Junk Critters | Make Art with Recycled Materials

I’m a huge fan of breathing new life into long-lost materials, and I’ve been making found object art pieces like these since I was a kid.

How to make art with recycled materials

Last weekend my friend, Danielle, and were in Napa to lead a fun, fast-paced Maker Session at the California Association of Museums annual conference.

For our workshop we brought these cool hands-on mystery boxes that my kids oohed and ahhhed over before I headed off to play in wine country.

Tinkering Kits

The tinkering kits carried similar materials, but the nature of collecting found objects meant that each maker box was unique. I’ll share images from the workshop with a close-up on how adults interpreted these materials shortly, but I thought you might be interested in seeing what kids made of these.

My kids were my prototype testers, after all.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Collect your junk supplies

Before the boxes were even filled, we experimented with some basic materials like ribbon, wood scraps, fabric swatches, paper baking cups, markers, and plastic party beads.

You’ll need:

  1. Junk
  2. Something to cut the junk (scissors)
  3. Something to attach the junk (glue gun – Amazon link to our favorite one)

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Invest in a low-heat glue gun

There are always people who gasp when they see kids handling hot glue guns (maybe that was you…no worries) and I’m here to tell you that kids are capable of using glue guns.

Here are a few glue gun tips for kids:

  • Use a low-heat glue gun like the Cool Shot (Amazon link). I’ve been using this model for years, and it’s fabulous. If you spend more than a few seconds touching the tip you could theoretically burn yourself, but I have yet to see this happen.
  • Explain the glue gun rules to your child ahead of time: don’t touch the tip, try not to touch the hot glue with your bare hands

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Add some eyes

My 3-year old worked on this one. She added goggly eyes to make it come alive, but of course you could draw eyes on or cut eyes from paper. Googly eyes are an awesome invention, and truly animate anything they’re stuck to. We have a pair on our stapler, and “he” looks like a little alligator.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

We foraged the recycling bin for more objects and had some fun with building blocks and pom-poms: all stuck on with the miraculous glue gun.

Found Object Art - Make a Junk Critter | Tinkerlab.com

Share your found object art critters

When you’re all done creating, put your critters on display, play with them, take photos of them, carry them on a walk and take photos of them in different places. The options are endless. More sharing ideas:

Share on Facebook

And if you’re really brave, snap a photo and share it with me on my Facebook page!

Instagram

When I was at the conference we asked participants to take a photo of their critter and tag it with #tinkercritter. Here’s on example. I love it! Go check out their critters and upload your own to Instagram. Don’t forget to tag it with #tinkercritter!

More Found Object Art

This cool Pinterest board from Mary Briden

Louise Nevelson painted on assemblages made from wood scraps in the 1950’s.

Joseph Cornell made these gorgeous diorama boxes that were filled with all sorts of curious ephemera.

Activities for Toddlers while Older Child Makes Art

Activity Ideas for Toddlers while Older Kids Make ArtDo you have an older child or children that want to draw, make, build, or otherwise create and then a baby or toddler who wants to do everything their older sibling is up to?

While it’s wonderful for siblings to work side by side, this can be frustrating for older children who need a little breather and some space to explore their own ideas without worrying if a baby sister might make a grab for their paintbrush.

TinkerLab reader, Kristen, shared a question with me that I think will resonate with a lot of our readers. This question comes up all the time, in many forms, from parents of toddlers and older children: “Can you suggest any activities for toddlers while my older child makes art?”Lots of good ideas here! How do I keep my toddler happily occupied while my older child makes art? | TinkerLab.com

Here’s Kristen’s question:

“Our biggest challenge right now is dealing with two kids at different age and ability levels. I have a 3.5 yr old daughter who loves crafts and gets really involved and into her art and creating. But I also have an almost 1.5 yr old who mostly just wants to destroy what his sister is doing, grab the marker she’s using so he can write in the furniture or empty all the paper out of the paper bin :). I struggle with giving my older child the appropriate and sufficient creative outlets while also trying to keep hazards away from my toddler. This often limits what activities we can do and I hate that for my daughter. How did/do you handle this?  For example, my older child loves cutting and gluing but my son will grab scissors or glue from her or demand my attention elsewhere and I can’t give her the assistance or attention she needs to complete some activities.  Thanks!”

I shared this question on our Facebook page, and there were many wonderful suggestions. I’ll share some of the highlights here, along with my own thoughts, and I’d like to send out a big “thank you” to everyone who chimed in with ideas.

6 Activities for Toddlers

1. Work on Art Projects while your Toddler Naps

Work on art projects while your toddler naps | TinkerLab.com

This is sort of a cheat, but I’ll start here since it’s the most obvious. The trick here is to get yourself organized ahead of time to maximize nap time. Obviously, many siblinlings nap at the same time, making this a moot point. So that takes us to idea #2…

2. Set up Designated Table Spaces for each Child

How to set up art activities for toddlers and older children | TinkerLab.com

Set up a clearly marked space for each child and sit between them to fairly distribute materials, help each child keep hands to themselves, and assist with special needs such as cutting play dough or squeezing glue bottles.

While children of different ages won’t have the same skills, they will use the materials you introduce in a way that’s appropriate for their age and interests. In the example above, my older daughter drew with the pastels and mase complex paper patterns, while her toddler sister stuck paper scraps to the orange paper where I placed big dots of glue.

Side-by-Side Table Activities:

3. Redirect your Toddler with a Sensory Experience

How to set up art activities for toddlers and older children | TinkerLab.com

Toddlers love sensory projects and can be entertained by them for a long while. Set up an intriguing  sensory experience nearby, over a large blanket or easy-to-clean floor.

Sensory Ideas:

4. Set up an Activity that Everyone can Enjoy

How to set up art activities for children of different ages | TinklerLab.com

Find an activity that your toddler can work on alongside your other child/ren. In the photo above, both of my children like to draw with chalk, so we set up a chalkboard canvas on the ground next to our kitchen chalkboard and a shared basket of chalk on the floor. My younger daughter drew on the floor chalkboard while her older sister drew on the door.

This isn’t fool proof, especially if your younger child likes to involve themselves with their siblings, but it’s worth trying. One of the benefits is that it can help older children develop empathy for younger siblings (and vice versa) as they work alongside one another.

Good art materials for toddlers and preschoolers:

5. Give your Toddler a High Chair Activity

How to set up art activities for toddlers and older children | TinkerLab.com

When my older daughter was three, we wanted to try a printmaking project, but we were afraid her one-year-old sibling would be eager to pull apart. To give my three-year old free reign to explore without the distraction of her baby sister, I set little R up in a nearby high chair with some yogurt and a few drops of all-natural food coloring. You can read all about it here.

To make the highchair art activity work, find a simple sensory activity that will engage your child in the (contained) high chair.

Highchair art ideas:

 6. What Ideas do you have for Toddler Activities?

This list is by no means comprehensive. Please add your idea/s in the comments to add to this ongoing conversation and tool for other parents who struggle with this issue.

 

Paint Recipe for Kids |Homemade Finger Paint

Today I’ll share how to make the easiest homemade finger paint from basic, edible ingredients: flour, water, and food coloring.

Easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

Do you ever worry about the ingredients that come in store-bought paint?

This is less of a concern now that my children no longer put everything they find in their mouths, but I thought about things like this when my kids were toddlers. Seeing the “non-toxic” label certainly helped, but it’s another thing to know that the ingredients in my art supplies are entirely edible. 

Easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

Supplies for Homemade Finger Paint

The basic ratio is 1 flour: 2 water, so scale up or down according to how much paint you’d like to make. We used washable, non-toxic liquid watercolors to add color to the paint, but you could also use food coloring for a similar effect.

Directions

  1. Pour flour and water into a pot.
  2. Stir the ingredients over medium heat until it comes together like smooth, thick paste. The mixture will be lumpy along the way, but it all comes together.
  3. When it starts to pull away from the pot, remove from the heat.
  4. Add a pinch of salt. This helps keep the paint from spoiling if you don’t use it right away.
  5. To reach the desired consistency, slowly add cold water to the mixture. I added about 1/4 cup water to our paint. 
  6. Divide the paint into bowls.
  7. Squeeze food coloring or liquid watercolors into the flour mixture until you reach the desired color.
  8. Store in a covered container in the fridge if you’re not planning to use this right away. It will keep indefinitely.

mixing flour water 1

mixing flour water

Easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

Liquid watercolors for easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

We’ve been using Sax Concentrated Liquid Watercolors with great success.

These paints are washable and non-toxic, and you can find them on Amazon.  The pack of eight colors (8 oz. each) is about $30, which makes each bottle just under $4. When you consider how much food coloring you get in a tiny bottle, these liquid watercolors are totally worth it, in my opinion. If the value-pack is out of stock or you’re not interested in committing to eight colors, you could also order these paint bottles individually.

Other uses for liquid watercolors:

The BEST play dough recipe

Marbleized Paper

Watercolor Painting

Straw-blown watercolor painting

Easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

Now the paint is ready to experiment with.

The texture is like pudding and feels nice on the hands. My kids enjoyed painting it on their hands to make hand prints, and they also used brushes to paint in a more traditional way.

Easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

The pigment of the paint won’t stick to the paper like poster paint will, so if your child wants brilliant colors to pop out, he or she will need to put the paint on extra thick. Like this…

Easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

My 5-year old made this painting, and the thickness of the paint meant that it took a solid 24-hours to dry. The thinner the paint is applied, the quicker it will dry.

The Pros and Cons of Homemade Finger Paint

One final word on the quality of this paint. The benefits of this homemade finger paint are plentiful. It’s:

  • Made from familiar ingredients
  • Non-toxic
  • Economical
  • Safe to eat

The cons are less troublesome, but worth mentioning nonetheless:

  • The paint is perfect for finger painting, but less than ideal for using a paintbrush. My kids didn’t seem to mind, but it’s something to consider if you’re looking for a traditional paint recipe.

Easy homemade finger paint | Tinkerlab.com

The texture and quality of the paint make it ideal for finger painting, but my kids still loved it. Keep in mind that generally speaking, children are more interested in the process of making something than in the final outcome. I asked my children (ages 3 and 5) numerous times about the paint, and they agreed that this recipe is a keeper.

Valentine Crafts for Kids | Cardboard Roll Heart Stamp

Today we’re making a cardboard roll heart stamp as part of our series of Valentines Crafts for Kids.

If you’re even slightly crafty, have small children, and a tiny bit of an art supply hoarder, you probably have a small collection of paper towel or toilet paper rolls hiding somewhere, waiting to be turned into art.

If not, it’s just a matter of time before you have one, and this is a good project to save or pin for later. It’s beyond simple to execute, and young children enjoy the process of printing with these rolls.

Valentines Craft for Kids | Simple and Colorful Cardboard Roll Heart Stamps with Kids | TinkerLab

Supplies for Cardboard Roll Heart Stamp

  • Cardboard roll/s: from paper towels or toilet paper
  • Washable tempera paint
  • Palette or paper plate
  • Heavyweight paper to print on, such as card stock. We used 8.5 x 11 paper, cut in half.

Valentines Craft for Kids | Simple and Colorful Cardboard Roll Heart Stamps with Kids | TinkerLab

How to make a cardboard roll heart stamp

  1. If you’re using a paper towel roll, cut it in half to make the stamp more manageable for small hands
  2. Press the roll flat and make two firm creases
  3. Invert one of the creases and crease again to make the indent on the top of the heart
  4. Fill a plate or palette with a shallow well of paint
  5. Place the tube in paint and print

Over time, the cardboard roll will begin to lose its shape. To solve this, you can re-crease the roll, flip it over and use the other side, or make another roll.

Valentines Craft for Kids | Simple and Colorful Cardboard Roll Heart Stamps with Kids | TinkerLab

Have a big stack of paper pre-cut and/or ready for all the stamping, and a clear table or floor to store the completed work. In this session, my three-year old made ten printed pages and my five-year old made five printed pages.

Make things with your prints

Once the prints are dry, you might be thinking about what to do with all of them. That certainly crossed my mind. Ours are still sitting in a pile, but we thinking about turning them into one of the handmade cards from this list.

Valentines Craft for Kids | Simple and Colorful Cardboard Roll Heart Stamps with Kids | TinkerLabs with Kids | TinkerLab

Follow their lead

After she made about ten prints, my three-year old decided to paint her tube. As always, try to follow your child’s lead and go with the flow.

Valentines Craft for Kids | Simple and Colorful Cardboard Roll Heart Stamps with Kids | TinkerLab

More Valentine Crafts for Kids

30 Valentine Activities for Kids

Valentine’s Gift: Heart Art Canvas, Red Ted Art

Deconstructed Valentines

Painting Heart Doilies, The Artful Parent

Sweet Potato Heart Prints

Handmade Valentine’s Cards, Playful Learning

Easy Valentine Bookmarks

Valentine’s Day Scavenger Hunt, Hands on as we Grow

Handmade Valentine Cards: The Amazing all-in-one Envelope

A healthy Valentine Snack

How to set up a Magic Potion Lab (with 3 Simple Tips)

Science Week articles on No Time for Flashcards

When friends and readers talk to me about Tinkerlab, they almost always ask me about science projects. And with that, process-based experiments like the following magic potion lab inevitably come up. Today I’m over on one of my favorite blogs for childhood projects, No Time for Flash Cards, talking about one of my 3-year old’s most requested activities.

Won’t you pop over and pay us a visit? 

How to set up a magic potion lab

For more creative science experiments that encourage children to think for themselves and develop critical thinking skills, click on over here for all of our posts, and sign up for the Tinkerlab newsletter.

 

Bird Seed Sensory Box

I’m always happy to have cheap, simple, educational, and entertaining activities for my kids, and I know a lot of teachers who feel the same way. How about you?

I learned this bird seed trick from one of my daughter’s first preschool teachers, and I’m happy to pass it along to you.

I LOVE cheap, simple, educational, and entertaining outdoor activities like this for my kids (great for toddlers and preschoolers).

Bird Seed Sensory Box

Step 1: Pour in the bird seed.

Tip #1: Do this outside. Bird seed will spill everywhere and you’ll be grateful that it’s not all over your carpet.

pouring bird seed sensory tableStep 2: Play

Simple, right?

Tip #2: If you have a lot squirrels in your area, cover your bird seed table at night to discourage those pesky foragers from finding their next meal in your bird seed oasis.

sensory table with bird seed scoopingTip #3: The bird seed lasts indefinitely, and when your child is done with it you can use it to, um, feed birds! Nothing is wasted here, friends!

sensory table with bird seed

If you like to keep your projects in a recipe box or binder, feel free to print this nifty card that has all the info in one easy-to-read place:

Bird Seed Sensory Box

Prep time: 

Total time: 

Set up a fun sensory experience that encourages hand-eye coordination and helps children explore measurement and volume.
Supplies
  • Bags of Bird Seed
  • High Wall Water Table or Under-the-bed storage box
  • Tools such as scoopers, spoons, and bowls
  • Access to natural materials such as flowers and twigs
Steps
  1. Fill a water table with bird seed. We used three 16 oz bags, but could have easily used more.
  2. Offer your child some tools to scoop and pour the seeds.
  3. Encourage your child to bring natural materials to the table and build fairy homes/ design seascapes/make natural patterns.

And if you like this activity, you can give it some love by clicking on a whole bunch of stars with a comment below. Thanks!

More sensory materials

Wheat Berries — like bird seed, just different.

Wet Paper — soak some paper and tear it up.

Water Beads — our second most popular post.

Cloud Dough — our most popular post!

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A question for you

What do you find is the most challenging thing about setting up sensory experiences for your child?

Glowing Playdough Recipe


Today I’m joined by Tinkerlab reader Natasha Levochkina McCain, who’s sharing her glowing playdough recipe with us today. This is one of the coolest ways to update play dough, and I think you’ll get a kick out of it. We sure did.

Enjoy!

Glowing playdough recipe | Tinkerlab.comThis play dough inspired my whole family.

Not just my two sons (three and five years old), but even a very busy and sometimes moderately grumpy Dad and our 15 year old.

Not only was it exciting for the kids to stay up after dark to play with the dough, but they also created space landscapes, alien creatures and even an alien alphabet. While it was not an entirely accidental invention, it was not too far from it.  

glow playdough with handprints | tinkerlab.com
The intension was to make some fun looking play dough for a 6 year old boy as an impromptu present. His sister was going to receive some flower scented dough and I could think of nothing better than this for a boy. 

I started mixing the ingredients before I realized that I only had unbleached whole wheat flour left.

Disaster? Not at all!

I decided to go ahead and to make the dough anyway. I used my favorite Tinkerlab play dough recipe (with exception to the whole wheat flour) for the playdough itself:

Glowing Play Dough Recipe

Rating 

Prep time: 

Making time: 

Total time: 

10

0

0

Make traditional play dough...that also happens to glow!
Supplies
  • 5 cups water
  • 2½ cups salt
  • 3 tbsp. cream of tartar
  • 10 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 5 cups flour
  • Food coloring or liquid watercolors (optional)
  • Glo Away by Plaid (glow in the dark paint via Amazon)
  • Black Light
Steps
  1. Mix everything but the food coloring and the glo-away together in a large pot until somewhat smooth. It will be lumpy. Not to worry, the dough will get smoother as it cooks.
  2. Cook the dough over a low heat. Mix frequently. The water will slowly cook out of the mixture and you’ll notice it starts to take on a sticky dough appearance.
  3. Before it gets too sticky add a few tablespoons of Glo Away
  4. Keep mixing until the edges of the dough along the side and bottom of the pan appear dry. Pinch a piece of dough. If it’s not gooey, the dough is ready.
  5. Place the dough on a counter top or large cutting board or cooking tray that can withstand a little food coloring.
  6. Knead the warm dough until it’s smooth
  7. Store the dough in a large Ziplock bag or sealed container. Unused, it should keep for months.
  8. Turn the lights down low and illuminate the play dough with a black light.

 
While cooking it and while the dough was still not solidified I added about 4 oz (1 small bottle) of Glo-Away glow in the dark gel by Plaid and continued mixing. The texture is rather coarse because of the type of flour but it provides a unique benefit in the end result.

The glowing particles distribute themselves differently because of the larger grain fragments. While kneading the dough on a plastic cutting board (to avoid stains) I added some green food coloring to it.

And of course, you’ll need a black light to illuminate the glowing dough.

Here’s what it looks like in the dark:

glow playdough in the dark

The next day I also made “regular” play dough with regular “white fluffy” flour. I added no color to it, just the Glo Away

glow playdough with white dough

The glow pigment looks different in this one and it is fun to use them both for creating amazingly fun extraterrestrial creatures and landscapes.

glow playdough character

About Glo Away:  The manufacturer says that it’s “Safe to use on fabric, wood, glass, plastic and ceramics. Non permanent washes away with soap and water. Certified AP non-toxic. Great for decorating kids rooms and ceilings.”

Thanks for joining us today, Natasha! If you have a favorite art recipe to share, email us at rachelle at Tinkerlab.com.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, but we only share links to products that we adore or that we think you’ll find useful.

Natasha Mc Cain About Natasha Levochkina McCain.
I am a teacher and I love children, animals and living. My husband says I am strong and I think I am feminine. So, here I am.

 

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Simple Matching Sticker Game

The human brain is an incredible pattern-matching machine. 

– Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com

Matching objects or shapes is a skill that can help children in so many areas of their lives. The process of matching images and symbols is a precursor to matching combinations of letters to words, and this, of course, is a pre-reading skill. Matching is also useful for developing math skills, as understanding one-to-one correspondence teaches spatial reasoning and pattern recognition. 

Fun for travel

If you have any big trips planned, make a stack of these ahead of time and bring them along for a surprise game that might keep your child entertained through a flight’s take-off or during a long road trip.

Matching Sticker Game from Tinkerlab

Materials

  • Stickers: at least two of each kind
  • Plain paper
  • Maker, crayon, or pencil

Matching Sticker Game from Tinkerlab

Set-up

Place the stickers in columns on two sides of the paper. Mix them up. Offer your child a pen or crayon and invite him to make lines that connect the matching images.

Matching Sticker Game Trader Joes

We always pick up stickers at Trader Joe’s — they’re perfect for this project!

Matching Sticker Game Hand Drawn

If you don’t have any stickers, not to worry! This project can be done with some simple sketches. I’ve done this with simple shapes (circle, square, triangle, etc.) and a variety of expressions (happy, sad, surprised).

More Ideas

  • For emergent readers: Make one column of stickers and then in the other column, write words that match the stickers.
  • Rather than use columns, draw pairs of shapes or attach stickers in random spots around the piece of paper.

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