Art Project: Overhead Projector

overhead projector art project

My husband works at a university and the collector in me was overjoyed to discover that there’s a little-known department on campus that sells surplus property from departments that no longer need old projectors, desks, and reams of paper.

I wandered into the dusty space about a year ago and walked out with something everyone needs: an overhead projector for just $5. Right, you have one, don’t you? And then it moved to my garage where it continued to collect dust for another year.

Well, I finally pulled it out and it turned out to be a perfect rainy day art project.

overhead projector object discussion

My daughter had never seen one of these before, so we started off with an open-ended game in object-based looking that I learned in graduate school. The idea behind the game is to unpack the qualities of a mysterious object based solely on what you can see. No other information is shared, and the process of discovery can build a great deal of enthusiasm around an experience.

I didn’t tell N what we were looking at. Rather, I put the projector in a place where she could easily see it from multiple points of view and then our conversation sounded something like this:

“What do you see?”

A box with a long, tall pole and a plug. It’s dusty. You missed a spot.

“Got it. Okay, how do you suppose it might work?”

I don’t know. Maybe you plug it in. And I see these knobs, so they probably turn. If I turn this one, this piece moves up the pole. There are some buttons, so you can turn it on and off.

“If we plug it in, what do you think it might do?”

I think it makes noise. A loud noise, like a blender. Brrrrrrrrr.

“Hmmm. Maybe it does make a noise. We’ll find out in a moment. If you open this flap, what do you see?”

A light. Let’s plug it in!

playing with the overhead projectorI plugged it in, flipped open the light, and spread out a collection of tangram pieces to play with. N had fun adjusting the height of the light and then made various arrangements of shapes, both abstract and realistic.

tessellation tilesI have a huge collection of transparent tangram tiles that I picked up at Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), but if you click on this link it’ll take you to Amazon where you can order these shipped straight to your home.

overhead projector with kidsI pulled the curtains in the room shut, and the overhead projector’s bulb did a great job illuminating the wall. The walls in this room are painted dark grey, so I taped two sheets of 18″ x 24″ paper from Discount School Supply to the wall, and it made for a perfect screen.

We talked about how the projector reverses images, so you won’t see a mirror image of what exists on the glass plate.

This art project was wonderful in so many ways. The dim lights in the room were calming and helped focus my child’s big afternoon energy like a cup of tea can focus mine. It was fun to play with something new, and we both enjoyed exploring the mechanics of this archaic tool from Stanford’s past. As an artform, working with the tangram shapes was like painting with light and color, while making compositional choices. 

In case you’re interested in finding your own overhead projector, I did a quick Craigslist search and see them posted in the $25-$80 price range, but I bet a little searching could find you something for less money. And if you happen to be in my real-life friend circle, you’re more than welcome to borrow mine for a while, which is better than having it collect dust in my garage.

I’m thinking our next overhead projector project might be making our own transparencies. Any other ideas?

Do you have an overhead projector, light table, or some other type of projector (either of your own or at your disposal)? What could you try this with?

Sensory Activity: Shredded Paper

If you’re afraid of a mess, I have to warn you up front that this is a messy one.

But it’s not a dirty kind of mess and if you stick with me here, you might become a shredded paper convert like me.

paying bills with kidsIt all started innocently, and rather boring, enough. It was a bill-paying day, and I set the kids up with their own stack of mailing labels stickers, pens, and old checkbooks while I dealt with the heavy stuff.

They were happy enough, but things heated up when we moved on to paper shredding

shredding paper in paper shredder with kids

I had basket full of old bills that were ready for the shredder, and two happy-to-please assistants who took the shredding job very seriously.

Shredders are potentially dangerous, and I would absolutely not let my kids shred on their own, but with careful supervision the act of shredding can build confidence, teaches accuracy and careful attention to details, and it’s just plain fun to make a loud ruckus.

When it’s not in use, I unplug the machine and lock it in a closet. When it’s in use, I run through the rules of good shredder usage with my three and a half year old: Up to 3 sheets at a time. Hold the paper at the top when you feed it in (no fingers near the shredding area). And it’s not for my 18 month old.

While my three year old shreds, her sister hands her stacks of paper. They love it.

Okay, so take a look at that little basket of paper up there and remember how small it appears. And remember that appearances can be deceiving.

My friend and her son came over a couple hours later to play and make some ice cream. While we were talking, my 18 month old dug her hands deep into the neatly packed shredded paper bag, and in moments the room erupted into this happy play scene…

play in shredded paper with kids

And that’s only half of the paper.

They could not have been happier. In fact, just before this moment, the kids were all winding down and ready to go their separate ways. But as soon as that bag emptied out, they found a whole other hour of play inside their little souls.

It was so fun, in fact, that my older daughter chose to keep playing rather than go to her beloved gymnastics class.

play in shredded paper with kidsMy friend is a master at imaginative play with kids, and had them bury themselves in shredded paper, pretend they were dormant volcano monsters, and then erupt without any notice. You can probably imagine the shrieking and laughter that followed.

And we all agreed that this is the perfect toy: free, open-ended, and entertaining for a long spell.

So it was messy, yes, but it was easy enough to sweep up. And rather than cart it off to the recycling bin like I had planned, it all found its way back into the closet and ready for another day of fun.

More Shredded Paper Ideas

Alpha Mom makes a bird’s nest with brown paper bags.

10+ Ideas on what you can do with Shredded Paper (like make animal bedding, papier mache, and mulch) from Bohemian Revolution.

Adorable and seasonal Shredded Paper Seed Starters from Made. These are on my to-do list.

Can you think of a time that your kid/s turned a banal situation into a burst of play? Have you played with shredded paper? Would you try this yourself?


5 Easy Steps to Invent a Recipe with Kids

Do you like to cooking with kids or do you yearn to cook with your child? Today we’re sharing five easy steps to invent a recipe with kids, which will get you into a creative cooking mindset. Think Master Chef + little kids = a fun afternoon.

But you might wonder, “why would I want to invent a recipe when I can easily follow a recipe?” The answer is that inventing recipes instills children with confidence to invent their own solutions to a problem, encourages independent thinking and problem solving skills, and teaches children how to find their way around a kitchen.

5 easy steps to invent a recipe with kids | TinkerLab

My house smells like pancakes.

Which really means that it smells like cooking oil and caramelized sugar. Sort of a happy, greasy smell that has lingered for days.

Every afternoon, for the past three days, my 3 year old turns into a kitchen alchemist as she gathers ingredients and invents her own recipes.

She is in heaven. And it gets even better once we cook the cakes up and proudly serve them up to hungry family members.

Do you ever give your kids free reign over your kitchen?

Experiments like this set children up with a real-life science experiment that fosters creativity, inventiveness, and problem-solving skills. It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be okay with a bit of a mess, but I think the trouble is well worth it for the amount of creative confidence it builds in children.

So, after three straight days of wild pancake combinations, I present five lessons learned on how to invent recipes with kids…

Cooking with Kids: Invent a Recipe

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #1…Get Familiar with the Kitchen.

If your child doesn’t know where things are, give him a little tour. And start with a simple cooking project that introduces him to some key ingredients and tools for a favorite recipe (such as a mixing bowl, mixing spoon, measuring spoon/cup, flour, and oil).

We spend a lot of time cooking together and my oldest (N) knows her way around the kitchen. She can find the biggest mixing bowl in the house, all the baking ingredients are at kid-level (this will no doubt pose a problem once her little sister figures this out), and we have amazing little foldable step stools like these that give her access to the fridge (unless she wants the butter…but we do have a taller stool for that).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #2…Come up with a General Plan.

In our case, N has been making pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes. We tend to make a lot of pancakes in our house anyway (they’re not just for the weekends), so she’s super-familiar with the key ingredients and general direction of what might taste good together. For example, she didn’t pour ketchup into the batter (although if she did, I probably would have let it happen).

Do you have a favorite family recipe that you could riff off of? 

To start, she collected a few ingredients (white flour, wheat flour, flax seeds, and blueberries), and added them to the bowl. I tried to step back and allow her to make decisions about quantities, but every now and then I’d throw out a suggestion to help guide the journey.

As you can imagine, her pancake recipe has WAY more than the usual tablespoon of sugar (see the next picture), but it turns out that sugary pancakes are absolutely delicious.

invent a recipe with kids

Lesson #3…Green Light all Ingredients.

Of course you want to be safe about this, as things like raw meat and raw eggs need special handling, but try to keep an open mind as your child selects her ingredients. One of N’s batters had chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, mango juice, dried cranberries and walnuts in it. It was amazing.

The most recent batch contained raspberries, strawberry cream cheese, diced apples, and goat cheese. It was a bit chunky, and I’m not so sure about the goat cheese, but we drafted a recipe in case they end up being the best one yet.

Which bring me to the next lesson…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #4…Write the Recipe Down.

This is validating and makes the whole game so much more fun. As N added ingredients, I tried my best to write them down. Some things were carefully measured and others weren’t, but it didn’t really matter. I’m thrilled to have documentation of her first recipes and I’m sure she’ll treasure them as she gets older.

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #5…Embrace a Good Experiment.

As we cooked, I repeated multiple times that this is a grand experiment and that we’d be surprised one way or the other. We chatted about how it’s possible that not one person has ever made this exact recipe, and that chefs go through a similar process when they invent something new. Like scientists, they hypothesize (what ingredients might taste good together?), they experiment (let’s make this batter with yogurt and the next with sour cream), and they test (how does it taste? which batch do we like better? why?).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

After one of our cooking sessions, my husband took the kids off on a run in the stroller. These two hot cakes were eaten before they left the driveway, which I suppose speaks to how delicious they came out.

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10 Ways to Raise Creative Kids

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda

A version of this post was originally shared at Kiwi Crate.


Are you interested in raising your child to be their most creative self? The path to creative thinking isn’t a direct on, but there are a few landmarks that can help us find our way.


Here are 10 ways to raise creative children:


1. Make Mistakes

Stanford researcher and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, shares that children who are afraid of failure are less likely to think creatively. If your child acts disappointed at making a mistake, try saying something like, “what can we do to change this outcome?” or “how could you do this again?” I like how my friend and colleague Ben Grossman-Kahn of The Nordstrom Innovation Lab calls this Failing Forward, or looking at mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than failures.

2. Get Messy

Most of us like a clean space and feel overwhelmed when messes get out-of-hand. However, when children are in their creative element, messes can quickly develop. The next time your child asks to paint or wants to dump a bag of cotton balls all over the floor, make room for it (and/or take it outside). You might have to contend with a mess, but the creative benefits will surpass this temporary inconvenience.

3. Offer Praise for Effort

We’ve all heard a lot about how praise can hinder a child’s independent thinking. In Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, he talks about how rewards succeed at motivating people to….earn more rewards. The problem with praise is that it can strip a child from searching for his own internal motivations. This isn’t to say that all praise is bad, but next time you’re tempted to praise, try saying something objective such as, “I see that you put your shoes on by yourself,” or “You’re working really hard on that math problem.”

4. Be open-minded

Offer your child choices as a way to encourage independent thinking. You may not be in the habit of eating dinner for breakfast, but if your child says she wants to eat pasta before heading off to school, make room for that. If she wants to help in the kitchen, try turning your kitchen into a science lab and give her open access to a handful of ingredients and kitchen tools.

5. Model Creativity

What’s your creative outlet? Where do you enjoy putting your creative energy? Cooking, singing, gardening, drawing, dancing? Children who watch their parents engage in creative activities are more likely to embrace these activities themselves. If it’s been a while since you’ve done something creative, think about what made you happy in your own childhood and spend half an hour doing that activity with your child. How did it feel? Could you try it again tomorrow? And the next day?

6. Step Back

This may seem to contradict #5 a bit, but it’s important to remember that this is all about striking a balance. If a child feels like she’s constantly under surveillance, she may be less likely to take risks, which would diminish her creativity. If you encourage autonomy, you’ll see your child’s imagination bloom. The next time your child is engaged in quiet play, drawing, or writing, refrain from jumping in with a comment like “what are you drawing?” This will only pull him out the zone. Instead, make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy a moment to yourself!

7. Set aside creativity time

This can be hard, especially for working parents, but children need unstructured time to imagine, build, experiment, and explore. It could be half an hour after dinner, drawing time in bed before reading a book, or an hour of imaginative play every weekend. Look at your schedule and make sure that there’s time set aside for this.

8. Get Back to the Basics

Toys that beep and flash are fun, and definitely have their place, but they don’t build creative thinkers the way sticks, tubes, blocks, dolls, office supplies, sand, and water do. Spend some time watching your child play and take a quick inventory of your toys. What do they play with the most? What objects do they pull into imaginative play? Can you swap a close-ended toy (for example, a toy with buttons that has one or two functions) with an open-ended toy (like blocks that encourage free play)? This post by Amy Anderson for SimpleKids is full of great ideas: Creative Pretend Play Props and Ideas

9. Minimize Screen Time

It can be hard for some families to remove screen time altogether, but we can all make an effort to spend less time in front of the screen. Time spent watching videos or cartoons could be spent drawing, building a city out of blocks, or serving up play dough cupcakes. What could you do to reduce screen time?

10. What other ideas do you have for raising creative kids?

There are so many ways to encourage a child’s creativity, and I’d love to hear what works for YOU! What would you add as the #10 way to raise creative kids?


Pop up Paper Zoo {Free Download}

pop up paper zoo download

Back in September I wrote about how we made a Pop-Up Paper ZooThis is one of my favorite posts because the project is child-directed and it can lead to imagination-building and experimentation.

At the end of the post, I asked if anyone would like to have a PDF template so you could make these yourself. There were some “yeses” in the room, and I have to apologize for taking so long to follow up on this promise.

Of course, you may find it’s easy enough to draw your own animals (I know ours were less-than-perfect, but my 3-year old didn’t mind a bit), but sometimes it’s nice to have the heavy-lifting taken care of.

I drafted up an elephant and a giraffe to get you started. I tried to make these nice enough that you could use them for a classroom, playgroup, or gift them to a friend. To make more animals you could download a free animal font such as this one from Swiss Miss, find your favorite animal/s, and adjust your font size to the size you want the animal to be. And then you’d want to trace it or use it as a template. Oh, and keep in mind that printing these on CARDSTOCK will give you the best results.

What do you think? I received good feedback on the DIY Paper Bag Book PDF that I shared earlier this week, so maybe this is a new direction for me?

Okie doke, that’s it…You can download the 2-page FREE PDF here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and how (and if) you could use something like this. Do you print my posts for homeschooling? Do you like to print your favorite projects from your favorite blogs? Are you purely digital, and printing never happens in your home?