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?


Microwave Marshmallow Experiment

Have you heard of the microwave marshmallow experiment? It’s really simple and a fun way to explore how the volume of gas expands a marshmallow as it heats up. My kids also enjoy this experiment because it mixes science (+ fun) with a sugary treat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Microwave Marshmallow Experiment Supplies

  • 4 (or more) Marshmallows
  • Paper Towel or Microwave-safe plate
  • Microwave
  • Paper to jot down observations (I’ll share my 3-year old’s observations in italics below)
For this microwave marshmallow experiment, we’ll microwave three marshmallows for different periods of time, and then  compare what happens to the marshmallows as they heat up, and then cool down again. This is an engaging way to involve children in scientific observation and discovery, it raises lots of questions, and doesn’t require a lot of prep or clean-up. Are you with me?

Step One

Microwave one marshmallow for 10 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare it to an uncooked marshmallow and describe how it looks. How does it feel?

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabObservation: It’s small, shorter than the other marshmallow, but fatter. It’s gooey.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Two

Microwave the second marshmallow for 30 seconds and remove it. How does it compare with an uncooked marshmallow? What happens to it as it cools?

Observation: It’s a little bit larger than the other one. It got dry as it cooled.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Touching the second marshmallow.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Cool, a little hole showed up in the middle after it cooled down a bit.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | Tinkerlab

Step Three

Microwave the third marshmallow for 50 seconds and remove from the microwave. Compare to and uncooked marshmallow right away and after it cools. How are they different? How does this marshmallow feel?

Observation: It’s huge and wrinkly and dry. It’s brown. That means it burned. That means it’s good to eat. Crunchy to eat.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabYou can see all three marshmallows here. We noticed that the 30 second and 50 second marshmallows got hard and crunchy as they cooled, and N decided to taste them for a flavor comparison.

The fun and simple microwave marshmallow experiment | TinkerlabThe 50 second marshmallow was brown, crunchy, and caramelized. Have you ever tried astronaut ice cream? It had a similar texture.

The science behind the activity is explained clearly over here at The Exploratorium. In essence, the volume of gas in the marshmallow increases when the temperature increases, and then decreases as it cools down. The Exploratorium suggests not microwaving marshmallows for longer than 2 minutes, less you want a dark, stinky, burnt mess on your hands.

This project was inspired by a book we found at the library: Kitchen Science Experiments: How Does Your Mold Garden Grow?

Have you ever microwaved anything and been surprised by the outcome?


Science for kids microwave marshmallow experiment copy

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Drizzle + Paint Gingerbread Cookies

Mmmm, gingerbread cookies. After making our salt dough ornaments (and having one of our friends try to eat one…yikes!), we thought it was high time to make real, edible cookies. My mother-in-law’s gingerbread recipe is truly the best one I’ve tried, but when I discovered that the Gingerbread Cake and Baking Mix from Trader Joe’s could be adapted to make cookies, and all I had to do was add an egg + butter, I was sold.

We rolled out the dough, selected our favorite cutters, and cut our shapes. If you’ve never made gingerbread cookies, give yourself an hour to chill your dough before you plan to work with it. Even with refrigeration, the dough is pretty sticky and required a fair amount of flour to keep it flexible and off the counter.

I filled a piping bag with royal icing (dry hard icing). My MIL uses more of a buttercream frosting, which is delicious, but I thought we’d have some fun “painting” with the royal icing. Most of the royal icing recipes you’ll find ask you to make it with raw egg whites, but I wasn’t comfortable with that, especially since I’m feeding these sugar bullets to kids! Instead, I used meringue powder. I happened to have some in the pantry, but you can find this at specialty groceries and Michaels craft store (so I’ve heard). And low and behold, it can be found on Amazon.

Recipe for Royal Icing

  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

I fit the disposable piping bag with a small, round #4 tip, gave my daughter a few suggestions on how to hold and squeeze the bag, and let her go to town. We started with white icing, and then I mixed the remaining icing with all natural yellow food coloring on my daughter’s request.

Once the icing firmed up, we moved the cookies to a nice, clean plate where we could admire our handiwork.

And eat some cookies.

Mmmm, I hate to say this, but these gingerbread bites rivaled those from the original recipe.

I picked up three more boxes today. Yum yum.

Next up: Ginger Bread Houses!

What are you baking for the holidays (with or without the kids)?

Feel free to add a picture with your comment!



Make Easy Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 1

Raise your hand if you’ve made or plan to make salt dough ornaments this season! Yep, I see a lot of you out there. It seems we’re not the only ones, but in case you haven’t committed to this yet, I have one piece of advice for you: While the recipe is simple, give yourself some time!

This is a 2-part post. In the first part I’ll share a salt dough recipe with baking instructions and in part two, I’ll share my best tips for painting and decorating salt dough ornaments with kids.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

I used this recipe on ParentDish by Anna Ranson, who blogs at The Imagination Tree.

Salt Dough Ornament Recipe

This salt dough recipe is the easier ever with just three ingredients that you probably already have. Double or triple the recipe for more ornaments.

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • up to 1 cup of water.

I mixed the dry ingredients and then added a full cup of water. Gulp. Did you catch that bit about adding up to 1 cup of water? The dough was sooo sticky, so I kept adding equal amounts of salt and flour until the dough held together without sticking to my hands. Okay, back on track…

Salt Dough Ornaments |

My 3 year old and I both rolled out some dough and got busy cutting shapes with our favorite cookie cutters. I also gave her a small bowl of flour (you can barely see it at the top of this photo) for her to flour her workspace at will. She loved that, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that before. Her ornaments are less than perfect, but she proudly made them herself. Awwwww.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

We followed Anna’s suggestion of using a straw to add a hole in each shape that we could later hang a ribbon through. Of course N saw no good reason to stop at one hole per ornament. And why should she?

Salt Dough Ornaments |

The next step is to bake them at 100 C for 2-3 hours. OMG — just caught that it was Celsius, and here I was cursing my oven for not going below 170 Fahrenheit. Haha! Now I know why it took, literally, all day to bake these. Okay, so I could have just put my oven at 212 degrees and it wouldn’t have taken forever.

Bake your Salt Dough Ornaments

Bake at 212 F or 100 C for 2-3 hours, or until hard.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

After they were dry, N sorted all the ornaments into hearts, trees, snowflakes, and gingerbread men…and then, of course, her little sister stepped in to mix them all up.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

Ready for painting. To see how we painted them, click over here for Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2.