How to Entertain a Toddler with Pom-Poms and Bowls

My toddler loves and adores all little things.

Especially those tiny little things that are on the do-not-give-to-little-kids-who-mouth-everything-that-comes-their-way lists. I guess it’s a casualty of being the second child to a 3.5 year old sibling, but I suppose the good news is that she’s building an understanding of what can and can’t go in the mouth.

To play to our strengths, I set up this invitation to play: pom-poms, bowl, yogurt container, and a mini ladle.

bowl of pom poms for play


  • Tub full of various pom-poms
  • Small bowl
  • Mini ladle
  • Large yogurt container with a hole cut in its top

The invitation

Lay it all out and see what your child comes up with.

toddler sitting in plastic container with pom poms

Not at all what I expected, but I’m digging it.

toddler scooping pom poms

And of course there was lots of scooping, filling containers, spilling, and dumping.

toddler invitation to play with pom poms

This is great sensory activity for building fine motor skills and developing color, size, and volume understandings.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to sign up for our spam-free, inspiration-filled newsletter. 


6 Kids Valentines Day Activities

6 Kids Valentines Activities and Homemade Valentine Gifts

We’ve been crafting up a Valentine’s storm, which mostly means that three-year old N has been collaging all our self-serve bits and bobs of Valentine goodness into a taped-up, glued, and spackled hodge podge of Valentine craziness. In other words, we’ve been having fun, but it’s not something anyone else would likely take inspiration from or worth blogging about!

That said, we have been playing with an amazing batch of Valentine play dough that’s always good for open-ended exploration and imagination-building. And, for my 1.5 year old, it’s great for hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skill development. 

valentine play dough

I keep my play dough in a big sealable bowl or zipped bag, and it will last for months. I use this recipe, and it’s hands-down the best one out there for the play dough job. Here are the ingredients, but click over to the recipe for all the deets:

valentine play dough station

The Ingredients

  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1 1/4 c. salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 5 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors. I really like Wilton Icing Colors or Liquid Watercolors (from Discount School Supply), which make gorgeous shades of play dough to match any occasion, mood, or toddler request.


For our Valentine Play Dough Station, I made a batch of white dough and a batch of dark pink, and then the kids helped me loosely mix them together to make this fun, mottled Valentine concoction. Oh, and we added peppermint oil to the mix to give it a nice, fresh smell. This would be perfect for Christmas too…something to keep in mind for later.

valentine play dough

I gave my kids a new set of heart-shaped cookie cutters, which proved to be too difficult for my little one to effectively use on her own. But that didn’t stop her from trying! I cut a few shapes for her, which she really enjoyed pulling out of the dough and then breaking into three or four pieces. Some of the hearts were too challenging for her to pull out on her own, so I’d break the dough walls, which helped her remove the hearts somewhat intact.

She also enjoyed playing with the rolling pin and practiced rolling snakes.

valentine play dough

I was recently asked which of our art materials is absolutely indispensable, and while there are many, play dough is one of those materials that appeals to a wide variety of ages because the threshold is so low. Very young children know exactly what to do with it, and as children get older their ability to manipulate it and use it for imaginative play grows along with them.

Play dough, I love you…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Interested in more Tinkerlab-style Valentines?

Deconstructed Valentines

deconstructed valentines

Valentine Garland

Valentine Garland With Kids

Self-serve Valentines

self serve valentines

All-in-one Valentine Envelope

all in one valentine envelope

Valentine Snack

cut out valentine snack

Happy Valentine’s Day!




Creative Challenge 7: Magazines

Today I have something extra cool in store for you. Kiwi Crate and I are bringing you a super-star line-up of rockin’ kid-friendly bloggers for a no holds barred invitational kid-centered magazine challenge, and an extra-special Kiwi Crate box giveaway at the end of this post. Each of the 20+ bloggers spent some time tinkering, plotting, creating, and playing with their kids to come up with an activity that your kids will enjoy. After you read about how we manipulated and upcycled our magazines, spend some time checking out all the other ideas. Bookmark them or pin them, because you’re sure to need these ideas on a rainy or snowy day. Okay, do you have a cuppa ready? Here we go…

I spent about 20 minutes ripping pages from my favorite alumni magazine. Do you ever read yours? Loved the school, but sadly, the magazine just rolls right into my recycling bin each month. So I happily rolled the glossy pages of ho-hum stories into tubes, taped them with clear tape, and added them to a tall vase. The next morning, my 3 year old woke up to this provocation: Magazine tubes, clear tape, a stapler, and a bowl of stickers. I didn’t have a plan and was curious to see where she would take it.

She started by taping the tubes together, ignored the stapler and stickers completely, and then found another roll of tape so that I could help her. Right, tape is popular. Must remember that!

This is how it began.

Then she cut some tubes down to smaller pieces. How could I have forgotten the scissors? Tape and scissors…check. But that’s okay, we must have about 20 pairs and she knows where to find them.

Oh, and she loves ribbon too. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother with provocations when she knows her own mind. She found a few rolls and brought them over to the table. We created this structure together and then she wore it on her head for part of breakfast.

The next day her dad took a turn at the table and this is what they came up with. I’m fascinated by it because my husband has a huge thing for hanging sculptures. I mean HUGE. It’s a wonder I’m not constantly banging my head on things that hang from our ceilings.

 He screwed an eye-hook into the ceiling, tied a piece of ribbon through it, and hung their masterpiece over the couch.

When standing on the couch, my daughter can bat at it, so I think I’ll call it an interactive hanging magazine sculpture. 

Creative Challenge Participants:

Child Central Station , kids in the studioTeach MamaThe Imagination Tree,Childhood101Teach Preschoolhands on as we growArtful ParentPaint Cut PasteA Mom With A Lesson PlanToddler ApprovedKiwi CrateArt 4 Little Hands,  Red Ted ArtThe Chocolate Muffin Tree,  Imagination Soup,Michelles Charm WorldMessy PreschoolersTinker LabMommy LabsPutti Prapancha, Sun Hats and Wellie Boots


Kiwi Crate has generously offered to give away one crate box to two randomly chosen winners. Each box includes all the materials and inspiration for 2-3 projects related to a theme (e.g., dinosaurs.)  Projects may include arts and crafts, science activities, imaginative play and more, and have been hand-selected and kid-tested to be open ended and encourage curiosity, exploration and creativity! I love Kiwi Crate because it embraces the same process-oriented activities that I promote on this blog, but it’s all packaged up beautifully and delivered right to your door. To enter, leave a comment with your child’s age/s and favorite upcycled materials. And then hop on over to the Kiwi Crate blog for another chance to win. Winner’s address must be in the U.S. Deadline for entry: Monday, December 12, 9pm PST. Comments Closed. Thank you to all of you for your comments. The winner is Susan P! 


Your Turn…

What would you (and your kids) make with magazines? If you have a kid-centered magazine project that you’d like to share, please add your link to the blog hop or comment section below. And feel free grab the button or copy the text into your HTML. Tinkerlab Creative Challenge Code:<a href=”” target=”_blank”><img style=”border: 2px;” src=”” alt=”Tinkerlab Creative Challenge” width=”150″ height=”150″ border=”2″ />

Water Beads and Kids | How to Play with Water Beads

Have you ever played with water beads? They’re slippery, squishy, and a surprisingly fun and addictive sensory experience for kids of all ages.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

If you’re even remotely connected to Pinterest or a fan of any of my fave blogs, there’s a really good chance you already know about these spectacular little sensory Water Beads by Aqua Gems. If it hadn’t been for the magic of the internet I never would have known these even existed, let alone tried them as a tool for exploration and discovery.

Supplies for Water Bead Sensory Experience

  • Water Beads: I found ours in the floral section at JoAnn Fabrics, but if you can’t find them near you, you can easily find them on Amazon.
  • Tray with edges
  • Water

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Step 1

I set up our DIY light table and then N filled the top with about 1/2″ of water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Step 2

Pour the tiny aqua gems into a small container for for your child to add to the water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Step 3

Scoop the beads and drop them in. Watch them grow. This is great for teaching patience, and it’s fascinating to watch the beads absorb water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Our Experience with Water Beads

As my child mixed them up, we marveled at how they grew….slowly….growing….slowly…(good lesson in patience!). N played with them while her sister napped and we set them aside for a couple hours. After snacks and a romp outside, this is what they looked like.

And it turned out that 14 month old Baby Rainbow enjoyed them even more than big sister. I was super cautious at first because little things that look like food go in the mouth, but after a few watchful “not for eating”comments, she was good to go.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

I tucked the light table under a kitchen cabinet and Baby R has gone back to dig it out at least five times since. I think she’s fascinated by the texture of the beads and can’t seem to get enough of them. I still keep a close eye on her when she uses them, but it’s helpful to know that the gems are non-toxic. In fact, she’s intently playing with them as I type. So maybe this post is really about “how to entertain your little one while you get things done.”

One last thing, the beads look really cool with light shining through them, but it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t have a light table. A clear bowl on a sunny day or in a well-lit room will work well too!

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

More Water Beads

For more Water Bead fun, check out Messy Kids’ Creepy Crawly water beads  and The Chocolate Muffin Tree’s Water Bead fun. And related to this, you might also be interested in the FAKE SNOW that we recently made.

Water bead and Kids | A fun sensory Experience |

Have you introduced your kids to Water Beads?

What are your favorite materials for sensory play?

My 14-month old is well-supervised when playing with Aqua Gems. Please use your best judgment when introducing young children to small objects.

Is this your first time here?

Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Negative Leaf Impressions

It’s been unseasonably warm around here — check out the flip flops and dress! And the Easter Basket there…well, would you believe it’s for collecting Fall leaves?

We don’t have a lot of Fall color yet, but enough leaf beauties have hit the pavement that we ventured out for some Leaf Pickin’.

N picked up all of her favorites. She was only limited by the amount of space she had in the basket. My plan was to take them home and make some negative space impressions of the leaves with a spray bottle.

When we got home we laid them all out on huge sheets of paper. And then had a snack. Snacks are important. If we hadn’t been so impatient, pressing the leaves for a day would have made our leaf impressions clearer, but I was working with three-year olds, and, well, they like to do things when they think of them. Patience only goes so far.

I filled a spray bottle with a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 orange liquid watercolors. And oh-my-goodness if this wasn’t the most fun part of the entire project. It could have been the project all by itself. And we could have done it outside. That would have been smart. But fortunately our table was covered with paper and plastic, and the kids sprayed to their heart’s content.

Despite the curling leaves, you can see that the impressions are still pretty clear. It worked best when the kids stood up on a chair and sprayed straight down. Once dry, we hung one above our play kitchen.

And once this was done, we went back outside for bike riding, popsicle eating, and watermelon seed spitting. Really. It’s been that warm.

How are you enjoying these first days of Fall?

<a href=”” rel=”attachment wp-att-8134″><img title=”facebook-logo-1″ src=”” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”83″ /></a>If you like what you see here, we’d love to have you join our 7000+ member community <strong><a href=””>on Facebook</a>.</strong>