Self-serve Valentines for Kids

I’m working on a project with the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum, and one of the ideas we’re playing with is to create a buffet-style selection of materials for children to choose from in our DIY art zone. I’ll share some of our activities with you soon, but in the meantime I thought you might like to see how this strategy has manifested itself in my own home.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner and a love for all-things-holiday in our house, I set up a smorgasbord of hearts, flowers, silk flower petals, shiny wrapping paper, doilies, stickers, and glue. Each clear container is filled with a thoughtfully-selected material as an invitation to make, play, and create. Oh, and invitations can be accepted or ignored. I always try to pay attention to how these things play out because, of course, I want my invitations to be accepted!!

I barely captured any photos of my 3 year old making art because I was busy cutting paper and helping Baby R. But she made a Valentine for her sister and one for me. She draws her “M’s” upside down, so my name is spelled “WOW”… isn’t that great!? N stuffed the Valentines into her light-up Hello Kitty mailbox (the hand-made Valentine box we threw together last week truly couldn’t compete with this one!) and we opened our little parcels of love up at dinner.

All in all it was a success, and I look forward to sharing more of these invitations with you soon.


Science Experiment: The Floating Egg

As I hovered the egg over a jar of water, I asked my 3.5 year old, “Will it sink or float?”and it reminded me of Dave Letterman’s funny sketch, “Will it Float?” Have you seen it? This science experiment is really easy to set up + clean up, and the lesson learned on the density of water actually stuck with my 3-year old daughter long after the experiment was over. Fun and success!

The set up

  • One egg
  • Clear container: I used a wide jar, but a tall glass would work and you won’t need as much salt
  • Water
  • A few cups of salt
  • Spoon to mix the solution

Step #1:

Place the egg in plain water and talk about whether or not it floats. Pretty simple — it most definitely sinks!

Step #2:

Start adding salt to the water. We added ours little by little, and tested the solution by adding the egg back into the water. My 3 year old poured while my 1-year old mixed. I love these moments when they work and play side-by-side.

Finally, it floats!

Baby Rainbow loved this step, as she could finally reach the egg, and had some fun picking it up and dropping it back into the water where it “bounced.”

The Science behind the Experiment

The egg won’t float in regular water because it’s heavier than the water. But adding salt to the water makes the water more dense than the egg, and it floats! We have a book called “Let’s Visit Israel,” and my 3-year old will talk about this phenomena when we reach the page about floating in the Dead Sea.

Taking it one step further

Steve Spangler Science has a great idea for dragging this out into one more step. Fill half of a tall glass (that an egg will fit in) with this salty solution and then slowly pour plain tap water down the sides of the glass, being careful not to mix the two solutions. Gently drop the egg in the solution and watch it sink past the plain water, only to stop on top of the salty water! How cool is that?!

Do you have a favorite science experiment?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime. 

Creative Challenge 7: Magazines

Today I have something extra cool in store for you. Kiwi Crate and I are bringing you a super-star line-up of rockin’ kid-friendly bloggers for a no holds barred invitational kid-centered magazine challenge, and an extra-special Kiwi Crate box giveaway at the end of this post. Each of the 20+ bloggers spent some time tinkering, plotting, creating, and playing with their kids to come up with an activity that your kids will enjoy. After you read about how we manipulated and upcycled our magazines, spend some time checking out all the other ideas. Bookmark them or pin them, because you’re sure to need these ideas on a rainy or snowy day. Okay, do you have a cuppa ready? Here we go…

I spent about 20 minutes ripping pages from my favorite alumni magazine. Do you ever read yours? Loved the school, but sadly, the magazine just rolls right into my recycling bin each month. So I happily rolled the glossy pages of ho-hum stories into tubes, taped them with clear tape, and added them to a tall vase. The next morning, my 3 year old woke up to this provocation: Magazine tubes, clear tape, a stapler, and a bowl of stickers. I didn’t have a plan and was curious to see where she would take it.

She started by taping the tubes together, ignored the stapler and stickers completely, and then found another roll of tape so that I could help her. Right, tape is popular. Must remember that!

This is how it began.

Then she cut some tubes down to smaller pieces. How could I have forgotten the scissors? Tape and scissors…check. But that’s okay, we must have about 20 pairs and she knows where to find them.

Oh, and she loves ribbon too. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with provocations when she knows her own mind. She found a few rolls and brought them over to the table. We created this structure together and then she wore it on her head for part of breakfast.

The next day her dad took a turn at the table and this is what they came up with. I’m fascinated by it because my husband has a huge thing for hanging sculptures. I mean HUGE. It’s a wonder I’m not constantly banging my head on things that hang from our ceilings.

 He screwed an eye-hook into the ceiling, tied a piece of ribbon through it, and hung their masterpiece over the couch.

When standing on the couch, my daughter can bat at it, so I think I’ll call it an interactive hanging magazine sculpture. 

Creative Challenge Participants:

Child Central Station , kids in the studioTeach MamaThe Imagination Tree,Childhood101Teach Preschoolhands on as we growArtful ParentPaint Cut PasteA Mom With A Lesson PlanToddler ApprovedKiwi CrateArt 4 Little Hands,  Red Ted ArtThe Chocolate Muffin Tree,  Imagination Soup,Michelles Charm WorldMessy PreschoolersTinker LabMommy LabsPutti Prapancha, Sun Hats and Wellie Boots


Kiwi Crate has generously offered to give away one crate box to two randomly chosen winners. Each box includes all the materials and inspiration for 2-3 projects related to a theme (e.g., dinosaurs.)  Projects may include arts and crafts, science activities, imaginative play and more, and have been hand-selected and kid-tested to be open ended and encourage curiosity, exploration and creativity! I love Kiwi Crate because it embraces the same process-oriented activities that I promote on this blog, but it’s all packaged up beautifully and delivered right to your door. To enter, leave a comment with your child’s age/s and favorite upcycled materials. And then hop on over to the Kiwi Crate blog for another chance to win. Winner’s address must be in the U.S. Deadline for entry: Monday, December 12, 9pm PST. Comments Closed. Thank you to all of you for your comments. The winner is Susan P! 


Your Turn…

What would you (and your kids) make with magazines? If you have a kid-centered magazine project that you’d like to share, please add your link to the blog hop or comment section below. And feel free grab the button or copy the text into your HTML. Tinkerlab Creative Challenge Code:<a href=”” target=”_blank”><img style=”border: 2px;” src=”” alt=”Tinkerlab Creative Challenge” width=”150″ height=”150″ border=”2″ />

It’s Snowing! Contact Paper Collage

This 2-D activity is fantastic for children of all ages, and it doesn’t require any drawing at all. You’ll see how we did this two different ways, making it suitable for children with various drawing abilities and fine motor skills.

{Bonus: Nine more contact paper project ideas at the end of this post!}


  1. Contact Paper (links to Discount School Supply)
  2. Scissors
  3. Colorful Construction Paper
  4. Glue Stick
  5. Markers

To begin, I cut a sheet of contact paper (approximately 12″ x 12″) from a roll, peeled the backing off, and placed it sticky-side up on the table. My daughter cut shapes from the paper and stuck them to the contact paper in whatever way she wanted. Then we attached it to a window, using a long strip of contact paper to seal it in place.

Pretty! While working on this project, my daughter talked about making people, which led to a second project that eventually turned into a winter snow scene.

Again, I set up her work space with a sheet of contact paper, sticky-side-up. We both cut shapes from the paper, and N put them in position where she thought they looked right. The nice thing about contact paper is that it’s tacky, but not super sticky, and pieces can be easily repositioned. We did a lot of that!

I cut a variety of geometric shapes (circles, rectangles, and triangles) and a bunch of organic shapes for her to choose from. She also placed requests: In the process of making this person, she asked for long, skinny pieces for the arms and legs. I liked that because it showed that she had ideas and could direct the outcome of her image.

She chose to stick most of the pieces directly to the contact paper, and others were glued in layers on top of other pieces.

Every now and then she’d lift the whole thing to see how it looked with light streaming through it.

She started making a pattern of small circles on the top of the paper, and then decided it should be a snow storm. I got busy cutting circles, circles, and more circles until she deemed that there was enough snow! The big white pieces on the right side are part of a snow bank. Ha! She knows a lot about snow for a California kid!

And we hung it in our sunny, warm, snow-free window when we were done.


Having a roll of contact paper in our art cabinet is a life-saver. In case you’re looking for a reason to buy your very own roll, here are nine more ideas:

  1. Contact Paper Sun Catcher: TinkerLab
  2. Sticky Autumn Collage: TinkerLab
  3. Flower Mandala: The Artful Parent
  4. Flower Art Box: The Artful Parent
  5. Fall Leaf Garland: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
  6. So Easy Kaleidoscope: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
  7. Rose Window: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
  8. Animal Collage: Art for Little Hands
  9. Mess-Free Chanukah Pictures: Creative Jewish Mom

Do you have a favorite contact paper project? New feature: Feel free to add a link or an image in the comment section!

Water Beads and Kids | How to Play with Water Beads

Have you ever played with water beads? They’re slippery, squishy, and a surprisingly fun and addictive sensory experience for kids of all ages.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

If you’re even remotely connected to Pinterest or a fan of any of my fave blogs, there’s a really good chance you already know about these spectacular little sensory Water Beads by Aqua Gems. If it hadn’t been for the magic of the internet I never would have known these even existed, let alone tried them as a tool for exploration and discovery.

Supplies for Water Bead Sensory Experience

This list contains affiliate links

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Step 1

I set up our DIY light table and then N filled the top with about 1/2″ of water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Step 2

Pour the tiny aqua gems into a small container for for your child to add to the water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Step 3

Scoop the beads and drop them in. Watch them grow. This is great for teaching patience, and it’s fascinating to watch the beads absorb water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Our Experience with Water Beads

As my child mixed them up, we marveled at how they grew….slowly….growing….slowly…(good lesson in patience!). N played with them while her sister napped and we set them aside for a couple hours. After snacks and a romp outside, this is what they looked like.

And it turned out that 14 month old Baby Rainbow enjoyed them even more than big sister. I was super cautious at first because little things that look like food go in the mouth, but after a few watchful “not for eating”comments, she was good to go.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

I tucked the light table under a kitchen cabinet and Baby R has gone back to dig it out at least five times since. I think she’s fascinated by the texture of the beads and can’t seem to get enough of them. I still keep a close eye on her when she uses them, but it’s helpful to know that the gems are non-toxic. In fact, she’s intently playing with them as I type. So maybe this post is really about “how to entertain your little one while you get things done.”

One last thing, the beads look really cool with light shining through them, but it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t have a light table. A clear bowl on a sunny day or in a well-lit room will work well too!

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

More Water Beads

For more Water Bead fun, check out Messy Kids’ Creepy Crawly water beads  and The Chocolate Muffin Tree’s Water Bead fun. And related to this, you might also be interested in the FAKE SNOW that we recently made.

Water bead and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Have you introduced your kids to Water Beads?

What are your favorite materials for sensory play?

My 14-month old is well-supervised when playing with Aqua Gems. Please use your best judgment when introducing young children to small objects.

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Gluten-free Cloud Dough

 How to Make Gluten-Free Cloud Dough

Gluten-free Cloud Dough

After I posted our Cloud Dough recipe last week, Amy from Kids in the Studio wanted to know if it could be adapted into a gluten-free cloud dough recipe. What a good question!

This isn’t the first question I’ve received about gluten-free recipes since starting this blog, and I realized that I should be more thoughtful about sharing information that can help parents and caregivers provide rich learning experiences for their children. The original recipe is simply a combination of 8:1 flour  to oil, so in the spirit of experimentation, I thought we’d replace flour with rice flour and see what would happen.

Gluten-free Cloud Dough Recipe

  • 8 cups rice flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • A few drops of Lavender oil (optional)
Mix the rice flour and oil together in a big bowl until the oil integrates into the flour. Add a few drops of lavender oil (or other favorite scent) to give your dough a yummy scent. Place the dough in a big high-walled tray or bin. Children can play with the dough with just their hands, or add scoopers, mixers, and small pots.

If you haven’t bought rice flour before, it’s not inexpensive, and I can see why Amy asked the question! I mixed 2 cups of organic rice flour with 1/4 cup vegetable oil until the oil integrated into the flour, and then shook a few drops of lavender oil into the dough to give it a soothing smell. So far, the main difference I could see is that the rice flour made for a slightly grittier dough, but otherwise it was lovely. The real test would be my kids. I put it in front of my 14 month old, and you can see that she was in sensory heaven. My 3 year old wanted to join in, enjoyed it, and never commented on a weird texture of the dough. As far as I could tell, she didn’t know the difference.

If you make this gluten-free cloud dough, I’d love to hear from you. And if you have a favorite gluten-free recipe to share, please add a link or recipe in the comments.

Experiment with Gluten-Free Cloud Dough

  • If you don’t have access to rice flour or if you feel like experimenting, try the same ratio of flour to oil with garbanzo flour, gluten-free baking flour, corn flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, or arrowroot starch.
  • Change the ratio of flour to oil and see what happens, as the suggested flours and starches (above) will combine differently with the oil.

More Play Doughs

If gluten-free dough doesn’t concern you, here are more dough recipes to try:

This recipe for the BEST play dough.

Non-gluten-free cloud dough.

Glow-in-the-dark play dough

Halloween Tradition: Little Fabric Ghosts

This little fabric ghost tradition began last year, and N has been begging me to revive it for weeks. We haven’t had any white fabric in the house, I didn’t have the energy to make a fabric run, and then low-and-behold I found a quarter yard of fabric in a closet sweep a few days ago! Yay for “free” fabric. It’s more craft than art, but you’ll see in a minute how this can be open-ended and exploratory for curious, creative little minds.

We started with approximately 15″ squares of thin cotton fabric, a little thinner than muslin. But really, almost any thin white fabric will work. We filled the middle with about six cotton balls. Actually, it started out at “five,” but when N took over she increased the number by one or two, until the last ghost had about nine cotton balls in the head. This is good for counting, too!

I cut cotton string into lengths of 12″ – 30″ and then tied them around the “heads.” We then glued on googly eyes with white glue.

Now for the fun part! N wanted to draw a mouth on one of the ghosts so we found a Sharpie marker. Drawing the mouth turned into drawing hair, ears, and decorating the entire body. So fun!

She even drew inside the ghost. There are no limits, are there? We made four ghosts altogether, and she named this one the “dad.” The others (mom, baby, and sister) were plain white…what does this mean, I wonder?

We hung them in the tree to scare our neighbors for Halloween. Monofilament might have eliminated the noose quality of the string, but you work with what you’ve got! Boo!

I love hearing from you. Please share your Halloween tradition/s!

This post is shared with Sunday Showcase. Craft Schooling Sunday

Shaving Cream and Food Coloring

Have you set up a sensory shaving cream activity yet? My 3 year old first enjoyed this when she was 16 months, and I can attest that it’s an engaging and meaningful sensory activity for toddlers. As children reach preschool, why not mix some food coloring into the shaving cream and take the opportunity to teach about warm and cool colors?

If you’d like to read more, head on over to my guest post on the Kiwi Crate blog.

Wishing you all a happy weekend!