Art Tips: The Bits and Pieces Box

Weekly Art Tips on Tinkerlab.comToday’s art tip is brought to us by one of my very favorite creative mom bloggers, Ali Wright. This trick is so easy to put in motion — and the payoff can be big. After reading it I’d bet that you won’t look at scraps of paper quite the same way again. As Ali puts it, this is a” frugal way to supply the kids with interesting, varied and free materials.”

Art Tips: The bits and pieces boxHi, I’m Ali. I am a mom to two arty kids. My kids can go through large quanities of art supplies in a very short space of time. So, I am always on the look out for ways to supplement our art and craft materials without breaking the bank.

I am a big collector. I keep an old shoebox which I fill with all sort of things that I think might appeal to the kids. We call it the bits and pieces box…. and this is what is currently in it –

  • Promotional postcards which I find in cafes and shops
  • Maps and tourist brochures from museums and hotel foyers
  • Clothing tags that are pretty or interesting
  • Theatre programs (I don’t actually get to the theatre I just collect the programs)
  • Old discarded paintings by the kids
  • Wrapping paper and tissue paper
  • Tickets of all sorts – dry cleaning stubs, movie tickets, raffle tickets
  • Art exhibition catalogues
  • Used envelopes with interesting stamps
  • Old greeting cards

Art Tips: The bits and pieces box

This box is kept in sight but out of reach.

I pull it down when the kids ask me or when we are working on an art project that needs some extra materials. When the box comes down from the shelf they get very excited to see the latest additions.

The funny thing about the bits and pieces box is that I can never predict what is going to appeal to my kids. Sometimes they pounce on something I would never expect. I threw in some bank forms last week – they were a big hit.

Art Tips: The bits and pieces box

I don’t throw every piece of paper that comes my way into the bits and pieces box… it would need to be huge if I did that! I am selective: I particularly avoid shopping catalogues.

I look for interesting imagery, quirky uses of text and colour as well as a range of paper types and textures.

My bits and pieces box is a very frugal way to supply the kids with interesting, varied and free materials. The majority of the materials in the box were destined for the recycling bin. This way they are given a second chance at life in the hands of my mini makers.

Ali Wright Ali is a blogger and mother of two kids who adore art and crafts. Making things is a part of everyday life. Ali is also a designer and DIY crafter. She lives with her family in Sydney Australia and shares her creative adventures on her blog At Home with Ali. You can also find her on PinterestFacebookGoogle+ and Instagram.

Winter Craft Collage Invitation

How do you feel about holiday activities?

I love it all…the tree trimming, wreath making, cookie decorating, Santa sighting, and latke cooking. Yes, it’s only December 7, and we’ve already done it all!

But I’ve learned that I can only take it in small doses before I need to bury my head in a pillow. And then I learned this week that my kids feel the same way.

When we put our kids to bed my husband and I often make up stories, and they invariably involve some sort of adventure (on my 4-year old’s request, every time). The ongoing story I tell is about three rabbit sisters who go on wild adventures to solve mysteries, but tonight N requested a story about the three rabbits “and their relaxing afternoon.”

I pressed the topic. “Okay, did they play at home and then take a walk to the park?” “No,” she said, “they stayed at home. All day long.”

If you find yourself in a similar place where you and your child just need to take a load off, brush off some of that holiday pressure and chill out, the spirit of this craft invitation is for you.

No special materials are required and the “product” does not have to look like anything in particular — forage through your cabinets and you’re sure to find everything you need.

The objective here is to pour a cup of something warm, go easy on yourself, and celebrate the process.

Winter Craft Invitation: Gather your supplies

My goal was to present my kids with a smorgasbord of materials that might inspire them to create a winter landscape. I envisioned shapes that might remind my children of a winter scene and came up with these materials:

  • Sheet of paper (light blue)
  • Green paper cut into triangles
  • White paper cut into circles
  • Dot stickers
  • Colorful Tape
  • Do-a-dot markers
  • Markers
  • Glue Stick
  • White Glue
  • Candy Cane Stickers

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

Clear a table

Clear everything off the table and then do your best to attractively set the materials up. Our table is usually uncovered, so I took a minute to cover it, which made my kids notice it and in turn built their excitement.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

Leave it open-ended

While it would be easy to tell my kids to use the circles as snow or the triangles as trees, they see things their own way. The winter suggestion is there, and they can take it or leave it.

My 2-year old wanted to use a glue stick like her big sister, and took great pride in figuring out how to secure shapes to her paper.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

Listen to the story

When my children complete a picture I often ask them to tell me about it. My 2-year old was really excited about how she worked with scissors to chop up that triangle you see on the right, and she talked about how she glued and taped everything down. Fascinating, right? She didn’t say one thing about imagery; it was all about the process.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

My 4-year old was soooo literal with this project that it practically killed me. She told me about how the middle tree needed more ornaments than the others and how it was snowing. As I spent more time looking at it, though, I was also struck by the suggested symmetry of the piece.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

I wondered if the collage invitation was hindering her creativity, but after seeing this picture  (below) that she created on the same day, it was clear that her imagination was still alive and well, and that the collage enabled her to test new design ideas with form and composition.

Winter craft collage invitaiton,

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

Are you overwhelmed by them or are you fueled by the excitement? Do you have any strategies for taming the crazies, respectfully turning down invitations, or taking things off your plate?

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers |
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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Snowflake Collage Activity for Kids

Are you looking for a meaningful process-oriented art project to do with the kids this winter? I have an answer for you with this snowflake collage activity for kids.

snowflake collage activity for kids

Have you made snowflakes with your child? Once you get started, making snowflakes can be completely addicting. Last year, when my older daughter was three, we made PILES of snowflakes and this year she turned into a snowflake-making machine about a week before Thanksgiving. The good news for us Californians is that we’ll be knee-deep in snow by December at this rate!

Snowflake Collage Activity for Kids

snowflake activity for kids

Step 1: Cut Snowflakes

There are lots of ways to make paper snowflakes, and my favorite tutorial for easy, good looking snowflakes can be found by Maya over at Maya Made.  This also happens to be a favorite blog of mine, and you’ll probably enjoy getting lost in the images of her gorgeous farmhouse and handmade loveliness.

We used a pack of precut tissue circles like these from Discount School Supply, but any tissue paper or other thin paper will work equally well.

snowflake activity for kids

Step 2: Lay them out over a sheet of card stock

4-year old N set hers out on top of two sheets of card stock that she taped together.

snowflake collage activity for kids

Step 3: Get your Mod Podge and Palette Knife ready

I spread a thin layer of Mod Podge onto the paper to which N deftly attached each snowflake. She was in charge of the layout, which included some beautiful layering of colors. After she placed the snowflake, I added a little more Mod Podge to seal it in place.

Watered down white glue will also work if you don’t have Mod Podge, but I’d encourage you to invest in some because it works so well for all sorts of collage activities.

Snowflake Collage Activity for Kids

Step 4: Keep making snowflakes until you’re done

Snowflake collage activity for kids

Step 5: If your dad’s birthday is coming up, turn it into a gift :)

Or, proudly hang your masterpiece and welcome in the winter season.

It’s all about the process

Like all the projects on this site, I hope  you’ll take this inspiration and run with it in your own direction. Or better yet, your child will take it in his or her own direction. Happy exploring!

You might also enjoy

Rolled Paper Snowflakes

Hanging Holiday Stars

Last-minute DIY activities to make with the kids


Tape Art

We are a tape-loving house. You?

Tape art with colorful tape, clear tape, paper tape: young children will enjoy using tape in this process-based design activity that encourages fine motor skills, compositional choices, creative thinking, and more.

tape art

Have you seen this colorful paper tape at Target? It’s from the Kid Made Modern line and you can find it in the art supply section. I’m not an affiliate — just a happy customer.

It’s not washi tape, in case you’re wondering. Washi tape is traditionally made from rice paper and has a transparent quality to it. This tape is fairly heavy; I think you can tell from this photo that it’s got some body to it, which makes it easy for little hands to manipulate.

The tape comes on a long cardboard roll, so I fashioned a make-shift tape dispenser from PVC pipe and connectors that came with our Fort Magic kit and it works like a charm at keeping it organized on the table.

tape art

After watching my children use this fancy tape for a couple months I’ve come to see it as the love child of stickers and wrapping paper. It’s useful for adhering one thing to another, but my kids mostly use it as a form of decoration.

On this particular day I cleared our art table, cut brown paper bags into 6″ wide strips, and presented my kiddos with paper tape and brown paper bags. They loved it.

tape art

My 4-year old likes to cut her own pieces of tape and focused closely on building coordinated horizontal lines across the paper.

Oh, that and covering her fingers with tape.

tape art

My 2-year old is barely getting the hang of cutting (we practice a lot, and I recommend cutting playdough if it’s something you’re working on too), so I pre-cut lots of pieces for her to tape at will. She spent the whole time piling one piece of tape on top of another.

Remember, it’s the process, people, not the product!

tape art

I also pulled out our office supply store dot and garage sale-style stickers, which 2-year old R added to her tape pile.

tape art

This is my 2-year old’s completed piece, which is wildly different from my 4-year old’s interpretation of the materials…

tape art

So, what’s your design material du jour?

Since this colorful tape bonanza, we’ve moved on to clear Scotch tape, a new stash of stickers, mylar, and alphabet stencils.

More tape art inspiration from Tinker-past…

Washi Tape and Found Paper Collage

                        “Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people. When the creative impulse cannot flourish, when it cannot freely select its methods and objects, when it is deprived of spontaneity, then society severs”   ~ John F. Kennedy

Do you set up open-ended prompts or invitations for art-making?

Making art, and in turn creative thinking, is rooted in discovery, experimentation, and the free exploration of materials. Projects that foster independent thinking focus on the processes of creation and experimentation rather than  the final product.

 Washi tape and found book collage. A Tinkerlab Art Invitation.

If you spend any time on Pinterest, you know that the internet is full of ideas for creating beautiful kids’ crafts, but I caution you that while these projects may deliver a tidy product, they may not have your child’s best interests in mind. Your best bet for fostering creative growth is to set up open-ended art-making invitations. Not only will your child’s imagination thrive, but you’ll have less to stress over and prepare for.

To get started, choose a few related materials, lay them out on your table, and see what your child (and maybe you!) can come up with.

Our most recent art invitation included these materials:

tape and paper collage

I placed the materials on the table and began by flipping through the book in search of interesting images. My 4-year old paid attention to my curiosity and jumped right in to share which images she wanted me to cut out for her.

tape and paper collage

We built a small collection of favorites. As she glued or taped, I cut. An added surprise is that we talked a little bit about the content of the images along the way (bird houses versus bird feeders, the most colorful birds we could think of — she insists it’s the Scarlet Macaw and I can’t really argue with that!).

tape and paper collage

Washi tape is one of my more recent art material splurges. If you don’t know about washi tape, it’s a decorative Japanese masking tape, It has a bit of a glossy sheen to it, it’s usually somewhat transparent, and it makes everything look adorable.

Before leaving on a recent trip we visited the art supply store for traveling supplies, and two packs of Washi tape begged for us to buy them. Washi is not cheap, but I’ve noticed that a little bit goes a long way. While my 23-month old could use miles of it in 5 seconds flat, my 4-year old used it sparingly.

The plaid rolls come in this set of three: Kikkerland Plaid Washi Masking Tape. I heard that Target carries an inexpensive brand of washi tape (I think the brand is Smash), but they were all out when I visited. Not surprised, really, since washi tape seems to be all the rage in the scrapbooking world at the moment, but I’ll an eye out for it on future trips.

tape and paper collage

The beauty of the art invitation for us parents is that they cut down on our stress. Aside from making sure that you have some materials to work with, these invitations don’t require a lot of fancy preparations or planning. On top of that, there is no expectation to create something with a specific outcome. Keep these words in mind for successful art making with kids: The Journey is the Destination.

More on Invitations

Do you set up art invitations? How does your child respond to them?

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