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?

Make a Simple Room Fort

Hello Tinker-firends! I’ve been busy with some family business and book edits that are taking a toll on my late-night blogging time. How are you doing?

Until I get a better handle on these details I thought I’d share some quick snippets of tinkering inspiration from our days at home and out-and-about.

Today we have a down-and-dirty favorite from my husband, our resident fort builder. Scroll down to the bottom for links to hundreds of inspiring DIY kids fort ideas.

How to Build a Simple Room Fort for Kids

How to build a simple kids fort with tape and a sheet

What you need

  • Paper Tape
  • A large sheet
  • A doorway or arch to hang the sheet in

That’s it!

How to build a simple room fort with tape and a sheet

It’s not your traditional fort, but my kids loved playing with this new-to-them hanging element. It closed off a room that’s normally open to the whole house, giving the room a feeling of theater.

And speaking of theater, you could also do something like this to create impromptu theater curtains.

More fort ideas

How to Build a Simple Clip Fort

Make a Fort from a Refrigerator Box

Fort Magic, The Coolest Fort in Town

A Playhouse under the Table, Artful Parent

Handmade Hideaways, Modern Parents Messy Kids

How to Build a Great Blanket Fort, Simple Mom

And perhaps the biggest resource of all, Fort Fridays, the weekly fort roundup from All for the Boys

DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough

Have you ever made your own play dough? Im a fan of store bought dough (it’s so easy!), but making your own is a money saver and we can make TONS of it in minutes. And with the simple addition of a little pumpkin pie spice, our dough smells heavenly…just like pumpkin pie!

"Smells like Fall" Pumpkin Play Dough |


Inspired by The Artful Parent’s Autumn Arts and Crafts book, The Artful Year: Autumn, we finally pitched our peppermint playdough in favor of a more seasonal scent: Pumpkin Pie!

Pumpkin Pie Playdough Recipe…

I used our favorite play dough recipe, which also happens to be the favorite of my daughter’s awesome preschool class, so I’m not going to get experimental with the dough itself, but we did experiment with the spice combination.

The dough itself takes about 20 minutes to prepare, it cooks on the stove-top, and the most complicated-to-find ingredient it calls for is cream of tartar. If it’s hard for you to find, you can get Cream of Tartar on Amazon.

Yes, you can find 2-minute dough recipes, and I’d encourage you to use them if you’re short on time, but the benefit of this recipe is that it will last for ages. Ages. Scroll down for a PRINTABLE recipe card.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough |

After we made the dough, I placed it on the counter to cool. Meanwhile, my 2-year old worked away at pinching out a real pie crust.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough |

When the dough was cool to touch, we squeezed orange liquid watercolors on half of it and then kneaded it in. For this step, be sure to mix on a surface that won’t absorb the watercolors. My 4-year old wanted to make half the dough orange and half of it white.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie Play Dough |

Although we had planned to use a jar of pumpkin pie spice in the dough, my 4-year old was curious about using whole spices that we just bought, so we pulled out the coffee grinder and gave it a very loud whirl. Fun! I don’t have a proper nutmeg grinder, but this seemed to do the trick. And the smell of cardamom — I absolutely love it.

We experimented with the spice blend by adding the different spices, first quite cautiously and then rather liberally, and in different combinations. I learned that my 4-year old isn’t too crazy about the smell of cardamom, but loves cinnamon.

5.0 from 5 reviews
DIY Pumpkin Pie Playdough
Prep time:
Making time:
Total time:
Playdough is a wonderful material for building fine motor skills, developing imaginations through exploratory play, and supporting early engineering and building skills. This recipe rivals anything store-bought.
  • 5 cups water
  • 2½ cups salt
  • 3 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice, or a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom
  1. Mix everything but the food coloring together in a large pot until somewhat smooth. It will be lumpy. Not to worry, the dough will get smoother as it cooks.
  2. Cook the dough over a low heat. Mix frequently. The water will slowly cook out of the mixture and you’ll notice it starts to take on a sticky dough appearance.
  3. Keep mixing until the edges of the dough along the side and bottom of the pan appear dry. Pinch a piece of dough. If it’s not gooey, the dough is ready.
  4. Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board or cooking tray that can withstand a little food coloring.
  5. Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth and then divide it into the number of colors that you’d like to make. We divided our in half: one orange and the other white.
  6. Flatten the ball, add a little bit of food coloring, and knead it in. Add more food coloring to get the desired shade.
  7. Store the dough in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it’ll keep for months.

"Smells Amazing" Pumpkin Pie PlayDough |

My 2-year old was very happy, however, to shake-shake-shake the pie spices all over her gigantic mound of dough. Can you imagine how yummy our kitchen smelled?


Easy "smells great" pumpkin pie play dough |

After all this cooking, it was time to bake! At this point, our orange and white/tan doughs marbled into something lovely, and we got busy making small cakes and setting them out to eat on a 3-tier plate server.

Playdough Recipes

Rainbow Play Dough, Tinkerlab

No-cook Cinnamon Playdough, The Imagination Tree

39 Ways to Play with Playdough, The Artful Parent

Downloadable (Free) Playdough Recipe Book, Nurture Store

Fall Activities

50 Simple Halloween Ideas for Kids, TinkerLab

Fall Bucket List, Tinkerlab

40 Autumn Activities for Kids, The Imagination Tree

Make Fall Sunprints, Tinkerlab

Multi-color Leaf Prints, Kleas

Negative Leaf Impressions, Tinkerlab

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DIY Paper Tape Roads

kids car collection
Sometimes we have to push our kids outside their comfort zones to help them take on new perspectives, face and overcome challenges, and confront their biases.

I have a growing collection of diecast vehicles that I keep in a nice, inviting basket. And do you know who plays with these cars, trucks, and airplanes? Boys who visit us.

Despite my best efforts at diversifying my childrens’ clothes and play things, I have become zen with the fact that I have two tutu + tiara loving girls who do not play with mini cars. If you want to see what I mean, take a look at this post.

It’s nice to have something that appeals to our friends, but I wondered if I could make these cute mini roadsters more appealing to my fairy princesses.

paper tape road kids play

The Invitation

After my kids went to bed I removed the plastic tablecloth from their art table and laid out a series of roads, parking spaces, and dead-ends with orange paper tape. I love this 10-roll set of 1/2″ Colored Masking Tape from Discount School Supply.

I used paper tape because it’s low-tack and easy to remove from the table without harming the surface. You won’t want to leave it on for days on end, but it’ll do the trick for a couple days.

Then I placed a few vehicles, action figures, and road features around the table as an invitation to play.

Did they bite?

paper tape roads kids

Hellz yeah!

You can see them still in their jammies and stages of undress, eager to play a new game. The beauty of it is that this new game came with a $0.00 price tag.

paper tape roads kids

After a few minutes, 4-year old Nutmeg wanted to peel up some of the tape to make new roads and build better parking areas. She insisted that the airplane remain in this spot until her little sister started to have her own strong opinions.


They enjoyed speeding the cars along the roads, crashing into vehicles and stop signs, and being some of the worst drivers I’ve ever seen.

paper tape roads kids

But they seem to still be fairies at heart, and the play ended after about fifteen minutes. Nutmeg wanted me to remove the tape completely, but I convinced her to allow me to leave it up for her sister.

The next day I converted it into a backyard roadway for their dollhouse. You can see it features as a backdrop in yesterday’s post: Dollhouse Games.

Do your kids enjoy playing with cars? What kind of games do they play? Do you have any tips for making them more fun for children who aren’t natural fans of vehicles?

Hands on: As we Grow has a comprehensive list of 35 activities for Things that Go! It’s great, and will keep active vehicle-fans happy for hours.

Imaginative Play: Dress-up

Do your kids love dressing up? Mine do, and not a day goes by that they’re not in a bumblebee costume, waving around magic wands, or adorned with tiaras.  

I should say that I fall into the camp of allowing my kids to dress themselves, which does wonders for fueling their creativity, imagination, and independence. And it also means I have to be okay with the possibility of tutus on a farm or magic wands over brunch. I could draw the line, of course, but I don’t really see the harm in it as long as they’re safe and they’re not dressed as fairies at a wedding.

dressing up

Do you have a dress-up cabinet?

I’m a big fan of the dress-up closet, cabinet, or basket and recommend that you get one started if it’s not already in place in your home. We have a cabinet in the kids’ room that’s filled with 3 large bins. Everything gets dumped into the bins, which helps keep the room tidy at the end of the day.

What do you fill it with?

You can stock it with all kinds of things: Halloween costumes (look for these on sale right after the holiday), ballet costumes, your old jewelry/dresses/shirts/shoes, scrubs, aprons, headbands, etc.

My girls (22 months and 4-years) gravitate to fairy costumes, tutus, wings, insect costumes (bees + butterflies), tiaras, and wands.

My 4-year old is obsessed with outer space at the moment and flagged the astronaut costumes in the Chasing Fireflies catalog that just arrived in our mailbox (I’m not an affiliate…just a a fan who’s happy to pass the good word along).

tap shoes

I recently found these almost brand-new tap shoes at a second-hand store, and they’ve become a favorite of my toddler’s. She loves stomping around the house, testing them on different surfaces, and making a general rumpus.

dressing up imagination

If the dress-up supplies are easy for the kids to access, there’s a good chance that they’ll have them on at all parts of the day: play time, meals, trips to the farm, and gardening are just some of the times that my kids like to dress up.

And when they put their dress-up gear on, they’re transformed. They’ll fly like bees, twirl like ballerinas, and build an ER center with their doctor gear.

What are your kids’ favorite dress-clothes? And how do you organize them?