Clay Menorah for Preschool Children

How to make clay menorahs in preschool | TinkerLab

Today I’m sharing how to make easy clay menorahs that are easy for toddlers and preschool children. These are made with air-dry clay, so no baking is necessary.

air dry clay menorah with kids

This post contains affiliate links.

Supplies – Clay Menorah

  • Air Dry Clay
  • Small bowl of water
  • Clay tools such as popsicle sticks, rolling pins, and cookie cutters
  • Acrylic paints for painting the surface. Liquitex is a solid brand.
  • Mod Podge or acrylic clear coat to seal it with a shiny coating

The Set-up

Cover your work surface with a vinyl tablecloth or work on a non-precious surface that easily wipes clean.

If you’re making a Hanukkiah (it holds nine candles, rather than seven), talk about the story of Chanukah and how the Chanukah menorah has eight candles + 1, the shamash, to represent the miracle that oil burned continuously for eight days.

Invite your child/ren to make menorahs. Encourage creativity and original thinking.

air dry clay menorah with kids

We celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in our home, so, as some might agree, our children get the best of both worlds! But it can also be a tricky mash-up of cultures, but I guess it makes sense to my kids who know nothing else.

The other day we discovered a new-to-us A-mazing teacher supply store, and came home with a 2.5 pound bucket of Crayola Air Dry Clay to make our very own menorahs. It cost just $5, and I cannot recommend this clay enough.

It feels just like the clay you throw pots on, and my kids were enthralled by the texture. So unlike play dough, and it has the potential to make long-lasting objects.

air dry clay menorah with toddler

We started with a mound of clay, rolled it out with our new rolling pin, scored at a Waldorf school winter festival, and poked a candle into the clay eight times. N placed one of our menorahs on the table as inspiration.

Menorahs hold nine candles, eight for the eight nights of Hanukkah, and a ninth called the shamash (meaning “attendant”) that lights the other candles.

Meanwhile, my 15 month old got into the clay spirit. She’s been copying everything her sister does, and after seeing this magic, I wished I had given her a bigger piece of clay to play with.

air dry clay menorah with kids

To make room for the shamash, we decided to build a little mound by making a ball of clay, scoring both sides of where it would connect with hatch marks, and then pressing the pieces together.

air dry clay menorah with kids

We used a little water and a popsicle stick to smooth out the edges. I read that if there are cracks in this clay it can fall apart once dry, so we were sure to smooth all those cracks right out with water.

air dry clay menorah with kids

And then N decided to use a wooden stick to poke a pattern of holes all over the menorah.

air dry clay menorah with kids

And a hole for the shamash.

air dry clay menorah with kids

My little one was happy to play with a small pot of water and the goopy clay.

Now we have to let the clay dry for 2-3 days before painting it. If you’d like to join us and make an air dry menorah too, you should be able to find Crayola Air Dry Clay at Target, Walmart, Office Depot or on Amazon for $5.99.

So far, I love this product, and I think we’ll make handprint ornaments with it tomorrow!

Seven Ways to Build a Gingerbread House

7 Ways to Make a Gingerbread House |

Are you getting ready to make a gingerbread house? This article shares seven different ways to make a gingerbread house. Many of these are kid-friendly, and there are even a couple surprises in this group!

Make a Gingerbread House from a Mold

Note: This post contains affiliate links

Find a mold like this. While most of the work is done for you, you can still say it’s 100% homemade!

7 Ways to Make a Gingerbread House |

Graham Cracker Gingerbread House on a Milk Carton

This is the recipe my friend made for our toddler play date last year, and it was perfect for little ones. I know my friend had a hard time collecting milk cartons for all the children in our group, but once you gather the milk cartons, they’re easy to assemble. From Martha Stewart.

Graham Cracker Gingerbread House on a Milk Carton | Tinkerlab

Make a Gingerbread House from Scratch

Mama Smiles shows us how she made her house with a toddler (no small feat!) from scratch!

Seven ways to make a gingerbread house | Tinkerlab

Make a Graham Cracker Gingerbread House

Caked Alaska shows us how to make a beautiful graham cracker gingerbread house (unlike my ramshackle shanty town houses). And this post from Kelley Moore is also lovely.

How to Make a Graham Cracker Gingerbread House | Tinkerlab

Tiny Gingerbread House Perched on the Rim of a Mug

Oh my goodness! These are most definitely not for making with little kids, but what a show stopper! Couldn’t resist sharing these beauties from Not Martha.

Seven ways to make a gingerbread house | Tinkerlab

Gingerbread House from a Kit

Or, take the easier route with a store-bought kit. A Spoonful of Sugar Designs shares their Ikea kit. Lovely. These kits are easy to find in many stores during the holiday season. In case you want the ease of shopping online, this gingerbread house kit is the #1 Best Seller on Amazon (affiliate).

Seven ways to make a gingerbread house | Tinkerlab

Gingerbread Matzo House

Not exactly gingerbread, but we made these jelly bean matzo houses earlier this year and I couldn’t resist sharing, just to show that with some icing and candy, you can turn just about anything into a house.

Matzoh gingerbread house

More Handmade Holiday Projects

How to make Easy Salt Dough Ornaments and part 2: How to Paint Salt Dough Ornaments

Skip the candy-filled advent calendar and make a DIY Activity Advent Calendar

Make a Snowflake Collage

Make a Frozen Wreath

Winter Craft Collage Invitation

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How to Make a Gingerbread House Using a Mold

Have you ever made a gingerbread house? 

Last year, my 2-year old and I made super simple graham cracker gingerbread houses. I’m not even sure if you can call them gingerbread houses since they were made from graham crackers. Hmmm.

But making a real, bonafide gingerbread house: this was new territory for me, and I wasn’t prepared for how much trouble I would have with it.

After a few tears were shed and lessons learned, I thought I’d share my experience and a host of others so that you won’t have to go through the growing pains I went through.

How to Make a Gingerbread House (using a mold).'s still homemade. :) |

Use a gingerbread house mold

To make our house, we started with a Gingerbread House Mold similar to this one (affiliate link). You simply make the dough and then press it right into the mold. Brilliant!

To make it even simpler, we made a batch of gingerbread with the recipe from the Trader Joe’s gingerbread baking mix. So easy.

My kids enjoyed pressing it into the mold and my 3 year old helped pop the cookies out once they cooled. So far, so good!

How to Make a Gingerbread House (using a mold).'s still homemade. :) |

Candy Toppings for Gingerbread Houses

While the dough was cooling, we went candy shopping! Mmmm. This may have been the funnest part.

Since this was mostly new to me, I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations and they had the BEST ideas (clearly, my fans are professionals).

How to Make a Gingerbread House (using a mold).'s still homemade. :) |

Are you ready for this?

Candy for Gingerbread House Decorating:

  • gumdrops
  • M&M’s
  • marshmallows
  • mini candy canes
  • rainbow nerds
  • dried fruits and nuts
  • life savers
  • ribbon candy,
  • colored frosting
  • gingerbread men/trees to add to scene
  • pretzels for a fence
  • sweet tarts and those candy necklace candies
  • Christmas Captain Crunch with tree shapes
  • star shaped cookies from Trader Joe’s
  • skittles
  • jellybeans
  • cut out fruit strips into shapes
  • gingerbread shaped marshmallows
  • tootsie roll for a chimney, Pretzel squares for windows
  • crystal like sprinkles for a special touch of snow
  • sifted powdered sugar and cotton candy to look like snow
  • Twizzlers
  • red hots and mint
  • swirled red and white mints.

How to Make a Gingerbread House (using a mold).'s still homemade. :) |

I made a batch of royal icing, the same way I made it for our gingerbread cookies, but I added a bit more powdered sugar to thicken it. Traditionally, royal icing is made with egg whites, but because I knew my kids would lick their fingers I opted to go with this meringue powder version instead.


  • 1/8 cup Meringue Powder
  • 1/4 cup Cold Water
  • 2 cups sifted Confectioners Sugar

Add water to meringue powder and beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar into the mixture and beat until it’s the desired consistency. Add more sugar for stiffer icing.

How to Make a Gingerbread House (using a mold).'s still homemade. :) |

I made individual houses out of graham crackers for our neighborhood friends, and we all worked on the big house as a collaborative project.

How to Make a Gingerbread House (using a mold).'s still homemade. :) |

Oh, we ran out of graham crackers, which is why some of the houses have this funky shape. Sigh. Maybe next year I’ll be more prepared!

Thankfully, our friends didn’t let on if they minded. We’re lucky to have such kind neighbors.

More Gingerbread House Ideas!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy 7 Ways to Make a Gingerbread House

How to Make a Holiday Paper Star

How to make a paper star

Today I’m going to share how to make holiday paper stars with your kids.

If you have young children, the first half of the project will be kid-centered as they color and decorate the paper as they like. Once that’s done, adults will assemble the stars.

Okay, are you ready?

how to make a paper star

Supplies – Giant Paper Stars

  • Two pieces of thin paper – we chose large sheets, but small would also work
  • Mark-making tools
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • String

I found an easy, workable tutorial at The Magic Onions for our paper stars.

decorate paper stars

I cut large squares from four sheets of 24″ x 36″ drawing paper. You know, the trick where you fold a triangle in the paper and then snip the excess rectangle off?

I taped that extra rectangle to the table so that my daughter had a place to store her rubber stamps and pens.

Pine cones and snowflakes in a limited palette of red, green, and silver.

Snowflakes, sea stars, and Stars of David. That’s how we roll.

The tutorial over at The Magic Onions is really clear, so I won’t get into the details here, but suffice to say that once you make one, you’ll want to keep cranking them out. They’re so simple!

I used Elmer’s Craft Bond Extra Strength Glue Stick to seal the paper right up. Worked like a charm.

Waiting for it to dry.

I cut a piece of cotton string, about 3′ long, so we could hang it from the ceiling, and taped it about 3″ inside one of the points.

Then I ran a line of Elmer’s School Glue under the string to give it extra support and along the edge of the point. A little clamp helped keep it all together.

hanging paper star diy

Sticking the pieces together. This was a little tricky. I placed the pointy face of one star in a bowl, rested the other star on top of it, and added bits of school glue to hold it in place. I gave it overnight to dry, but school glue seems to dry in under an hour.

hanging holiday paper star diy

There you go! 

Since I already the drawing paper, stamps, and string, the whole thing cost $0.00! But the materials are so low-cost and flexible anyway, that I bet you could do it too with wrapping paper and ribbon after opening gifts on Hanukkah or Christmas. Or make them from all the extra art work your kids bring home from school. Newspaper colored with potato prints. What do you think?

Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2

Salt Dough Recipe | TinkerLab

In the first part of this 2-part salt dough ornament post I shared the salt dough recipe and how to bake it here. In this post I’ll give you my best tips for painting and decorating salt dough ornaments with kids.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

Let me start by saying that these were made as a collaboration between me and my 3-year old. I love how they turned out, and how my 3 year old can proudly share gifts from her heart with her friends.

Supplies for Salt Dough Ornament Decorating

Note: This list contains affiliate links

  • Acrylic Paint. This set gives you a wide variety of colors.
  • Small paintbrushes. A set like this will give you a variety of brush sizes and choices.
  • Table cover
  • Glitter. Martha Stewart makes a set that comes 12 colors.
  • Apron
  • Water jar for cleaning brushes
  • Rag for drying the wet brushes
  • salt dough ornaments

paint salt dough ornaments


Less you think everything comes together like magic over here, I found that this project involved a lot of *stuff* and have eight tips that will make it more fun and less headache…

Set up your Ornament Painting Station

  1. Gather your materials ahead of time.
  2. Cover the table. Acrylic paint will not easily come off of surfaces and clothing.
  3. Set this up outdoors. Always a wise move if glitter is involved.Even if it’s freezing, it’ll be worth it. No glitter? Indoors will do the trick.
  4. Palette: Use a paper plate for a palette and squeeze small amounts of paint on the plate.
  5. Paint: Use acrylic paints. Don’t mess around with tempera. Acrylic is archival and the ornaments will look beautiful when you take them out year-after-year. FYI: Acrylic paint will not wash out of clothing.
  6. Add some shine. Use glitter or metallic paint. Make it sparkle. It’s the holidays, after all!
  7. Limit the palette. I limited ours to red, white, and green. For Chanukkah, you could use blue, white, and silver. With young children, fewer paint choices make things simpler.
  8. If you follow these steps, when you’re done, all you should have to clean are the brushes and hands.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

N got pretty good at painting the ornaments while maintaining minimal contact with the paint.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

She wanted to use glitter glue, sometimes all by itself and sometimes on top of paint. The beauty of having a ton of blank ornaments is that they’re ripe for painting experiments. No two ornaments were the same.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

Painting the glitter glue was fun, too.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

And then we pulled out our entire glitter collection! There’s no stopping us from…

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

…dumping the glitter like snow, all over the ornaments and workspace. Once more, so happy that I took this project outside. And lucky that it wasn’t a cold or windy day.

Painting Salt Dough Ornaments |

And there they are, ready to be strung with ribbons and hung somewhere festive. The glitter sticks right to the acrylic paint, but as a final step, you could seal these with clear acrylic medium like this, which would help keep all the loose glitter on the ornament and off of everything it brushes against.How to make salt dough ornaments with kids | TinkerLab


Make Easy Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 1

Raise your hand if you’ve made or plan to make salt dough ornaments this season! Yep, I see a lot of you out there. It seems we’re not the only ones, but in case you haven’t committed to this yet, I have one piece of advice for you: While the recipe is simple, give yourself some time!

This is a 2-part post. In the first part I’ll share a salt dough recipe with baking instructions and in part two, I’ll share my best tips for painting and decorating salt dough ornaments with kids.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

I used this recipe on ParentDish by Anna Ranson, who blogs at The Imagination Tree.

Salt Dough Ornament Recipe

This salt dough recipe is the easier ever with just three ingredients that you probably already have. Double or triple the recipe for more ornaments.

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • up to 1 cup of water.

I mixed the dry ingredients and then added a full cup of water. Gulp. Did you catch that bit about adding up to 1 cup of water? The dough was sooo sticky, so I kept adding equal amounts of salt and flour until the dough held together without sticking to my hands. Okay, back on track…

Salt Dough Ornaments |

My 3 year old and I both rolled out some dough and got busy cutting shapes with our favorite cookie cutters. I also gave her a small bowl of flour (you can barely see it at the top of this photo) for her to flour her workspace at will. She loved that, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that before. Her ornaments are less than perfect, but she proudly made them herself. Awwwww.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

We followed Anna’s suggestion of using a straw to add a hole in each shape that we could later hang a ribbon through. Of course N saw no good reason to stop at one hole per ornament. And why should she?

Salt Dough Ornaments |

The next step is to bake them at 100 C for 2-3 hours. OMG — just caught that it was Celsius, and here I was cursing my oven for not going below 170 Fahrenheit. Haha! Now I know why it took, literally, all day to bake these. Okay, so I could have just put my oven at 212 degrees and it wouldn’t have taken forever.

Bake your Salt Dough Ornaments

Bake at 212 F or 100 C for 2-3 hours, or until hard.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

After they were dry, N sorted all the ornaments into hearts, trees, snowflakes, and gingerbread men…and then, of course, her little sister stepped in to mix them all up.

Salt Dough Ornaments |

Ready for painting. To see how we painted them, click over here for Salt Dough Ornaments: Part 2.

Halloween Tradition: Little Fabric Ghosts

This little fabric ghost tradition began last year, and N has been begging me to revive it for weeks. We haven’t had any white fabric in the house, I didn’t have the energy to make a fabric run, and then low-and-behold I found a quarter yard of fabric in a closet sweep a few days ago! Yay for “free” fabric. It’s more craft than art, but you’ll see in a minute how this can be open-ended and exploratory for curious, creative little minds.

We started with approximately 15″ squares of thin cotton fabric, a little thinner than muslin. But really, almost any thin white fabric will work. We filled the middle with about six cotton balls. Actually, it started out at “five,” but when N took over she increased the number by one or two, until the last ghost had about nine cotton balls in the head. This is good for counting, too!

I cut cotton string into lengths of 12″ – 30″ and then tied them around the “heads.” We then glued on googly eyes with white glue.

Now for the fun part! N wanted to draw a mouth on one of the ghosts so we found a Sharpie marker. Drawing the mouth turned into drawing hair, ears, and decorating the entire body. So fun!

She even drew inside the ghost. There are no limits, are there? We made four ghosts altogether, and she named this one the “dad.” The others (mom, baby, and sister) were plain white…what does this mean, I wonder?

We hung them in the tree to scare our neighbors for Halloween. Monofilament might have eliminated the noose quality of the string, but you work with what you’ve got! Boo!

I love hearing from you. Please share your Halloween tradition/s!

This post is shared with Sunday Showcase. Craft Schooling Sunday

Tin Painting for El Dia de Los Muertos

El dia de los muertos Tin Painting, Tinkerlab.comThe Mexican folk art of tin painting is eye candy for little kids, such a fun medium to play with, and it’s perfect for El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead, November 1 & 2).

I used to lead this activity when I taught art in Los Angeles elementary schools, and I’ve seen 100’s of children get sucked right into it, inevitably asking for more. I was curious to see if my 3-year-old would have the same reaction…she did!

She made 6 tin paintings before I had to cut her off. If you try this, you’ll have to let me know if you have the same experience with it. If you do a quick image search for Mexican Tin Art (or click this link), you’ll have some good inspiration for this project.

For this project you’ll need:

  • Permanent Markers (like Sharpies) in multiple colors
  • Pure Metal Tooling Foil. Kitchen aluminum foil is too thin to do the job, but I encourage you to try heavy duty foil it if that’s all you have. If you’re feeling more DIY, you could try cutting an aluminum can with tin snips as Anjie did here.
  • Paper tape or electrical tape
  • Blunt pencil
  • Magazine
  • Scissors

This is essentially an embossing project, and I think the joy in it lies in pressing into the foil to create a relief print. It’s highly rewarding, the foil is shiny and enticing, and the final product is a keepsake.


  1. Cut the foil to the desired size. I like this foil because you can cut it with household scissors or a paper cutter. So easy!
  2. Tape off the edges to avoid cutting little fingers
  3. Place the foil on top of a magazine and draw on it with the blunt pencil. Press down firmly to make a good, strong mark. You can experiment with both a blunt and sharp pencil to see how they work differently. The magazine (or stack of newspaper) creates a cushion that allows the embossing to happen.
  4. Once the drawing is complete, decorate the tin painting with permanent markers. The foil will maintain its sheen beneath the Sharpie marks.
  5. Display proudly.
My daughter taped off these edges by herself (she was proud) and drew one of her signature spiral shapes.
When I introduced this project to elementary age children, we would also include a small piece of tracing paper (the same size as the foil) and images of Pre-Columbian and Mexican symbols (see Resources for a link to a great book). The children would trace the symbols of their choice, place the tracing paper on top of the foil, and then trace the image again. It’s a different experience from the free-form preschool activity I’m sharing here, but it may be of interest to those of you with older children.