Fall Luminary: Make a Lantern

Today I’m joined by Arts Educator extraordinaire, Amanda Gross, who’s back to show us how to make a Fall Luminary from leaves and melted crayons. Not only are these beautiful, but the processes of collecting leaves, peeling crayons, and melting the wax with an iron are sure to capture a child’s attention.

Make a Lantern!

Luminaries are perfect for brightening a crisp autumn evening, and a crafty way to explore this season when leaves turn brilliant colors, the rosy twilight falls more quickly, and families the world over traditionally give thanks for the harvest.

You might start by reading a book that poetically investigates the unique things of autumn, such as Lois Ehlert’s Leaf Man or Lauren Thompson’s Mouse’s First Fall.

Would your child like to make a colorful fall luminary, choosing materials from outside and around the house?

Step 1:
Wander around outside, and notice how the leaves have turned a multitude of colors and have gotten crunchy. Choose leaves that have fallen off of trees, but are not too dry and can still lay flat.  If leaves are very curly, you may consider pressing them in a heavy book for a few days, before using them.  Bring your collection inside and onto a table.

Step 2:
Find a clean mason jar that will serve as the structure for your luminary.  Measure the mason jar’s circumference with sting, and cut a wax paper strip that is long enough to fit around it.

Step 3:
Gather crayons of your favorite colors.   Lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival are often inspired by butterflies, so any hue goes!   Unwrap the paper covering the crayons, and shave them lengthwise over the wax paper, with a serrated knife or vegetable peeler.  If your child isn’t old enough to wield the knife, s/he could choose the crayon, the location, and how much pigment they’d like you to shave off.

Step 4:
Place leaves over the crayon shavings, and feel free to add more shavings on top.  Explain that the crayon wax will melt, and those little crumbs will become puddles of color.  Experiment with composition, and with layering the leaves and shavings.

Step 5:
Set up your ironing board and turn on the iron (If you are like me, and not the most experienced with this, here’s one of many online ironing tutorials).  On your ironing board, place a flat, thin cloth (the crayon wax will probably bleed through the wax paper a bit, so use scrap fabric and not “good” cloth), then carefully place your wax paper with the leaves and shavings.  Over this, put a blank sheet of wax paper, of around the same size.  Layer on another thin cloth, and smooth out the wrinkles with your fingers.  Spritz the top layer evenly with water from a spray bottle, and now you’re ready to iron.  Flatten out the wrinkles and iron both sides of the wax paper “sandwich.”

Step 6:
After waiting a few minutes for the wax paper to cool, peel away the cloth.  Measure your mason jar again, and cut the wax paper so that it fits around the jar, then tape or tie a ribbon around it to hold the paper in place.

Step 7:
When it gets dark outside, drop a candle into your mason jar, and ignite it with a long lighter.  The brilliant, glowing colors and winding lines of the leaves will surely be a cozy centerpiece for your family to gather around, and is an excellent reminder to be grateful for the season.


Picture Books About Fall on Goodreads

PreservingLeaves and a Leaf Lantern

Nature’sStained Glass

MeltedCrayon Luminaries

Amanda E. Gross_headshotAmanda designs curricula to guide and inspire children, teens, and adults to appreciate art and to create!  She earned a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from The Rhode Island School of Design and is an instructor at Academy of Art University.  Amanda is also an illustrator, painter, DIY crafter, and permaculture enthusiast. Find out more about Amanda here: Art Curricula WebsiteArt Portfolio WebsiteLinkedIn, and Pinterest.

DIY Paper Pyramid Lanterns

I have such a heavy heart today, friends, because we lost one of the good ones in this world. My dear friend, Steve, who happens to be one of the funniest, wisest, and most generous people I know lost his long battle with cancer.

I wasn’t planning to post anything today, but the glow of these paper lanterns made me think about Steve’s shining light, and I thought I’d dedicate this post to him and his incredible wife, Jen.

Grab a few battery-operated tea lights, a favorite paper (in this case security envelopes!), scissors, and tape, and you're ready to make these simple DIY lanterns to illuminate a dark winter night.

These were inspired by the Paper Lanterns from Willowday, and if you change up the paper patterns (or maybe make your own), these could become party decorations, Halloween luminaries, or bedroom night lights.

If you you happen to make these lanterns (and why wouldn’t you — they’re rad!), I like to think that the glow might remind you that we’re each filled with enough light to brighten a friend’s darkest hour. Go on — spread some joy today. Life is truly short and we each have the capacity to touch the lives of others.

So let’s get started. Here’s what you’ll need…

How to Make Paper Lanterns

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Hole Puncher
  • Clear Tape
  • Ruler
  • Battery-operated votive candle
Because I drew my triangle free-hand, and you shouldn’t have to go through all that trial and error, here’s an equilateral triangle for your printing delight:
equilateral triangle
If you know me, you know that I like to get my kids involved in hands-on learning, and this is a good way to teach children how to carefully outline shapes, which in turn teaches patience and accuracy.

make a paper lantern

Step 1: Draw an equilateral triangle (or scale and print it) and cut it out.

Make paper lantern

Step 2: Trace it onto a sheet of paper FOUR times.

We drew ours onto a security envelope because we like to upcycle around here. And I’m super crazy about the patterns on these.

how to make paper lanterns

Step 3: Cut the whole shape out.

Step 4: Tape it together and punch holes into the sides if you’d like.

Step 5: Add a battery-powered tea light (not a real candle, please, safety first) and decorate like mad.

how to make paper lanterns

I love you, Steve and Jen. You’ll always be in my thoughts.

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Self-serve Valentines for Kids

I’m working on a project with the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum, and one of the ideas we’re playing with is to create a buffet-style selection of materials for children to choose from in our DIY art zone. I’ll share some of our activities with you soon, but in the meantime I thought you might like to see how this strategy has manifested itself in my own home.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner and a love for all-things-holiday in our house, I set up a smorgasbord of hearts, flowers, silk flower petals, shiny wrapping paper, doilies, stickers, and glue. Each clear container is filled with a thoughtfully-selected material as an invitation to make, play, and create. Oh, and invitations can be accepted or ignored. I always try to pay attention to how these things play out because, of course, I want my invitations to be accepted!!

I barely captured any photos of my 3 year old making art because I was busy cutting paper and helping Baby R. But she made a Valentine for her sister and one for me. She draws her “M’s” upside down, so my name is spelled “WOW”… isn’t that great!? N stuffed the Valentines into her light-up Hello Kitty mailbox (the hand-made Valentine box we threw together last week truly couldn’t compete with this one!) and we opened our little parcels of love up at dinner.

All in all it was a success, and I look forward to sharing more of these invitations with you soon.


Last Minute Easy Handmade Gifts To Make With Kids

Could you use some ideas for last minute, easy handmade gifts? Read on!

Okay, so we’re down to the last holiday minute, and if you’re in need of a little something for your lovely neighbors or visiting cousins, this might just do the trick. My 3.5 year old actually helped me make everything here (in various ways), you might already have all or most of the ingredients/materials, and these won’t take you all day to pull together.

Easy Handmade Gifts #1: Beaded Ornament Activity Bag

Easy handmade gifts | Make a beaded ornament kit | TinkerLab.com

My daughter decorated some paper lunch bags with bits of wrapping paper and markers, and we filled them with a couple activities + a tape measure.

Easy handmade gifts | Make a beaded ornament kit | TinkerLab.com

Activity One: Make an Ornament. I folded a piece of card stock in half, typed (with this typewriter) “Make and Ornament” on one side (you could also stamp, print, draw this on, etc.) stapled up the sides, and attached an example of the activity to the side with a piece of clear tape.

Easy handmade gifts | Make a beaded ornament kit | TinkerLab.com

We filled the envelope with a small baggie of assorted beads (from a few big bags that we sub-divided) and four pipe cleaners that I prepared with a little bead-stopping loop at one end.

Easy Handmade Gifts #2: Make a Snowflake Kit

Easy handmade gifts | Make a Snowflake Activity Kit | TinkerLab.com

Easy handmade gifts | Make a Snowflake Activity Kit | TinkerLab.com

I prepared an envelope the same way, with typing, stapling, and filling. This time we placed a short stack of colorful tissue paper circles and a few pre-made snowflakes in the envelope for inspiration. I didn’t have time to write up directions, but hopefully everyone remembers how to make a snowflake. Most people don’t have circular tissue paper on hand, and a little stack of flattened, round coffee filters or squares of upcycled magazines would also do the trick. I love this tutorial for making snowflakes from squares of newspaper squares, from Maya Made.

Easy Handmade Gifts #3: Sugar Scrub

Easy handmade gifts | Make your own sugar scrub | TinkerLab.com

This is a nice way to spread some pampering cheer that will shine away rough wintery skin, and they couldn’t be easier to assemble. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Glass Jar with tight-fitting lid
  • Sugar
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Essential Oil in your favorite smell
  • Decorative Fabric or Paper
  • Paper Label
  • String or Rubber Band
  • Small wooden spoon (optional)

Collecting my materials was the most time consuming piece of this project. I found the jars and wooden spoons at Daiso, a Japanese dollar store that rocks my world, and the essential oil was from Whole Foods. I used grapeseed oil (Trader Joe’s) because it’s virtually scentless and has a long shelf life, and I included a wooden spoon so that my friends can scoop out their scrub without adding bacteria into the jar. It’s not really necessary, but I think it’s a nice touch.

Easy handmade gifts | Make your own sugar scrub | TinkerLab.com

I wish I was more scientific about this, but I’ll tell you how I made it and hopefully it will make sense. I filled 1/4 of the jar with sugar, added enough grapeseed oil to coat it, and then mixed it well. Then I added sugar to the 1/2 way point, added more oil, and mixed it again. I repeated this until the sugar-oil mixture was about 3/4″ from the top. I added a little more oil so that it floated on top of the sugar, making the whole mixture easy to stir. Once it was nicely blended, I added about 30 drops of grapefruit essential oil. Basically, I added the essential oil, smelled it, and then added more until I was happy with the strength of the smell. I thought about using lavender, which I also had, but the grapefruit smelled so refreshing and it complemented the green fabric.

Lastly, I covered it with a circle of fabric (traced with a bowl), secured it with a rubber band (to hold that heavy spoon on tight), and wrapped a gift tag on with some baker’s twine.

Easy Handmade Gifts #4: Pecan Chocolate Turtles

diy gifts with kids

These are so simple, absolutely delicious, and I made them with both my 1-year old and 3-year old. My one year old exercised some fine motor skills by unwrapping the candies, while my 3 year old placed them on the pretzels. It was assembly-line cooking at its finest! They won’t disappoint you, I promise! I found the recipe on All Recipes, and if 5 stars out of 855+ reviews doesn’t tell you how good these are, I’m not sure what will :)


  • Small Pretzels
  • Rolos (Chocolate-covered caramel candy)
  • Pecan Halves
The recipe can be found here: Pretzel Turtles on All Recipes
When they finally cooled (this part took a while, maybe 2 hours), I wrapped them up in wax paper and sealed them with a sticker.

More Ideas for Easy Handmade Gifts

Cookie Dough in a Jar, easy for kids to help assemble

Handmade cards that kids can make.

Handmade Valentine Cards with heart-shaped envelope


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Do-it-Yourself Clay Menorah

air dry clay menorah with kidsWe 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 over $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 kidsN’s cousin gave her a homemade menorah a couple years ago, so this one is a return gift-in-the-making. 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.

air dry clay menorah with toddlerMeanwhile, 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 kidsTo 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 kidsWe 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 kidsAnd then N decided to use a wooden stick to poke a pattern of holes all over the menorah.

air dry clay menorah with kidsAnd a hole for the shamash.

air dry clay menorah with kidsBaby Rainbow didn’t want to be left out of the fun, so she got a small pot of water and loved playing with 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!

What are your family’s favorite (new or old) traditions?