DIY Water Wall

collection of water wall materials

Does it feel like summer in your part of the world? It’s heating up here, and my kids have been enjoying this easy and inexpensive new backyard water feature. All you need is a nearby water source and a wall to attach it to.

I’ve been inspired by Let the Children Play once again! Last summer Jenny gave us the idea for our mud pie kitchen (and here’s her mud kitchen), and other outdoor hands-on activities that get my kids thinking and building in the fresh air. Her water wall post (full of water wall inspiration from around the web) has been sitting in my mind since she posted it in October (she’s in Australia where it’s bloody hot in October), and it’s altogether responsible for the hours of fun my kids and neighborhood friends had with our newest backyard water feature. Thank you, Jenny!

My older daughter helped me build this one afternoon last week while my toddler was napping. She loved the responsibility of holding the bottles steady while I drilled and took a lot of pride in our finished water wall. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s a lot of fun and an upcycler’s DIY dream.

water wall build

To replicate this upcycled playscape in your own garden or patio, I’ll break this down into some simple steps.

collection of water wall materials

Four Basic Materials

  1. Plastic bottles
  2. Screws (this nifty kit came from IKEA)
  3. Drill
  4. exacto knife

With the exacto knife, cut a hole in the side of the bottle. The hole will be large enough for you to fit your hand into it so that you can easily position and drill in the screws.

score bottle and add screws

Using the exacto knife, score an “X” on the side of a bottle and push a screw through the “X” from the inside. Repeat one more time so that you have two screws poking through the bottle.

Screw the bottles to a fence or wall. Tilt them slightly downward to help the water pour through. You might have to shift the bottles around or cut the holes a bit more to make the water wall work properly. Test as you go.

water wall testing

Test it out to make sure it works. Add a bucket at the bottom to catch the water, which can then be added to plants or returned to the top of the water wall.

Invite some friends over to play.

water wall play

Set up a water-filling station and add some pitchers, watering cans, and cups.

And be prepared for eye-opening, open-ended fun.

 

New Outdoor Art Studio

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Did I ever tell you that our backyard used to be a dirt patch? It would have been perfectly lovely for a team of dogs, but it’s driven me nuts since we first moved in.

 I’ve tried all sorts of hacks to make it more appealing. I’m a DIY-hacky kind of girl, after all!. First, we made a cute brick path and filled the entire yard in with wood chips. Ugh. It was pretty, but not recommended with small, barefoot children…I hate learning things the hard way! Months passed. This was followed by a half-failed attempt at seeding my own lawn. Again, learning the hard way. Another month passed before I got the sense to ask our gardener about installing sod.

And it took him one day to make it beautiful. That’s it. One day.

As soon as the grass was laid and watered my 3 year old and I wanted to run around on it. Feeling the grass under our toes was divine.

We’ve been enjoying the garden in all sorts of ways — playing in the sand box, picnics, gardening, building bridges, and of course…making art. I taped some large paper directly to the side of the house for an instant easel. The grooves from the siding gave N the additional challenge of working with a bumpy constraint, but she figured out how to work with it. When we’re indoors she rarely draws with crayons (markers are her tool of choice), but in a new place with new challenges, the crayons became more appealing.

Related to this, I recently spotted this clever way to dry outdoor paintings. Suspend rope between poles and/or trees and add some clothespins to keep the work secure. It’s not original. I’ve seen this before and I expect you have too, but I’ve never thought about setting up a clothes line for art in my own yard. Time to get to it before the weather turns and keeps us indoors.

Is there a part of your home that feels like it’s kept you and your family from reaching your full potential?

What could you do to make it work?

 

 

Rainbow Photo Scavenger Hunt

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We’ve had a lot of fun playing this game that’s all about learning and searching for the colors of the rainbow. We started playing this game when my daughter wanted to learn the order of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. All you need is a camera and some time. We like to play this on our way to the park, and it makes the meandering a lot more meaningful. My 3 year old has her own camera (it’s a kid camera) but she’s not interested in it so it’s a good thing I like snapping photos!


To play, we start with red. When she spots something red, I snap a photo of it. Then we look for something orange, and so on. Not only have we been learning the rainbow, but we’re tuning our eyes toward objects in our neighborhood. As a result of this game we’ve had some thought-provoking chats about abandoned cars, storm drains, litter, and nuances of colors like “yellow-orange.” It’s also been fascinating to look at the world through my child’s eyes. For example, when we started with “red” I spotted a big (obvious) red car, but N looked up and asked me to take a photo of the glowing red leaves on a tree. It was so subtle, but they were definitely red!

I added these photos to those from a previous post, Photo Documentary with Kids, and suddenly we’re building a colorful documentation of our neighborhood. Maybe it’s time to figure out what to do with all these photos? Please let me know if you have any ideas for us.

Water Scooping for Babies

Sensory Play: Water Scooping for Babies

Sensory Play: Water Scooping for Babies

While my older daughter tore up the grass with the Slip ‘n Slide, I set my 10 month old up with a bucket of water and some measuring cups. And she got right to work, filling and emptying the cups. It was interesting to watch her attempt to fill the cups when they were upside down, and then exciting when she figured the “problem” out and corrected for it.

And then, presumably, she was proud of one of her many accomplishments.

The provocation is simple — Set your project up outside (since most babies thrive when there are airplanes to track and birds to listen for) and provide your baby with a low bucket of water. Tools are optional. And then see what discoveries come about.

Any other ideas for playing in water with babies?

 

Art in the Park

firework paintings on bag

Can you imagine my excitement when the folks at Elmer’s Glue asked if I’d like to participate as a blogger in their summer Kid’s Craft Camp promotion? Of course I was thrilled that they offered me a humongous crate of wonderful art supplies (featured in this post), but mostly I was thinking about how on earth I could pull off setting up an art “camp” with my three year old AND 10-month old. The crazy thing is that I’m actually a seasoned art camp teacher and spent many hot summers leading hundreds of kids in art activities at the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena. But I’d never attempted this with my own kids…who nap and need diaper changes and whine. You get the picture. But I invited a handful of forgiving friends and it all turned out great! I survived, and if you have any thoughts about setting up your own “Art in the Park,” I’m happy to say that it can be done.

One more thing in case you missed the headline…this is also a BIG giveaway! Details below :)

Project #1: Firework Book Bags

One of the materials that came in the crate were these ginormous double-sided permanent markers called Project Popperz. The children I invited were pretty young, and permanent markers are way far down on my list of desirable materials for this age. However, I recently saw this project on Mom’s Crafty Space and knew we had to try it. And I’m so glad we did — it was fun, a cool science experiment, and the results were stunning. **Note: This project includes permanent markers and rubbing alcohol and should be done with adult supervision.

Materials

  • Project Popperz permanent markers
  • Canvas Bag or other light colored fabric (a t-shirt a dress shirt would work nicely)
  • Board to put inside the bag to keep the markers from bleeding through. We used these Elmer’s Bi-fold boards and they worked perfectly.
  • Rubbing Alcohol 70%
  • Eye dropper

Step #1. Invite some friends to join you.

Step #2. Draw anything you like directly onto the bag. If you want yours to look like the fireworks you see up there, try making circles of dots like those that N is making.

Step #3. Once you have a design that you’re happy with, squeeze some rubbing alcohol into the eye dropper and then squeeze it out right in the middle of the circle. Watch the markers bleed and ooh and ahh at the results. Lovely.

Step #4. Admire your work! Our friend, E, not only made a firework, but she worked on her letters too. Oh, how I love children’s drawings.

Steve Spangler Science shares more about the science of how this works.

Project #2: Sand Paintings

While Elmer’s didn’t send me any of their famous school glue (why, I don’t know — isn’t that what they’re best known for?!), I really wanted to use this stuff. Kids love squeezing the bottles and I knew it would make them all so happy. And since we were at the park, I also wanted to include some sand in a project. At first I envisioned that the kids could just hunker down right in the sandbox to make these, but the artsy side of me opted to color the sand ahead of time. Here’s how we did it…

Materials

    • Colored Sand. Scoop some dry sand into a bowl and squeeze in a healthy amount of liquid watercolors or food coloring. Mix it up until the sand is covered and then spread it out on a paper plate to dry. I let ours dry overnight. Pour it back into the bowls.
    • White Elmer’s Washable School Glue in bottles
    • Colored Card Stock or Sulphite Construction Paper (what we used here — I love this paper. The colors pop and the weight is like construction paper).

Step #1. Squeeze glue into a design on the paper. Encourage children to squeeze it thinly (rather than in one huge pile) to help it dry more quickly. If they just want to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, I say let them do that instead. It should be all about the process.

Step #2. Sprinkle a handful of colored sand on the glue. Repeat until done.
They all come out completely different, just like the kids who make them.

+++++

Giveaway!

One lucky friend of TinkerLab will receive one adult and two kid craft kits, which amounts to a whole lot of art supplies! Kits include X-Acto scissors, Craft Gel pens, Painters pens, glue sticks, Craft Bond tape, Project Popperz, Bi-Fold Bords, etc. (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of all the materials that will be included, but it’s more than what you see here!). Packaging will also differ.

To enter

  • Leave a comment here
  • Extra entry: Leave a comment on my Facebook Page
  • Extra entry: Tweet about it. Tag me, tinkerlabtweets, so that I can see it :)
  • Shipping address must be in the U.S. (sorry to all my International friends)
Submissions accepted until 5 pm PST on Friday, Sunday, July 31. Winner will be chosen by Random Number Generator.

Good luck!!

 

Driftwood Sculptures and See-Saws

driftwood seesaw

We went to a San Gregorio State Beach, a beach absolutely littered with driftwood and some of the most wonderful soft sand. My 10-month old was in sand heaven! Driftwood sculptures (like the one at the top) spotted the sand for as far as the eye could see. (which wasn’t too far, truthfully, given all that chilly fog at 4 pm!). We were captivated by these and wondered about how they were made, who made them, and who might relax or even live in them.

But when we spotted he driftwood see-saw (!!!!), it was love at first sight. I’ve never seen anything like it and found it to be so simple, yet so captivating.

What are your favorite things to do on the beach?

Photo Documentary with Kids

sidewalk chalk face

Taking time to look closely at the details of life is a skill that comes naturally to many of us, and worth fostering in children who can run like the wind. When we pay attention to details, we develop a healthy curiosity of the world that surrounds us, make comparisons, and notice nuance. And all of these good things contribute to creative and critical thinking. If you’d like to help your child sloooow down, pay attention to details, and smell the flowers (literally!), you could try this fun and interactive photo documentary activity. Your child could take all of the photos or direct an adult to, as mine did!
A few nights ago, the girls and I walked around the neighborhood just before bedtime while my husband cleaned up the kitchen. Lucky me, right?! N, my oldest, truly stops to smell the flowers (it’s a skill we’ve been working on!) and collected all sorts of treasures along the way. When we finally arrived home, we were welcomed by a joyful sidewalk chalk drawing. What a surprise! N and her dad talked about the ephemeral nature of the drawing and how it would probably be gone in the morning, a victim of the sprinklers. So, she asked my husband to take a picture of it….

She enthusiastically shared details with her dad about the walk-adventure we just took, and invited him to join her on a bike ride along the same route (a brilliant bedtime procrastination move if you ask me). And he bit!

So off they went. He brought the camera, and she asked him to take photos of things that she wanted to remember later on…

The first photo: Fuzzy Yellow Flowers

Rainbow Lantana. Did you know that Lantana is poisonous? I love this plant, but with a baby piranha in the house I recently pulled it all from my garden.

Pink Flamingos. What 3-year old wouldn’t stop to check these out?!

Garden Rocks

Green Bamboo

They circled the block and returned home. Happy, tired, and ready for bed!

How do you help your kids slow down and smell the flowers?

Do you have a favorite walk or bike ride ritual?

Painted Paper Mural

choosing paint for the paper mural

It’s summer, so just about everything we’re doing over here has taken us outside. And I also have a 10-month old who’s far happier outside than in, so I’m busy dreaming up all sorts of things that will keep my 3-year old entertained in the great outdoors. This project could also be easily set up inside — just add a drop cloth to protect your floors!

This would be a fun project for a birthday or block party — with more kids involved the enthusiasm would be sure to build!

Materials

  • Fence or Wall
  • Large Sheets or Rolls of Paper
  • Bowls filled with Paint. I used Tempera Paint
  • Paper Tape
  • Large Brushes

I taped sheets of paper to a fence, placed bowls of paint on the ground with some textured foam brushes, and my daughter took it from there.

I’ve noticed that N has been particular about keeping her paint colors separated! She kept each brush in its color, and that was that! This hasn’t always been the case; when N was younger she was more invested in mixing paint than applying it to paper.

Do your kids have a favorite way to paint?  

Fine Tuning the Mud Pie Kitchen

mud pie kitchen

In case you’re one of the few who doesn’t read my blog religiously (gasp!), we’ve been building a mud pie kitchen in our yard. It began in part as a way to lure my child into our yard, but its popularity with our resident 3-year old has organically turned this into one of our summer’s bigger projects. And the biggest surprise is that it’s been almost entirely child-driven.

About a month ago we started with this. A couple crates, some sand toys, and lots of big ideas. Two weeks later the kitchen was still going strong, so we piled into the car to drive to the Goodwill to search for mud kitchen treasures. 

This is how it looked after our thrift store trip. But did you know that my daughter likes things in their places? I was aware that the hodge-podge pile of dishes and scoopers might eventually keep her away from the outdoor kitchen, so I pulled out a jar of nails for us to hammer in “hooks” for our pots and utensils.

What I didn’t anticipate is N’s interest in hammering the nails in HERSELF! But I should have. This child has three (3!!) wooden hammers and couldn’t scramble into the house fast enough to get one.

She hammered in a few nails, but really enjoyed directing me to hammer nails in specific places.

N’s friend came over and the two of them were so industrious in this new space. It was actually very difficult to turn off the caramel-maker and break up the party at closing time!

And now I think we’re done! I love the order that the hanging utensils brings to the kitchen.

Slide Drawing

slide drawing

My daughter loooooves going to the park and we’re blessed to live in a place that’s teeming with them! So it didn’t take much convincing or prodding to get her excited about setting up this high-energy mark-making activity with me. The juxtaposition of art materials on playground equipment made for a rich, memorable experience, and prompted her to see things from our everyday experiences in a new light.

We gathered our materials — roll of paper ($5 at IKEA, I also spotted this Melissa & Doug Easel Paper Roll for $6.95), crayons, and masking tape — and moseyed over to the park for some Slide Drawing!

There were a couple of other kids at the park, and we waited for them to move toward the sandbox before I covered a slide in a long sheet of paper. N took her crayons to the top and tested them out…a crayon in each hand. I have to admit that I was nervous about monopolizing a slide, so I tried to work quickly and keep a low profile. It reminded me of a when I helped a street artist on a very fun, clandestine night, way back when, with a bucket, brush, wheat paste, and large stack of posters in hand.

The children in the park were curious about what we were up to, so we invited them to join us. It turned out they were more interested in chit-chatting and provoking us than drawing, but having an audience is also an experience. Yay for performance art!

My daughter could have done this all afternoon, but the other kids wanted to use the slide so we wrapped up shop and we’ll return again for more soon. Maybe tomorrow!

Would you try slide drawing?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime

Thrifting for the Mud Pie Kitchen

water play in the mud pie kitchen

This magnificent butterfly finds a little heap of dirt and sits still on it; but man will never on his heap of mud keep still.  – Joseph Conrad

Did you know that yesterday was International Mud Day? One of my fondest childhood memories is pretending to feed my friend Alexandra’s cat the ooey gooey mud pies we made in her garden, and my hope is to instill my own child with a similar joy for mucking around and being comfortable in nature…and mud, even!

I wrote about our new Mud Pie Kitchen two weeks ago, and since it’s still a popular place to hang out I thought we could move into phase two of our kitchen remodel. This, of course, involved an educational trip to the Goodwill for some new tools and appliances and N was eager to go.

My two little kids and I scooted quickly past the fragile knick knacks and dishes (phew!), and made our way to the metal and wood aisle. N picked out everything you see in the basket while I acted as her guide, making suggestions and occasionally vetoing her choices (she really wanted that pizza wheel up there, which was smartly taped off). The biggest score was a pink and blue plastic toy called the Fluff Factory, which you can see buried in her basket. It was reminiscent of a meat grinder, and I couldn’t wait to find out what its original purpose was. It turns out that it’s used to fill teddy bears with fluff. How awesome is that? N had no idea of its purpose, but she saw potential in it and I love that even more!

When we got home there was the requisite costume change into the tutu bathing suit (for her, not me) before unveiling the new pots and pans. And while these new goods were for our MUD pie kitchen, it was all water play without a speck of mud in sight. N loved her new coffee pot (just $3!), kid-sized REAL frying pan, and of course, the Fluff Factory. To accomodate our expanding collection of dishes and such, we added some more counter space, which helped tremendously.

She spent the rest of the afternoon pouring water and dropping flower petals into the little factory and turning the crank to push the water through. Problem solving at its finest. Oh, and maybe next time we’ll actually play with mud!

More Lessons Learned on Building a Mud Pie Kitchen

  • Shop for materials at a second hand store. You never know what you will find, which can help you (and children) see the potential in surprising objects.
  • Involve children in the design of the kitchen. Purchasing her own kitchen supplies raised N’s eagerness to use them. She talked about playing with her new pots all the way home and couldn’t get into her bathing suit fast enough.
  • Include interactive Tools that can work like appliances

There are so many good ideas for exploring and playing in mud…just take a look at these other posts for inspiration!

Happy Mud Day!

This post was shared with It’s Playtime

Water Balloon Target Practice

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So, you may have noticed that things have slowed down over here in TinkerLand? I’ve been busy playing outdoors with the kids, traveling with family, and stepping away from the computer for a bit. My husband is in the throws of writing a book (yay!), but it’s also put a small cramp on my downtime for the summer. I’m still here, just not as active. I’ll plan to post about three times a week throughout the summer, and I hope you’ll stick with me until I can find a little more time.

Yesterday was surprisingly rainy and cold, but we’ve been blessed with some wonderful warm weather. My kids love being outside, and playing with water makes it even better! My eldest has a thing for water balloons, and I’ve stock-piled tons of them for spontaneous summer fun. She took on the challenge of filling them herself, and was so proud when she was finally able to fill one up. This was a good exercise in hand-eye coordination and a physics lesson in projectile motion.

She threw the balloons at all sorts of things, comparing how easily they broke (or didn’t). The grass was a big surprise to me, as the balloons broke as soon as they touched the blades. To make it more of a game, I drew a big target on the sidewalk with chalk and the sidewalk was quickly littered with brightly colored balloon fireworks. Lots of smiles from the neighbors who walked by (and didn’t get sprayed by our silliness).

I loved the way the sidewalk looked afterwards — full of water puddles and bright, broken balloons. So much fun!

What are your favorite summer water activities?

This post was shared with It’s Playtime