about what it would be like to paint with sticky milk?

This post has been shared on It’s Playtime

DIY Masa Play Dough

masa play dough

What? You’ve never heard of Masa Play Dough? Oh yeah, me either! The dough has a crumbly texture and leaves your hands oily, although they felt more moisturized than greasy (the base is coconut oil, which is used in beauty products). The dough also has a lovely tortilla scent that I really enjoyed.

Are you ready? Follow me, and I’ll show you how it’s done.

colorful tortillas

I live in California where there’s no shortage of Mexican food, and we happened to visit one of my favorite Mexican markets last week where I spotted these colorful beauties! My toddler was racing toward the bananas with her mini shopping cart, so I barely had a chance to snap this shot, but I’m really curious to find out what makes these colors so brilliant! Next time I’ll look.

While I was there I grabbed a bag of Masa Harina, a special corn flour that’s prepared with lime and used to make corn tortillas. I was invited to join the Play Dough Pledge (with The Imagination Tree, Nurture Store, and Sun Hats and Wellie Boots) this week, and thought we’d give masa play dough an experimental whirl and see how it holds up against my favorite play dough recipe.

masa play dough ingredients

After a long search for masa play dough turned up absolutely nothing, I realized I’d have to figure this out on my own. Eeeek. But this experimenting mom wasn’t fazed.

I adapted what follows from my play dough recipe and a few others I found online. Because this recipe calls for corn-based flour, I’m not sure if cream of tartar is necessary, but I was too chicken to leave it out. If you have a thought on this, I’d love to hear from you.


This was a test, and I’d encourage you to try your own recipe, or play off of ours. This is a cooked play dough, which means that it should have a longer shelf-life than the uncooked varieties. If you’ve ever made corn tortillas, the dough has a similar texture to tortilla dough. And you could just make tortilla dough if you didn’t want to go to all this cooked trouble, although the oil that’s added to this dough keeps it from quickly drying out and will give it a longer life-span.

  • 2 cups Masa Harina
  • 2 cups Salt
  • 1 tbsp Cream of Tartar
  • 5 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 cups of water
  • food coloring or liquid watercolor

Mix masa, salt, and cream of tartar in a large pot. Put it over a low heat and add in the oil. If it’s solid, allow it to full melt into the dry mixture. Slowly add water until the mixture is smooth. Play Dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of the pot and is somewhat dry in appearance. If the dough turns out too dry, add more water and/or oil. Squeeze small amounts of color into the dough and mix until you reach the desired color.

I added an additional tablespoon of oil at the end because it felt like the dough was drying out.

When you’re done with the dough, store it in a sealable plastic bag or food storage container.

masa play dough

I removed our dough from the pot before the color was fully mixed in because I knew my kids would enjoy hand mixing it. My toddler loved the warm dough and the sensory experience of repeatedly poking her hand into it.

masa play dough

I pulled out some play dough tools and she covered the dough with a mountain of cookie cutters.

masa play dough

Then we made cupcakes and snacks with a wooden knife and ice cube tray.

masa play dough

And I tested out the dough with cookie cutters too. The texture is grainier and more crumbly that our favorite play dough, but my children played with it for close to an hour, if attention span is any test of it’s success.

And I’d say it is.

So there you have it, Masa Play Dough. You heard it here first!


Cooking with Kids: Butter and Rosemary

Do you like to cook with your kids? It’s not always the easiest thing for me to do; we have a tiny kitchen and limited counter space, but I try to find ways to integrate my kids into the kitchen routines when I can.

Why? Because cooking, experimenting, and learning about the interaction of ingredients builds creative thinkers, gives my kids a solid footing  and confidence in the kitchen (hey, I’m priming them to cook for me one day!), and it’s a wonderful way to bond and share stories about family traditions and food adventures.

20 month old Baby R (who’s hardly a baby anymore) likes to spend time in the kitchen, but she’s not the best helper in the world. So I try to drum up activities that will keep her hands busy and her mind engaged while I cook.

The other day we were baking bread and the recipe called for rosemary and a pat of butter. As I pulled the flour, yeast, maple syrup, milk, salt, and butter together, I also cut two tablespoons of butter off the end of the stick and chopped it into rough pieced for R to handle.

The slippery texture was captivating.

I handed her a few sprigs of rosemary to handle and poke into the butter.

cooking with kids

After squishing the butter for a bit she really wanted to cut the butter like me, so I gave her a small butter knife and showed her how to hold it. She cut butter for about fifteen minutes before tiring of this, which gave me just enough time to pull the bread dough together.

I’m not one for wasting food, but we did throw the gooey mass of butter and rosemary away when we were done.  I suppose I could have saved it, but there was a lot of finger licking going on and I wasn’t ready to go there. However, I liken this experience to playing with play dough (made from flour and oil) or dry beans, both materials that we use for imaginative and sensory play. When children learn to handle real food they build a relationship with it and gain a stronger understanding of its properties.

So, the next time you’re in the kitchen, if you don’t already do this, look around for something sensory for your toddler to explore. You might also enjoy reading Cooking with Toddlers, where I share a few tips including our favorite kid-friendly knives.

If you have a preschooler or school age child, you might like this fun post on how to invent a recipe with kids, where I share some ideas on how to foster a spirit of experimentation by building a pancake recipe from scratch.

And when my kids want to play in the kitchen, but they’re not interested in helping, I often slide this big tub of wheat berries out from under a counter for them to explore. It often makes a big mess, but it keeps them entertained while I cook and it’s easy enough to vacuum up when they’re done.

What do your kids like to do while you cook?

DIY Water Wall

Does it feel like summer in your part of the world? It’s heating up here, and my kids have been enjoying this easy and inexpensive new backyard water feature. All you need is a nearby water source, recycled plastic bottles, and a wall to attach it to.

My older daughter helped me build this one afternoon last week while my toddler was napping. She loved the responsibility of holding the bottles steady while I drilled and took a lot of pride in our finished water wall. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s a lot of fun and an upcycler’s DIY dream.

water wall build

To replicate this upcycled playscape in your own garden or patio, I’ll break this down into some simple steps.

collection of water wall materials

DIY Water Wall Supplies

Plastic bottles

Screws (our nifty kit is from IKEA)

Drill. The one in the photo is no longer with us. Sniff. However, our brand new, favorite drill is a cordless wonder is the Makita DT01W (affiliate). It comes with two sets of rechargeable batteries, so you’re never without power!

Exacto knife. This one (affiliate) is a good deal

DIY Water Wall Steps

With the exacto knife, cut a hole in the side of the bottle. The hole will be large enough for you to fit your hand into it so that you can easily position and drill in the screws.

score bottle and add screws

Using the exacto knife, score an “X” on the side of a bottle and push a screw through the “X” from the inside. Repeat one more time so that you have two screws poking through the bottle.

Screw the bottles to a fence or wall. Tilt them slightly downward to help the water pour through. You might have to shift the bottles around or cut the holes a bit more to make the water wall work properly. Test as you go.

water wall testing

Test it out to make sure it works. Add a bucket at the bottom to catch the water, which can then be added to plants or returned to the top of the water wall.

Invite some friends over to play.

water wall play

Set up a water-filling station and add some pitchers, watering cans, and cups.

And be prepared for eye-opening, open-ended fun.

Inspiration for this project

I’ve been inspired by Let the Children Play once again! Last summer Jenny gave us the idea for our mud pie kitchen (and here’s her mud kitchen), and other outdoor hands-on activities that get my kids thinking and building in the fresh air. Her water wall post (full of water wall inspiration from around the web) has been sitting in my mind since she posted it in October (she’s in Australia where it’s bloody hot in October), and it’s altogether responsible for the hours of fun my kids and neighborhood friends had with our newest backyard water feature. Thank you, Jenny!

How to make an easy summer water wall


Painting Birdhouses

The last time my in-laws visited, they left my girls with these cute little wooden birdhouses. I tucked them away to paint on their next visit, but my 3 year old couldn’t wait that long. In fact, about a month after I stored these, and an hour before leaving the house to meet friends in the park, my daughter suddenly remembered the birdhouses that were, as far as I could tell, out of mind.

“I want to paint birdhouses today!” she said. After explaining, for the 80th time that starting a sentence with “I want” isn’t okay with me, I further shared that there was no way we could get the materials out, set up, paint, clean up, and be out the door in time.

Well, in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, it can almost be done. We were ten minutes late.toddler painting birdhouse


  • Wooden birdhouses. My MIL found these at Michael’s, and I think they’re very reasonably priced.
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paper Plates
  • Bird seed
  • Funnel or paper + tape for a DIY funnel

toddler painting birdhouse


Squeeze paint onto throwaway paper plates. Paint as desired. The challenge of painting a 3-D thing is entirely different from painting a flat surface, and there’s something magical about it. If you have a child who doesn’t normally enjoy painting, I’d suggest you try painting something with width and depth and see what happens.

By the way, acrylic paint will almost never wash out of clothes, so be sure to cover up properly.

birdhouse materials

Fill with Seeds

Unless the paint is quite thick, acrylic paint dries really fast and you could move on to this step within an hour. When the paint dries, the bird house is ready to be filled. If you don’t have a funnel, you can easily make one by spinning a piece of copy paper into a cone shape and taping the side shut.

filling birdhouse with seed


The last step is to hang it. If you have squirrels be sure to hang it somewhere that squirrels won’t reach it. Our squirrels are sneaky and go almost anywhere birds go, so unfortunately our seed has been poached…once again. But I’m determined to attract some cute little songbirds around our house one of these days.

More Bird Feeder Inspiration

Juggling with Kids made these cool cookie cutter birdfeeders

If I were a bird, I’m not sure I’d venture close to this feeder

Biodegradable Orange Bird Feeder from the lovely Rhythm of the Home

Recycled bird feeder, made from a plastic bottle and a couple wooden spoons, over at Heck Fridays

Outdoor Body Painting

My kids are generally happiest outside, which I imagine is the same for most kids. The air is heating up and we’re looking for more opportunities to step outside, and I always love it when I land on ideas for combining my love for the outdoors and art (the perfect combination if you ask me).

The other day my 3 year old wanted to paint a big, smooth river rock that mysteriously turned up in our driveway, so I filled an old ice cube tray with non-toxic, AP certfied, washable liquid watercolors, and placed it outside with a few watercolor brushes. N got in a bathing suit and little R was happy in a diaper cover.

Go at it, kids! (This is where I step back and enjoy the sunshine and a cup of coffee).

rock painting

I had dinner with a friend about a month ago, and when the topic of my blog came up she said, “I love your blog, but you’re so messy!” It’s true, I’m not afraid of a mess, and for the most part my kids aren’t either.

Messes aren’t something I go in search of. I’m actually pretty wary of them because it generally means more cleaning work for me, and I really do hate cleaning. But mess-making and kids often go hand-in-hand. Because it’s important for children to experience feelings of flow with their creative energy, it helps to have some strategies for managing the mess.

body painting

Tips for Outdoor Painting with Kids

  1. Choose a warm day when everyone is happy to be half naked outdoors.
  2. Use washable paints. We used liquid watercolors, but tempera paint works great too. You could also add a little bit of dish soap to each color to help expedite the clean up. You don’t want to yell “stop” every three minutes, and the washable paint will let you breathe easy.
  3. Offer them something to paint: Rocks, logs, grass, and sidewalks are washable or can withstand a layer or two of paint. An old table? A wooden apple crate? Cardboard boxes? Extend the painting experience by offering different substrates.
  4. Hose off, sit in a wading pool, or have easy access to a tub or shower.

Although this began as a rock-painting activity, my 19 month old discovered that her skin was an empty canvas.

body painting

When they were done, I carried my youngest inside and plopped the two of them in the tub for a quick rinse off.

More Outdoor Painting Ideas

6 Ways to Take Art Outdoors

DIY Crushed Chalk Painting, The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Outdoor Water Painting: All you need is a tub of water and a brush for this clean painting activity

Painting a Pop-up Tent, Filth Wizardry

DIY Outdoor Easel Painting (and a clever idea for storing paint pots), Filth Wizardry

Brilliant idea for setting up an outdoor studio with Spray Painting Canvas Patio Walls, made from painter’s drop cloth, The Artful Parent

Where (and what) do your kids like to paint? How are you getting outdoors this summer?


I’m excited to share that I’m partnering with GoGo squeeZ as a Playbassador, which means that I have more excuses to get my kids outdoors for imaginative and unexpected outdoor play. GoGo squeeZ makes yummy applesauce for healthy, easy, on-the-go snacking, and I look forward to sharing some fun outdoor posts over the next few months that celebrate the spirit of this playful and easy-to-transport snack.


Check out GoGo squeeZ for more fun activities and tasty treats to take outdoors. My kids love every flavor of their applesauce, and it’s the easiest thing to take along with us to the park, hikes, beach, or backyard. It’s gluten-free and Kosher, and I’m impressed that they partner with TerraCycle to recycle their packaging into things like bags, pencil cases, and playgrounds. If you save your packaging, you can send it to TerraCycle free-of-charge!

Interested in more on the fun new GoGo squeeZ packaging? Get a first look here.

All ideas expressed in this post are my own.

Sensory Activity: Wheat Berries

Could your child spend hours sifting flour or scooping sand? Sensory activities like these can fully absorb the minds of young children as they test the limits of materials and build imaginary worlds through pouring, filling, and building.

This sensory activity is so easy, it doesn’t require a lot of materials, and the process of exploring tactile materials through hands-on play is good for growing brains.

But why wheat berries? Like rice or sand, wheat berries are fun to scoop, but the larger, rounder size has a different tactile feeling than these other materials. I’m not advocating for one over the other, but presenting this as an option that came on like gangbusters with my kids.

And you can grow or cook this nifty grain after the playing is done…scroll down for more on that.

wheat berry sensory activity


  • Wheat Berries*
  • Large Container
  • Small toys, bowls, and scoopers

* I found our wheat berries in the bulk bin aisle of Whole Foods, and used a full bag for this project. You can find wheat berries in most bulk bin aisles and online. I spotted this organic 25 Lb Bag of Hard Red Wheat Berries on Amazon and there are plenty of other choices there.

sensory activity

I poured the wheat berries into the tub and placed a few plastic eggs, a couple homemade paper funnels, a couple bowls, a scooper, and an egg carton next to the tub. My kids dropped what they wanted inside and started playing.

sensory activity

They came up with all sorts of ideas that surprised me, but perhaps the biggest surprise was watching them play alongside one another (well, across the table, actually) in total harmony.

The other surprise: This activity went on for days. Each night I would clean everything up, put the lid on the tab, and tuck it away under a cabinet. And the next day my toddler would ask me to pull it out.

sensory activity

The only mistake I made was setting this up over a shaggy carpet. It was such a mess, but nothing the vacuum couldn’t take care of. On a nice day, this would be fun outside, but I would caution you against setting this up over any dirt or land that you wouldn’t want wheat grass shooting up in.

They also brought dollhouse furniture and little action figures over to the tub, where they ran them through various adventures. My three-year old built a paper canoe (seen above), to fill with berries and take Strawberry Shortcake on rides down the river.

I loved watching how inventive they were with this simple grain as the backdrop for their creativity.

sensory activity

And suddenly the tub doesn’t seem so big anymore! When they exhausted all of their play options, walking right in the wheat berries, and eventually sitting in them became a game in itself.

More Wheat Berry Fun

wheat berry

Wheat Berry Gardening (above), Tinkerlab

Wheat Berry Salad with Dried Cherries and Walnuts, Ellie Krieger on Food Network

Wheatberry Salad with Bell Pepper and Red Onion, Barefoot Contessa on Food Network

A nice explanation on why wheat berries are good to eat, and a recipe for Greek Wheat Berry Salad, A Life Less Sweet blog

Have your kids played with this fun sensory grain?

Sensory Activity: Wet Paper

paper sensory activityDoes your toddler enjoy squishing play dough, scooping rice, or dumping buckets of sand? It’s widely recognized (read here and here) that sensory activities play a central role in infant and child brain development.

This is one of those amazing activities that just “happened,” invented by a toddler who was curious about the combination of paper and water, and could be easily replicated in a home or school.

Clean up was a snap!
sensory activitiesI placed a towel on the kitchen floor, and filled a tub of water with a small bowl and ladle for water play. My three year old was building things in the other room with paper, and little R toddled and selected these two pieces of polka dot paper. Pretty.

sensory activitiesBut that wasn’t enough, apparently. She kept walking back and forth, grabbing small handfuls of paper to fill her tub.

sensory activitiesIt seemed that the challenge was to gather paper and squash it as deep into the water as possible.

sensory activitiesI thought I’d help her out a bit when I noticed the slippery trail of water from the kitchen to the dining room.

sensory activitiesAnd then I foraged the recycling bin and tore this magazine apart for her.

sensory activitiesShe finally sat down to work through the big magazine pile, happily engrossed in this meaningful activity.

sensory activitiesAs a last step, I handed her a pair of kitchen tongs for picking up pieces of paper. She’s not quite ready to use them for picking objects up, but she enjoyed snapping them and poking at the paper.

And just so you don’t think this all went to waste, it inspired me to turn the soggy paper mess into a paper-making project the next day. Stay tuned for that!

More Paper Sensory Activities

sensory activity shredded paper

Sensory Activity: Shredded Paper (above), Tinkerlab

Papier Mache as a Sensory Activity for Autism, Sharon’s Creative Corner

Sensory Tub with Shredded Paper, I Can Teach My Child