Recycled Weaving Fence

When I saw this awesome weaving installation on display at the Bay Area Discovery Museum I knew it was something that I wanted to recreate at home. If I were running a preschool I think I would have taken the time to build such a structure because it would be a stellar group project, but as the parent of one curious, yet fickle, preschooler I thought it might be prudent to build a simple test-model first to see if this would be an idea worthy of further exploration (and investment!).

After scratching my head over this, I came up with this prototype made from wooden skewers (two on each end), painters tape, a deconstructed fruit sack from the market, and assorted ribbon.

It was a beautiful day, and N was up for the challenge.

With four ribbon spools to choose from, she cut  what she wanted and worked on figuring out how to get it through the mesh.

It was tricky, but she kept at it until she figured it out. Real challenges give kids the opportunity to celebrate their successes and gain confidence in their problem-solving abilities.

She also tried this shiny, elastic ribbon, and found it was easier to push through the holes. What a nice surprise lesson in compare and contrast!

And she even wrapped it all the way around the edge of the wood post.

N likes collaborating with me — it seems that she takes her work more seriously if I get involved too — so you can see a few of my ribbons woven in there as well. We worked on this for about 20 minutes and I left it up so that we can revisit it over the course of the week. And if there’s still energy around weaving, and this project in particular, I may just invest in some garden fencing like the stuff I saw at the children’s museum.

Has anyone made one of these? Did your child/children stick with it for a while?

Related Ideas

  • If you have a chainlink fence, you could weave through it with fabric or crepe paper. I’m thinking about bringing a basket of crepe paper with us next time we visit the park. Do you think anyone would mind if we made a fence weaving installation?
  • Check out this yarn heart-weaving from Outdoor Knit.

What else could you build a weaving fence from?

This post was shared with Craft Schooling Sunday. Childhood 101, It’s Playtime

Simple Balloon Yo-Yo

This springy balloon yo-yo is fun to play with, easy to make, and can be created with things that you may already have in the cupboard. It can also teach children a nice lesson in resourcefulness, helping them understand that toys can be invented from simple objects. In this day and age of toys overflowing from grocery shelves and toy baskets, this is always a welcome lesson in my home!

I was inspired to make these balloon yo-yo toys after seeing this postby Sherry and Donna at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning.

I attached a balloon to a funnel and filled it with rice. Small seeds or beans would work too. Or you could go with Sherry and Donna’s plan and partially fill with water.

I tied up the end of the balloon and secured one rubber band around it with a knot.

I looped another rubber band onto the first one…

and carried on with this looping and attaching until I achieved the desired length. I used four rubber bands per yo-yo, but this would all depend on the size of the bands and the height of the child (or person using the yo-yo…it could be you!).

After making these, we took our yo-yo everywhere  as a diversion. We were visiting grandma and grandpa at a hotel, and N found a way to entertain herself while everyone finished up with breakfast. If you can believe it, this was the best photo…playing with the yo-yo is active business that turned all attempts at getting a clear photo into a blurry mess!

What toys have you or your kids invented?

This post was shared with It’s Playtime, Craft Schooling Sunday, Childhood 101, Sun Scholars

Rolled Easter Egg Painting

When my daughter was about 2 1/2, her very favorite art activity was rolling paint-coated marbles all over sheets of paper. We made Rolling Rock Paintings with smooth rocks and Spooky Marble Spider Webs for Halloween. With Easter coming up, I was inspired to make something fun with the plastic eggs that consume dollar stores across the country. Not only is this fun to do, but the set up is easy and it’s a novel way to celebrate the spring season. On the developmental/arts experience level, kids will make choices about the colors they use, they will be active (standing and moving!), and they’ll learn how to manipulate the uneven balance of a rolling egg (as opposed to a more predictable rolling marble).


  • Easter eggs. I used plastic, but just about any eggs will do. If you can pry the chocolate ones away from your kids, more power to you!
  • Paint. Tempera or biocolors. Washable is always preferable!
  • Paper
  • Tray to hold the paper. We used a wooden tray, but I’ve also had great success with an open cardboard box.

Before we got to rolling, N wanted to dip half-eggs in the paint…

And print them.

Then she took a closed egg, rolled it in red and white paint (because her favorite color is pink, and she’s proud of her color-mixing knowledge!)…

…and then rolled it on the paper.

A few colors later!

So much fun. And clean up wasn’t too difficult — as long as you keep those eggs on the paper and in the tray!

What do you think?

This post is linked to It’s Playtime

Growing Big Ideas

“Ideas aren’t self-contained things; they’re more like ecologies and networks. They travel in clusters.”

-Kevin Kelly, Futurist and Author of What Technology Wants

We had a big pile of CD cases, just waiting to be repurposed into…something! BioColors paints are known for their plasticity (they don’t crack like tempera), and I thought it we could have some fun squeezing them into the cases, sealing up the holes, swirling the paint around, and then maybe peeling the paint out. That’s where my idea began, anyway. But this isn’t about me.

N loves to squeeze stuff, and enjoyed pouring paint onto the plastic jewel cases.

We worked with limited palettes to avoid that big mushy mix of brown that comes when all the beautiful colors get mixed together.

N asked for “just red and white, because it makes pink,” and also wanted to add some sequins to the mix. Pretty.

We put about five of these painted jewel cases up to dry, and then N revisited them the next day — on her own accord — with fresh ideas in mind.

Like grown-ups, children need time for their thoughts to muddle together, brew, and then emerge into something bigger. It’s important to keep in mind that good ideas have long incubation periods (see Steven Johnson’s TED Talk, below) and we shouldn’t expect kids to come up with big ideas on the spot —  these things often take time to grow. And to properly give children opportunities to innovate, it’s helpful to present them with open-ended activities that can blossom beyond an initial plan.

If you’ve been following along, you may remember N’s growing interest in pitched roofs from when we made Gumdrop Sculptures and created a cardboard Pitched Roof for a water-flow experiment. The next day…

She opened a case, spotted the pitched roof connection, and said she wanted to make a house. I recently noticed that she’s had a hankering for building things, but this blew me away and was a far cry from where we started the day before. She needed some structural assistance from her handyman/contractor/dad, who was happy to cut tape and generally hold things together. Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about the teamwork involved in building structures, and it seemed that she enjoyed the real-world connection with her own team of workers holding up windows and such.

She then requested some siding material, which her handyman cut to her specifications. And thank goodness, or else the squirrels might come in! As my daughter approaches her third birthday, it’s amazing to see her mind take on more complicated tasks and ideas, and I look forward to seeing further down the path of discovery through her eyes.


Author Seth Godin created this loooong list called Where do ideas come from? It’s brilliant and easy-t0-read.

Author Steven Johnson talks about how ideas are networks in his TED Talk: Where Good Ideas Come From

Steven Johnson writes about the importance of open innovation platforms in The Genius of the Tinkerer in the Wall Street Journal.

This post is linked to We Play, ABC and 123, Tot Tuesday

What do you think it takes to grow a big idea?

Gumdrop Sculptures

The provocation: A bowl of gumdrops and a handful of toothpicks.

The first question: “Can I eat these?”

Oh yeah, I guess they do kind of look like a snack.

The second provocation (after we each ate a gumdrop, just to get that elephant out of the room): A square base of four gumdrops, attached together with four toothpicks, and one more toothpick sticking straight up out of the base.

And with that, the race gates opened and the horses were off! Without saying another word, N quickly understood the challenge and got right to work. And what small child on a minor sugar high wouldn’t be excited to work with colorful toothpicks and rainbow-colored gumdrops?

Notice little sister in the background. I promise some baby-related activities one day soon.

A few months back I set up a similar provocation with marshmallows and toothpicks, and while we were able to build some simple structures, it was a small flop. It’s easy enough to pierce the marshmallows with toothpicks, but they don’t do as good of a job holding a complex structure together. I also tested jellybeans, but the hard candy surface wasn’t forgiving enough. The gumdrops are really malleable and my daughter didn’t need too much of my help manipulating them. So empowering!

She decided this structure was a cable car — we live near San Francisco, after all — so we found a couple passengers interested in taking a ride.

After she built this form she exclaimed, “It’s a pitched roof!!” Ah, I love witnessing the transfer of knowledge. You never know when these moments are going to hit, and it’s so fun to be there when they do.

And this is what she accomplished before it was time to get dinner ready. After dinner she and her dad kept working on these, and then there was more building the next day. As the structures got bigger and more complex, we talked about the strength of triangles, which added a a new dimension to what she was able to build. Stay tuned for day two!

More on the science behind this project can be found through one of my very favorite sites (and places to visit), The Exploratorium: Geodesic Gumdrops.