Improvised Caution Tape

My daughter is FASCINATED by caution tape. It all started about a month ago when we walked past a building that was surround with the stuff, and I was barraged with questions like: Why is there caution tape there? Who can go over there? What happened? How did the fire truck get in the building? Why is that man behind the caution tape? Why can’t I go behind the caution tape? And so on. And ever since, her radar is attuned to caution tape like mine is attuned to drive-through coffee shacks (which are way too few and far between!)

So, one fine Sunday morning, she and my husband decked out our house with their version of caution tape. While I bought this tape with more traditional art projects in mind, I’m impressed with how they interpreted it as a medium for blocking off areas of our home. When this all got underway I was thankfully on the right side of the tape, as I was told that the other side was only for “workers only” and I wasn’t permitted to pass. Toddlers and their rules!!

In case you’re wondering, this is what she was stockpiling on the other side of the tape.

This simple play-acting game kept her entertained for close to an hour, which I attribute to paying attention to her interests, one of the first posts¬†I wrote about back in May. While we could have purchased a head-to-toe construction worker kit like this, she got into the spirit of it all with simple yellow tape and orange paper repurposed into caution tape and cones, and it didn’t cost us a dime. Kids are awesome like that. And who needs a yellow safety vest when you can wear a pink tutu? (Bet you didn’t realize you bought her a construction outfit, Auntie Danielle!)

With rainy (and maybe where you are, snowy!) days ahead, I plan to look for opportunities to support my child’s interests using materials that we already have on hand. Or none at all. This afternoon we laughed through an improvised outing to a friend’s house to pick up stickers, using nothing but our bodies and voices. What a great way to pass an otherwise dreary afternoon!

How have you supported a child’s interests with a creative use of materials? What improvisational games have you found yourself playing?

Tissue Paper Collage

I have a child who rarely smiles for the camera and doesn’t seem to appreciate a mom who wants to document everything (she’ll thank me when she’s older, right?). When bribed with something along the lines of cupcakes, I may have some luck, but I usually hear comments like “put your phone down!” and “Mommy, no pictures! Make art with me!” Sooo, when I snapped this picture at the end of a recent art moment, I thought to myself, “hey, we must have hit art project gold here!” In hindsight, I think she was wowed by the idea of camouflage (more on that later), but why not start a blog post with a smiling kid, right?

What you will need:

  • White glue and Water
  • Small pieces of tissue paper. I cut mine into little irregular rectangles, but any shape will do. Ours is the “bleeding kind” from Discount School Supply, but if you’re scrounging around for materials for a project you’re doing RIGHT NOW!, see if you have any stashed away with your gift wrapping. Basically, you want really thin paper that will easily soak into the glue. My daughter called this “booger paper,” presumably because we use tissues to wipe noses. So funny.
  • Paper to use as a substrate
  • Thick paintbrush
  • Containers to hold glue and tissue papers

Mix a little bit of water with glue to make a paintable paste. Liquid starch will also do the trick.

Mix the glue and water together. I thought our brushes were clean, but it appears that the glue soaked some purple paint out of the bristles. No worries — we happen to like the color purple, and it added a nice splash of color to the paper ūüôā

Paint some of the glue mixture on the paper, and then stick pieces of tissue paper on the glue. Encourage layering. The piece in the foreground is where I demonstrated the process, trying to keep it simple and not too prescriptive.

Selecting pieces of tissue — creative and critical thinking at work!

The project evolved into making “teeny weeny pieces of art.”

And then we opened a factory.

Surprisingly, this is what cracked her up. She glued a piece of white tissue to the paper, which of course disappeared. We talked about camouflage, and how we can’t see white paper when it’s glued to another sheet of white paper because they “match.” With Halloween around the corner, I placed an orange tissue paper on top of one of our pumpkins, to show that this phenomena occurs with colors other than white. And then the laughing started. So, in case you were wondering, camouflage is pretty funny in the mind of this 28 month old!

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.

Homemade Stickers

After sending our 4 year old friends Josie and Callie some stickers a few months back, they reciprocated by sending us a few sheets of mailing labels to make our own stickers. Brilliant!¬† Stickers have long been popular around here, they’re fun, and they seem to make their way onto everything from lunch bags to birthday cards. Making stickers from mailing labels is an easy spin on everyday drawing, more imaginative and less expensive than pre-designed stickers, and the perfect activity for kids who like drawing AND stickers. Since receiving our label sticker gift, we’ve stocked up on more sheets of these, and added them to our self-serve paper basket. If you decide to open your own homegrown sticker factory, pretty much any sort of blank office stickers should do the trick.

It was a very cool moment when I realized she could see the perforations of each sticker, and made each rectangle its own element.

N is going through her circle period!

Peeling off and adding stickers to a sheet of paper.

The final product.

I’ve noticed that N has tendency to layer papers and stickers in her art, so I also used this as an opportunity to talk with her about layering. I would say things like, “I see you’re putting that sticker on top of the other ones. You’re making layers. Can you say ‘layers’? Can you say ‘I’m layering the stickers’?”¬† She gets into this kind of “repeating me” discussion, and it works for us a good way to teach and reinforce new vocabulary words and sayings.

Do your kids love stickers too?

What kind of sticker projects are happening in your home or school?

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.

Salty Sprinkles

Since last week’s Glitter-Fest 101, mounds of paper have been magically turned into sparkly creations — and my husband and sister have even jumped in on the glittering action. I actually overheard my husband say, “glitter is fun!” In all fairness, I think he was commenting to our 2-year old on how much he was enjoying their time together, but still! The only one who’s been overwhelmed by the glittering extravaganza has been my vacuum cleaner, who was recently given a raise for all of his hard work.

To foster the glittering fad, which (for my child) stems from a love for shaking sprinkles of any kind, I came across an idea for making my own glitter from salt. It’s not exactly the same as the wonderful shiny metallic stuff, but it fulfills the joy of shaking interest, it’s always fun to play with a new material, and I’m endlessly fascinated by the process of making our own art supplies.

What’s the Hook?

  • Kids will enjoy the process of making their own art material.
  • Making homemade art supplies can be¬†fun, economical, and teaches children that art can be made from just about anything. I hear my daughter say “let’s buy it!” way too often, and it’s nice to think about future conversations that are infused with “let’s make it” instead.
  • Playing with new materials opens children’s experiences and world views up to new possibilities.
  • It’s easier to clean up than traditional shiny glitter.
  • If you use the salt/food coloring recipe, it’s completely non-toxic.


  • Salt
  • Food Coloring or liquid watercolors. I used Colorations Liquid Watercolors because I had them on hand, but I hear that food coloring works well too…and many of us have some tucked away in our kitchens. If you’re considering the watercolors, I think they’re worth investing in for other projects too: ¬†they’re reasonably priced, washable, and the colors are rich.
  • Mixing bowl and spoon
  • Plates or cookie sheet for drying the “glitter”
  • Shakers. I found some salt/pepper shakers in a dollar store. Cocoa and parmesan cheese shakers would do the trick too.


Pour the desired amount of salt into the mixing bowl or cup.

Add a few drops of food coloring/watercolor to the salt and mix until the salt is evenly covered.

Pour the mixture onto a plate and allow it to dry. This should take a couple hours. If you want to expedite the process, pour the salt mixture onto a cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Once dry, break up the clumps of salt with your fingers or the back of a spoon.

Pour glitter into your shakers. Another option is to pour into a bowl so that your little artists can scoop it onto their art with spoons.

Enjoy your new, homemade glitter!

Glitter, Glitter Everywhere

Okay, I’ll be honest. If you want to keep your home clean or you have a fear of “the mess,” this may not be the post to read. Today we played with glitter, and the stuff can get everywhere! ¬†The initial plan was to use some glitter glue, but as I squeezed¬†the bottle for our trial run, a crack in the bottom of the bottle split open, causing a mound of glitter glue to ooze all over my hand. So, with a glitter-eager toddler awaiting this highly anticipated moment, I was obliged to pull out some shakers of real glitter and the show went on. ¬†The upside here, for anyone who’s feeling less than enthusiastic about embarking on a glitter activity after reading my report thus far, is that N LOVED playing with the stuff. And, if you choose to go the glitter glue route, there’s barely any mess at all.

We had some doilies left over from our Doily Drawings so we used them as the substrate, but any 2-D surface will do. Actually, the holes in the doilies posed some glitter-shaking problems, and I’d probably shy away from them next go around (although there is something pretty about lacy doilies and shiny glitter). With a two-year old, there’s only so much you can do with glitter, but if you have older kids, you may like to try making glittery fairy wands or glitter leaves. And if YOU are giddy for glitter too, Martha Stewart has a whole slew of Halloween glitter activities that will keep you busy for the next few months. Finally, if your child likes glitter like mine does, it’s a great embellishment for just about any art activity. Think of it as an art accessory.

Anyhoo, here’s what you need if you want to get your glitter on:

The Creative Hook

We did this activity for a few reasons.

  • My daughter had yet to use glitter, and the novelty of a new materials posed all sorts of opportunities for exploration.
  • The steps involved with working with glitter are somewhat involved, and the process requires patience and focus.
  • My initial plan was to use glitter glue and then introduce the glitter shaker on a subsequent day, but the plan fell through. The reason for this is that I’ve noticed my child is bonkers for shaking things out of littler containers (candy sprinkles, parmesan cheese, cocoa, cinnamon, etc.) and it was apparent that shaking glitter would be a natural extension of her current fascination with shaking and sprinkling.
  • The visual payoff can be striking, and kids may be wowed by the shimmery effect of the glitter.


  • Glitter-Glue or Glue & Glitter Shakers. You can find glitter in craft stores, and I’d recommend buying stuff that’s specifically in the kid section because it’s less likely to be super fine and/or toxic. Buy a few colors if you can.
  • Paper
  • Plate, box, or trash can for shaking glitter into


  • If you’re using glitter glue, show your child how to use it, and let him or her explore how the material works.
  • If you’re using glitter AND glue, show your child how to squeeze glue on the paper, gently shake glitter over the glue, and then shake the extra glue off and onto the plate or into the trash can.

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