How to Entertain a Toddler with Pom-Poms and Bowls

My toddler loves and adores all little things.

Especially those tiny little things that are on the do-not-give-to-little-kids-who-mouth-everything-that-comes-their-way lists. I guess it’s a casualty of being the second child to a 3.5 year old sibling, but I suppose the good news is that she’s building an understanding of what can and can’t go in the mouth.

To play to our strengths, I set up this invitation to play: pom-poms, bowl, yogurt container, and a mini ladle.

bowl of pom poms for play


  • Tub full of various pom-poms
  • Small bowl
  • Mini ladle
  • Large yogurt container with a hole cut in its top

The invitation

Lay it all out and see what your child comes up with.

toddler sitting in plastic container with pom poms

Not at all what I expected, but I’m digging it.

toddler scooping pom poms

And of course there was lots of scooping, filling containers, spilling, and dumping.

toddler invitation to play with pom poms

This is great sensory activity for building fine motor skills and developing color, size, and volume understandings.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to sign up for our spam-free, inspiration-filled newsletter. 


Is it Magnetic? Testing Objects for Magnetism.

How was your weekend? We took a mini-vacation to play in the snow and I enjoyed a little computer break along the way. I thought I could get online with my phone, but it turned out that the reception was horrible and I’ve been completely out-of-touch! It was probably a good thing, as I could really focus on my family and be as rested as possible when my one-year old woke up, inconsolable, for 2 hours in the middle of the night! I also want to formally thank my good friend Melissa from The Chocolate Muffin Tree who checked in to make sure I was okay! How lucky am I?

I’ve been on a science kick lately. Maybe because my 3-year old is completely self-serve in the art department or maybe because I’ve checked every science for kids book out of our local library? If you’re in the market for a great book of kids science experiments for ages 8 and up, I checked out The Science Explorer Out and about: Fantastic Science Experiments Your Family Can Do Anywhere (Science Explorer Out & about)and it’s phenomenal. It was written in 1997 and looks a little bit dated, but the concepts are solid and it stands the test of time. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco’s Exploratorium or if you’re familiar with their publications, you’ll feel connected to this book.

magnet and water experiment materials

Today’s experiment is similar to one we’ve done before with paper clips +magnets (Traveling Magnets), and this takes it up a notch with a few more magnet surprises and discoveries. Here’s what you’ll need…


  • Glass or vase of water. Thin glass works better than thick.
  • Pipe cleaners and/or paper clips
  • Strong magnets
  • Scissors
  • Small magnetic and non-magnetic objects

pipe cleaners in water experiment

Cut the pipe cleaners up and add them to the vase of water and mix them up so the pipe cleaners sink. Three-year old N loved doing this step herself.

Using your magnet/s try to pull the pipe cleaners up the side of the vase. Once they reach the top, you can retrieve them or drop them back in.

It’s like fishing!

testing magnets experiment kids

This opened up a conversation about what would stick to the magnets, so I pulled out a handful of small metal and non-metal objects for us to test.

Meanwhile, my 1-year old enjoyed stirring the water and fishing pipe cleaners out with her hands.

testing magnets experiment kids

N understood that the magnet would only stick to metal and quickly ruled out rubber bands and post-it notes from the “Is it magnetic?” list, but we also learned that the magnet wouldn’t stick to ALL metals.

And that was a surprise!

magnets on hardwood floor nails

One of the funnest surprises, however, was when a magnet fell onto the floor and stuck to a hidden nail! We dropped the rest of our magnets onto the floor and flicked them from nail to nail, watching them dance from floorboard to floorboard.

One more thought — I kept a close eye on my 17 month old throughout because our magnets are so tiny — just a thought that you might want to do the same or find some big magnets for the under 3 y.o. crowd.

What did your weekend look like? Have you been able to take a technology break? And have you had any fun magnet discoveries?



How to Build a Simple Clip Fort

how to build a clip fort

How was your Valentine’s Day? We had a drizzly pre-Valentines romp in the park with friends and I spent Valentine’s morning leading a fun docent training workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA). Under the leadership of Education Director, Lucy Larson, SJMA one of the most visitor-centered museums around. It’s not a huge museum, which means it’s easy to navigate with squirmy kids, and if you ever take a docent tour you’ll be surprised at how much the docents care about what YOU think. No stuffy lectures here!

So backing up a bit, I’ve been clearing the clutter from my house (see herehere, and here) –what a slow job that is with two little kids running around the house! — and I found a huge stack of sheets that we really don’t need anymore. We gave a few away to our favorite thrift store, but before I parted with all of them I asked the Tinkerlab Facebook community for ideas on what we could do with this bounty of potential fun. So many great ideas came my way that I decided I’d try a bunch of them out. So today I’m starting with building a simple fort with sheets and big kitchen clips. This activity is perfect for little kids and helps foster imagination and invention, while giving kids the opportunity to build with everyday materials.


how to build a clip fort under the table

Start by assessing your room for fort-able furniture. Anything heavy with lots of head space is good — if the piece is too light it has the potential to tip over. Move things together and shift your furniture around. Some ideas: couches, dining tables, coffee tables, kid art tables. Look for places to clip your sheets, move the sheets around and twist the corners and edges until you and your kids are satisfied with the results, and BAM — you have a fort.

These steel wire clips (above) don’t have as much reach, but I use them for just about everything in my kitchen so they’re plentiful in my house. They’re great for clipping to thin things under 1/2″ wide.

how to clip sheet to the table for a fortI’ve had these forever and couldn’t find them online, but they seem to be similar to ng this big clip (with round magnet on the back so you can stick it to the fridge when you’re not turning your house into a faraway tent planet).

clip a sheet to the coffee table

This is one of our favorite set-ups: scooting the coffee table up to the dining table for an low entry that rises for easy sitting (and sleeping). My three year old dragged a few pillows and blankets inside for an extra-snuggly spot.

take a blurry picture of your dadI was busy snapping photos when N asked if she could take a drive with the camera. So she turned the camera on my husband who is so game, and she wiggled down onto her belly to take this shot. I have a heavy camera, which makes for some wobbly (but happy) photos.

I recently came across this site, All For the Boys, which hosts a weekly Fort Friday post. It’s awesome, and if your kids like building forts you’ll get all sorts of inspiration over there. Not to mention, Allison takes photo submissions and might include your fort on her site. In her words: “If you want to share a photo of your fort to inspire us send them to info[at]allfortheboys[dot]com and I’ll share them here on Fort Friday.”

Do your kids like to build forts? What do you like to make them with?


6 Kids Valentines Day Activities

6 Kids Valentines Activities and Homemade Valentine Gifts

We’ve been crafting up a Valentine’s storm, which mostly means that three-year old N has been collaging all our self-serve bits and bobs of Valentine goodness into a taped-up, glued, and spackled hodge podge of Valentine craziness. In other words, we’ve been having fun, but it’s not something anyone else would likely take inspiration from or worth blogging about!

That said, we have been playing with an amazing batch of Valentine play dough that’s always good for open-ended exploration and imagination-building. And, for my 1.5 year old, it’s great for hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skill development. 

valentine play dough

I keep my play dough in a big sealable bowl or zipped bag, and it will last for months. I use this recipe, and it’s hands-down the best one out there for the play dough job. Here are the ingredients, but click over to the recipe for all the deets:

valentine play dough station

The Ingredients

  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1 1/4 c. salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 5 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors. I really like Wilton Icing Colors or Liquid Watercolors (from Discount School Supply), which make gorgeous shades of play dough to match any occasion, mood, or toddler request.


For our Valentine Play Dough Station, I made a batch of white dough and a batch of dark pink, and then the kids helped me loosely mix them together to make this fun, mottled Valentine concoction. Oh, and we added peppermint oil to the mix to give it a nice, fresh smell. This would be perfect for Christmas too…something to keep in mind for later.

valentine play dough

I gave my kids a new set of heart-shaped cookie cutters, which proved to be too difficult for my little one to effectively use on her own. But that didn’t stop her from trying! I cut a few shapes for her, which she really enjoyed pulling out of the dough and then breaking into three or four pieces. Some of the hearts were too challenging for her to pull out on her own, so I’d break the dough walls, which helped her remove the hearts somewhat intact.

She also enjoyed playing with the rolling pin and practiced rolling snakes.

valentine play dough

I was recently asked which of our art materials is absolutely indispensable, and while there are many, play dough is one of those materials that appeals to a wide variety of ages because the threshold is so low. Very young children know exactly what to do with it, and as children get older their ability to manipulate it and use it for imaginative play grows along with them.

Play dough, I love you…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Interested in more Tinkerlab-style Valentines?

Deconstructed Valentines

deconstructed valentines

Valentine Garland

Valentine Garland With Kids

Self-serve Valentines

self serve valentines

All-in-one Valentine Envelope

all in one valentine envelope

Valentine Snack

cut out valentine snack

Happy Valentine’s Day!




Chalkboard Painted Canvas

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Chalkboards…I love them. You? The texture, the dust, and contrast are oh-so-appealing.

When I started to see them disappear from classrooms in favor of dry erase boards, I was a little bit shocked. Dry erase boards are wonderful too, but they’ll never have the same rustic appeal as a chalkboard.

This project began when I found a $3 canvas at a thrift store back in September (it had a print of a cow on it — truly hideous), and painted over it with a few layers of black chalkboard paint. Since October, it’s been filled with these house “rules,” and while I enjoyed looking at them, and even managed to inspire a neighbor to add some chalkboard quotes to her own kitchen, I was ready for a fresh start and enlisted the help of my crew to come up with something new.

And maybe I was feeling a little bit guilty on those days that I just ate buttered toast and wanted to spit. Maybe.

So I pulled the canvas down, wiped it clean with a damp rag, and let the kids go to town.

They loved it.

This is how it looked two weeks ago, and then this week we started all over again.

We also have a chalkboard that’s painted right onto part of our kitchen door, and it gets a lot of use for everything from chicken scratches to make-shift calendars to homemade infographics.

We collaborated on this one: the bunny is mine, the yellow is N, and the pink is Baby R. Funny thing, at least for me, is that back when I was brainstorming names for this blog, I called it Chalkbunny for a couple months before landing on Tinkerlab. So here we have a real, live chalk bunny, which is what we decided to call the little character in my new banner.

Do you have a well-loved chalkboard? What makes it special? And how do your kids use it?