Kiwi Crate for Busy Families

Koala Crate is one of the newest products from the Kiwi Crate brand, and I’m delighted to share our experience here with you today. I’ve been involved with Kiwi Crate since its early days, and man-o-man, this company keeps getting better and better.

Note: This post contains affiliate links

Kiwi Crate is offering a VERY generous Black Friday sale that continues through Friday, but more on that in a sec.

Koala Crate Review (and a 60% discount code!)|

For the uninitiated, Kiwi Crate sends thoughtfully curated projects to your mailbox each month. Their products are perfect for busy families, as you don’t have to drive all over creation to find all the supplies you need to pull of these creativity-boosting projects. I’m keen on visiting the art and crafts stores on a weekly basis, but the convenience of having everything organized in one spot even appeals to me.

The full suite of Kiwi Crate kits includes:

Koala Crate: ages 3-4

Kiwi Crate: ages 4-8

Tinker Crate: ages 9 – 14+

Doodle Crate: ages 9-16+

As we’ve already tested Kiwi Crate here and here, today I’m sharing a peek at the other three crates. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Kiwi Crate Kits Peek Inside |

As I have a 4-year old, we were very excited to try our hand at the Koala Crate, and it didn’t disappoint. The theme of the crate was color, and we first dove into the color toss activity. My little on knows all of her colors, and I especially loved how the physicality of this project gave her a new perspective on color.

She place the transparent color blocks on the ground, tossed the dice to see which color was up for investigating, and then collected objects from the studio to match the colors. So much fun!

Of course, I could probably do something like this on my own by cutting out colored paper and making a paper dice, but the high quality materials from Koala Crate really brought this activity to life.

This also segued nicely into the next activity…

Koala Crate Review |

Following that, we set up the watercolor bunting project. The kit provided us with heavy watercolor paper precut into triangles, a new set of watercolors (always welcome, as we race through these pretty quickly), fat crayons for little hands, and string for hanging the bunting.

Miss 4 drew on the triangles, and then washed over them with watercolors. We then hung the bunting up as one of our first decorations in the new studio. Hooray!

Koala Crate Bunting Project |

Tinker Crate is a little advanced for my kids, but as I looked over the provided materials, I know that older children would love the opportunity to build the machines and other engineering marvels that are included with each crate. And while she’s not in the recommended age group for Doodle Crate, my 6-year old is VERY excited to dive into that crate (and frankly, I am too!).

Kiwi Crate Black Friday Sale

If you’d like to get an amazing deal on any of the Kiwi Crate products, they’re offering 60% off the first month with the code: MERRYSUB

This Book Was a Tree | Book Review

When my friend Marcie Chambers Cuff, author of This Book Was a Tree (Perigree, 2014) asked us if we’d like to join her virtual book tour we jumped at the chance. I’ve had her inspiring book for a few weeks now, and every time I flip through it I’m struck with a new slice of inspiration.

The book is packed with ideas on how to reconnect our digital, nature-deprived selves with the earth through hands-on making, journalling, adventuring, and playing outdoors.

this book was a tree review

“Marcie Cuff makes nature even more fun than the way you find it. This is a book about imagination and creativity — and getting dirty.”

– David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society


One of the first projects that caught my attention involved upcycling wool sweaters into felted flowers. Felting old sweaters has long been on my to-do list, so when my friend Danielle recently gifted me the most gorgeous handmade felted cuff and belt I knew this would be the project to dive into first and learn how to do this myself.

I’ll share all the details on how to felt a wool sweater tomorrow, but for now I’ll share a little preview…

This Book was a Tree - Book Review on TinkerLab

Somewhere, in a book of advice on aging, I read a fine adage: Do something real every day. That’s good advice for people of every age. From the title of the book, through all of its pages of ideas and adventures, Marcie Chambers Cuff helps us remember what’s real and what makes kids and their families feel fully alive in a virtual age.”

-Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods


What’s Inside?

The book is packed with so many ideas that I know will keep my family busy for a long, long time. Here are just a few of the thoughtful and novel projects inside this humble book:

  • Make a junk journal
  • DIY Pinhole Camera (including the science behind the art)
  • Upcycled Terrarium
  • Tree Stump Sundial
  • A list full of ideas for decompressing and slowing down
  • Make an Ecological Calendar
  • Make all-natural bug lotion

This Book Was a Tree Blog Tour

This book tour started on April 1, so if you’re on the fence about purchasing a copy today, scoot around and see what these amazing bloggers have to say about it.

4/2    Mindful Momma
4/4    Maya Made
4/7    Rebecca Sower
4/10 Tinkerlab


You didn’t really think we’d share this book without giving one away, did you? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll announce the giveaway in the next couple days.

See Marcie Cuff in Real Life

If you’re in NY, CT, TX, or PA, Marcie has some cool in-person events where you can learn how to felt wool, make seed bombs, and more.

Snap Circuits Review and a DIY Spin Art Machine

Snap Circuits and DIY Spin Art | Tinkerlab

Snap Circuits Review

If you’re in the market for a toy for a child who likes to build things, tinker, or is curious about how things work, Snap Circuits SC-300 tops my list. We’ve had this toy for a year and I just bought a BUNCH of them for friends because I like it so much. This is not a sponsored post — i’m just a happy customer who wants to spread the word. (Note: This post does contain affiliate links)

With Snap Circuits, those of us with no electronics background or understanding can easily build a light switch that works or a doorbell that rings. With a clever system of snaps that safely connect electronic components together, children will learn the basics of electricity and how to build all kinds of circuits.

The instruction manual is easy to understand, and I noticed that after we were halfway through our first project together, my five-year old figured out how to finish the assembly on her own. While it’s designed for children ages eight and up, my three and five year olds enjoy using it with adult collaboration, and I know it’s a toy that they’ll grow with.

What kind of toys should I buy?

When it comes to buying toys for my children, there are three questions that I like to ask:

  1. Is it a learning tool?  With Snap Circuits, children will learn about electronics and how to build a variety of circuits.
  2. Is it engaging and fun?  If children are curious about making things and how things work, the process and rewards will be fun and motivating.
  3. Is it open-ended? While many of the projects have a specific outcome in mind, many of them have multiple end-points. The example I’ll share today is an example of this.

In case you’re wondering, here are some curiosity and creativity-building toys that we’re also crazy about:

  1. Blocks. We love this set from Melissa and Doug
  2. Obstacles Game
  3. Marble Runs
  4. Spielgaben
  5. Stomp Rocket

And now, on to the project…

Build a DIY Spin Art Machine with Snap Circuits

Snap Circuit Spin Art Machine 2

Making their own spin art machine captured my kids imaginations, and we assembled it in about ten minutes. The toy comes with a grid that’s fitted with little prongs. The electronic pieces then snap right onto those prongs, which hold them in place. Putting these together will remind you of playing with Legos. In fact, if your child enjoys Legos, these might be a natural extension for you.

Snap Circuits doesn’t come with batteries, so if you buy this as a gift it’s something to keep in mind. If you don’t want to mess with replacing batteries over time, there’s a battery eliminator that people seem to be very satisfied with.

Snap Circuit Spin Art Machine

One of the components in this circuit is a small motor, and we were instructed to attach a stiff, circular paper base to the motor with some tape. Next, with a piece of double-stick tape we added a second circle of paper on top of the first one.

Snap Circuit Spin Art Machine 1

There a small on/off button on one side, so while one of us pushed the button, someone else got to use markers to add color to the spin art.

Snap Circuit Spin Art Machine 4

We struggled a bit with centering our circle, but no one seemed to mind our off-center designs. My 3-year old is obsessed with rainbows at the moment, and she enjoyed documenting her rainbow colors in just the right order.

I think they came out beautifully!

DIY spin art machine with Snap Circuits | Tinkerlab

After we played with it for a full hour, I was ready to disassemble it and store it away. But my kids saw this as a new toy, and wanted to keep it out. I complied, of course, and we made spin art for days! After two weeks we just broke it apart, and we’re now ready for another electronics challenge.

What’s your favorite toy for inspiring creativity and curiosity?

Exploralab by the Exploratorium, Book Review

We were sent a free copy of Exploralab to review, but all ideas shared here are our own. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Exploralab Book Review

We were thrilled to get an advance copy of Exploralab by The Exploratorium (Weldon Owen, September 2013) to review for our readers. Do you know about the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or have you ever been? In a nutshell, the Exploratorium a wonder-filled interactive science and creativity center with ground-breaking exhibits that set the bar for many science museums around the world. If you’re an educator or homeschooler, the Exploratorium’s Educator pages are full of ideas that are sure to inspire, regardless of where you live.

Related to that, if you’re a fan of the Exploratorium or would love to grab a piece of its magic, this new book, Exploralab: 150+ Ways to Investigate the Amazing Science All Around Youwill transport you to San Francisco’s Pier 15 with its hands-on projects that encourage children explore science in their everyday world. 

So what’s inside?

The book is full of fun, easy-to-read science activities for parents, caregivers, and teachers to share with young children. You’ll be happy to sit down, like we did, and flip through the pages with your child to select activities together. If you have an older child, you might like to gift them a copy to browse through when that “I’m bored” feeling settles in.

The projects are a delight in the way that they break down complex science into bite-size, digestible chunks. Something else about this book that I know a lot of our readers will appreciate is that the materials and tools are generally things you can easily find in your pantry: paper, pencils, glue, scissors, measuring spoons, etc.

Still interested? Let’s take a peek inside…

The Inside Cover

Inside cover Exploralab Review

See that little window on the left? it has a clear envelope that you can open, and then pull out a cool plastic lens that does this…

Exploralab Review Inside Cover

Cool! We’re off to a fun start! The inside of the cover really sets the tone for the rest of the book, as more interactive elements follow.

Exploralab Review Lab 3 closet flaps

Engaging Labs

The book is full of “150+ ways to investigate the amazing science all around you,” that are contained within fourteen “Labs” that encompass topics such as school, nature, the city, and games. For example…

Game Hour Exploralab

Roller Coaster Exploralab

Lab #05: The Street Underneath Your Feet

My five-year old and I flipped through the pages and I asked her to pick a project that looked like fun. You can probably see that she tabbed more than one page. We decided to start with “Lab #05: The Street Underneath Your Feet.” Zoom in and you’ll see that this spread is full of ideas for engaging children in the science of the street. Ideas like using your feet as rulers to measure distance, studying shadows to understand more about how the earth spins, and making rubbings from found textures.

Rubbing Lab Instructions Exploralab review

This last idea is what we dug into.

Exploralab review rubbing directions

I really enjoyed the relief that’s set right into the book! Take a look at the bottom of this next picture and you’ll see what I’m talking about. What a clever idea.

Exploralab how to make rubbings

We ran our crayon right over the page to understand the project before hitting the streets.

Exploralab rubbing in book

Our Experience

We made a simple book from four sheets of paper, stapled three times along the edge, and then took it outside to gather some manmade and natural textures.

Rubbing Water Grate

Leaf rubbing Exploralab Review

The next project my daughter plans to tackles is the Juice-Tasting Challenge, where you change the color of familiar drinks with food coloring and challenge people to guess what they’re drinking. The eyes and tongue send off conflicting flavor messages and we’re excited to see what will happen.

Exploralab Breakfast Lab

If this looks like it could be a good addition to your library, you can find your own copy of Exploralab through Amazon. We’re an affiliate, and your purchase helps keep our Tinker-engine running, so thank you!

Exploralab BookLearn More

Visit the Exploratorium

See our review of another book from the Exploratorium, The Art of Tinkering

I was fortunate to hold my book launch party at Helix, a temporary outpost of The Exploratorium in Los Altos, CA.

The Exploratorium’s Education page has a host of valuable resources for home tinkerers and educators.

You can search part of their site for videos that explore all sorts of science + art phenomena.






Spielgaben Educational Toy Review

“Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

~ Friedrich Froebel, Founder of the first Kindergarten

Spielgaben review

If you haven’t already heard of Spielgaben, the new educational toy from Australia, then I’m very excited to be the one to introduce you to them.

Spielgaben is inspired by the first educational toy invented by Friedrich Froebel, who’s perhaps best known as the founder of Kindergarten. Spielgaben, meaning play-gifts, were invented by Froebel as a building, design, and manipulative toy to be used in his kindergartensFrank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and Albert Einstein played with such blocks in their own childhoods — and that might be reason enough to buy a set for your child or school!

full version Spielgaben

Inspired by Froebel’s play-gifts, this fresh new version of the spielgaben comes with thirteen boxes of materials that can be manipulated in a multitude of ways. This toy is genius, and one that will not collect dust on the shelf. The kit is something that I wish all children had access to — either at home or at school. As someone who used to purchase materials that had to withstand handling by thousands of museum visitors, this is just the sort of product I would not hesitate to recommend for a high-use learning environment. The quality is outstanding. 

When Spielgaben asked me if I’d like to review their product I jumped at the chance. We stock our shelves with open-ended construction toys such as blocks, marble runs, and Legos, and I’ve been drooling over the Spielgaben set from afar since I first read this stunning review by Anna at The Imagination Tree.

Let me introduce you to our set…

Spielgaben Store

I can’t even begin to describe the enthusiasm that met Spielgaben when it arrived at our home. We were all so excited to unwrap each of the beautifully packed gifts and my children worked together to cover this side table with a blanket and set up a “store.”

Game Night with Spielgaben

When we first opened the box my five-year old couldn’t find the instruction manual (not to worry — the kit does come with comprehensive play-guides, interactive worksheets, and inspiration cards that are full of ideas for facilitated learning and play), and quickly came to the conclusion that “we can use these however we want!”

Thank you Spielgaben for making this a truly open-ended experience for us!

With that, she invented a game! She covered a cube in painters tape and wrote color names on each side of the cube to correspond with the colors of colorful wooden rings. She then created a looping path of circles and found small pieces for our game tokens. The rules of the game were similar to Candyland, and we played for a full hour!

dice game Spielgaben

The next day my three-year old wanted to play again, and this time for almost two hours. I kid you not. The power of child-directed play was palpable.

game Spielgaben

Benefits of Spielgaben

Volumes could be written on the benefits of this toy, so let me briefly share just a few of my favorite benefits of Spielgaben:

Loose parts: The kit includes hundreds of loose parts that can be organized, sorted, and played with in countless ways. No two play sessions will be the same and the imagination will be active as straight sticks come to represent street lamps and a tower of cubes becomes a metaphor for a castle.

Spielgaben pieces

Child-directed Learning: Children will be inclined to invent their own games, stories, buildings, patterns, and ideas with these blocks. And the open-ended nature of the materials means that children can use them to direct their own unique interpretations of ideas.

Spielgaben diamonds

Fun for adults: While many children’s toys can quickly lose an adult’s interest, Spielgaben is engaging for both children and adults. Just look at the diamond patterns I made with those triangles!

Spielgaben clock

Learn while you play: While these blocks are playful, they’re also a true teaching tool. The set comes with an enormous volume of learning ideas, printables, and 8-12 years worth of learning activities and lessons. In the example above, you could create a clock shape and use the pieces to teach children to tell time. And in the picture below, a color wheel is set up to teach complementary colors.

Spielgaben color wheel

Materials: The materials used to make the sets are environmentally sustainable and non-toxic.

Spielgaben clock from above

Order Yours Today

To order, visit the Spielgaben website. If you place your order by November 23, 2013 Spielgaben promises that it will arrive in time for Christmas! Just saying. All orders include shipping. Spielgaben will ship to all of Europe, US, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada and Australia. (Outside, US, UK and AU, there are extra shipping charges).

Also, Spielgaben is offering Tinkerlab readers a promotional discount. All you need to do is fill out a contact form and mention that you heard about Spielgaben from Tinkerlab, and you will be provided with a discount coupon.

Resources: Spielgaben and Froebel’s Gifts

Froebel Education and Learning with Spielgaben

Using the Spielgaben in Play-based learning Environments

Reggio Emilia and Spielgaben

The Psychology of Froebel’s Play-gifts: A free ebook by D. J. Snider, 1900

The Kindergarten Building Gifts: With Hints on Program-making: a free ebook by By Elizabeth Harrison, Belle Woodson, 1908

Note: Spielgaben sent us a free set of materials to review, but all opinions are our own. No further compensation was received in exchange for this review.