Is it Magnetic? Testing Objects for Magnetism.

How was your weekend? We took a mini-vacation to play in the snow and I enjoyed a little computer break along the way. I thought I could get online with my phone, but it turned out that the reception was horrible and I’ve been completely out-of-touch! It was probably a good thing, as I could really focus on my family and be as rested as possible when my one-year old woke up, inconsolable, for 2 hours in the middle of the night! I also want to formally thank my good friend Melissa from The Chocolate Muffin Tree who checked in to make sure I was okay! How lucky am I?

I’ve been on a science kick lately. Maybe because my 3-year old is completely self-serve in the art department or maybe because I’ve checked every science for kids book out of our local library? If you’re in the market for a great book of kids science experiments for ages 8 and up, I checked out The Science Explorer Out and about: Fantastic Science Experiments Your Family Can Do Anywhere (Science Explorer Out & about)and it’s phenomenal. It was written in 1997 and looks a little bit dated, but the concepts are solid and it stands the test of time. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco’s Exploratorium or if you’re familiar with their publications, you’ll feel connected to this book.

magnet and water experiment materials

Today’s experiment is similar to one we’ve done before with paper clips +magnets (Traveling Magnets), and this takes it up a notch with a few more magnet surprises and discoveries. Here’s what you’ll need…


  • Glass or vase of water. Thin glass works better than thick.
  • Pipe cleaners and/or paper clips
  • Strong magnets
  • Scissors
  • Small magnetic and non-magnetic objects

pipe cleaners in water experiment

Cut the pipe cleaners up and add them to the vase of water and mix them up so the pipe cleaners sink. Three-year old N loved doing this step herself.

Using your magnet/s try to pull the pipe cleaners up the side of the vase. Once they reach the top, you can retrieve them or drop them back in.

It’s like fishing!

testing magnets experiment kids

This opened up a conversation about what would stick to the magnets, so I pulled out a handful of small metal and non-metal objects for us to test.

Meanwhile, my 1-year old enjoyed stirring the water and fishing pipe cleaners out with her hands.

testing magnets experiment kids

N understood that the magnet would only stick to metal and quickly ruled out rubber bands and post-it notes from the “Is it magnetic?” list, but we also learned that the magnet wouldn’t stick to ALL metals.

And that was a surprise!

magnets on hardwood floor nails

One of the funnest surprises, however, was when a magnet fell onto the floor and stuck to a hidden nail! We dropped the rest of our magnets onto the floor and flicked them from nail to nail, watching them dance from floorboard to floorboard.

One more thought — I kept a close eye on my 17 month old throughout because our magnets are so tiny — just a thought that you might want to do the same or find some big magnets for the under 3 y.o. crowd.

What did your weekend look like? Have you been able to take a technology break? And have you had any fun magnet discoveries?



6 Kids Valentines Day Activities

6 Kids Valentines Activities and Homemade Valentine Gifts

We’ve been crafting up a Valentine’s storm, which mostly means that three-year old N has been collaging all our self-serve bits and bobs of Valentine goodness into a taped-up, glued, and spackled hodge podge of Valentine craziness. In other words, we’ve been having fun, but it’s not something anyone else would likely take inspiration from or worth blogging about!

That said, we have been playing with an amazing batch of Valentine play dough that’s always good for open-ended exploration and imagination-building. And, for my 1.5 year old, it’s great for hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skill development. 

valentine play dough

I keep my play dough in a big sealable bowl or zipped bag, and it will last for months. I use this recipe, and it’s hands-down the best one out there for the play dough job. Here are the ingredients, but click over to the recipe for all the deets:

valentine play dough station

The Ingredients

  • 2.5 cups water
  • 1 1/4 c. salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 5 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2.5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors. I really like Wilton Icing Colors or Liquid Watercolors (from Discount School Supply), which make gorgeous shades of play dough to match any occasion, mood, or toddler request.


For our Valentine Play Dough Station, I made a batch of white dough and a batch of dark pink, and then the kids helped me loosely mix them together to make this fun, mottled Valentine concoction. Oh, and we added peppermint oil to the mix to give it a nice, fresh smell. This would be perfect for Christmas too…something to keep in mind for later.

valentine play dough

I gave my kids a new set of heart-shaped cookie cutters, which proved to be too difficult for my little one to effectively use on her own. But that didn’t stop her from trying! I cut a few shapes for her, which she really enjoyed pulling out of the dough and then breaking into three or four pieces. Some of the hearts were too challenging for her to pull out on her own, so I’d break the dough walls, which helped her remove the hearts somewhat intact.

She also enjoyed playing with the rolling pin and practiced rolling snakes.

valentine play dough

I was recently asked which of our art materials is absolutely indispensable, and while there are many, play dough is one of those materials that appeals to a wide variety of ages because the threshold is so low. Very young children know exactly what to do with it, and as children get older their ability to manipulate it and use it for imaginative play grows along with them.

Play dough, I love you…Happy Valentine’s Day!

Interested in more Tinkerlab-style Valentines?

Deconstructed Valentines

deconstructed valentines

Valentine Garland

Valentine Garland With Kids

Self-serve Valentines

self serve valentines

All-in-one Valentine Envelope

all in one valentine envelope

Valentine Snack

cut out valentine snack

Happy Valentine’s Day!




Paper Bag Museum

In case you missed yesterday’s post, we’re hosting a super fun Paper Bag Creative Challenge that brought over 50 kid-directed paper bag projects together in one spot. Today I’m excited to share our own take on the challenge.

paper bag art oil pastels

This is how our art table looked the other morning.

paper bag art table

Me and the girls crafting up a paper bag collage storm.

My one year old colored paper bags with oil pastels and glued hearts and sequins to a paper bag while my 3 year old went to town — all day long — making paper bag collages that quickly took up all the ceiling space in the room.

collage installation

My 3-year old, N, called these her Valentine Collages and Paper Bag Art. She recently picked up on how museums have multiples of one type of thing, and decided that this would be her Paper Bag Museum. In case you’re wondering, I was told that it was okay that some of the things in the museum weren’t made with paper bags. She’s the curator, so I couldn’t really argue with that.

paper bag museum

We set up a Vistor Services Desk with information about our admission policies and hours. It’s really important for people to know that they can’t hang out in our house at dinner!

paper bag museum

We gathered up all the paper bag creations that weren’t hanging from the beams and displayed them here. Maps are in the basket on the left and she set up an interactive activity in the paper bag “basket.” More on that in a sec.

paper bag museum maps

We talked about how museums share all sorts of informative collateral for visitors to pick up, like maps, schedules, and catalogues. I cut a big paper grocery bag into squares and she decided to turn them into maps. To make this map, we started with a “you are here” dot, and then she added trails into the various rooms of our house, also marked by dots.

paper bag museum maps

But why stop with one map when you’re expected a big audience!

interactive museum prompt with kids

Then she handed me a stack of post-its and dictated this participatory prompt to me.

The museum educator in me was so proud!

This wasn’t going to be some stuffy old museum — oh no, she was thinking about her visitors’ experience and wanted to make sure their voices were heard!

paper bag museum

Our first visitor woke up from her nap just in time for the opening, and got right to work with a drawing. The prompt worked!

The museum is now closed for the installation of a new show. My one year old is enamored by fish, so maybe we’ll figure out a way to build her an Aquarium!

What’s your child’s favorite kind of museum? Could you set up an imaginative play area based on it?


If you’re interested in reading more about participatory museums, Museum 2.0 is one of my favorite sites, and it’s run by Nina Simon, Executive Director of The Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz and author of The Participatory Museum.


Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar ExperimentIn this Yeast Sugar Experiment, we’ll watch yeast feed on sugar to fill a balloon with air. A fun science project for kids that’s with household, everyday materials.

How we got started

I’ve been baking bread just about every day for the past three weeks (nothing too crazy since it’s all done in the bread maker), but last week my 3.5 year old and I got into a discussion about the properties of yeast.

We like to tinker and  experiment — big surprise, I know — and decided to see what would happen if we mixed yeast with warm water.

My preschooler took this job very seriously, poured the water into a bowl, added a couple teaspoons of yeast, and waited a few patient minutes before she said, “it makes a brownish color.” True, and to make it bubble like it does in bread, we needed to activate it with sugar.

What’s so great about an experiment like this is that it’s easy to do with household materials, and it’s ripe for authentic child-generated questions and observations. When I asked what she thought would happen if we added sugar to the yeast she said, “I don’t know! Let’s mix them and find out!.”

In this Yeast Sugar Experiment, we'll watch yeast feed on sugar to fill a balloon with air. A fun science project for kids that's with household, everyday materials.

Supplies: Yeast Sugar Experiment

  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 packet or 2 1/4 tablespoons
  • Balloon
  • Warm water (105-115 degrees F, 40.5-46 degrees C)
  • Mixing bowl + funnel
  • Bottle that you can fit a balloon over

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

Mix the yeast and sugar into the warm water and stir. I noticed that N was sniffing the concoction and asked her what it smelled like. She said “poop.” I could see what she was saying. Consider yourself warned.

Once it all dissolves, pour the mixture into the bottle and cover the bottle with the balloon.

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

After a few minutes you’ll be amazed by something like this!

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Expriement

Will it blow off the bottle?

N wanted to feel it as it filled with air. She noticed the balloon was getting bigger and wanted to know how big it would get, wondering out loud, “will it fill up all the way and blow off the bottle?”

Good question!

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

My handy-dandy ship captain sister (no joke — that’s her job!) was visiting, and put herself right to work as chief measurer.

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

Move it to a safe spot

Once the bottle filled up completely, we moved the whole yeast sugar experriment to the sink. The bubbles were slow-moving, and there was nothing to worry ourselves with, but N enjoyed pulling the balloon off and watching the foam slowly pour over the bottle’s top.

Science Projects for Kids | Yeast and Sugar Experiment

More ideas for the Yeast Sugar Experiment

As we went through the process, I thought of a few fun extensions for older kids or those who want to take this further. You could play around with food coloring/liquid watercolors, have a few bottles going at once and compare the results of different sugar:yeast ratios, or compare the results of different water temperatures.

I found my recipe at The Exploratorium’s Science of Cooking series, where we also learned that as the yeast eats the sugar it makes carbon dioxide, which is essentially the same process that yeast goes through in our bread dough.

Mmmmm. I’m off to eat some whole wheat cranberry walnut oat bread. Toasted. With butter and Maldon salt. How do you like your bread? And have you played around with yeast concoctions?

More Science Experiments for Kids

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

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Chalkboard Painted Canvas

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Chalkboards…I love them. You? The texture, the dust, and contrast are oh-so-appealing.

When I started to see them disappear from classrooms in favor of dry erase boards, I was a little bit shocked. Dry erase boards are wonderful too, but they’ll never have the same rustic appeal as a chalkboard.

This project began when I found a $3 canvas at a thrift store back in September (it had a print of a cow on it — truly hideous), and painted over it with a few layers of black chalkboard paint. Since October, it’s been filled with these house “rules,” and while I enjoyed looking at them, and even managed to inspire a neighbor to add some chalkboard quotes to her own kitchen, I was ready for a fresh start and enlisted the help of my crew to come up with something new.

And maybe I was feeling a little bit guilty on those days that I just ate buttered toast and wanted to spit. Maybe.

So I pulled the canvas down, wiped it clean with a damp rag, and let the kids go to town.

They loved it.

This is how it looked two weeks ago, and then this week we started all over again.

We also have a chalkboard that’s painted right onto part of our kitchen door, and it gets a lot of use for everything from chicken scratches to make-shift calendars to homemade infographics.

We collaborated on this one: the bunny is mine, the yellow is N, and the pink is Baby R. Funny thing, at least for me, is that back when I was brainstorming names for this blog, I called it Chalkbunny for a couple months before landing on Tinkerlab. So here we have a real, live chalk bunny, which is what we decided to call the little character in my new banner.

Do you have a well-loved chalkboard? What makes it special? And how do your kids use it?