Six Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

“As you become more clear about who you really are, you’ll be better able to decide what is best for you – the first time around.” – Oprah Winfrey

One of my close friends recently asked me what I hope my children will take with them into adulthood, and it sort of stumped me. I think about things like this all the time, but the hard part was consolidating it into an elevator pitch. After a big pause when I thought about experimentation, creativity, and exploration I said, “I want my children to be confident.Confident in their ideas, confident in who they are, and confident that they can make things happen.”

Having confident children is a big idea to unpack, and getting there is full of multiple moments and lots of moving parts. As a parent, you don’t always know if you’re on the right path, but there are some touchstones that can help guide the way. Since my oldest child is only 3, I can only see so far into her future, but we seem to be headed in a good direction.

6 Tools for Building a Child’s Confidence

Tool #1: Experimentation
We create  opportunities to try new things. I set up science experiments like this one with dry ice, I encourage her to follow her curiosities (what will happen if I drop rainbow sprinkles in my milk?), and yesterday she wanted to mix sugar into her water to see what it tasted like. If it’s safe, why not?

Tool #2: Independence
We set up multiple areas of our home where our kids have free access to materials that build creativity. This is our self-serve mail center where she can find envelopes and stamps to mail cards on a whim. We also have a self-serve art cabinet and unlocked kitchen drawers where she has access to kid-friendly knives and cooking tools. The last thing I want to imagine is sending my child off into the world, but I know it’s something that I need to prepare her for.

Tool #3: Imagination

When I talk with my daughter I encourage her to consider all sorts of alternate realities. I’ll ask questions such as, “What do you suppose would happen if…?” or “If we could hop on an airplane this afternoon, where would you like to go?” When she draws I never make assumptions about what I see on her paper. What may look like a boat to me may be a kite to her. When I’m not sure, it’s best to comment on what I do know (I see you used red and blue crayons) or ask open-ended questions (can you tell me about your picture?).t

Tool #4: Exploration

Understanding materials and their properties takes time. This one is about digging deep and spending enough time at something that it becomes second nature. My one year old spends about 15 minutes at this chalkboard each week. 15 minutes isn’t a lot of time, but it becomes a long time when it happens week after week. I rotate the materials that I offer her, and give her time to explore them. One day it might be small chalk, another day it’s sidewalk chalk, and another day it’s water and long paintbrushes. In the long run she begins to understand how a chalkboard is different from a piece of paper or a white wall.

Tool #5: Innovation

Testing things out in various contexts. This one is harder for me to pinpoint, but it centers around the novel combination of materials and ideas. The blue and pink tool that you see in the photo is a stuffed animal maker, but my daughter used it to grind coffee in her mud kitchen. In another example, my friend’s one year old put a bucket on his head and pretended he was football player. Children do this naturally and it’s important to support and encourage this kind of out-of-the-box thinking.

Tool #6: Curiosity

Curiosity leads to discovery, and discovery builds confidence. With my daughter watching carefully, I filled about 50 water balloons on this hot day. At some point she declared that she wanted to know how to fill balloons too. While it was tricky to secure the balloon to the hose, she was motivated to figure it out and inevitably found a way to fill them. Discovery! Look and listen for moments of curiosity that can be turned into opportunities for learning and discovery.

Interested in more? Read about 3 more tools that build a child’s confidence.

What tools do you think are important for building a child’s confidence?


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.

Experiment: Make Fake Snow

How to Make Fake Snow

We’ve been making fake snow, which is equally fun for kids like mine who celebrate winter under a sea of palm trees or those who are house-bound by piles of real winter snow.

How to make fake snow: a cool experiment with kids  |

Note: This post contains Amazon links for your convenience.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids |


How we did it

We started by pouring a small amount of sodium polyacrylate, or fake snow  into a large tub. This material used to make fake snow is non-toxic (although you wouldn’t want to eat it), and you’ll recognize it as the same stuff used to absorb liquid in disposable diapers. I picked up a small bag of “snow” at RAFT, but I’m curious about pulling apart a diaper to mine this fun-to-play-with polymer. If you try this, let me know!

I almost always fall into the camp of “you can always add more,” so we started with just a little bit. When I bought the fake snow, the woman working there joked about a desire to fool her parents by pouring the powder all over their lawn in the middle summer, only to be greeted by a sea of snow once their sprinklers went off. This vision sat firmly in my mind, so I poured gingerly, not knowing just how much the powder would expand.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comIt turns out that it does in fact expand, but nothing to worry yourself about!

one year old drawingMy one-year old was too little for this activity, and I was happy to situate little sister with an activity of her own. She was happy.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comA request came in for a spoon and a bowl to fill. The project is expanding! I asked N to describe the texture for me, and she said it was cool and wet. I agree.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comWorking side-by-side, I now live for moments like this.

Mix colors into your fake snow

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comWhen playing with white snow seemed to run its course, I introduced Liquid Watercolors and a plastic pipette. I limited N to two colors (mostly to keep the crazy factor down) and she requested blue and magenta.

toddler sharpens pencilsMeanwhile, little R learned a thing or two about sharpening pencils.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids |

This turned into a cool color mixing experiment. It was fascinating to see how many of the “snow” pellets absorbed one color or the other, and cast an illusion of purple when viewed at once.

Make Fake Snow with a Friend

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comThe next day our neighbor, J, came over for another snow-making session. J likes a good experiment as much as my daughter does, and the two of them scooped, squeezed, stirred, mixxed and poured until they had to be pulled away for dinner!

What do you think? Will you try to make fake snow?

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids |


Learn more about how disposable baby diapers work from Imagination Station

Watch Steve Spangler demonstrate Intant Snow on the Ellen Show. I can’t help but smile at Ellen’s reaction to Steve. She’s hilarious.

Note: Use your best judgement and due diligence when using these materials with young children.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime

Straw Air Rockets

This is a project we had fun testing with Kiwi Crate, a new hands-on kit of monthly projects that launches  soon. Follow their fun blog for more.

We’ve been having the best time shooting air rockets out of milkshake/boba tea straws (found in our supermarket) The baby enjoyed seeing the rockets fly overhead while chasing them around the room, while my three year old challenged herself to shoot these far and wide.


  • Milkshake straws
  • Copy, Printer, or other light weight paper
  • Transparent Tape

You’ll want to roll the paper into a tube that will cover most of the straw. Cut a piece of paper large enough to roll around a straw, leaving a 1″-2″ tab that can be taped closed over the other side of paper. Cut another small piece of paper and attach it to the end of the paper tube. Seal it shut. See photos for more direction.

Place the paper tube on top of the straw, move into a wide open space, and blow. What you don’t see here is my one-year old laughing hysterically each time a paper tube shot over her head.This was the third day we played with these over a three week period, and it still caught my kids’ attention. If you decide to try this and it doesn’t work, the worst thing that could happen is that you’ll be stuck with some milkshake straws that may need to be put to work in a more traditional way! Mmmmm.

Have you ever tried to make a paper rocket? What do you think?

More rockets

This project is shared with It’s Playtime, Running with Glitter