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

Inspired by Nature: wasp nest and bumble bee art

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.

Directions

  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

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

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

fall playdough

Have you ever made your own playdough? Store bought playdough is okay in a pinch, but making your own is a money saver and you can make TONS of it in mere minutes.

Easy! How to make your own pumpkin pie play dough with ingredients that you probably already have in the house.  It smells amazing!

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.

playdough

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.

playdough

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.

playdough

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
 
Author:
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.
Supplies
  • 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
Steps
  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.

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?

playdough

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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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

DIY Paper Tape Roads

paper tape road kids play

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.

v

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

dress up 2.036

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?

 

Easy Art: Air Dry Clay

creative kids clay

creative kids clay

Material: Air Dry Clay

Have you ever noticed that kids don’t need a lot of bells and whistles and fancy stuff to get creative, have fun, and feel on top of the world? Yesterday we foraged some cardboard boxes from a neighbor’s move because 4-year old Nutmeg has a vision of building a space station.

Today I’d like to introduce you to ONE material that helps build creative thinking, and share some tips on how to use it. The idea is to keep your life simple while supporting your child’s curiosities.

creative kids clay

Crayola makes a wonderful product called Air Dry Clay. You can buy it in 2.5 or 5 pound containers. The 5 lb. container is about $10, and if you store it properly it will last for ages. I’ve had our 2.5 lb. tub for about 5 months, we use it about once/month, and it’s still in great shape.

But why buy clay, if you have play dough?

I’m an enormous fan of play dough (here’s the BEST play dough recipe if you’re looking for one), but there are some unique benefits to clay:

  • In terms of squeezing, building, and inventing, clay and play dough serve similar purposes, but the texture of clay gives children a different sensory experience.
  • Kids will enjoy learning that clay is a special kind of dirt that can be molded and dried at high temperatures to create dimensional objects
  • Clay is more dense and requires stronger muscles to mold it and work with it.
  • Adding water to clay creates a slippery material that many children love to play with. In the real “clay world” a mixture of water and clay is called “slip” and it’s used to attach one dry clay piece to another.
  • Clay can be molded into sculptures and objects that can be saved and later painted: pinch pots, bowls, alligators, rockets, etc.

How we use it

We always pull all the clay from the bucket and divide it in two, so that each of my kids has a hefty piece. Our table is covered with a plastic table cloth,, and at the end of the project clean-up is easy with a few wipes of a rag or sponge.

To begin, I usually give my kids a pile of clay…and that’s it!

I like to scaffold my projects, meaning that I’ll slowly introduce materials to them. I do this because I find that extending a project like this improves their ability to fully explore phenomena and keeps them from being done in 3 minutes flat. You’ve had that happen right?!

Once that runs its course, I’ll give my kids a small bowl of water so that they can add it to the clay to moisten it. Older children will probably dab the water with their fingers and add it to the clay as needed. My monkeys, on the other hand, are champions of bowl-dumping. And that’s fine. If the table is getting too wet I’ll limit them to “x” number of bowls. They love playing with the clay when it’s wet…it’s a totally different sensory experience.

creative kids clay

And finally, I’ll introduce them to a simple tool such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, wooden knife, glass marbles, etc. Again, I usually try to keep this to one material so that they’re not overwhelmed by choices. Having one material to add to the clay invites them to push their imaginations and test multiple solutions to problems.

When they’re done, the clay goes back into the container. While this clay is designed to “air dry” we solely use it for the purpose of sensory play, fine motor development, and imagination-building.

Clean-up

I wipe the table down with a clean, damp terry cloth rag. Any clay that gets on the clothes should wash right out. Put clumps of clay back in the container or in the trash. It’s important that clay doesn’t go down your sink, or it will clog your pipes.

Other Materials

I’m planning to write about other art and exploration materials: is there anything that you’d like to see me write about?

Resources

mr. rogers celebrates arts

Mr. Rogers Episode 1763: Celebrates the Arts. Mr. Rogers meets potter Dolly Naranjo who forages clay from a hillside, mixes it with volcanic ash (with her foot!), and shows us how to make a coil pot. If you have Amazon Prime, you can screen it for FREE by clicking on the link.

Clay and Children: The Natural Way to Learn. By Marvin Bartel at Goshen College Art Department. A wonderful resource by a potter on teaching children about clay.

What is clay? on KinderArt. Kid-friendly definition of clay, words used in the pottery studio (wedge, kiln, slip, glaze, etc.)

Make Air Dry Pendants, from Melissa at The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Circular Patterns + Creative Thinking

paper plate mandala

Despite the thousands of ideas you’ve seen floating around the internet, do you ever feel like you’re at a loss for an art activity that your kids will enjoy, while also challenging them to think?

mandala

Children get excited about solving real problems, and the problem in this project lies in figuring out how to circumnavigate a paper plate with color and patterns. While tackling the challenge of working in the round and developing a series of patterns, you can also feel good knowing that this helps with spatial reasoning and math skills too!

Further, this project is great for building creative thinking skills and the imagination.

Oh, and did I mention that the set-up and materials are ridiculously simple. You don’t need a lot of art know-how to make this work for you.

Materials

  • Paper Plates
  • Markers or Paint

paper plate mandala

We cleared off the coffee table and I gave each of my children (Nutmeg is 4 and Rainbow is 21 months) a paper plate and a caddy of markers. Simple, right?

I started by talking about how we were going to draw around the plate in circles, and then began by drawing on my own plate (in the foreground). I started with a small green flower, and then surrounded it with a circle, another circle of dots, a circle, and so on.

Nutmeg quickly caught on and plotted her own take on a circular pattern. Baby R didn’t draw in circles, but happily did her own thing with plates and markers.

paper plate mandala

Most likely because I initiated my own plate with a flower at its center, many of N’s designs looped around a flower too. The power of suggestion is strong, and I think children can learn a lot from their parents and teachers, but it’s smart to be mindful of this phenomena.

paper plate mandala

Later in the day while Baby Rainbow napped, Nutmeg wanted to try this project with paint. So I set her up with yogurt containers filled with a little bit of Liquid Watercolor Paint (such a great product, from Discount School Supply).

All in all, we created about 12 plates this day. Because they were all colored on the back side, I saved them and we’ll use them on a picnic one day soon.

paper plate mandala

What do you think? Do you have a stack of paper plates that could use a little bit of color? Or maybe you could try this on your next picnic?

More Circular Challenges

Tracing Circles, Tinkerlab

Painting Around the Hole, The Artful Parent

Leaf Mandalas for the Wall, The Artful Parent

Spirograph Mandalas, Paint Cut Paste

Easy Art for Kids – Circle Printing, Picklebums

 

Finding Flow: A Journey Toward Happiness

flow.017.017

Have you ever been so deeply involved in something that you lost all sense of time? How did you feel in this moment?

It happens to me all the time, often when I’m writing blog posts like this late into the night. Oops, it’s 2 am. How did it get to be so late? Or when I’m building or painting something that requires my focus and attention. Maybe it happens to you when you’re training for a big run or when you’re baking your favorite recipes. It’s a great feeling, right? You lose all sense of yourself and probably create something incredible that amazes even you. And maybe you thought, “really, did I make that?”

And guess what…this happens to kids as well. 

When I pay attention to what my children are interested in and how they get wholly absorbed in meaningful activities (pouring and mixing water in the bath, imaginative play in forts, or mastering a drawing game, below), I notice that these moments happen all the time. At the root of these moments are the elements of curiosity, exploration, and imagination.

I recently facilitated a cloud dough station at my daughter’s nursery school. A handful of children surrounded the table, asking good questions., squishing dough in their hands, and laughing. One of the boys who arrived at the table late couldn’t keep his hands off the dough; it reminded him of snow.  He was captivated by the feel of it and stayed rooted at that table, running his fingers through the silky dough and enjoying the phenomena of its texture. Witnessing this enthrallment in a child other than my own reminded me of the growth, comfort, and exploration that children can find through meaningful hands-on experiences.

Csikszentmihalyi flow with kids

Watching young children engage deeply in an activity (some to the point that they stopped talking and forget that the world is moving around them) made me think of the concept of flow, coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his seminal book,  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

The idea, simply, is that people are happiest when they’re deeply absorbed by whatever they’re doing. In a 1996 Wired Magazine article,  Csikszentmihalyi explained flow as…

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

In his books,  Csikszentmihalyi explains that reaching a true state of flow can takes years of experience and practice, but you can see moments of it in children of all ages, learning how to focus their attention by exploring the things that they’re passionate about. Have you seen these moments in your own children or students?

An interesting point to note about flow is that it can’t happen if the task is too easy. If the child (or adult) isn’t challenged to test their new skills,  they become bored. You’ve witnessed this transition away from flow if you’ve ever tried setting up a “favorite” activity, only to find your child is no longer interested in it.

In the photos I’m sharing here, my daughter just learned the dots and boxes game, and wants to keep at it (over multiple days) to figure it out and test her knowledge. She’s in a state of 3-year-old flow. But as soon as she’s mastered the game or feels like it’s too simple, she’ll no longer be in that state.

Csikszentmihalyi flow children

I’d love to hear about your own observations of flow, either with yourself or your children. Can you think of a time that you experienced this? And what about your children?

And if you can’t think of any off the bat, I’d like to challenge you to look for these moments over the next few days. Take some notes and report back with your discoveries.

Word Drawing Game

drawing game preschool

Do your kids like to draw? Do you ever play drawing games?

The other day my kids and I were cleaning out the garage. Well, really it was me while they loitered, moved things around, and made a lot of noise.

My 3-year old found an old, but never-before-opened game of a Cranium. She adores opening new packages and ran into the house for a pair of scissors.

Once the box was open and she was done exploring its contents, she asked if we could play. I love how open-minded and full of enthusiasm children can be.

If you look at the packaging I think it recommends this game for age 18 and older, so it wasn’t exactly age-appropriate, but we played a version that she enjoyed and I think it could work in some capacity for kids of all ages.

drawing games preschool

I searched through the deck of cards for something that she had some chance of drawing (and understanding). Which meant “no” on Devil’s Food Cake, Card Shark, and Wicked Witch of the East, and “yes” on Mermaids, Bubble Bath, and Potty (short for Potty Training).

My daughter can’t read yet, so this is how we played…

I pulled out a card and read it to her while she looked on (and maybe picked up on how letters form words). Then she drew it, to the best of her ability.

This part was the most fun for me, and in some cases frustrating for her. In the picture above, she was challenged to draw a mermaid and asked me if she could look at a picture of one. I pulled up a drawing of Disney’s Little Mermaid, she gave it her best effort, exclaimed that it looked nothing like a mermaid, and this exercise ended with, “it’s your turn.”

Then I drew one (a potty) while she guessed what I was drawing. Despite years of drawing classes, my drawing barely looked like a potty and it took her forever to make a correct guess. I think it helped her to see me struggle, showing that we can’t always create the things that our brains envision. At least I hope that’s what happened.

Back to her…she got to draw bubble bath…

drawing game preschool

Again, I was so curious to see how she would tackle this challenge. She chose a blue crayon….

drawing game preschool

Drew some water along the left side of the paper and bubbles on the right side. Ah, a bubble bath! We played a total of about 5 drawings before she was done.

If I were to do this again, I’d make my own cards with words of things that are in her drawing vocabulary: flowers, people, rockets, and rainbows. And I’d include a few things just outside of her drawing ability: house, bike, tree, bunny.

But venus flytraps and Hawaiian shirts may have to wait another 15 years.

More drawing games

Art Dice: A fun tool for creating randomly-created art. Also good for teaching shapes, colors, lines, etc.

Slide Drawing: A roll of paper and some crayons turn a slide into more than a downhill ride

Drawing Shadows: Play with sidewalk chalk on a sunny morning or afternoon

Organic Shape Monsters: You just need some string, a drawing tool, and a big imagination.

Hole inspiration: Draw around holes cut into a sheet of paper (The Artful Parent)

Challenge Drawings: Cut out shapes of paper and see what you can turn them into (The Artful Parent)

Pick and Draw Art Game: A deck of drawing cards reviewed by The Chocolate Muffin Tree

A simple way to learn how to Draw Circles from Lessons Learnt Journal

Stuck in a waiting room? Save this fun waiting room drawing idea (Mama Smiles)

Do you have a favorite drawing game or post about a drawing game?


Sensory Activity: Wheat Berries

sensory activity

Could your child spend hours sifting flour or scooping sand? Sensory activities like these can fully absorb the minds of young children as they test the limits of materials and build imaginary worlds through pouring, filling, and building.

This sensory activity is so easy, it doesn’t require a lot of materials, and the process of exploring tactile materials through hands-on play is good for growing brains.

But why wheat berries? Like rice or sand, wheat berries are fun to scoop, but the larger, rounder size has a different tactile feeling than these other materials. I’m not advocating for one over the other, but presenting this as an option that came on like gangbusters with my kids.

And you can grow or cook this nifty grain after the playing is done…scroll down for more on that.

wheat berry sensory activity

Materials

  • Wheat Berries*
  • Large Container
  • Small toys, bowls, and scoopers

* I found our wheat berries in the bulk bin aisle of Whole Foods, and used a full bag for this project. You can find wheat berries in most bulk bin aisles and online. I spotted this organic 25 Lb Bag of Hard Red Wheat Berries on Amazon and there are plenty of other choices there.

sensory activity

I poured the wheat berries into the tub and placed a few plastic eggs, a couple homemade paper funnels, a couple bowls, a scooper, and an egg carton next to the tub. My kids dropped what they wanted inside and started playing.

sensory activity

They came up with all sorts of ideas that surprised me, but perhaps the biggest surprise was watching them play alongside one another (well, across the table, actually) in total harmony.

The other surprise: This activity went on for days. Each night I would clean everything up, put the lid on the tab, and tuck it away under a cabinet. And the next day my toddler would ask me to pull it out.

sensory activity

The only mistake I made was setting this up over a shaggy carpet. It was such a mess, but nothing the vacuum couldn’t take care of. On a nice day, this would be fun outside, but I would caution you against setting this up over any dirt or land that you wouldn’t want wheat grass shooting up in.

They also brought dollhouse furniture and little action figures over to the tub, where they ran them through various adventures. My three-year old built a paper canoe (seen above), to fill with berries and take Strawberry Shortcake on rides down the river.

I loved watching how inventive they were with this simple grain as the backdrop for their creativity.

sensory activity

And suddenly the tub doesn’t seem so big anymore! When they exhausted all of their play options, walking right in the wheat berries, and eventually sitting in them became a game in itself.

More Wheat Berry Fun

wheat berry

Wheat Berry Gardening (above), Tinkerlab

Wheat Berry Salad with Dried Cherries and Walnuts, Ellie Krieger on Food Network

Wheatberry Salad with Bell Pepper and Red Onion, Barefoot Contessa on Food Network

A nice explanation on why wheat berries are good to eat, and a recipe for Greek Wheat Berry Salad, A Life Less Sweet blog

Have your kids played with this fun sensory grain?

Creative Ways to Spend a Sick Day

reading peg leg peke

tea for twoHow do you get through sick days?

With Spring just around the corner, I thought that maybe maybe maybe we would be the lucky ones who made it through winter without getting sick. Wishful thinking! My oldest came down with a fever the other day and we’ve been holed up at home, gathering our energy and drinking lots of fluids.

reading peg leg pekeI have an arsenal of indoor activity ideas, but to be stuck inside all day long…that’s another story. There was a break in the day when we felt a little better and threw on our wellies for some puddle stomping. Fresh air always helps, doesn’t it?

The other day I fell in love with this article on Little Stories called How to Pretend. The idea that really stuck with me was about acting out books to bring them to life.

I pulled a big box of stuffed animals off a top shelf — little friends that we haven’t seen in ages. That alone was thrilling to my kids. And then we picked out a few favorite books with animal characters that we could bring to life with our toys and puppets.

I envisioned that I would lead a puppet show of sorts while reading the books, sort of like a librarian or preschool teacher telling a story through a felt board. But my 3 year old wanted to enact the roles while I read. I live for these moments that surprise.

reading with props stuffed animalsBrown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was especially good for putting all of our toys to work. We don’t have a cat stuffed animal, but my kids were happy to substitute bunny. They really loved this and I’m sure we’ll do it again on our healthy days too.

So it looks like we’re home for one more day, just to be safe. I have a fun Saint Patty’s Day photo booth invitation set up, but not too many more ideas.

What do you like to do with your kids on sick days? How do you keep them happily engaged indoors all day long?

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Sensory Activity: Shredded Paper

brown-bag

If you’re afraid of a mess, I have to warn you up front that this is a messy one.

But it’s not a dirty kind of mess and if you stick with me here, you might become a shredded paper convert like me.

paying bills with kidsIt all started innocently, and rather boring, enough. It was a bill-paying day, and I set the kids up with their own stack of mailing labels stickers, pens, and old checkbooks while I dealt with the heavy stuff.

They were happy enough, but things heated up when we moved on to paper shredding

shredding paper in paper shredder with kids

I had basket full of old bills that were ready for the shredder, and two happy-to-please assistants who took the shredding job very seriously.

Shredders are potentially dangerous, and I would absolutely not let my kids shred on their own, but with careful supervision the act of shredding can build confidence, teaches accuracy and careful attention to details, and it’s just plain fun to make a loud ruckus.

When it’s not in use, I unplug the machine and lock it in a closet. When it’s in use, I run through the rules of good shredder usage with my three and a half year old: Up to 3 sheets at a time. Hold the paper at the top when you feed it in (no fingers near the shredding area). And it’s not for my 18 month old.

While my three year old shreds, her sister hands her stacks of paper. They love it.

Okay, so take a look at that little basket of paper up there and remember how small it appears. And remember that appearances can be deceiving.

My friend and her son came over a couple hours later to play and make some ice cream. While we were talking, my 18 month old dug her hands deep into the neatly packed shredded paper bag, and in moments the room erupted into this happy play scene…

play in shredded paper with kids

And that’s only half of the paper.

They could not have been happier. In fact, just before this moment, the kids were all winding down and ready to go their separate ways. But as soon as that bag emptied out, they found a whole other hour of play inside their little souls.

It was so fun, in fact, that my older daughter chose to keep playing rather than go to her beloved gymnastics class.

play in shredded paper with kidsMy friend is a master at imaginative play with kids, and had them bury themselves in shredded paper, pretend they were dormant volcano monsters, and then erupt without any notice. You can probably imagine the shrieking and laughter that followed.

And we all agreed that this is the perfect toy: free, open-ended, and entertaining for a long spell.

So it was messy, yes, but it was easy enough to sweep up. And rather than cart it off to the recycling bin like I had planned, it all found its way back into the closet and ready for another day of fun.

More Shredded Paper Ideas

Alpha Mom makes a bird’s nest with brown paper bags.

10+ Ideas on what you can do with Shredded Paper (like make animal bedding, papier mache, and mulch) from Bohemian Revolution.

Adorable and seasonal Shredded Paper Seed Starters from Made. These are on my to-do list.

Can you think of a time that your kid/s turned a banal situation into a burst of play? Have you played with shredded paper? Would you try this yourself?