Water Balloon Target Practice

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

Land Art with Children

We were invited by Rashmie of Mommy Labs to join Forest Fiesta, an online celebration of World Environment Day (June 5) with her and about twenty other arts and education bloggers. This year’s host country was India, and Rashmie came up with the inspired idea to act as our Indian blogging host. Thanks, Rashmie! When you reach the end of this post, you can click around and see the forest creations made by my friends and their children from around the globe.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program, is Forests. According to the UN, it’s the “most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action.”

And with that, I’d like to share our positive environmental action with you…

Before heading out, we spent some time looking at pictures of inspirational land art, with a vague plan to make something monumental from nature.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day at a nearby farm that has a beautiful forest of trees and a creek that runs through it. I packed a little investigator bag for N, and she was delighted to find a magnifying glass in it. Aside from the photo, it didn’t get much real use, but it was a fun way to begin our adventure into the forest…

We took a hike through the trees and marveled at the patterns made by the sun and leaves.

Once we got into the forest, we noted the abundance of moss. Both of my kids loved feeling it’s texture. I adore the look of moss and lichen, so we brought a little bit home for this year’s fairy garden.

N spotted these colorful leaves caught by a log in the stream, and she asked me to take this picture.

We played with the creek’s current, and sent leaves and flowers down different parts of it, noting the various speeds at which the objects moved.

And then we stumbled upon the bridges! Forget nature for a minute — these bridges make LOUD sounds when you run across them! N took her shoes off, made herself right at home, and must have run across these bridges for almost an hour!

Meanwhile, Baby Rainbow enjoyed the experience of digging into the dirt and leaves. And this is when the abundance of leaves gave me this idea…

…to build a leaf path! Do you see it there? N was careful to walk around it as she exited the bridge.

She stopped periodically to help me gather yellow leaves and lay them down, but mostly she wanted to RUN! I think she’s a kinesthetic learnerWhat kind of learner do you think your child is?

When hikers approached to cross the bridge we’d sit down together and engage them in conversation or eavesdrop on their conversations, and this was where the fun came in.

A mother with two boys walked by, did a double take when she saw the path, and then stopped to take a photo of it. Her boys ran over and we overheard a loud, “cooooool.” (Score — I think we managed to execute a “positive environmental action”)! We chatted with a couple of women who asked us who made it. We did! And if we’d heard of the artist Andy Goldsworthy? We had, and he was actually our inspiration! They also mentioned that they were impressed with the scale of it, and never would have thought to stop and make something like this themselves. (Small children make us slow down and do crazy things, no?!).

N loved the interactions and attention that we brought to the environment and ourselves through this action, and it prompted her to make her own piece of land art…a circle!

If you’ve made land art or have a favorite link to share, I’d love to hear about it (and you can add a picture to your comment)! I was actually surprised that i didn’t find a lot of land art by kids online. Maybe this will be my next Creative Challenge?!


This post is shared with It’s Playtime


Sugar Cube Sculpture

We made sugar cube sculptures. What a fun and surprising lesson in building, painting, and dissolving!


  • Box of sugar cubes
  • Glue bottle
  • Sturdy base to glue onto
  • Paint in squeezy bottles

Boxes of sugar cubers were harder to find than I thought, but I ultimately found them at our big supermarket (and bought 2!). We used scrap wood for the base, basic Elmer’s school glue, and Nancy Bottles for the paint.

I suggested that we could build a sculpture with the sugar cubes, and presented N with the materials. That’s all she needed to hear before she began to glue the cubes onto the panel.

And stack them up tall.

You can see that this isn’t the strongest structure in the world!! I filled some Nancy Bottles with watered down BioColor paint, which my daughter then squeezed all over the sculpture. Because the water acted as a dissolving agent, if I were to do this again I’d use straight-up paint without the additional water.

It’s looking a little patriotic, no?

And it end up in this beautiful heap of swirly, melting color. Not exactly what I imagined when we started, but it did lead to some wonderful conversations about dissolving. We only used about 1/10 of the sugar cubes to make the sculpture, so why not set up a dissolving experiment with the rest of the cubes?!

The next day N turned the remaining cubes into sugar water in under five minutes. It was quick, but what a great lesson and experience!

What are you or your kids building with?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime, Childhood 101

Maker Faire + DIY Design

We went to the Maker Faire this weekend, a DIY design/technology/creativity festival that attracts everyone from crafty sewing upcyclers to techie hackers to wide-eyed families looking for a creative outing. It was such an inspiring event, full of tons of TinkerLab-style making, that I thought I’d dedicate the week to Maker Faire talent. I gathered tons of good projects for you, and I hope you’ll enjoy the eye-candy that I have in store for you!

Shortly after walking through the main gate, we were greeted by a giant generator-powered electric giraffe. Its maker, Lindz, scaled a small kit robot up to this grand scale that reaches 17′ when its neck extends…and it was a show-stopper for sure. If you’ve ever been to Burning Man, you may recognize her, and you can read more about her here.

Here’s a peek into what makes her work. I have no clue, but I did loved seeing all of the colorful wires and appreciate the hours of welding involved in making this animal go.

Right around the corner from the electric giraffe was a pop-up tinkering studio that was designed to show how simple and inexpensive it can be to set up your own tinkering space. I love how they set up all their pliers on a folded piece of cardboard.

Inside this studio was a 5-minute LED Throwie project sponsored by Make Magazine. This would be a really fun project for kids older than five, but my 3-year old got into the spirit of it…especially the throwing part! LED Throwies were invented by the Graffiti Research Lab as an inexpensive and non-destructive way to add color to any ferromagnetic surface (street signs, for example).

The materials are simple and can be found at Radio Shack or similar stores.

You’ll need

  • a 10 mm diffused LED
  • a rare earth magnet
  • a lithium battery
  • tape (masking or packing will work)

LED lights have a long and a short side. Attach the long side to the (+) positive side of the battery. Squeeze hard to make sure the light works. If it’s a go, take a 7″ long piece of tape and tape the LED around the battery one time. Then continue wrapping the tape around the magnet until you run out of tape. Here’s a really clear tutorial,with costs (about $1 per Throwie), from Instructables.

Your throwie is now ready to be tossed at something magnetic, maybe your fridge? The Throwie should last about two weeks. And when the battery expires, don’t forget to dispose of it properly.

What else could you do with LED lights or throwies?

Dry Ice Experiment

Dry ice is a favorite mysterious Halloween material, perfect for spooking up a witch’s cauldron, but did you know that you can experiment with it too?

Dry ice is so cool (couldn’t resist!), and makes for a fantastic (ventilated) kitchen or outdoor experiment. Have you ever worked with it? The big caution is that you don’t want to touch it less it burns your skin. Got that? So it has to be handled with tongs and/or insulated gloves.

Read up on  the cautions of using dry ice before proceeding, and always use your best judgment. I went through all the warnings with N, and the dry ice earned a great deal of her respect. She kept asking questions about how ice could burn us (it wouldn’t make sense to me either if I were her age), and was very curious about how it “smoked” on its way from our porch to the kitchen.

In case you’re wondering, I think it’s smart to introduce kids to “dangerous” things. They’re naturally curious about how the world operates, and given the proper instructions and parameters these introductions can give them a good foundation for critical and creative thinking. Have you heard of the The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls? I have a copy of the latter that I know N will love when she gets to be a bit older.

I found the dry ice at our supermarket, and asked the manager to help me pack it up. They come in big bags (perfect for cooling a fridge full of food, but far too much for this experiment), and I understand that they may break smaller pieces for sale…it sells by the pound at our market. To do this experiment, we used two pieces, each the size of a button mushroom.

I filled the bottom of this metal travel mug with about a cup of warm water, and dropped a piece of dry ice in with kitchen tongs. The ice makes a surprising sound when handled by the tongs!

The smoke is perfectly okay to touch.

And blow.

Then we got fancy. N squeezed some dish soap into the mug.


And it got even more exciting with the addition of red food coloring.

And green, blue, and yellow food colorings, too!

This project is great for encouraging curiosity, setting the groundwork for scientific investigation (observation and experimentation), and building creative confidence. A+ in my book!

The Science behind Dry Ice

Dry Ice is frozen carbon dioxide, which dissipates into carbon dioxide gas when it melts. It’s called Dry Ice because it turns directly into a gas from its solid state, without ever becoming a liquid, and therefore there’s no puddle of water in its melted state. This process is called sublimation. Also, Steve Spangler Science is my new best friend, and it’s where I gleaned tons of good information for this post. If you like science experiments, do check this out.

More Ideas from Tinkerlab

Get more Halloween ideas on my Halloween Pinterest Board.

If you enjoyed this post, follow us on Facebook for more child-centered experiments and explorations.

Halloween Countdown Paper Chain

Draw Shape Monsters: Each one is different!

No-carve Decorated Halloween Pumpkins 

Little Fabric Hanging Ghosts

Drippy Slimy Gak

Late last week we made a batch of slime called Gak — see this post for the recipe — and it’s been a huge success with my almost 3-year old. On day one, N experimented with various ways of interacting with it (rolling, stamping, cutting, pulling), and was excited to introduce her dad to Gak the next day (he loved it, too…it’s really fun stuff). Later that day she wanted to revisit it with her play kitchen tools. We talked about its drippy, viscous nature and thought it would be interesting to test it out in the play colander.

After it sat in it for a few moments, her grandmother lifted it up for us to observe. It began to drip through!

The drips came slowly, so we rigged this pot holder from some CD cases that we painted (post on this crazy activity is coming soon!) in order to watch them come down.

And then we sat back and enjoyed the show. N cut a few blobs off with her little-kid knife before the whole thing “timbered over.” Ha!

Gak is pliable and plasticy, and we also tried our luck at blowing bubbles into it. To do this we took a small piece of Gak, smoothed it out into a disc shape, and then pulled it around the end of a straw before blowing into it. Finessing it took a little practice, but it worked! N wasn’t able to wrap the Gak around the straw herself, but she did enjoy blowing bubble after bubble.

Next time we bring out the Gak, it would be fun to test it in a variety of porous objects. Can you think of any other tools or materials that could interact with Gak?


How to make Gak

Today I’m sharing how to make gak.

This Gak Recipe (aka slime recipe) has been on my to-do list ever since reading about Amy’s The Great Slime-Off on Child Central Station. Amy shares two different recipes: the first calls for liquid starch and the second calls for Borax. I looked all over town for liquid starch and it was nowhere to be found. Is it prohibited from the state of California?

How to make gak

But the second recipe that called for Borax was workable, and felt a bit like fate because my daughter’s nursery school teacher made up a big batch of it last week. This also fell on the heels of reading the Ooey Gooey Handbook (affiliate), which is FILLED with all sorts of luscious recipes like this one. If you’re into this sort of thing, this book is fabulous! You can follow Lisa Murphy of Ooey Gooey on Facebook for loads of good information.

This particular slime, also called Flubber, Gluep, Glurch, or Gak, is made from glue, water, and the tiniest bit of Borax (a mild powdered laundry soap).

Borax is type of soap and soap is not edible, so please use your best judgment and common sense if you choose to use this with young children.

We used half of this recipe from Steve Spangler Science, and the part that gave me the most confidence is where he says “the measurements don’t have to be exact.” Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief with me! This site also has a wonderful description on the science behind the recipe.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

Gak Recipe

  • 8 oz. bottle Elmer’s school glue
  • 8 oz. water
  • 1 teaspoon Borax mixed into 1/2 cup of warm water
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors, optional

How to Make Gak

  • Mix the glue and water together in a mixing bowl.
  • Add a few drops of color, if desired.
  • Slowly add a bit of the Borax solution into the water-glue solution. Mix
  • Keep adding small amounts of the borax solution to the water-glue solution until it comes together like slime.
  • Play with your slime!
  • Note: Slime is NOT for eating!

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

I wasn’t sure how messy this would get and set the whole project up in our big mixing tub. We began by squeezing an almost-full 4 ounce bottle of glue into a glass bowl. Then we mixed in 1 1/2 bottles of warm water to the glue. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of glue and 4 ounces of warm water…do you see how fast I went off-recipe!! But like Steve says, the measurements don’t have to be exact and it worked out just fine!

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

N added red food coloring and mixed it into a lovely shade of pink.

Then we mixed 1 teaspoon of Borax into 1/2 cup of water, and slowly added the solution to the glue mixture…

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

Until the slime started to come together. We did not use all of the Borax solution.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

At first it was really wet and gooey.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

And stringy and sloppy.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

And then it started to pull together.

How to make gak.

Until it was one easy-to-work-with mass of slime that could be pulled apart and manipulated…to some extent. Because really, this slime has a mind of its own.

N requested a muffin tray with the idea that it would make nice little cakes. Can you believe how viscous and pliable it is?! Completely different from play dough, and absolutely inspiring to little miss curious.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

We often roll out our play dough, so she gave that a try and complained that it didn’t work. Good experiment!

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

Next she tried cookie cutters. Also a bust.

Gak Recipe - How to Make Gak - TinkerLab.com

But the scissors…oh, the scissors were so much fun and completely rewarding with this medium.


When you’re done using your gak/flubber/slime, you can store it in a sealable container or Ziploc bag for about 2 weeks (when it may start to smell!).

Such an easy, fun play recipe: How to make Gak.

More PlayDough Recipes

Rainbow Play Dough, Tinkerlab

How to Make Cloud Dough, the easiest dough recipe that calls for oil and flour.

How to Make Goop with just cornstarch and water.

Make amazing scented pumpkin spice playdough.

How to make Gluten-free Cloud Dough

Glowing Playdough

DIY Masa Playdough, made with masa harina

How to make Salt Dough with just salt, flour, and water.

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Soap Making Experiments

We made soap wrapped in hand-painted paper for Mother’s Day! I’ve never made soap before, so this was a fun experiment for us all.

First: Hand-painted paper…


  • liquid watercolors
  • assorted paintbrushes
  • pipettes
  • a big sheet of watercolor paper to cover her work area
  • small pieces of heavy, absorbent tissue paper that came with some packaging in the mail
  • scissors
  • large sheets of newspaper or newsprint for completed paintings to dry on
  • containers for paint

N squeezed watercolor onto the larger paper so that she could absorb it with the smaller scraps.

A while ago we talked about papers that can absorb paint, and she knew right away that she wanted to test out tissue paper, paper towels, and Kleenex. Sweet! She also requested those tongs up there for picking up the wet papers.

Next: Soap Making…

A few days later, we got our soap-making experiment up and running. I wanted to use an organic soap base, but couldn’t find any on short notice. And you’ll see in a moment why I opted to go with two glycerin soap bases that they sell at Michael’s: Shea Butter suspension soap base and Olive Oil suspension soap base. We broke the base up into pieces and microwaved it for about a 1.5 minutes. Clear directions are on the box. This could also be heated in a double broiler.

Once melted, we added some Lavender essence and oatmeal and mixed it up.

To keep bubbles out of the soap, N prepared the molds (also from the craft store) by spraying them with rubbing alcohol. Adult supervision with rubbing alcohol is obviously recommended!

We stuck rubber stamp-like pieces to a little bit of soap (to keep them from sliding around), and then I poured the soap mixture on top. In subsequent batches I didn’t bother “gluing” the stamps down, which improved the appearance of the soap.

Waiting for it to cool is the hardest part! But to keep our spirits high, this was a good time for lunch. Oatmeal, of course!

Aren’t they pretty?! The two cupcake-looking soaps you can see way back there came out of some silicone food containers.

I thought that I could take a bar of vegetable glycerin soap from Whole Foods and give it the same treatment. What do you think? I should have known better since I’m familiar with the Microwave-Ivory-Soap-Experiement, which is something to try on another day. It puffed the soap up into a stiff cloud…pretty to look at but useless for soap-making.

Then it was time to wrap them up.

Good real-world practice with tape cutting, folding, and wrapping.

We had a play date with our friends from Paint Cut Paste today, and N made these two especially for them (she knows how much they like rainbows!). And the rest are for N’s two grandmothers.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful, nurturing, intelligent, kind, selfless, and inspiring moms!! Moms are amazing!

This post was happily shared with It’s Playtime, Tot Tuesdays