Prepping the DIY Drop-in Studio {GIVEAWAY}

While I’m lucky to stay at home with my super-rad kids, I’m also lucky enough to squeeze some extra fun “work” into the nooks and crannies of my life. No small task (did you see my In Search of Life Balance post?), but completely worth it. One of my big projects is about to come to fruition and I’m so excited to share it with you. I’ve been helping the newly-branded Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco design a 12-month curriculum for their DIY art space. Yay!

We’re kicking the series of projects off with BUILD: Critter Habitats. Each of the projects has the TinkerLab stamp of approval for being open-ended, valuing process over product, and including found and raw materials. My kids and I spent the better part of today unpacking supplies and helping the staff with set-up, and I couldn’t believe how helpful and good my little ones were. The Museum officially opens this Saturday, October 15, with FREE admission and free rides on the 1906 Playland-at-the-Beach carousel. Please come on down and visit if you’re in the area.

If you can’t make it this weekend, I have a VIP Family Pass to give away to one of my readers at the end of this post. Woop!

Isn’t this a fab setting? It doesn’t hurt that the weather was beyond gorgeous today. It is fall, right?

These are the fun little critters, made in animation clay, that greet you as you walk through the front door.

N was a hard worker today and took the task of building a model critter habitat very seriously with some of the wonderful materials we picked up at RAFT. The space is so close to completion, but you can see that there’s still lots to be done.

While I talked shop, N and R “helped” sort stickers and scissors. Please don’t judge me for allowing my one year old to handle scissors…she was looked after very closely and she couldn’t be pulled away from this activity.

The space is gorgeous — big, bright windows, handmade furniture, and creative surprises at every turn. If you have children between the ages of 3 and 12, I hope you’ll stop by and tell me what you think. We’ve tested this project on my 3-year old and handful of interns, so I’m naturally curious to see how it goes when hundreds of kids come through the doors this weekend. Eeek.


Also, I’ve been nominated for the Most Awesome Local Blog award over at Red Tricycle. I’m in the running with some stellar Bay Area blogs, and totally humbled by the nomination. If you have a chance, would you pop over there for one sec to vote for me before coming back here to enter the giveaway?


If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or plan to visit one day soon, the Children’s Creativity Museum has offered to give away a VIP Family Pass that’s good for admission for up to four people ($40 value). Shipping address must be in the U.S. (sorry to all my International friends).

To enter:

  • Leave a comment here with a story about your favorite children’s museum experience
  • Extra entry: Tweet about it. Tag me, tinkerlabtweets, so that I can see it
Submissions accepted until 5 pm PST on Tuesday, October 18. Winner will be chosen by Random Number Generator
Good luck! Anne’s name was chosen by Random Number Generator and the Contest is now closed.


Candle Wax Watercolor Resist

Ever since my 13-month old turned one she’s been fascinated with candles, so every week or so we bust out a birthday candle and sing five or six rounds of Happy Birthday to her. One of these candles was lying around and N, my three-year old, decided to draw with it. I immediately saw the opportunity to turn this into a wax-resist watercolor lesson — you know, where you paint with watercolors on top of a waxy drawing in order to reveal the lines of your drawing — and I ran to grab the watercolor paints, brushes, water, and paper towel.

By the time I settled down and got it all set up, N was ready for the paint.

The set up: Watercolor paper, birthday candle, paper towel (for blotting saturated brushes), bowl of water, watercolor paint palette, brush.

N has been painting with watercolors for a couple years now, but every time we sit down with them I have to remind her how to clean the brush by making it “dance in the water,” and how to use the paper towel to blot excess water. But of course she never uses the paper towel. In my experience, watercolor paint is not the best painting medium for young children because it doesn’t allow for fluid mark-making as much as other gooey + runny paints like tempera might, but it’s appealing to parents because it’s cheap and far easier to clean up than tempera. So, if you’re inclined to use it, go for it, but don’t expect the paint cakes to hold onto their distinct colors for long!

My one year old couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join in — it’s impossible to distract her away from the art table when we’re working at it, so she got her own paints, etc. Did you catch my rookie move up there? Dont’ worry, I caught it quickly…

Orange smock to the rescue! We have all sorts of aprons, but I find that my kids are most comfortable in my old t-shirts. If we’re working with really wet stuff, a waterproof apron is still the best way to go. Little R was interested in holding a brush, but this became a fingerpainting/pick-the-paint-cakes-out-of-the-case project for her.

Ahhh, a lovely quiet moment of art making. Circling back to the wax resist part of this post, I imagined that N would be enthralled by the magic of it, especially since she initiated the candle drawing in the first place. But she wasn’t all that impressed and turned her watercolor painting efforts toward other things in subsequent paintings. It was still an afternoon full of passion and industry, so no complaints here! And while our final product didn’t turn out so “spectacular,” I urge you to give this project a go if you think your child will enjoy it.

How do you respond to self-initiated art activities?

Think Different

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.” – Steve Jobs

I never met Steve Jobs, but his life’s work has influenced me in multiple ways, both subtle and overt, and it’s impossible for me to pass up the opportunity to acknowledge my gratitude for his attention to detail, user experience, and life-changing technological inovation. I’m writing this post on my Mac while downloading photos off my iPhone, and I can think of a million ways in which these tools have altered my life’s work and interactions. The phone, for one, has kept my brain occupied in the middle of the night during some of my hardest nights of early motherhood, connected my children with their grandparents who live miles away, enabled me to snap impromptu photos and videos of milestone moments (or not) when I left my real camera at home, helped me find my way to restaurants/baby showers/weddings/mechanics/airports/towing companies (not a favorite experience, but thank goodness for the phone!).

By some error of craziness, I happen to live near Steve Jobs and paid my respect by lighting candles in a touching street-side memorial in front of his home. The memorial grew by morning and it’s more than apparent that his influence reached so many.

One of the main reasons I write this blog is to prompt, suggest, and gently push parents and caregivers toward raising creative children. This isn’t a soapbox, and if you’re here it’s most likely because you also see the importance of creative thinking, but I also want to stress the point that we have to grab the one chance we have to raise children to be their own true selves, to follow their big ideas, to test juxtapositions that may turn into something entirely novel, and to think different. I’m inspired by Steve Jobs’ life — his strong inner compass that directed him to follow his wild ideas despite convention and the allure of an easy road to success.

I found this video from Apple’s Think Different campaign, and it happens to be the only one narrated by Steve Jobs himself. It never aired. And it’s short. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy hearing the voice of what many consider the Thomas Edison of our time.

And I’d love to know: How has Steve Jobs’ influence changed your life?

Experiment: Make Fake Snow

How to Make Fake Snow

We’ve been making fake snow, which is equally fun for kids like mine who celebrate winter under a sea of palm trees or those who are house-bound by piles of real winter snow.

How to make fake snow: a cool experiment with kids  |

Note: This post contains Amazon links for your convenience.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids |


How we did it

We started by pouring a small amount of sodium polyacrylate, or fake snow  into a large tub. This material used to make fake snow is non-toxic (although you wouldn’t want to eat it), and you’ll recognize it as the same stuff used to absorb liquid in disposable diapers. I picked up a small bag of “snow” at RAFT, but I’m curious about pulling apart a diaper to mine this fun-to-play-with polymer. If you try this, let me know!

I almost always fall into the camp of “you can always add more,” so we started with just a little bit. When I bought the fake snow, the woman working there joked about a desire to fool her parents by pouring the powder all over their lawn in the middle summer, only to be greeted by a sea of snow once their sprinklers went off. This vision sat firmly in my mind, so I poured gingerly, not knowing just how much the powder would expand.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comIt turns out that it does in fact expand, but nothing to worry yourself about!

one year old drawingMy one-year old was too little for this activity, and I was happy to situate little sister with an activity of her own. She was happy.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comA request came in for a spoon and a bowl to fill. The project is expanding! I asked N to describe the texture for me, and she said it was cool and wet. I agree.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comWorking side-by-side, I now live for moments like this.

Mix colors into your fake snow

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comWhen playing with white snow seemed to run its course, I introduced Liquid Watercolors and a plastic pipette. I limited N to two colors (mostly to keep the crazy factor down) and she requested blue and magenta.

toddler sharpens pencilsMeanwhile, little R learned a thing or two about sharpening pencils.

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids |

This turned into a cool color mixing experiment. It was fascinating to see how many of the “snow” pellets absorbed one color or the other, and cast an illusion of purple when viewed at once.

Make Fake Snow with a Friend

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids | Tinkerlab.comThe next day our neighbor, J, came over for another snow-making session. J likes a good experiment as much as my daughter does, and the two of them scooped, squeezed, stirred, mixxed and poured until they had to be pulled away for dinner!

What do you think? Will you try to make fake snow?

How to make fake snow: an experiment with kids |


Learn more about how disposable baby diapers work from Imagination Station

Watch Steve Spangler demonstrate Intant Snow on the Ellen Show. I can’t help but smile at Ellen’s reaction to Steve. She’s hilarious.

Note: Use your best judgement and due diligence when using these materials with young children.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime

Painting on Wood Panel

There’s something about how the layers of paint sit on top of the wood that I find so appealing.

I had to pick up two wood panels for a baby shower gift and my three year old asked if she could paint on some too. She chose three small panels, one as a housewarming gift for her uncle and the other two for herself.

She also asked if she could have some new acrylic paint, and of course the only color she wanted was a shocking bright green. But I’m here to foster her creative intelligence and bit my tongue in favor of enthusiasm for her independent ideas.

When we got home, I taped the panel’s edges off with blue painters tape. In my own painting process I begin by drawing, and then layer the paint on top of that. In a similar fashion, her initial marks were made with grease pencils, followed by shocking green paint.

This was all set up on top of a large piece of paper to keep our table cleanish.

Oh, and the pink shirt is a smock — in case acrylic paints are new to you, they will NOT wash out of clothes! But don’t let this deter you — acrylics are worth it! They have a totally different look and feel from school-grade paints like tempera, which would be too flaky and isn’t as archival for a project like this.

When the first painting was done, she moved on to the next two. We used a variety of brushes and she had a great time sorting through the bazillion colors of acrylic paint that I’ve collected over the years.

By the time she reached the third painting, I noticed that her confidence with the materials had risen, she made complex comments about her aesthetic choices, and her ability to control the paint and execute her ideas as she imagined was further developed.


The next day: Peeling off the blue tape — so fun!

This became a mixed media piece with the addition of glitter, which you can kind of see up there. It was added while the paint was still wet, and sticks quite nicely to the paint. One of my favorite things about acrylic paint is how fast it dries! It almost has the look of oil paint, but the results are immediate.


  • Wood panel
  • Acrylic paint
  • Synthetic fiber brushes (for acrylic paint)
  • Water container for washing brushes
  • Grease pencils
  • Blue painters tape
Note: Acrylic paint should be used in a well-ventilated area. Follow all instructions found on the back of your paint container/s for proper use.
If you haven’t already seen this mesmerizing video of child artist, Aelita Andre, I thought this might be a good time to share it. This gives me studio envy and has my mind racing with thoughts about how deliberate and thoughtful Aelita is, and how we can adopt some of her studio habits in our own art making practice. The more exposure children have to media and materials (in whatever discipline), the closer they come to mastering the nuances of the materials and reaching the level of expert in their work.

I’d love to hear what you think.

This post is shared with It’s Playtime.