DIY Paper Bag Book with Japanese Binding {Free Download}

You might know that I’ve been working on a fun project with the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum DIY Studio Space. Each month for a full year, we’re developing creativity-boosting invitations for children who visit the museum. If you visit the Studio this month you’ll find an assortment of interesting found materials and a host of ideas for upcycling books from these materials.

And in case you didn’t make it to the CCM this month, I’m giving away a free project download: Tinkerlab DIY Paper Bag Book

The cover is made from a paper lunch bag, the inner pages are made from any paper you like, and it’s bound with a traditional Japanese 3-hole binding that elementary-age children could do with a little assistance.

Children will work through spatial reasoning and learn about a traditional binding method through the process of binding. They will also explore different recycling possibilities through the selection of materials. And once the book is made, children can fill it with sketches, stories, stickers…the possibilities are endless.

This is new to me and I’d love to hear your thoughts: Would you rather see all the steps in a blog post or do you like having it in a sweet and tidy PDF?

Week in Review: Nine Big Ideas in Creativity Education

Here are some of the bigger stories in creativity education that inspired me this week:

1. The North Carolina Museum of Art received a $2 million grant from GlaxoSmithKline and its N.C. GSK Foundation to create a project called “The Big Picture” which aims to use art to enhance learning. Woo-hoo! Arts and Museum eduction, all wrapped up into one big, creative grant package!

2. A study by University of Chicago researchers has found that children who play with puzzles between ages 2 and 4 later develop better spatial skills, from Times of India.

3. TIME Magazine’s Time For Kids just released a new book, TIME For Kids Big Book of Science Experiments: A step-by-step guide, reviewed by Geek Dad of Wired Magazine.

4. A thoughtful article from Americans for the Arts on why institutions of higher education should include a focus on Arts Education.

5. Parents Play a Crucial Role in Building Kids’ Interest in Science and Math. The Girl Scouts released a study on teenage girls’ attitudes toward math and science. “Two-thirds of the girls who reported an interest in science, math or engineering had mothers or fathers who encouraged these interests, as compared to only one-third of girls who reported little interest in STEM.” While their organization is clearly focused on girls, they claim the study’s findings hold true for boys as well as girls. Click the article for more.

6. Andre Dubis III, author of House of Sand and Fog, shares how creative writing diverted him from a path of violence.

7. Are you thinking about sending your child to an arts camp this summer? You might want to read: Fingerpaint or Fine Arts: How to Choose and Arts Camp. From Saint Louis Times.

8. Get your kids in the kitchen and feed them for life. Says Katie Workman, Editor-in-Chief of, “Like any skill, the older you get, the more difficult it is to learn. They will understand and appreciate food in a deeper way, they will be comfortable in the kitchen, they will develop broader palates, and they will be able to entertain people, which is an undervalued and ever-shrinking asset. You will be giving them a new place to discover things and be creative.”

9. An inspiring idea! Children in India participated in a Street Play Contest that helped build creative thinking. Designing their own performances based on big idea themes, “The kids showcased their creativity and poise while they broke the formal barriers and propagated social issues.”

10. What inspired YOU this week?



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?


New Life for a Melissa & Doug Box

My 3 year old, N, received a Melissa & Doug Deluxe Stringing Bead set from her grandparents that came in a lovely, wooden, shallow, lidless box. Lidless, with tiny beads inside. And this is marketed to little kids. Whaaaat?

Dear Melissa & Doug: Can you please, pretty please make lids for the boxes that house your fabulous toys? Thanks!

Here’s how the problem unfolded…

My daughter unwraps the gift and peels off the top layer of plastic film…on an airplane. She happily plays with the beads, strings them up for a solid 20 minutes, and then puts the beads back into the lidless box and sets it down on the tray table. Meanwhile, my one-year old decides that this would be a good time to climb off my lap and over to her sister. And of course she has to bolt over the tray table to maneuver her crawling body toward the window seat. You can imagine what happened to all the beads. ::Sigh::

While the box was fairly useless as a storage container, it promised other possibilities as a shadow box/painting substrate. So I saved the box, and, as my mom would say, turned lemons into lemonade.

To get this started, I covered a work area with large sheets of paper, squeezed some acrylic paint on an aluminum foil covered plate (the colors were my daughter’s choice), and gave her a handful of paintbrushes to work with. There were no instructions aside from a casual question of “what could we do with these paints and this box?”

She got about this far before calling it quits. It was a good exercise in repurposing cast-off materials, color selection, paint brush manipulation, and pattern + sequence discovery. I think I’ll pull it out another day for one more pass with the paints and possibly some additional bits and bobs that she can collage to the box, and then perhaps we’ll give it another life as a piece of art on one of our walls.

So maybe I should stop complaining and thank Melissa & Doug for the cool shadow box?

Any ideas on what we could do with our box?


Tinkering on the Typewriter

I’ve been thinking about getting an old typewriter for a long while (this post from The Artful Parent struck a chord, and I love how Jean set up a writing area around her typewriter), but since I’ve been on a purging streak since the first of the year it was hard to justify the purchase, and find a good spot for it.

By the way, if you’re interested in organizing your life and home from the inside out, I found this book enormously helpful. Okay, so fast forward many months…closets are mostly cleaned out, the garage is full enough to host 3 garage sales, and I’m flipping through a copy of Cottages and Bungalows magazine when I come across this bit of inspiration…

I immediately got on craigslist and within minutes, I found a cool 1970’s Galaxie Deluxe for $20! After recently spotting another machine in our thrift store for $100, I knew this was a deal. Score! My 3-year old was so excited about it, and we made a big adventure out of going to pick it up, cleaning it when we got home, and just playing with it for a solid hour that morning. Typing, spelling, checking out the inner workings of the machine, asking questions about how it works, scrolling, pounding…

Amy at Let’s Explore has been making these wonderful List Poems about Fall with her daughters that are wonderful keepsakes of a fleeting moment in time. I’ve wanted to try this with N, to capture her thoughts of the Fall, and she was game! Here’s what she dictated to me…

Don’t you just love the variety and hand-made quality of the type? So much character!! I think this wil be a fun addition to our Thanksgiving…thinking about asking each of our guests to share a message of thanks that we’ll add to a memory book.

If you’ve been playing with typewriters, or have a thought about picking one up, what would YOU do with a typewriter?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime