Are Black Markers Really Black? A Chromatography Lesson.

are black markers really black chromatographyWhat color is black? Is it one color or many colors combined to “look black”?

Black is the absence of all reflective colors, and when the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) are combined in just the right way, they give off the appearance of black.

We set off to find out more about the predominant colors in our black Crayola marker, and to do this we had to separate the colors. The chemical technique used to separate dyes, pigments, or colored chemicals is known as chromatography. 

This activity can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 25 minutes, depending on how much experimenting your child wants to do, and it’s appropriate for kids ages 2 and up. It’s so simple to do, and would be a natural addition to a morning or afternoon of drawing with markers.


  • White paper towels or white coffee filters
  • A Plate
  • Black marker/s
  • Water
  • Water Dropper

add water to black ink

We started by drawing a big quarter-sized dot on the paper towel, and then squeezed water on top of it. The colors that are released into the paper towel give you some clues as to what goes in to your black. In our case, there was a lot of green.

add water to marker on paper towel experimentAfter the black marker test, 3-year old N wanted to test the rest of her markers. She made a lot of predictions, and they all came out as expected (yellow appeared to be yellow and green was made from green dyes).

add water to marker on paper towel experiment

The red and pink, however, stumped her as they both released a pink color.

add water to marker on paper towel experiment ChromatographyAnd then there was a lot of fun in opening the paper towels up to reveal the levels of color that soaked through all the layers.

More Chromatography

For older kids, this slightly more advanced version of our kitchen experiment from Science Project Lab has some pretty cool results.

Kids will be amazed at the rainbow of colors released by leaves in this chromatography experiment shared over on TLC Family.

I like this coffee filter chromatography project from Kids Make Things.

Have you tried this experiment with your kids? Do you have a favorite paper towel/coffee filter project? What is the most challenging part of doing experiments with your kids?

Sensory Activity: Shredded Paper

If you’re afraid of a mess, I have to warn you up front that this is a messy one.

But it’s not a dirty kind of mess and if you stick with me here, you might become a shredded paper convert like me.

paying bills with kidsIt all started innocently, and rather boring, enough. It was a bill-paying day, and I set the kids up with their own stack of mailing labels stickers, pens, and old checkbooks while I dealt with the heavy stuff.

They were happy enough, but things heated up when we moved on to paper shredding

shredding paper in paper shredder with kids

I had basket full of old bills that were ready for the shredder, and two happy-to-please assistants who took the shredding job very seriously.

Shredders are potentially dangerous, and I would absolutely not let my kids shred on their own, but with careful supervision the act of shredding can build confidence, teaches accuracy and careful attention to details, and it’s just plain fun to make a loud ruckus.

When it’s not in use, I unplug the machine and lock it in a closet. When it’s in use, I run through the rules of good shredder usage with my three and a half year old: Up to 3 sheets at a time. Hold the paper at the top when you feed it in (no fingers near the shredding area). And it’s not for my 18 month old.

While my three year old shreds, her sister hands her stacks of paper. They love it.

Okay, so take a look at that little basket of paper up there and remember how small it appears. And remember that appearances can be deceiving.

My friend and her son came over a couple hours later to play and make some ice cream. While we were talking, my 18 month old dug her hands deep into the neatly packed shredded paper bag, and in moments the room erupted into this happy play scene…

play in shredded paper with kids

And that’s only half of the paper.

They could not have been happier. In fact, just before this moment, the kids were all winding down and ready to go their separate ways. But as soon as that bag emptied out, they found a whole other hour of play inside their little souls.

It was so fun, in fact, that my older daughter chose to keep playing rather than go to her beloved gymnastics class.

play in shredded paper with kidsMy friend is a master at imaginative play with kids, and had them bury themselves in shredded paper, pretend they were dormant volcano monsters, and then erupt without any notice. You can probably imagine the shrieking and laughter that followed.

And we all agreed that this is the perfect toy: free, open-ended, and entertaining for a long spell.

So it was messy, yes, but it was easy enough to sweep up. And rather than cart it off to the recycling bin like I had planned, it all found its way back into the closet and ready for another day of fun.

More Shredded Paper Ideas

Alpha Mom makes a bird’s nest with brown paper bags.

10+ Ideas on what you can do with Shredded Paper (like make animal bedding, papier mache, and mulch) from Bohemian Revolution.

Adorable and seasonal Shredded Paper Seed Starters from Made. These are on my to-do list.

Can you think of a time that your kid/s turned a banal situation into a burst of play? Have you played with shredded paper? Would you try this yourself?


5 Easy Steps to Invent a Recipe with Kids

Do you like to cooking with kids or do you yearn to cook with your child? Today we’re sharing five easy steps to invent a recipe with kids, which will get you into a creative cooking mindset. Think Master Chef + little kids = a fun afternoon.

But you might wonder, “why would I want to invent a recipe when I can easily follow a recipe?” The answer is that inventing recipes instills children with confidence to invent their own solutions to a problem, encourages independent thinking and problem solving skills, and teaches children how to find their way around a kitchen.

5 easy steps to invent a recipe with kids | TinkerLab

My house smells like pancakes.

Which really means that it smells like cooking oil and caramelized sugar. Sort of a happy, greasy smell that has lingered for days.

Every afternoon, for the past three days, my 3 year old turns into a kitchen alchemist as she gathers ingredients and invents her own recipes.

She is in heaven. And it gets even better once we cook the cakes up and proudly serve them up to hungry family members.

Do you ever give your kids free reign over your kitchen?

Experiments like this set children up with a real-life science experiment that fosters creativity, inventiveness, and problem-solving skills. It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be okay with a bit of a mess, but I think the trouble is well worth it for the amount of creative confidence it builds in children.

So, after three straight days of wild pancake combinations, I present five lessons learned on how to invent recipes with kids…

Cooking with Kids: Invent a Recipe

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #1…Get Familiar with the Kitchen.

If your child doesn’t know where things are, give him a little tour. And start with a simple cooking project that introduces him to some key ingredients and tools for a favorite recipe (such as a mixing bowl, mixing spoon, measuring spoon/cup, flour, and oil).

We spend a lot of time cooking together and my oldest (N) knows her way around the kitchen. She can find the biggest mixing bowl in the house, all the baking ingredients are at kid-level (this will no doubt pose a problem once her little sister figures this out), and we have amazing little foldable step stools like these that give her access to the fridge (unless she wants the butter…but we do have a taller stool for that).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #2…Come up with a General Plan.

In our case, N has been making pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes. We tend to make a lot of pancakes in our house anyway (they’re not just for the weekends), so she’s super-familiar with the key ingredients and general direction of what might taste good together. For example, she didn’t pour ketchup into the batter (although if she did, I probably would have let it happen).

Do you have a favorite family recipe that you could riff off of? 

To start, she collected a few ingredients (white flour, wheat flour, flax seeds, and blueberries), and added them to the bowl. I tried to step back and allow her to make decisions about quantities, but every now and then I’d throw out a suggestion to help guide the journey.

As you can imagine, her pancake recipe has WAY more than the usual tablespoon of sugar (see the next picture), but it turns out that sugary pancakes are absolutely delicious.

invent a recipe with kids

Lesson #3…Green Light all Ingredients.

Of course you want to be safe about this, as things like raw meat and raw eggs need special handling, but try to keep an open mind as your child selects her ingredients. One of N’s batters had chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, mango juice, dried cranberries and walnuts in it. It was amazing.

The most recent batch contained raspberries, strawberry cream cheese, diced apples, and goat cheese. It was a bit chunky, and I’m not so sure about the goat cheese, but we drafted a recipe in case they end up being the best one yet.

Which bring me to the next lesson…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #4…Write the Recipe Down.

This is validating and makes the whole game so much more fun. As N added ingredients, I tried my best to write them down. Some things were carefully measured and others weren’t, but it didn’t really matter. I’m thrilled to have documentation of her first recipes and I’m sure she’ll treasure them as she gets older.

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #5…Embrace a Good Experiment.

As we cooked, I repeated multiple times that this is a grand experiment and that we’d be surprised one way or the other. We chatted about how it’s possible that not one person has ever made this exact recipe, and that chefs go through a similar process when they invent something new. Like scientists, they hypothesize (what ingredients might taste good together?), they experiment (let’s make this batter with yogurt and the next with sour cream), and they test (how does it taste? which batch do we like better? why?).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

After one of our cooking sessions, my husband took the kids off on a run in the stroller. These two hot cakes were eaten before they left the driveway, which I suppose speaks to how delicious they came out.

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TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment

Polymer Science Project for Kids that Feels like Magic. So simple. Easy to do at home. via TinkerLab

Here’s a fun experiment that won’t take a lot of time, and it’s more than likely that you have all the “ingredients” around the house. I did this with my three and a half year old, and it would be relevant for preschoolers and elementary-age children.

The idea that we’re testing here is what will happen if we poke a sharp pencil through a plastic bag of water. Will the water leak through the holes? Will the water spill out? Or will the bag reseal around the pencils, keeping the water inside?

When my 3-year old daughter (N) and I tried this out, we worked with the question, “what will happen if we poke pencils into a bag full of water?” That seemed more age-appropriate and tangible for her.

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab


  • Zip-up Bag
  • Water
  • Sharpened Pencils

We filled a zip-up bag about half-way with water and sealed it up. I held the bag high over a sink and N poked the pencils straight through the bag, from one side to the other. This is where my fancy photography skills come into play, holding the bag with one hand and snapping a photo with the other. Are you impressed?

Make sure that the pencil doesn’t keep traveling through the bag or you’ll have water leaks.Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

Keep adding pencils until you’ve had enough. Before removing the pencils, take a moment to talk about what you see. When the pencil goes into the bag, the bag seems to magically seal itself around the pencil.

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

When you’re done, remove the pencils over a sink.

The Science Behind the Experiment

Plastic bags are made out of polymers, chains of molecules that are flexible and give the bag its stretchiness. When the sharp pencil pokes through the bag, the stretchy plastic hugs around the pencil, creating a watertight seal around the pencil…and the bag doesn’t leak.

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment | TinkerLab

More Polymer Fun

Now I’m really excited for us to try poking skewers through balloons without popping them (QuestaCon Science Squad) and make our own kazoos from toilet paper rolls and plastic bags (Kazoologist). Steve Spangler Science is also an amazing place to go for projects like this, and you’ll find endless polymer-related ideas over there.

You could also make your own polymer by mixing up a batch of fun and flubbery Gak (a mixture of water, white glue, and borax). We’ve done this multiple times, and my kids can’t get enough of it.

More Science Projects for Kids

If you enjoyed this project, you’ll love this article: Science Fair Project Ideas.

Did you enjoy this post?

TinkerLab Newsletter

In case you blinked and missed it, Tinkerlab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

Join our community and you’ll learn:

  • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
  • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
  • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

DIY Paper Bag Book with Japanese Binding {Free Download}

You might know that I’ve been working on a fun project with the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum DIY Studio Space. Each month for a full year, we’re developing creativity-boosting invitations for children who visit the museum. If you visit the Studio this month you’ll find an assortment of interesting found materials and a host of ideas for upcycling books from these materials.

And in case you didn’t make it to the CCM this month, I’m giving away a free project download: Tinkerlab DIY Paper Bag Book

The cover is made from a paper lunch bag, the inner pages are made from any paper you like, and it’s bound with a traditional Japanese 3-hole binding that elementary-age children could do with a little assistance.

Children will work through spatial reasoning and learn about a traditional binding method through the process of binding. They will also explore different recycling possibilities through the selection of materials. And once the book is made, children can fill it with sketches, stories, stickers…the possibilities are endless.

This is new to me and I’d love to hear your thoughts: Would you rather see all the steps in a blog post or do you like having it in a sweet and tidy PDF?