Hanging Holiday Stars

I was invited by Elmer’s (the glue people) to join in their Look for Less challenge. If you know me, you probably know that I like a good challenge, and I’m a huge fan of Elmer’s, so I said YES! The challenge was to create a magazine-worthy product with Elmer’s products, for a fraction of the retail cost. That’s doable, but herein lies my second challengeI blog about creative process-based things that I do with my KIDS. Uh-huh. What on earth could we do? But when I spotted these two gorgeous images of hanging paper stars I thought there could be something to it — perhaps a joint effort with me and my 3-year old. Well, you let me know what you think.

I found an easy, workable tutorial at The Magic Onions for our paper stars. This is a little sneak peak at how ours turned out.

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 N had a place to store her rubber stamps. She decorated two of the papers with Painter’s Calligraphy Pens, Paint Pens, and stamps. The calligraphy pens were a bit too stinky for her, but she happily continued with the other materials.

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 the 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.

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.

There you go! The Look for Less. Crafted by a mom and her 3-year old. 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?


Elmer’s is giving away TWO prize packs with the following materials:

  • Black 20×30 Foam Board
  • White 20×30 Foam Board
  • CraftBond All-Purpose Glue Stick
  • CraftBond Repositionable Glue Stick
  • CraftBond Extra-Strength Glue Stick
  • X-ACTO Designer Series Gripster Knife
  • Painters Assorted Colors Set

Leave a comment with your favorite frugal way/s to decorate for the holidays by Wednesday, December 14 at 9 pm PST for a chance to win. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. US addresses only. Congratulations to Jeni Harris and Epiphius, winners of the Elmers prize packages, and thank you to everyone who entered for sharing your great ideas and comments!

Disclaimer: Elmer’s sent me materials to make my project and a $25 Visa gift card.

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 | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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 | TinkerLab.com

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

Cloud Dough Recipe

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.com

How to Make Cloud Dough

Cloud Dough…Have you heard of it?

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.com

Me either, and I thought I’ve heard of most everything arts+little kids related. Karen at Flight of Whimsy introduced me to the recipe, and as soon as I learned about it I knew my  3 year old would love it. The consistency of the dough is lovely to feel and hold. It can be powdery like flour one moment, and then moldable like damp sand the next. This brought HOURS of fun to my home, and maybe it’ll do the same for yours.

Be sure to scroll down for the printable recipe!

How to Make Cloud Dough| Oil and Flour| TinkerLab.com

We started off with 4 cups of Flour and 1/2 cup of Oil. The original recipe is an 8:1 ratio. I would have enjoyed having the full 8 cups worth, but I didn’t want to deplete my flour reserves, just in case.

Don’t worry about writing all this down. There’s a printable recipe at the end of this post!

Watch the video

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.com

N took the mountain-making and oil mixing job very seriously. We mixed it with our hands for about 5 minutes until the dough held together when we squeezed it. We could still see some oil lumps in the dough, but it didn’t have an adverse effect on the material. The original recipe called for baby oil, but canola worked beautifully for us. However, Karen did mention the lovely smell of the baby oil, so we added a healthy dose of lavender oil drops (found at our health food store) to scent the dough. Heavenly!

How to Play with Cloud Dough

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.comI find it fascinating to sit back and observe how my kids explore new-to-them materials. The first thing N made was a wall. A really strong wall.

How to Make Cloud Dough, the funnest, easiest dough recipe around | TinkerLab.comThen she crafted the dough into a bakery and soup cafe. These silicone molds are wondrous for activities like this.

How to Make Cloud Dough, the funnest, easiest dough recipe around | TinkerLab.com

She enjoyed picking up and squeezing small handfuls of dough. The texture was phenomenal.

How to Make Cloud Dough, the funnest, easiest dough recipe around | TinkerLab.com

The next day we brought it back out and shared the dough with some friends. And this is where I wished I had made the full 8-cup recipe. Hoarders!! There was so much scrambling for all the dough scraps, and I found myself patrolling more than I like to. So, if you’re making a batch for more than one child, 8 cups of flour + 1 cup of oil may be the way to go.

Cloud Dough Recipe

5.0 from 4 reviews
Cloud Dough
Recipe type: Dough + Sensory
The consistency of this dough is lovely to feel and hold. It can be powdery like flour one moment, and then moldable like damp sand the next. This brought HOURS of fun to my home, and maybe it'll do the same for yours...
  • 8 cups flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Essential oil such as lavender or grapefruit (optional)
  1. Scoop and pour the flour into the center of a large tub.
  2. Create a crater in the middle of the flour.
  3. Pour the oil into the crater.
  4. Gently mix it all together.
  5. Enjoy mixing and learning about the properties of the dough as it is, or add small silicone bowls, spoons, or measuring cups to make small structures, hills, or pretend cupcakes.
The original recipe is an 8:1 ratio and we started off with half the recipe (4 cups of Flour and ½ cup of oil) because I didn't want to deplete my flour reserves, just in case. Turns out that this was such a hit and a full batch would have been equally wonderful, especially after our neighborhood friends wanted to come over and play with us.

More Playdough and Sensory Activities

Rainbow Play Dough

Gluten-free Cloud Dough

Flubber Gak Slime Exploration

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Flour and Water

Flour and Chalk

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7 Upcycled DIY Paper Flowers

We’re flooded with flowers this time of year, but soon enough we’ll have to make our own flowers to brighten up the dark corners of our wintery homes. These would make great DIY hostess or teacher appreciation gifts. I wandered around some of my favorite sites and found a little sampling of some easy and charming recycled paper flowers — these can all be made with materials that you most likely have around the house.

DIY Paper Flowers

DIY Paper Flowers with Coffee Filter Flowers, TinkerLab

If you do a search for coffee filter flowers, this is the TinkerLab post you’ll land on. These are made with watercolors and chenille stems.

Aunt Peaches Paper Flowers

Coffee Filter Peonies, Aunt Peaches via Design Sponge

These beauties are made with water-based paint, green tape, and ordinary straws.

Flowering Lampshade for a Flamingo, Aunt Peaches

Gorgeous, isn’t it? Take those coffee filter flowers that you learned how to make in the Design Sponge post and attach them to an old lampshade with hot glue.

Paper Napkin Wall Flowers, Dana Made It

Made from Paper Napkins (it looks like the IKEA brand), these are stronger than flowers made from tissue paper. And they’re big enough to make a dramatic statement on a wall. I’d love to try painting these like we did the coffee filters.

Pop-up Magazine Flower, Pink Paper Peppermints

This one is so cool! Cut out a bunch of flowers and then glue them together in a unique way that makes them pop up. It makes me realize that I need to start subscribing to more colorful magazines!

Recycled Paper Flowers, How About Orange

Made from any ol’ paper you have in the house: magazines, books, wrapping paper…They don’t require any glue or tape, and the tutorial even includes a free downloadable PDF with the flower shape.

Cupcake Liner Flowers, Martha Stewart

Would this list even be complete without mentioning Martha Stewart? The picture by itself is a great tutorial.

If you have a favorite recycled paper flower post, please share a link…the more ideas the merrier!

How to Build an Easy DIY Light Table

Have you ever wanted a light table, and wondered if there was an easy way to build a DIY light table yourself? Well, this easy DIY light table could be your answer! Once I figured out which materials to use, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble.

Note: This light table is designed to hold salt or sand in the top layer. For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

How to build an easy DIY light table for kids

*Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

After seeing the beautiful glow that illuminated from the easy light table at Teach Preschool and the pop-out pictures created in salt over at Child Central Station, I’ve been on the hunt for some DIY materials to make my own easy light table.

I had a few rules:  No paint, no saw, and no nails. It also had to be simple to assemble and economical. So when I spotted a large, gently used acrylic box frame — like this — at SCRAP (San Francisco’s reuse center for artists and teachers), I knew I had my answer. If you don’t have any acrylic box frames lying around (who does?!), I’ve found that this can easily be replaced with a basic plastic storage container like this.


  • Acrylic box frame or storage container— Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
  • Large Plastic Storage Container like this one. This Rubbermaid Storage Box is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • String of Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container. Christmas lights do a great job!
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Wax paper
  • Two 26 oz. containers of salt
  • Toys and gadgets to create textures

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

How to build your DIY light table

1. Run your string of lights into the bottom container

My husband has a thing for lights so I raided his stash and we came up with these interesting bookcase light strips from IKEA that worked really well. Granted, these lights aren’t cheap, but we already had them so it didn’t really cost me anything. If these didn’t work I would have used Christmas lights. Just be sure that  you use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this. 

Option #2: You could try setting this up with the bottom container’s lid on and off. We’ve set this up both ways with different containers. See what works best with your container.

Option #3: You might also try flipping your bottom container upside down, and then placing the second container on top of it, right side up. Does that make sense?

2. Place the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed plastic container

When not in use as a light table, we use our containers all the time  for messy sensory projects like the Dry Ice Experiment and Vinegar and Baking Soda.


Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

2. To diffuse the light, cover the bottom of the box frame or top container with wax paper.

3. Then, to keep the frame from wiggling, tape the wax paper in place with clear packing tape.

4. Pour salt into the top container.

Make it as shallow or as deep as you like. I found that 1/4″ is a good place to start.

My friend Aude gave me about five pounds of salt that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I pulled it out and poured a healthy amount into the frame. (In case you were wondering, don’t waste your time with flour — I did, and it doesn’t work.) And that’s it.

If you only have one container, if it has a deep groove on the bottom, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights. Then pour sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our example, but it might work in a pinch.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Play with your DIY Light Table!

We built this while the kids were asleep, so I got to play with it first. Yipee. Initially there was too much salt in the frame, making it difficult for the light pass through, and I tinkered with the salt until I liked the results.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comPressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and I couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Kid-tested DIY Light Table

As an invitation to play, I initially made some loopy marks in the salt with my finger and then turned the glowing salt table on. No tools. She was curious, but not intrigued enough to play.

So I placed a few clay tools with various textures next to the table for her to experiment with, but that didn’t come on like gangbusters either. I hoped that N would get into this cool, open-ended textural play, but her lack of interest made me all the happier that I only spent about $2 on the project. I must have known.

And maybe the light table is most successful in the dark of night, which is long after bed time in the middle of summer? So I poured the salt back into the bag, disassembled the whole thing in about five minutes, and we’ll try again one day soon.

Light Table Success

Sometimes projects with kids take a bit of patience. A child’s mood, interests, or developmental readiness can affect how he or she interacts with an invitation to play. I have since brought this back with variations and it’s been more successful! Here are a couple things that we’ve tried:

One more DIY Light Table

For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table