Sensory Activity: Wheat Berries

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


  • 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

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?

Note: Tinkerlab shares affiliate links for products we use and companies we adore. If you purchase through those links we’ll receive a small percentage of the sale, which help keep our inspiration engines running!

Sensory Activity: Shredded Paper

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?


10 Ways to Raise Creative Kids

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda

A version of this post was originally shared at Kiwi Crate.


Are you interested in raising your child to be their most creative self? The path to creative thinking isn’t a direct on, but there are a few landmarks that can help us find our way.


Here are 10 ways to raise creative children:


1. Make Mistakes

Stanford researcher and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, shares that children who are afraid of failure are less likely to think creatively. If your child acts disappointed at making a mistake, try saying something like, “what can we do to change this outcome?” or “how could you do this again?” I like how my friend and colleague Ben Grossman-Kahn of The Nordstrom Innovation Lab calls this Failing Forward, or looking at mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than failures.

2. Get Messy

Most of us like a clean space and feel overwhelmed when messes get out-of-hand. However, when children are in their creative element, messes can quickly develop. The next time your child asks to paint or wants to dump a bag of cotton balls all over the floor, make room for it (and/or take it outside). You might have to contend with a mess, but the creative benefits will surpass this temporary inconvenience.

3. Offer Praise for Effort

We’ve all heard a lot about how praise can hinder a child’s independent thinking. In Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, he talks about how rewards succeed at motivating people to….earn more rewards. The problem with praise is that it can strip a child from searching for his own internal motivations. This isn’t to say that all praise is bad, but next time you’re tempted to praise, try saying something objective such as, “I see that you put your shoes on by yourself,” or “You’re working really hard on that math problem.”

4. Be open-minded

Offer your child choices as a way to encourage independent thinking. You may not be in the habit of eating dinner for breakfast, but if your child says she wants to eat pasta before heading off to school, make room for that. If she wants to help in the kitchen, try turning your kitchen into a science lab and give her open access to a handful of ingredients and kitchen tools.

5. Model Creativity

What’s your creative outlet? Where do you enjoy putting your creative energy? Cooking, singing, gardening, drawing, dancing? Children who watch their parents engage in creative activities are more likely to embrace these activities themselves. If it’s been a while since you’ve done something creative, think about what made you happy in your own childhood and spend half an hour doing that activity with your child. How did it feel? Could you try it again tomorrow? And the next day?

6. Step Back

This may seem to contradict #5 a bit, but it’s important to remember that this is all about striking a balance. If a child feels like she’s constantly under surveillance, she may be less likely to take risks, which would diminish her creativity. If you encourage autonomy, you’ll see your child’s imagination bloom. The next time your child is engaged in quiet play, drawing, or writing, refrain from jumping in with a comment like “what are you drawing?” This will only pull him out the zone. Instead, make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy a moment to yourself!

7. Set aside creativity time

This can be hard, especially for working parents, but children need unstructured time to imagine, build, experiment, and explore. It could be half an hour after dinner, drawing time in bed before reading a book, or an hour of imaginative play every weekend. Look at your schedule and make sure that there’s time set aside for this.

8. Get Back to the Basics

Toys that beep and flash are fun, and definitely have their place, but they don’t build creative thinkers the way sticks, tubes, blocks, dolls, office supplies, sand, and water do. Spend some time watching your child play and take a quick inventory of your toys. What do they play with the most? What objects do they pull into imaginative play? Can you swap a close-ended toy (for example, a toy with buttons that has one or two functions) with an open-ended toy (like blocks that encourage free play)? This post by Amy Anderson for SimpleKids is full of great ideas: Creative Pretend Play Props and Ideas

9. Minimize Screen Time

It can be hard for some families to remove screen time altogether, but we can all make an effort to spend less time in front of the screen. Time spent watching videos or cartoons could be spent drawing, building a city out of blocks, or serving up play dough cupcakes. What could you do to reduce screen time?

10. What other ideas do you have for raising creative kids?

There are so many ways to encourage a child’s creativity, and I’d love to hear what works for YOU! What would you add as the #10 way to raise creative kids?


Pop up Paper Zoo {Free Download}

pop up paper zoo download

Back in September I wrote about how we made a Pop-Up Paper ZooThis is one of my favorite posts because the project is child-directed and it can lead to imagination-building and experimentation.

At the end of the post, I asked if anyone would like to have a PDF template so you could make these yourself. There were some “yeses” in the room, and I have to apologize for taking so long to follow up on this promise.

Of course, you may find it’s easy enough to draw your own animals (I know ours were less-than-perfect, but my 3-year old didn’t mind a bit), but sometimes it’s nice to have the heavy-lifting taken care of.

I drafted up an elephant and a giraffe to get you started. I tried to make these nice enough that you could use them for a classroom, playgroup, or gift them to a friend. To make more animals you could download a free animal font such as this one from Swiss Miss, find your favorite animal/s, and adjust your font size to the size you want the animal to be. And then you’d want to trace it or use it as a template. Oh, and keep in mind that printing these on CARDSTOCK will give you the best results.

What do you think? I received good feedback on the DIY Paper Bag Book PDF that I shared earlier this week, so maybe this is a new direction for me?

Okie doke, that’s it…You can download the 2-page FREE PDF here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and how (and if) you could use something like this. Do you print my posts for homeschooling? Do you like to print your favorite projects from your favorite blogs? Are you purely digital, and printing never happens in your home?


How to Build a Simple Clip Fort

how to build a clip fort

How was your Valentine’s Day? We had a drizzly pre-Valentines romp in the park with friends and I spent Valentine’s morning leading a fun docent training workshop at the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA). Under the leadership of Education Director, Lucy Larson, SJMA one of the most visitor-centered museums around. It’s not a huge museum, which means it’s easy to navigate with squirmy kids, and if you ever take a docent tour you’ll be surprised at how much the docents care about what YOU think. No stuffy lectures here!

So backing up a bit, I’ve been clearing the clutter from my house (see herehere, and here) –what a slow job that is with two little kids running around the house! — and I found a huge stack of sheets that we really don’t need anymore. We gave a few away to our favorite thrift store, but before I parted with all of them I asked the Tinkerlab Facebook community for ideas on what we could do with this bounty of potential fun. So many great ideas came my way that I decided I’d try a bunch of them out. So today I’m starting with building a simple fort with sheets and big kitchen clips. This activity is perfect for little kids and helps foster imagination and invention, while giving kids the opportunity to build with everyday materials.


how to build a clip fort under the table

Start by assessing your room for fort-able furniture. Anything heavy with lots of head space is good — if the piece is too light it has the potential to tip over. Move things together and shift your furniture around. Some ideas: couches, dining tables, coffee tables, kid art tables. Look for places to clip your sheets, move the sheets around and twist the corners and edges until you and your kids are satisfied with the results, and BAM — you have a fort.

These steel wire clips (above) don’t have as much reach, but I use them for just about everything in my kitchen so they’re plentiful in my house. They’re great for clipping to thin things under 1/2″ wide.

how to clip sheet to the table for a fortI’ve had these forever and couldn’t find them online, but they seem to be similar to ng this big clip (with round magnet on the back so you can stick it to the fridge when you’re not turning your house into a faraway tent planet).

clip a sheet to the coffee table

This is one of our favorite set-ups: scooting the coffee table up to the dining table for an low entry that rises for easy sitting (and sleeping). My three year old dragged a few pillows and blankets inside for an extra-snuggly spot.

take a blurry picture of your dadI was busy snapping photos when N asked if she could take a drive with the camera. So she turned the camera on my husband who is so game, and she wiggled down onto her belly to take this shot. I have a heavy camera, which makes for some wobbly (but happy) photos.

I recently came across this site, All For the Boys, which hosts a weekly Fort Friday post. It’s awesome, and if your kids like building forts you’ll get all sorts of inspiration over there. Not to mention, Allison takes photo submissions and might include your fort on her site. In her words: “If you want to share a photo of your fort to inspire us send them to info[at]allfortheboys[dot]com and I’ll share them here on Fort Friday.”

Do your kids like to build forts? What do you like to make them with?


Paper Bag Museum

In case you missed yesterday’s post, we’re hosting a super fun Paper Bag Creative Challenge that brought over 50 kid-directed paper bag projects together in one spot. Today I’m excited to share our own take on the challenge.

paper bag art oil pastels

This is how our art table looked the other morning.

paper bag art table

Me and the girls crafting up a paper bag collage storm.

My one year old colored paper bags with oil pastels and glued hearts and sequins to a paper bag while my 3 year old went to town — all day long — making paper bag collages that quickly took up all the ceiling space in the room.

collage installation

My 3-year old, N, called these her Valentine Collages and Paper Bag Art. She recently picked up on how museums have multiples of one type of thing, and decided that this would be her Paper Bag Museum. In case you’re wondering, I was told that it was okay that some of the things in the museum weren’t made with paper bags. She’s the curator, so I couldn’t really argue with that.

paper bag museum

We set up a Vistor Services Desk with information about our admission policies and hours. It’s really important for people to know that they can’t hang out in our house at dinner!

paper bag museum

We gathered up all the paper bag creations that weren’t hanging from the beams and displayed them here. Maps are in the basket on the left and she set up an interactive activity in the paper bag “basket.” More on that in a sec.

paper bag museum maps

We talked about how museums share all sorts of informative collateral for visitors to pick up, like maps, schedules, and catalogues. I cut a big paper grocery bag into squares and she decided to turn them into maps. To make this map, we started with a “you are here” dot, and then she added trails into the various rooms of our house, also marked by dots.

paper bag museum maps

But why stop with one map when you’re expected a big audience!

interactive museum prompt with kids

Then she handed me a stack of post-its and dictated this participatory prompt to me.

The museum educator in me was so proud!

This wasn’t going to be some stuffy old museum — oh no, she was thinking about her visitors’ experience and wanted to make sure their voices were heard!

paper bag museum

Our first visitor woke up from her nap just in time for the opening, and got right to work with a drawing. The prompt worked!

The museum is now closed for the installation of a new show. My one year old is enamored by fish, so maybe we’ll figure out a way to build her an Aquarium!

What’s your child’s favorite kind of museum? Could you set up an imaginative play area based on it?


If you’re interested in reading more about participatory museums, Museum 2.0 is one of my favorite sites, and it’s run by Nina Simon, Executive Director of The Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz and author of The Participatory Museum.


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.