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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Paint with glue, and how to make your own colored glue

My 2-year old is going through the phase of wanting to squeeze all the life out of any tube of paint, toothpaste, or glue that crosses her path. Have you had, or do you have, a child in that phase as well?

Paint with glue | Tinkerlab.com

I remember this phase well. When my older daughter hit it, I made up a big batch of flour + water paint so that she could squeeze all she wanted. It was an economical solution that allowed her to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze without multiple visits to the art store for more paint.

In a similar vein, we recently made colored glue when we added liquid watercolors to some simple white glue. The girls love it, especially the younger one, and it’s now a staple of our creative zone. The colors of the glue are rich, the consistency is easy to squeeze, and it doesn’t break the bank, especially since we stock up on glue with a gallon-size bottle of Elmers Washable School Glue.

Paint with colored glue | Tinkerlab.com

Materials

  • White glue bottles or other empty squeezable bottles
  • Liquid watercolors or food coloring
  • Cardstock or other heavyweight to squeeze glue onto
  • A tray to catch the drips
  • Sequins and other treasures (optional)

Directions

Add a few drops of food coloring to the glue, cap the bottle, and shake until well-mixed.

paint with glue2

Glue as you wish!

Learning outcomes

Yes, learning is embedded in this experience! This activity is great for developing hand muscles, problem solving, making aesthetic choices, and exploring the limitations and possibilities of glue. It also teaches children how to control the flow of glue, which is a fantastic skill that will transfer over to squeezing shampoo and ketchup bottles.

Note: Links in this article may lead to an affiliate site. I only share products that I love and/or think you’ll find useful. 

 

 

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

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

If you like to make your own Valentines but you’re pressed for time (or have a small and impatient child like me), all-in-one Envelope Valentines could be the way to go. Turning a heart-shape into both a Valentine and an envelope is a delightful way to surprise the card’s recipient.

Valentine envelope made from heart

This handmade Valentine card is made from a giant cut-out heart that’s then folded into an envelope. Simply draw your message on the heart, fold it up, seal it, and your Valentine is ready to go!

Since we started making Valentines in January, we’ve had plenty of time to iterate on the Valentine theme and recently whipped up these easy all-in-one cards that would be perfect to make for a group of classmates.

Because 2-year old N couldn’t wait to give all of these out for Valentines Day, they became Chinese New Year/Valentine Cards. My child lives quite happily in a post-modern world.

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

Handmade Valentine Cards Supplies

  • Paper
  • Stickers
  • Scissors

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

Step 1

Cut out a heart, turn it upside down, and fold. If you’d like a tutorial on cutting hearts, this tutorial will make it easy.

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

Step 2

Fold the “top” (or bottom!) of the heart up so that the folded edges line up. Crease.

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

Step 3

Fold the “bottom” (top!) down, so that it looks like an envelope. I had to make a few of these before getting the location of the creases just right.

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

Step 4

Open it up and flip it over.

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

Write a message.

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

And seal it up!

While my daughter is thrilled to cut paper and build sculptures, she hasn’t been the least bit interested in writing or drawing lately. So you can imagine my surprise when she actually had the stamina to make more than one of these!

When we sat down, I cut and folded a bunch of hearts and we got to work!

And my daughter folded her own hearts…

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

We plowed through and made about ten of these before she had enough.

Handmade Valentine Cards: Making window decoration from our scraps

And when we were done, I recycled the cut-out Valentine scraps into window decor. Want more handmade Valentine cards ideas? Here you go…

More Valentine’s Day Inspiration

30 Valentine Activities for Kids

How to set up a self-serve card-making station

6 Valentine’s Day Activities for Preschoolers

Deconstructed Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day!

DIY Fabric Ornament With Kids

This post is sponsored by Gymboree. Bring a friend to a Gymboree store and sign up for Gymboree Rewards together and you’ll both SAVE 25% off an in-store purchase. 

Kids Crafts Ideas: Hand stitched fabric ornament with KidsKids Crafts Ideas: DIY Fabric Ornaments

These sweet fabric ornaments teach children hand sewing techniques while building fine motor skills, and they don’t demand that parents have a lot of fancy sewing skills to facilitate. Perhaps best of all, they’re heirloom quality and can be gifted or saved and used for years to come.

Hand sewing with Kids

As soon as the tree went up my kiddos begged me to pull out all of our ornaments, and we spent two full days decorating. We ooohed and ahhed over all of our hand made ornaments, some made by my girls’ great grandma! Last year we made stacks of salt dough ornaments and we talked about making something different this year.

My 4-year old has been interested in hand-sewing, and she came up the idea of making her own stitched ornaments. Great! Not only are they sweet, but children can make these with just a wee bit of adult assistance.

This is a good project for older children or children who have a little bit of sewing experience. We’ve done other sewing projects such as Toddler Hand Sewing and Preschool Machine Sewing, so my daughter was ready for this.

With cups of tea and cider poured (I highly recommend this step), this sewing experience was a soothing way to spend an afternoon connecting with my preschooler. If you have a child who’s interested in sewing, I’d encourage you to give it a go.

MATERIALS

  • Fabric scraps
  • Fluff such as cotton balls to fill the ornaments
  • Embroidery floss
  • Embroidery needle
  • Thread
  • Sewing Needle
  • Ribbon
  • Treasures and Glue gun (optional)

 Step 1

Kids Crafts IdeasChoose a shape and cut out two of them. One will be the front of the ornament and the other will be the back. I like to give my children creative freedoms whenever possible, so I encouraged N to choose the fabric. She picked out fabrics that reminded her of the holidays. I love that!

You don’t really need a tape measurer, but kids love them and they add to the fun. Oh, and you can see how big our ornament is. Maybe that’s useful?

Step 2

sew on heartSew any ornamentation you like onto each of the fabric pieces (before you stitch them to each other). N wanted a heart sewn to this one, so I helped her hold the fabric while she did all the sewing. Normally I’d help with two hands, but I had to pull one away to snap this revealing shot.

Step 3

circles stitched together

Stack your two pieces of fabric together with the right sides facing each other. Pin fabric in place. Hand or machine stitch around your shape, leaving about a 1.5″ opening. Be sure to lock your stitch at the end.

We hand-stitched ours. N made it about half way around before she lost steam and then asked me to step in. That’s fair…sewing can be tiring for little hands!

Step 4

fill with cottonTake out all the pins. Flip the fabric shape inside out. Fill with stuffing.

Cut a piece of ribbon, about 6″ long. Fold it in half.

Insert the bottom of the ribbon into the fabric opening. Stitch the ornament shut, being sure to sew the ribbon into the ornament.

Step 5

homemade fabric ornamentThis is where my toddler happily stepped in to play. Attach treasures with a hot glue gun. Don’t make our mistake! We “secured” ours with white glue, and they mostly flaked right off the next day.

When you’re done, hang them proudly on the tree or gift them to loved ones.

stitched ornament

You could also take a cue from a friend of mine who invited all of her friends to do a random act of kindness in lieu of birthday presents — and gift an ornament to a stranger or someone you know could use a thoughtful hand made pick-me-up.

What kind of hand made ornaments have you made, or are you planning to make this year?

 

Winter Craft Collage Invitation

Winter Collage for Kids | TinkerLabToday I’m sharing a simple creative set-up that will help you slow down and celebrate winter at the art table. 

Slow down and craft: Art therapy for the Soul

I love it all…the tree trimming, wreath making, cookie decorating, Santa sighting, and latke cooking. Yes, it’s only December 7, and we’ve already done it all!

But I’ve learned that I can only take it in small doses before I need to bury my head in a pillow. And then I learned this week that my kids feel the same way.

When we put our kids to bed my husband and I often make up stories, and they invariably involve some sort of adventure (on my 4-year old’s request, every time). The ongoing story I tell is about three rabbit sisters who go on wild adventures to solve mysteries, but tonight N requested a story about the three rabbits “and their relaxing afternoon.”

I pressed the topic. “Okay, did they play at home and then take a walk to the park?” “No,” she said, “they stayed at home. All day long.”

If you find yourself in a similar place where you and your child just need to take a load off, brush off some of that holiday pressure and chill out, the spirit of this craft invitation is for you.

No special materials are required and the “product” does not have to look like anything in particular — forage through your cabinets and you’re sure to find everything you need.

The objective here is to pour a cup of something warm, go easy on yourself, and celebrate the process.

Winter Craft Invitation: Gather your supplies

My goal was to present my kids with a smorgasbord of materials that might inspire them to create a winter landscape. I envisioned shapes that might remind my children of a winter scene and came up with these materials:

  • Sheet of paper (light blue)
  • Green paper cut into triangles
  • White paper cut into circles
  • Dot stickers
  • Colorful Tape
  • Do-a-dot markers
  • Markers
  • Glue Stick
  • White Glue
  • Candy Cane Stickers

Winter craft collage invitaiton, Tinkerlab.com

Clear a table

Clear everything off the table and then do your best to attractively set the materials up. Our table is usually uncovered, so I took a minute to cover it, which made my kids notice it and in turn built their excitement.

Winter craft collage invitaiton, Tinkerlab.com

Leave it open-ended

While it would be easy to tell my kids to use the circles as snow or the triangles as trees, they see things their own way. The winter suggestion is there, and they can take it or leave it.

My 2-year old wanted to use a glue stick like her big sister, and took great pride in figuring out how to secure shapes to her paper.

Winter craft collage invitaiton, Tinkerlab.com

Listen to the story

When my children complete a picture I often ask them to tell me about it. My 2-year old was really excited about how she worked with scissors to chop up that triangle you see on the right, and she talked about how she glued and taped everything down. Fascinating, right? She didn’t say one thing about imagery; it was all about the process.

Winter craft collage invitaiton, Tinkerlab.com

My 4-year old was soooo literal with this project that it practically killed me. She told me about how the middle tree needed more ornaments than the others and how it was snowing. As I spent more time looking at it, though, I was also struck by the suggested symmetry of the piece.

Winter craft collage invitaiton, Tinkerlab.com

I wondered if the collage invitation was hindering her creativity, but after seeing this picture  (below) that she created on the same day, it was clear that her imagination was still alive and well, and that the collage enabled her to test new design ideas with form and composition.

Winter craft collage invitaiton, Tinkerlab.com

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

Are you overwhelmed by them or are you fueled by the excitement? Do you have any strategies for taming the crazies, respectfully turning down invitations, or taking things off your plate?

More Art Projects for Toddlers

12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers | TinkerLab.com
For more toddler art projects, you may enjoy the easy-to-set-up activities that use mainly everyday materials in 12 Simple Art Projects for Toddlers.

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