Bird Seed Sensory Box

I’m always happy to have cheap, simple, educational, and entertaining activities for my kids, and I know a lot of teachers who feel the same way. How about you?

I learned this bird seed trick from one of my daughter’s first preschool teachers, and I’m happy to pass it along to you.

I LOVE cheap, simple, educational, and entertaining outdoor activities like this for my kids (great for toddlers and preschoolers).

Bird Seed Sensory Box

Step 1: Pour in the bird seed.

Tip #1: Do this outside. Bird seed will spill everywhere and you’ll be grateful that it’s not all over your carpet.

pouring bird seed sensory tableStep 2: Play

Simple, right?

Tip #2: If you have a lot squirrels in your area, cover your bird seed table at night to discourage those pesky foragers from finding their next meal in your bird seed oasis.

sensory table with bird seed scoopingTip #3: The bird seed lasts indefinitely, and when your child is done with it you can use it to, um, feed birds! Nothing is wasted here, friends!

sensory table with bird seed

If you like to keep your projects in a recipe box or binder, feel free to print this nifty card that has all the info in one easy-to-read place:

Bird Seed Sensory Box
Recipe type: Toddler and Preschool Sensory
Prep time:
Total time:
Set up a fun sensory experience that encourages hand-eye coordination and helps children explore measurement and volume.
  • Bags of Bird Seed
  • High Wall Water Table or Under-the-bed storage box
  • Tools such as scoopers, spoons, and bowls
  • Access to natural materials such as flowers and twigs
  1. Fill a water table with bird seed. We used three 16 oz bags, but could have easily used more.
  2. Offer your child some tools to scoop and pour the seeds.
  3. Encourage your child to bring natural materials to the table and build fairy homes/ design seascapes/make natural patterns.

And if you like this activity, you can give it some love by clicking on a whole bunch of stars with a comment below. Thanks!

More sensory materials

Wheat Berries — like bird seed, just different.

Wet Paper — soak some paper and tear it up.

Water Beads — our second most popular post.

Cloud Dough — our most popular post!

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A question for you

What do you find is the most challenging thing about setting up sensory experiences for your child?

Inspired by Nature: Four Easy Steps to Follow a Child’s Interests

four easy steps to follow a child's interests

Do you have bees, birds, squirrels, deer, possum, or other creatures milling around your neighborhood?

It’s been wild animal week here at Casa Tinkerlab. We had two big discoveries at our house: a wasp nest in the eaves by our back door and a bird nest tucked into a hole along the siding of our house.

Sad story, we found the bird nest on the ground today, and all of the eggs were gone, probably discovered by a band of squirrels. My two-year old has been keeping a watchful eye on that nest and her first thought went to the mama bird when she said, “I think I hear the mama bird.”

Sure enough, we saw the mama nervously flying around some nearby bushes, and my heart sank for her. We carefully collected the nest and put it back into its spot in the event that the mom can use the nest again.

wasp nest 2

This wasp nest, on the other hand, was something that I was determined to remove myself. No sad feelings here. Sorry if you’re a wasp fan, but rest assured that no wasps were harmed in the process. Basically, I knocked it down (quite heroically) from it’s post with the end of a broom.

My kids were impressed.

The nice thing about finds like this (as long as no one gets hurt along the way) is the opportunity to learn from them.

Of course my kids had tons of questions about the wasp nest. At first we thought it may have been a growing beehive, so we started to search for information on bees, and then we learned that it was in fact a wasp nest. We also noticed it first came out of our eaves it was round and firm, and that it sank into itself after about half an hour on our dining table.

My four-year old loves to join me in web searches for information, so we started off with searches like “bee hive” and “how do bees build their hives?” The hives looked nothing like our little specimen, but by this point my daughter had an idea and she asked me to collect images of bees and related images that you might find in a garden.

bee drawing

I started a Photoshop file and dragged black and white images to a file, resized them to make them all fit to scale, and then printed the images on her request.  She then spent over an hour carefully coloring in and cutting out her images, and then creating the composition you see here. The only thing that seemed to be missing was a pond, but that’s no big deal when you have a market to fill in the blanks.

Projects like this encourage children to be curious, explore, and tap into their imaginations.


  1. Pay attention to what your child finds interesting in nature
  2. If you’re on a walk or hike, take along an field pack: a backpack to save collected objects, camera, magnifying glass, binoculars, pencil, and a notebook to draw or write in.
  3. Go the library to find books on the topic or search the internet for more information or videos. YouTube is often a great resource for investigations like this. Like this, ahem, educational video on how to remove a wasp nest.
  4. Make something that documents your new-found knowledge. How does your child want to interpret his new knowledge? Maybe it’s drawing, building, cooking, writing a story, talking about it, or taking photos?


Inspired by Nature: wasp nest and bumble bee art

More ways to discover nature and follow a child’s interests

Eight Ways to Follow a Child’s Curiosities

Finding Nature with Kids

Build a Nature Table

A Question for you…

What treasures, animals, and natural discoveries have you observed around your home?

Homemade {Easy, Low-cost} Light Table

You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make an inexpensive DIY light table.

DIY light table that's easy and affordable

Light tables like this are great for preschoolers, as they inspire them with sorting and designing compositions. Light Tables are wonderful for exploring the play of light, shadow, color, and transparency. Their unique nature can add a magical element to child’s play and encourage curiosity, exploration, and problem-solving.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember the overhead projector that we salvaged for just $5 from Stanford’s Re-Use Department or the DIY Light Table that we filled with salt and water beads.

Build a Light Table

I wanted to include a light box tutorial in my forthcoming book and recognized that our light box wouldn’t be easy for other parents or caregivers to replicate, so I started tinkering. Once I wrapped my head around this project, it couldn’t have been simpler.

Like painfully simple! Wait ’til you see.

If you don’t already have one of these, you’ll wonder why not.

make your own light table

DIY Light Box Materials

  • Under-the-bed style clear storage box. This Rubbermaid Storage Box (affiliate) is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • White Tissue Paper (the kind you wrap gifts with), wax paper, or tracing paper. My preference is white tissue paper. Stay clear of parchment paper as it’s impossible to tape it to anything.
  • Clear Tape
  • String of holiday lights
  • Extension cord: optional


  1. Tissue Paper: Line the inside of the lid with tissue paper and tape it in place. Use clear tape so that the tape doesn’t show. 
  2. Holiday Lights: Spread a string of holiday lights around the inside of your box. The cord will dangle out. We were able to close our box on the cord, but this isn’t necessary.
  3. Play! Place a few bowls of transparent manipulative materials near the light box and invite your child to create.
  4. Seed the project: My kids are most responsive to this invitation if I seed the table with a few ideas. I set all of the materials out as you see in the photo above. My 2-year old saw this and added a red circle in the middle of one of the “flowers.” Then she decided to build a whole series of flowers with my assistance (below).

Homemade Light Box

Materials for the Light Table

affiliate links

Inspiring objects for light table

More cool design materials that you might enjoy

Store-bought Light Box Options

If making your own light box doesn’t appeal to you, there’s an enormous selection of store-bought options to choose from. We also have a sweet little 5″ x 7″ Gagne Light Panel that I found at a local art store. Dbmier makes a similar tracing pad that’s recommended for stenciling, 2D Animation, Calligraphy, Embossing, Scrapbooking, Sketching & Drawing, and Sewing projects,.

This small box doesn’t have the big-impact, scale-wise, as our homemade box, but it’s portable and I love it for tracing projects (mama makes art too!).

plug in light table

More Light Box Inspiration

I couldn’t have written this post without mentioning that as I was working on this project, my friend Anna at The Imagination Tree posted her own DIY Light Box for Sensory Play. Our projects are nearly identical, and this isn’t the first time this has happened! Click on the links to see how Anna made her sensory light box.

Two years ago we both posted the same project, on the same day. Here’s a peak: If you have a toddler, you might also enjoy my Colander Sculpture and Anna’s Discovery Box Pipe Cleaners. The Imagination Tree is one of my favorite blogs. If you’re a hands-on parent I’m sure you’ll love it too, so do check it out if it’s not already on your radar.

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table

Paint with glue, and how to make your own colored glue

My 2-year old is going through the phase of wanting to squeeze all the life out of any tube of paint, toothpaste, or glue that crosses her path. Have you had, or do you have, a child in that phase as well?

Paint with glue |

I remember this phase well. When my older daughter hit it, I made up a big batch of flour + water paint so that she could squeeze all she wanted. It was an economical solution that allowed her to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze without multiple visits to the art store for more paint.

In a similar vein, we recently made colored glue when we added liquid watercolors to some simple white glue. The girls love it, especially the younger one, and it’s now a staple of our creative zone. The colors of the glue are rich, the consistency is easy to squeeze, and it doesn’t break the bank, especially since we stock up on glue with a gallon-size bottle of Elmers Washable School Glue.

Paint with colored glue |


  • White glue bottles or other empty squeezable bottles
  • Liquid watercolors or food coloring
  • Cardstock or other heavyweight to squeeze glue onto
  • A tray to catch the drips
  • Sequins and other treasures (optional)


Add a few drops of food coloring to the glue, cap the bottle, and shake until well-mixed.

paint with glue2

Glue as you wish!

Learning outcomes

Yes, learning is embedded in this experience! This activity is great for developing hand muscles, problem solving, making aesthetic choices, and exploring the limitations and possibilities of glue. It also teaches children how to control the flow of glue, which is a fantastic skill that will transfer over to squeezing shampoo and ketchup bottles.

Note: Links in this article may lead to an affiliate site. I only share products that I love and/or think you’ll find useful. 



Marbled Paper Suminagashi

Are you looking for a last-minute hands-on gift, or maybe an idea to bookmark for a cold winter day? I’ve been saving this Suminagashi kit for a quiet morning and it was a true winner with both my 2-year old and 4-year old.

The process of marbleizing paper encourages creative thinking, open-ended exploration with ink and water, and experimentation.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

But first, maybe you’ve noticed that it’s been a little quiet around here. I’m sorry that I’ve kind of dropped the ball on my blog this month. I’ve been hunkering down with my other writing project and something had to go sit on the back burner. (sorry, bloggy).

Maybe you didn’t notice, in which case — yay! You’ve probably been busy too. It’s the holiday season after all. What are your plans for the holidays? Have you been baking? Are you going anywhere tropical or fun?

My kids finished making and packing their gifts for friends, my shopping is all but done, and now only the dreaded box of holiday cards is staring at me from across the room, waiting for messages of holiday cheer and stamps (that have yet to be purchased — eek).

But that can wait just a few more minutes because I have to share this important, colorful, festive, and fun art meets science experience with you…

Marbled Paper

I ordered our Suminagashi kit from Amazon for about $16 and you can find it here: Marbling Kit, Japanese Suminagashi. I just checked and if you order today it’ll arrive before Christmas. You know, just in case.

The beautiful word, suminagashi, translates from Japanese to mean “spilled ink.” I love saying suminagashi, and hearing my kids try to say it is a-dorable. Suminagashi is traditionally done with Sumi Ink, which is oily. Since oil floats on top of water, guess what? So does the Sumi ink! The ink that comes in this kit is non-toxic and “made by high-grade cosmetic pigment with P.V.A via a special process.” Loosely translated from Japanese, I assume.

The kit is recommended for ages 6 and up, probably more for dexterity reasons than anything. Both of my children handled the dyes quite capably — my younger daughter with a little help — so I wouldn’t let the age thing stop you if that’s a concern.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

The process is fun and simple: Squeeze a little bit of color into a tray of water, swirl it around, drop a piece of paper on top, and you have a print.

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi

Marbled Paper with Suminagashi This is one of those projects that’s tough to stop at just one. Because each print is unique, it’s compelling to try multiple variations on the theme. This kept us active for a good hour, and when they were dry my 4-year old turned these into holiday cards for her fantastic teachers.

More Suminagashi around the web

If you’re interested in another version of this experience, we did some marbling experiments  a couple years ago with spectacular results: Marbleized Paper with oil and liquid watercolors.

Inner Child Fun shows how to make gorgeous concentric circles — I wish we had tried this ourselves. Next time!

The History of Suminagashi

Oder this book, How to Marbleize Paper if you’re interested in learning how to make 12 traditional marbleized patterns

**Note: I am an Amazon affiliate, but I only share links to products that I adore and/or think you’ll find useful**