Fall Crafts: Glycerin Leaves

Make Glycerin Leaves

We’re ga-ga for all the multi-colored maple leaves of the season, and my older daughter, N, is likely to burst into a chorus of “red and yellow leaves” as we drive down the road. I’ve been reading up on how to preserve the leaves so that they’ll last more than a couple days and it turns out that you have a few choices, some of them being : preserve them with a glycerin solution, seal them with hot wax, press them between sheets of contact paper, or melt them between sheets of wax paper.

We had a bottle of glycerin in the cabinet for bubble-making, so I thought we’d try our hands at making glycerin leaves. I have to tell you upfront: the process was fantastic and my kids really got into it. The results, on the other hand, meh. Not so spectacular. More on that soon.


  • 1/4 c. glycerin
  • 1/2 c. water
  •  Fall leaves
  • Two pans that can stack inside each other
  • Spoon for mixing

Mix the glycerin and water in your pan. Add leaves.

If you don’t have enough solution to cover the leaves, make another batch. My 4-year old loved taking charge of this step and we ooohed and ahhhed over the leaves as they went into the glycerin bath.

Find another pan that’s a bit small than the first, and place it on top so that all the leaves stay submerged.

Put this aside for three-ish days, or until the leaves are super-supple. At this point, the leaves should have absorbed enough of the glycerin solution to retain their color and texture.

Remove the leaves from the glycerin solution and pat dry on a towel. Your leaves are now ready to display.

For those of you who might be banking on this recipe as a way to preserve your leaves for years to come, I think this is worth the experiment but it may not be foolproof. About two weeks later, our leaves have not turned brown, but they definitely haven’t retained their original color. I decorated a corner of our mantle with them, and they look pretty good, but not spectacular. I found this recipe that added surfectant (found in garden supply stores), and it sounds like that may help the glycerin soak into the leaves.

This minor detail has not affected my kids, however, who have been incorporating the leaves into their projects.

Have you ever made glycerin leaves?

Any tips or thoughts on what may have gone wrong? Or was I expecting too much?


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DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough

Have you ever made your own play dough? Im a fan of store bought dough (it’s so easy!), but making your own is a money saver and we can make TONS of it in minutes. And with the simple addition of a little pumpkin pie spice, our dough smells heavenly…just like pumpkin pie!

"Smells like Fall" Pumpkin Play Dough | TinkerLab.com


Inspired by The Artful Parent’s Autumn Arts and Crafts book, The Artful Year: Autumn, we finally pitched our peppermint playdough in favor of a more seasonal scent: Pumpkin Pie!

Pumpkin Pie Playdough Recipe…

I used our favorite play dough recipe, which also happens to be the favorite of my daughter’s awesome preschool class, so I’m not going to get experimental with the dough itself, but we did experiment with the spice combination.

The dough itself takes about 20 minutes to prepare, it cooks on the stove-top, and the most complicated-to-find ingredient it calls for is cream of tartar. If it’s hard for you to find, you can get Cream of Tartar on Amazon.

Yes, you can find 2-minute dough recipes, and I’d encourage you to use them if you’re short on time, but the benefit of this recipe is that it will last for ages. Ages. Scroll down for a PRINTABLE recipe card.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

After we made the dough, I placed it on the counter to cool. Meanwhile, my 2-year old worked away at pinching out a real pie crust.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

When the dough was cool to touch, we squeezed orange liquid watercolors on half of it and then kneaded it in. For this step, be sure to mix on a surface that won’t absorb the watercolors. My 4-year old wanted to make half the dough orange and half of it white.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough | TinkerLab.com

Although we had planned to use a jar of pumpkin pie spice in the dough, my 4-year old was curious about using whole spices that we just bought, so we pulled out the coffee grinder and gave it a very loud whirl. Fun! I don’t have a proper nutmeg grinder, but this seemed to do the trick. And the smell of cardamom — I absolutely love it.

We experimented with the spice blend by adding the different spices, first quite cautiously and then rather liberally, and in different combinations. I learned that my 4-year old isn’t too crazy about the smell of cardamom, but loves cinnamon.

DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough


Prep time: 

Making time: 

Total time: 

Playdough is a wonderful material for building fine motor skills, developing imaginations through exploratory play, and supporting early engineering and building skills. This recipe rivals anything store-bought.
  • 5 cups water
  • 2½ cups salt
  • 3 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice, or a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom
  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.
  3. 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.
  4. Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board or cooking tray that can withstand a little food coloring.
  5. Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth and then divide it into the number of colors that you’d like to make. We divided our in half: one orange and the other white.
  6. Flatten the ball, add a little bit of food coloring, and knead it in. Add more food coloring to get the desired shade.
  7. Store the dough in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it’ll keep for months.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie PlayDough | TinkerLab.com

My 2-year old was very happy, however, to shake-shake-shake the pie spices all over her gigantic mound of dough. Can you imagine how yummy our kitchen smelled?


Easy "smells great" pumpkin pie play dough | TinkerLab.com

After all this cooking, it was time to bake! At this point, our orange and white/tan doughs marbled into something lovely, and we got busy making small cakes and setting them out to eat on a 3-tier plate server.

Playdough Recipes

Rainbow Play Dough, Tinkerlab

No-cook Cinnamon Playdough, The Imagination Tree

39 Ways to Play with Playdough, The Artful Parent

Downloadable (Free) Playdough Recipe Book, Nurture Store

Fall Activities

50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids, TinkerLab

Fall Bucket List, Tinkerlab

40 Autumn Activities for Kids, The Imagination Tree

Make Fall Sunprints, Tinkerlab

Multi-color Leaf Prints, Kleas

Negative Leaf Impressions, Tinkerlab

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Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
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  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Halloween Countdown Paper Chain

Are your kids as bonkers about Halloween as mine are?

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and my passion for it clearly seeped into my kids’ genes because my 4-year old has been filling her sketchbook with pictures of bats and spiders, and wants to know when, when, when we can put up our Halloween decorations.

The Halloween catalogues and impossible-to-miss store displays play a huge role in this premature enthusiasm, but I want to celebrate her interests while harnessing a bit of that energy.

Oh, and Halloween is still a whopping 41 days away.

So I thought we could make a Halloween countdown chain to help us visualize how many days until all that apple-bobbing goodness would be upon us.

How to Make a Paper Chain

  • Halloween-colored papers, cut into approximately 2″ strips
  • Stapler or Tape

N selected colors that reminded her of Halloween and we cut them into strips.

We wrapped the first piece into a circle, stapled it, and then proceded to interlock the rest of the pieces until we were done. N decided she had enough after around chain link #25. I think the visual cue helped because she hasn’t asked me how many days until Halloween once since we made this.

The garland was about fifteen feet long, so we draped it over a chandelier. My children jump at any chance to climb on furniture and was eager to cut her first link. Scott, my smarter-than-me husband, came home and suggested I take the chain off the hot light fixtures, and it’s since moved over to the window. I married a good one.

Just 41 more to go!

Have you given in to early Halloween requests?

Do you make paper countdown chains for other holidays or events?

Capture Fall Memories with Kids

Capture Fall Memories with Kids

Last year, my 3-year old fell in love with the Fall season. We visited the pumpkin patch (multiple times), planned and re-planned Halloween costumes, collected leaves, made leaf art, visited an apple farm, and the list goes on!

After Halloween I purchased an old typewriter and N dictated a Fall-inspired poem that beautifully captures her age and the spirit of the season. She was getting ready (in her mind) for Christmas, and titled it “Christmas and Fall,” but it ended up being all about the autumn season.

I know that Fall is a few weeks away, but I share it now since it’s a good time to start building memories as we move from one season to the next.

To make your own poem, ask your child to think about the season — this might be a great time to make a Summer Poem! — and then type or hand-write the words verbatim. I happened to use an old typewriter, but a computer or sheet of paper would work equally well. I asked N what she loved about the Fall and she started with “Candles.”

And then the rest goes like this…


Christmas & Fall


I love to eat cranberry pie.

I collect leaves that are very, very pretty.

I love to wear rain jackets because sometimes it rains in the Fall and Halloween.

I love jack-o-lanterns when they’re glowing.

I love to spray leaves with paint.

I love to eat pumpkin seeds when my mom makes them.

(This poem was originally inspired by the List Poems on Let’s Explore.)

Fall 2012 Bucket List

Have you noticed the leaves turning in your part of the world? Do you make seasonal bucket lists? By nature I’m hopelessly disorganized, but having children has helped me make some progress, mainly because my kids demand it of me.

This bucket list was inspired the Fall 2011 Bucket List by Katie at Loves of Life. Thanks Katie — your list is fantastic!

Fall Bucket List

Why I Write Bucket Lists

I never wrote bucket lists before having kids (does anyone?) and I started this ritual  to help me navigate the sea of activities that go along with having children. I also enjoy the process of planning, wishing, and dreaming with my family. It’s fun to sit down with paper and a pen, and scribble out a long list of wishes. We come up with all sorts of fun ideas and this process builds excitement for transitioning from one season to the next.

It’s only August, but I noticed that our leaves are already turning. Does anyone else think this is just crazy? My husband baked a cherry pie with 4-year old Nutmeg this afternoon, and the house started to smell like Fall. And we tackled back-to-school shopping this weekend. Get ready, because Fall is coming!

Do you know what I’m dreaming about today? Pumpkin Pie flavored coffee and baking my mom’s pumpkin bread. Mmmm.


Links to Fun Fall Activities

Make popcorn straight from the cob in the Corncob Popcorn Experiment

Negative Leaf Impressions are a fun way to document the shapes of leaves, with leaves and a spray bottle full of colored water

Make a Sticky Autumn Collage with leaves and contact paper

Check out my growing FALL Pinterest Board for more inspiration

What’s on your Fall Bucket List?

What do you look forward to this season? Feel free to print this and share widely because it’s never too early to plan ahead.


Acrylic Painted Pumpkins

I’ll keep this short since I’m gearing up for the holiday and I know most of you are busy yourselves, making travel plans (perhaps with small kids…no small feat!), shopping for basters (don’t wait too long — they will run out!), and making Thanksgiving crafts. Speaking of which, I just spotted these nifty pumpkin place cards, and have visions that a simpler cardboard version would be manageable for my 3 year old.

I had another vision, recently realized, of painting our Halloween pumpkins white and calling it a centerpiece. Our house feels mighty cluttered at the moment, and I know it’ll feel even more so once all our relatives come into town, so adding some soothing white seemed to be just the thing we needed. N thought the we should paint them all green, so we struck a compromise that she could paint as many as she wanted with green paint if we could first paint mine white. Don’t you love compromises?!

Once that was squared away, I covered the table with large sheets of paper, squeezed some off-white acrylic paint onto a paper plate, covered my 3-year old with an mama-sized t-shirt, and let her go to town. She’s not keen on getting acrylic on her hands, so I showed her how to twist the pumpkin by its stem, and then paint that part last.

Three pumpkins later, and this is what we’ve got! I’m still working on the whole table set-up, and may move these to a side table, but I think it’s a pretty good start.

Thank you!

I apologize up front if I’m not quick to reply to your comments or emails this week. I’ll be taking a little blog break until Monday so that I can enjoy some quality time with the family.

Thanks to each of you for your ongoing commitment to this site. If you’ve ever left a comment, thank you! Our conversations keep me going and fuel me with more ideas. And if you’ve never left a comment, I appreciate you too! I read so many blogs and myself, usually on the go, and rarely get a chance to say the “hello” that I’d love to say if I could just sit down and find a moment to type. By showing up here at TinkerLab, I’ve become closer to friends I already had, I’ve made some wonderful new friends, and continue to thank the universe for the opportunity to have and build a community of like-minded individuals who make my heart flutter.

Happy Thanksgiving!



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

Organic Shape Monsters for Halloween

When I saw this idea over at We Heart Art, I loved it for its open-ended qualities and simplicity. Joanna did this project with Kindergarteners, but it was adaptable to my 3-year old and could easily scale up for older children. Plus, the monster theme played out so nicely with Halloween right around the corner. Grrrrr….

And, are you ready to hear how easy this is? All you need are about 20″ of yarn, paper, and some markers or crayons. 

We talked about witches, ghosts, and jack-o’-lanterns all morning, so when I asked if N wanted to make a monster she was game. In general, she hasn’t drawn too many realistic drawings, so I was curious to see where this experiment would go. We each started out with a piece of yarn. I moved the yarn around my page to make an organic shape, connected the two ends to close it, and then traced an outline around the shape. N took note and did the same. So far, the process intrigued her.

We removed the yarn and I invited her to turn it into a monster. And this is what’s so cool about this project: There’s no expectation and the outcome is totally up to the child’s imagination. The red apostrophe shape she’s working on is a little baby monster. Awwww. At first glance I thought it was the mouth, which is a good reminder on why it’s best to never make assumptions and ask the child about their work without making interpretations!

Okay, now you can see the mouth. Ferocious!

She also added some arms, eye lashes, a forehead, a belly button, and fur. It’s kind of Jabba the Hutt, no? And despite it’s obvious scariness, I love it!

Have you ever heard that people learn as they teach? (In case you’re wondering, it can be credited to the Roman philosopher, Seneca — I had to look it up, and subsequently learned about it so I could share it with you!). Well, N’s friend came over the next day, and at one point in the afternoon the two of them sat down at the art table and she independently showed him how to make a monster! You can imagine my surprise and delight — I guess she really embraced the concept and thought it was worth sharing.

More Halloween Ideas

If you enjoyed this post, you have to check out 50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids.