Dry Ice Experiment

Dry ice is a favorite mysterious Halloween material, perfect for spooking up a witch’s cauldron, but did you know that you can experiment with it too?

Dry ice is so cool (couldn’t resist!), and makes for a fantastic (ventilated) kitchen or outdoor experiment. Have you ever worked with it? The big caution is that you don’t want to touch it less it burns your skin. Got that? So it has to be handled with tongs and/or insulated gloves.

Read up on  the cautions of using dry ice before proceeding, and always use your best judgment. I went through all the warnings with N, and the dry ice earned a great deal of her respect. She kept asking questions about how ice could burn us (it wouldn’t make sense to me either if I were her age), and was very curious about how it “smoked” on its way from our porch to the kitchen.

In case you’re wondering, I think it’s smart to introduce kids to “dangerous” things. They’re naturally curious about how the world operates, and given the proper instructions and parameters these introductions can give them a good foundation for critical and creative thinking. Have you heard of the The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls? I have a copy of the latter that I know N will love when she gets to be a bit older.

I found the dry ice at our supermarket, and asked the manager to help me pack it up. They come in big bags (perfect for cooling a fridge full of food, but far too much for this experiment), and I understand that they may break smaller pieces for sale…it sells by the pound at our market. To do this experiment, we used two pieces, each the size of a button mushroom.

I filled the bottom of this metal travel mug with about a cup of warm water, and dropped a piece of dry ice in with kitchen tongs. The ice makes a surprising sound when handled by the tongs!

The smoke is perfectly okay to touch.

And blow.

Then we got fancy. N squeezed some dish soap into the mug.


And it got even more exciting with the addition of red food coloring.

And green, blue, and yellow food colorings, too!

This project is great for encouraging curiosity, setting the groundwork for scientific investigation (observation and experimentation), and building creative confidence. A+ in my book!

The Science behind Dry Ice

Dry Ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which dissipates into carbon dioxide gas when it melts. It’s called Dry Ice because it turns directly into a gas from its solid state, without ever becoming a liquid, and therefore there’s no puddle of water in its melted state. This process is called sublimation. Also, Steve Spangler Science is my new best friend, and it’s where I gleaned tons of good information for this post. If you like science experiments, do check this out.

More Ideas from Tinkerlab

Get more Halloween ideas on my Halloween Pinterest Board.

If you enjoyed this post, follow us on Facebook for more child-centered experiments and explorations.

Halloween Countdown Paper Chain

Draw Shape Monsters: Each one is different!

No-carve Decorated Halloween Pumpkins 

Little Fabric Hanging Ghosts

Drippy Slimy Gak

Late last week we made a batch of slime called Gak — see this post for the recipe — and it’s been a huge success with my almost 3-year old. On day one, N experimented with various ways of interacting with it (rolling, stamping, cutting, pulling), and was excited to introduce her dad to Gak the next day (he loved it, too…it’s really fun stuff). Later that day she wanted to revisit it with her play kitchen tools. We talked about its drippy, viscous nature and thought it would be interesting to test it out in the play colander.

After it sat in it for a few moments, her grandmother lifted it up for us to observe. It began to drip through!

The drips came slowly, so we rigged this pot holder from some CD cases that we painted (post on this crazy activity is coming soon!) in order to watch them come down.

And then we sat back and enjoyed the show. N cut a few blobs off with her little-kid knife before the whole thing “timbered over.” Ha!

Gak is pliable and plasticy, and we also tried our luck at blowing bubbles into it. To do this we took a small piece of Gak, smoothed it out into a disc shape, and then pulled it around the end of a straw before blowing into it. Finessing it took a little practice, but it worked! N wasn’t able to wrap the Gak around the straw herself, but she did enjoy blowing bubble after bubble.

Next time we bring out the Gak, it would be fun to test it in a variety of porous objects. Can you think of any other tools or materials that could interact with Gak?


How to make Gak

Today I’m sharing how to make gak.

This Gak Recipe (aka slime recipe) has been on my to-do list ever since reading about Amy’s The Great Slime-Off on Child Central Station. Amy shares two different recipes: the first calls for liquid starch and the second calls for Borax. I looked all over town for liquid starch and it was nowhere to be found. Is it prohibited from the state of California?

How to make gak

But the second recipe that called for Borax was workable, and felt a bit like fate because my daughter’s nursery school teacher made up a big batch of it last week. This also fell on the heels of reading the Ooey Gooey Handbook (affiliate), which is FILLED with all sorts of luscious recipes like this one. If you’re into this sort of thing, this book is fabulous! You can follow Lisa Murphy of Ooey Gooey on Facebook for loads of good information.

This particular slime, also called Flubber, Gluep, Glurch, or Gak, is made from glue, water, and the tiniest bit of Borax (a mild powdered laundry soap).

Borax is type of soap and soap is not edible, so please use your best judgment and common sense if you choose to use this with young children.

We used half of this recipe from Steve Spangler Science, and the part that gave me the most confidence is where he says “the measurements don’t have to be exact.” Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief with me! This site also has a wonderful description on the science behind the recipe.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

Gak Recipe

  • 8 oz. bottle Elmer’s school glue
  • 8 oz. water
  • 1 teaspoon Borax mixed into 1/2 cup of warm water
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors, optional

How to Make Gak

  • Mix the glue and water together in a mixing bowl.
  • Add a few drops of color, if desired.
  • Slowly add a bit of the Borax solution into the water-glue solution. Mix
  • Keep adding small amounts of the borax solution to the water-glue solution until it comes together like slime.
  • Play with your slime!
  • Note: Slime is NOT for eating!

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

I wasn’t sure how messy this would get and set the whole project up in our big mixing tub. We began by squeezing an almost-full 4 ounce bottle of glue into a glass bowl. Then we mixed in 1 1/2 bottles of warm water to the glue. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of glue and 4 ounces of warm water…do you see how fast I went off-recipe!! But like Steve says, the measurements don’t have to be exact and it worked out just fine!

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

N added red food coloring and mixed it into a lovely shade of pink.

Then we mixed 1 teaspoon of Borax into 1/2 cup of water, and slowly added the solution to the glue mixture…

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

Until the slime started to come together. We did not use all of the Borax solution.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

At first it was really wet and gooey.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

And stringy and sloppy.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

And then it started to pull together.

How to make gak.

Until it was one easy-to-work-with mass of slime that could be pulled apart and manipulated…to some extent. Because really, this slime has a mind of its own.

N requested a muffin tray with the idea that it would make nice little cakes. Can you believe how viscous and pliable it is?! Completely different from play dough, and absolutely inspiring to little miss curious.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

We often roll out our play dough, so she gave that a try and complained that it didn’t work. Good experiment!

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

Next she tried cookie cutters. Also a bust.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

But the scissors…oh, the scissors were so much fun and completely rewarding with this medium.


When you’re done using your gak/flubber/slime, you can store it in a sealable container or Ziploc bag for about 2 weeks (when it may start to smell!).

Such an easy, fun play recipe: How to make Gak.

More PlayDough Recipes

Rainbow Play Dough, Tinkerlab

How to Make Cloud Dough, the easiest dough recipe that calls for oil and flour.

How to Make Goop with just cornstarch and water.

Make amazing scented pumpkin spice playdough.

How to make Gluten-free Cloud Dough

Glowing Playdough

DIY Masa Playdough, made with masa harina

How to make Salt Dough with just salt, flour, and water.

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Project ::Deconstruct Monitor

My mom was cleaning out her basement and came across my husband’s ancient computer monitor, and for some crazy reason she didn’t want it. So she asked my sister to deliver it to my house…which is over 300 miles away!! What a good sister. But guess what? We didn’t want it either!

So, this big ol’ dusty tan hunk of Apple history became the perfect toy to deconstruct…with grown-up help because it turns out that monitors have tricky pockets full of icky stuff that can be deadly if messed around with in the wrong way. Lucky for us, my more-tech-savvy-than-me husband was up for the challenge!

Capacitors are Dangerous

Capacitors are dangerous. This you need to know. Our monitor was in storage, inactive, for about ten years so there was very little chance of being shocked by a charged capacitor. However, you have to be smart and can read more about it the truth of cathode ray tubes (CRT’s) and shock danger here if you’re interested in carrying forward in your own similar take-apart project.

If you decide to try this at home, with kids or adults, there are some warnings you should heed.

See the end of this post for a list of suggested items for take-apart tinkering.

After reading up on the dangers of endeavor, we decided that we’d only take Project Deconstruct Monitor so far before it would find itself at the town recycling center.

I’m not an advocate for anyone getting hurt, so use your best judgement and do your research, folks.

Tips for taking apart machines

  • unplug your machine
  • stay away from CRT’s (I know, we didn’t follow that advice — be smart)
  • wear goggles (again — be smarter than we were!)

Before the monitor met its fate, we brought out some tinkering tools to explore with: scissors, screwdriver, and flashlight. And N loved it! She got her hands right into the wires and asked loads of good questions. It was really fun for all of us to see exactly what was inside a monitor.

N got her flashlight out to get a closer look at the circuit boards, wires, and metal housing pieces.

And she even got to give the screwdriver a spin or two.

After this, my husband carted the whole thing off to be recycled by professionals, and suggested that next time we take apart a simple keyboard or mechanical clock. Agreed!

Aside from being on edge about safety, this was a great project for matching my child’s interests (she’s taken note of other deconstructed computers lately), supporting curiosity, encouraging exploration of the unknown, and giving her a more intimate understanding of the inner-workings of our computers. Who knows, she may be a computer scientist one of these days!

Good objects to take apart

  • sewing machine
  • clocks
  • bicycle
  • toys
  • toaster
  • old fashioned telephone
  • typewriter
  • fax machine

Tinkering with KidsIf you or your child likes to take things apart, check out this book, Unscrewed: Salvage and Reuse Motors, Gears, Switches, and More from Your Old Electronics. Bonus: The table of contents contains an inspiring list of take-apart objects to get the ideas rolling.


Looping Twisties through Paper

Today I’m so excited to share that I’ve been invited to write a guest post for one of my favorite blogs, Not Just Cute. Sooo, bonus for today is that there are TWO TinkerLab posts for your enjoyment. Hoorah! The Not Just Cute project will take you outdoors to make a Book of Textures, which is a great activity for kids of all ages. After you read all about it, come on back and read about looping pipe cleaners and such.

My daughter recently enjoyed building a colander sculpture with pipe cleaners, so I thought we’d push the pipe cleaner envelope and see what else we could do with them. I put the following materials out and let her figure out their purpose:

  • pipe cleaners
  • markers
  • small paper shapes with holes punched in them

She picked up the paper and immediately began weaving the pipe cleaners through the holes. Go-go fine motor skills. She worked at this for a few minutes – standing – and then I guess she got tired and/or decided to commit to the project because she eventually pulled up a seat.

Poking the pipe cleaners through the holes was easy enough, but she was challenged to bend them into the twists and hooks that she wanted in order to link them together. She wove one or two pieces together, making about eight of these mini-assemblages. She returned to the project later in the day to add little drawings to the papers with the markers.

I saved the papers, and the next day replaced the pipe cleaners with binder rings. I also added the hole puncher to the mix in case she wanted to give hole punching a go. Our hole puncher is a bit surly, and not the smoothest tool for a preschooler to use. Any recommendations for a kid-friendly hole puncher?

While she found the binder clips difficult to open, this didn’t faze her because she was intrigued by them (the novelty factor can go a long way!) and wanted to learn how they worked.

She made a handful of these before calling it quits. For older children, it could be fun to make little loose leaf books with binder rings. You could also use this technique to make a texture rubbing book, like the one we wrote about today at Not Just Cute.

What other materials would be fun to loop through holes?

Contact Paper Suncatcher

Since making Sticky Autumn Collages a couple weeks ago, we’ve been addicted to contact paper. And thank goodness for that because I needed some serious validation for buying seventy-five feet of the stuff!!  Despite the semi-gloomy weather, we could not be stopped from making art with the word “sun” in it…this is a strong activity for even a rainy day. In fact, it’s a good indoor project that may even thrive with a side of hot apple cider and pumpkin bread.

Inspiration: Suncatcher Collage, created by visitors to the Children’s Discovery Museum (San Jose, CA), 2010


  • Clear Contact Paper
  • Painters tape, Paper Tape, or Masking Tape
  • Pre-cut pieces of Tissue Paper

I cut a large piece of clear contact paper and taped it securely to the floor. N didn’t need a lot of encouragement to walk on it because this is just inherently fun and feels weird. Lots of giggles or gasps. I credit MaryAnn Kohl with this idea.

Then we stuck the tissue shapes to the contact paper. The contact paper is super-sticky, so once the tissue is down, it didn’t come back up again. For reals.

N got into this, and especially enjoyed folding and crumpling the tissue before placing it on the sticky paper.

While I finished adding all of the pieces, N took a yoga break. Of course. Then we removed the tape and stuck the contact paper directly to a window. So pretty.

When the Suncatcher was done, I got a request for “Contact Paper and Play Dough.” How could I refuse?

Turns out the play dough doesn’t stick. And then, N wanted to know what would happen if she sat on the contact paper. She came up too. Whew!

Somehow, this all morphed into making play dough snowmen with “many teeny-tiny heads.” I love the stream of conscious that guides children from one moment to another. You never know where you’re going to end up.

Do you have a favorite activities that includes contact paper?

Flour and Water

We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Creative Cooking

While the art world may dominate a large corner of the creativity market, creative activities can be found in just about any aspect of life. And the kitchen is a great example of this.  A couple days ago my daughter spotted the candy sprinkles that we used for her birthday cupcakes, and jumped up and down with enthusiasm to make cookies — the medium (in this case, sprinkles) inspired the following 1 1/2 hours of cookie making.

When I’m in the kitchen, she’s always involved in some way or another, from scooping granola into breakfast bowls to shucking corn. And this is great for her on many levels: she learns where her meals come from (and is now in the practice of encouraging everyone to thank her for her contributions to meals…she can be sassy!), she knows where everything lives in our kitchen, and she’s beginning to understand the properties of recipes and food. When we shuck corn, for example, she hands the cob off to me when she reaches the silk because it grosses her out. And when she pretends to make pancakes I hear her naming off the ingredients (“flour, baking powder, eggs…”).

Of all the things we make together, one of the best recipes for kid participation (in my life as a parent thus far) is pizza. Kids can roll the dough, sprinkle cheese, and choose their own toppings. And with that autonomy comes problem solving (figuring out how to roll out the dough to fit the pan or resolving an area of dough that has become too thin and breaks), exploration (working with pliable dough and experiencing the feeling of cheese as it falls from the hands), and creative thinking (making choices about what goes on the pizza). And the part of making pizza that’s especially creative is that you can easily improvise with the ingredients — one day it’s pineapple/olive and the next it’s feta/sausage/mushroom. One of my favorite food writers, New York Times columnist, Mark Bittman, is well known for improvising in the kitchen. I love his cookbooks, and always feel liberated from cooking conventions when he’s by my side.

While we’ve done this in our home kitchen, this would be a really fun activity to run in a preschool, afterschool program, or camp. Given that you have access to an oven, of course. I’ve made my own pizza dough, but excellent pre-made doughs are easily found in the fridge or freezer sections of many markets. If you happen to have a Trader Joe’s near you, they have three varieties, and they’re each $.99.  In my not-enough-time-to-clean-the-house life, this is the no-brainer way to go. When we make pizza together, I always make a big pie for the family while she makes her own mini pie that she’s always very proud of.


  1. Set up your cooking area. With kids, anticipation is everything. Get out the rolling pins (if you have a mini rolling pin, this is the time to use it), clean your work surface, grab some flour for dusting, and gather your ingredients. Set up a station for yourself, and one for each child.
  2. Ingredients: Your favorite cheese (pre-shredded if you’re short on time. We make a mozzarella/feta combo.), pizza sauce, and your child’s favorite toppings. I like to put all the toppings in little bowls — cooking shows have obviously played a role in this!
  3. Create! Roll out the dough. If your child isn’t old enough for this step, give them some dough to play with and squeeze. At two years old, my daughter gets the idea of rolling, but I still jump in to help her shape it into something edible. Spoon on some tomato sauce, place toppings, and sprinkle on the cheese.  Follow the directions on your dough package to see how long your pizza should cook.
  4. Eat. And enjoy the pride you see in your child’s face, as they enjoy their own homemade pizza.

Bon Appetite!