Spooky Marble Spider Webs

We spent Saturday afternoon carving pumpkins at a local art studio and almost missed the craft table on our way out the door. And it would have been a BIG miss, because it was such a captivating activity that my daughter wanted to recreate it at home immediately and has asked for marbles and paint multiple times over the past two days. I noticed big kids messing around with this too, so if you have older kids this may be worth a try. We did a similar project back in July, but this here marble painting project was a much bigger hit.

At the art studio. Materials include: white tempera paint, a few marbles, a pie tin, and a piece of black construction paper cut to fit the tin.

This time with thick paint.

It’s a “spider web!” Kind of a stretch to call it a spider web, but if you’re in the Halloween spirit, why not?

After a shopping trip for pie tins and marbles, we got home and set up shop.

And rolled our little hearts out. Each piece took mere seconds to create, and I found myself cutting paper like mad.

Once the novelty wears off, interest usually fades, but not just yet for this gem of an activity. To keep the interest high, we traded black paper for white and messed around with purple paint.

One of these days we’ll get some friends together and make a super-sized marble painting like this!

Have you been painting with marbles too? What do your kids think of this activity?

Happy Halloween!

Slapdash Slide

While I’ve been on baby duty this past week, my husband has been an incredible pal to our older daughter, and it’s been inspiring to watch them develop their own style of play and invention. We both believe strongly in paying close attention to our child’s interests and then helping her grow beyond her current capabilities, which is how this little activity emerged.

On this snoozy weekend morning, N really wanted to hit the park and run around, but my sleep-deprived husband was still rubbing his eyes and nursing his coffee. A middle ground was found with a few rounds of couch somersaults, and then my DH struck gross-motor toddler gold when remembered the large piece of wood we picked up for my inverted-board-turn-the-breech-baby exercises. Add in a yoga mat for friction and a few pillows for protection, and the slapdash slide was invented.

One of the pillars of our parenting philosophy lies in the idea of the zone of proximal development, a learning theory developed by renowned psychologist and cognitive theorist, Lev Vygotsky, which can be described as the gap between what a learner has mastered and what a learner is capable of doing with help.

In this case, our daughter loves climbing and tumbling. Combine building the slide with some dialogue and a few gentle suggestions, and she was soon diving down the slide head-first, turning her body sideways to scoot down in “the splits”, and walking up and down the slide. These are all things she could do at the park, but with other kids around we ask N to play it safe and have good playground etiquette. The beauty in this activity is that it was all hers, and she could explore and push herself as she desired.

What games and toys have you invented with your kids? In what ways have you guided a child master a skill that was too difficult for him or her to master alone?

Flour and Water

We recently attended a back-to-school event at my daughter’s preschool, where her teacher shared a funny and inspiring story that involved a messy flour and water sensory activity. With my ears on the alert for fun and thoughtful creativity-builders, I knew immediately that this was something we had to try. It’s unbelievably simple and requires no art supplies…all you need is flour and water. It’s so straightforward, in fact, that I’m almost embarrassed it wasn’t already part of my repertoire. Strip your kids down and get ready for some messy flour fun. This activity is all about activating the senses, and will entertain your toddler or preschooler for a good long time. Guaranteed.

Before you get started, be prepared for a bit of mess, although nothing too cray-cray since it’s just flour and water. I set us up in the kitchen and placed the materials on a low table covered in oil cloth.

Our materials included a large mixing bowl, three little bowls, and a spoon. Two of the little bowls were half-full of flour, and the third was three quarters full of warm water. The large bowl was empty. Without giving her any directions, I merely placed the materials in front of my daughter and encouraged her exploration with comments such as “you’re dumping the flour in the large mixing bowl” and “what does the dough feel like in your hands?”

Pouring water with a spoon.

My daughter started by pouring all of the flour into the large bowl and mixing it dry. After playing with it for a bit, she requested more flour. I gave her two more bowls, one white and one wheat, and we talked about the differences for a moment before the scooping resumed.  After moving all of the flour into the large bowl, she scooped it all back up with her spoon and divided most of it up into the little bowls until they overflowed. At this point the water was still untouched, which really surprised me as I imagined she’d hastily dump the water in the large bowl in one big pour. Instead, she gently poured the water, spoonful by spoonful, into a small bowl of flour and mixed it in. And she was very careful to keep her hands clean throughout! No surprise there, as my child is obsessed with napkins and tidiness.

Hand mixing.

But as the activity escalated, one hand finally succumbed to hand mixing, and then the fun really began. She had a running commentary throughout the process that was fun to witness. I sounded something like this, “Now I’m mixing it with my hand. It’s like dough. I’m pouring more water in. I’m making bread dough. Can we make this in the bread maker?”

At the end of it all, she asked for a mid-day bath, and my trusty assistant/Mother-in-Law and I were more than happy to oblige.

More sensory ideas

  • Fill a tub with beans, rice, or sand. Offer your child small bowls and scoopers for filling and dumping.
  • Play with shaving cream.
  • Mix corn starch and water. What a strange feeling!
  • Play with ice cubes in a warm bath.
  • Shine a flashlight or experiment with a glow stick in a dark room.
  • Blow out candles.

Sponge Stamping

In the days leading up to the arrival of Baby I, I spent a lot of time in our garage in search of baby clothes, the car seat, and other long forgotten baby paraphernalia– and along the way I found a box of sponges shaped like letters, hearts, and flowers that I’ve been hauling around since my early art teaching days.

Inspired by my find (and, frankly, thrilled that I could finally justify keeping all this junk to my poor husband), I set up a bowl of red and yellow paint, put out some paper, and showed my toddler how to dip the sponges in paint before stamping them on the paper. The project is incredibly simple, and managed to hold my child’s attention for almost, er, ten minutes. In giving her two warm colors I thought it would help her focus on how the sponges work with the paint, but in hindsight, having a few extra colors may have sustained her interest longer. All said, as a first sponge stamping experience I’m pretty pleased with how it all played out.

Stamping N’s and Hearts.

I showed N  how to dip the sponge in the paint and both smear and stamp it on the paper. She opted for stamping. I always do my demonstrations on my own piece of paper to allow her the freedom to create her own work without my influence.

Thick, wet, stamped paint.

I think I picked up these sponges at a dollar store, which might be a good place to forage for something similar. My neighbor Stephanie had us over for sponge stamping, and she used make-up wedges. What’s so great about these is that they’re dense like foam, and hold their shape nicely in the cluthes of little hands.

Beans are for Gluing

Unless they’re refried and smothered in guacamole, my daughter is not a huge fan of eating beans. But, when given the opportunity to glue the little suckers to a piece of paper, the very same beans are her friends. After spending way too much time grazing the bulk bins on a recent trip to the market, we filled up a bag with a colorful potpourri of bean soup for art making, of course.  This simple little activity is a great way to extend gluing, glittering, and collaging activities. My kid adores glue, so this one was bound to please.  And for the last week, a bowl of beans has graced our art table for spontaneous moments of bean art.

The Creative Hook

  • Picking up little beans builds fine motor skills
  • Making art with non-art materials teaches kids to think outside the box
  • Problem-solving skills will be encouraged as children make choices about where and how to place the glue and beans


  • Beans
  • Paper
  • Bottle of Glue


  • Offer your child a piece of paper, bottle of glue, and a bowl of beans
  • If gluing objects is a new activity for the child, demonstrate — on your own sheet of paper — how to squeeze the glue and drop beans in the glue puddles. Otherwise, let your child have at it.

Follow up

My daughter made two bean pictures the first day we made these. When I thought she was “done” with her second piece, I was surprised to watch her make the decision to coat each of her beans with another layer of glue “to make them disappear.” Very cool. And then, a couple days later, I was was reminded of the importance of making creative activities and supplies accessible when she walked over to her table to make bean art just minutes after waking up.

Extension for School-Age Kids

If you have older children, they may enjoy making a bean mosaic like this one from Frugal Family Fun Blog or this one from Disney’s Family Fun.  And here’s an edible version, using jelly beans, which is definitely for the older crowd. My child would just spend the whole time eating, and none of the beans would make it into the art.