Private Eye

The past few evenings have been absolutely gorgeous so my family and I have been spending quite a bit of time playing outside.  Early in the week, as I sat on a bench of our neighborhood park while my kids played on the structure, I noticed the leaves on the ground.  I picked up one of the dry leaves and began to examine the gift of Fall: the crisp lines, the wrinkles, and the sharp edges.  This act reminded me of one of the activities I did with my fourth graders and immediately, I thought, “I wonder if my son might like this?”

This activity is part of an interdisciplinary curriculum called The Private Eye, which encourages students to closely analyze an object using a magnifying lens and then relate the object to something else based on its intrinsic qualities.  So, I got my hands on one of the jeweler’s loupes that are included in the curriculum and tempted my son S to try out this exercise.  (You could easily substitute a magnifying glass for the loupe, if you have one around the house.  I’m pretty sure you can pick up either at your local hardware or toy store.)

First, he picked an acorn off the ground and like a budding Sherlock Holmes, stared through the loupe for quite some time.  I wanted S to translate what he saw through the loupe onto paper so I drew a circle and told him to draw what he was seeing.

While the acorn looked more or less as it should, his thought process to make it so was quite unique.  He said, “The acorn looks like a peanut.  And the top part looks like really really tiny raisins.  I see a bunch of lines.”  Essentially, he was using things he had seen before and knew: peanuts from outings with his dad at the ballgame and the occasional raisin from afternoon snack to describe something he had seen before, but never been asked to describe: the acorn.

We tried this activity again with a dry leaf and the result was similar.  S said, “Mom, it has a lot of lines and looks like the cracks on a sidewalk.  It also kind of looks like a spider, or maybe a spider’s web.  Or rivers on a map.”  His train of thought was endless, but again he was taking what he knew to illustrate another idea.  He was drawing these connections, and though they might not have been the first things that came to my mind, I understood his reasoning.

After he described the leaf, he was off looking at other little tidbits through the loupe.  And whether or not we verbalized the activity, I could see him going through a similar thought process each time.  This was the point of the activity: to find meaning in things beyond face value.  Next time, I hope we can explore this meaning and I can ask him, “Why do you think it might be like that?”  In that moment though, we were simply enjoying the simplicity and complexity of nature that accompanies our afternoons outside.

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Play Dough and Mr. Potato Head

This post is inspired by B’s co-op preschool teacher who put out Mr. Potato Head pieces at the play dough table. When B’s preschool teacher said that her high school aged children still played blocks and play dough with her elementary aged child, I immediately went out and purchased blocks and learned to make play dough. B loves to create “creatures” out of these materials and I do too! All you need is a ball of play dough (purchased or made) and a Mr. Potato Head.

B likes to empty the potato of all its pieces before starting his work.  Depending on your child you can take the plastic potato away or leave it out.  I take it away because B likes to store play dough inside.


B unexpectedly smashes the play dough lump.


Once the dough is sufficiently sculpted to his liking he adds eyes, a mouth and a nose.


B asks me to roll a ball, and he puts on shoes, adds arms, eyes and a set of mustache eyebrows.


Here is his final creature.  I think it’s cute.


Ultimately this becomes a game of smash the creature or “where’s the nose?” where he hides pieces in the dough and finds them.


To clean up, B helps by putting all the used Mr. Potato Head pieces into a container of warm soapy water.


What are your favorite Play Dough + ______ combinations?

Rainbow Sugar Cookies

I love doing baking projects with my boys – it’s the perfect combination of tactile play (mixing) and fine motor practice (measuring), finished off with a treat!  My son’s preschool has been doing a unit on colors and rainbows, so I decided we should try making some rainbow sugar cookies.

We both had a great time and the cookies were delicious, but I’m not sure I’ve completely tamed the inherent stickiness of a butter-based dough with this recipe. This was not entirely a bad thing since it was a chance for me to get my son to tolerate a sticky texture he’d normally resist – the promise of cookies at the end was good motivation! A shortening-based dough would be easier to work with, but if I’m putting in the effort of making cookies anyway, why not go for the good stuff?


1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 cup sugar (superfine if you have it, regular granulated if you don’t)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for rolling out the dough)
food coloring

cookie sheet
parchment paper
plastic wrap

Unless your kid is more coordinated than mine, you’ll definitely want to gather and measure ingredients ahead of time for this one. I like putting everything in little ramekins so we can read through the recipe together and easily add and mix.

Cream the butter & sugar

Dump the softened butter, the sugar, and the salt into a large bowl, then mash with a fork until light and fluffy. This is my son’s favorite part aside from cracking the eggs, but I still usually need to help him finish as it takes some time and effort. (You could also do this in a mixer.)

Add the eggs

Next up, the best part – the eggs! This never gets old, and my boys have been known to fight over who gets to crack the next one.  You’ll need to help pick out stray shell pieces, of course.  Add the vanilla, then beat with a fork until combined (another good mixing step for small kids). Then dump the eggs into the butter and keep mixing with the fork until it’s nice and smooth.  Since you haven’t added the flour yet, there’s no danger of over-mixing, so feel free to keep on mixing as long as your kid is into it!

Mix the dough

Time to add the flour.  My son likes to spoon the flour in a bit at a time, but just dump it all in at once is fine, too.  This is the step where you don’t want to mix too much, just until the flour all combined.

Color the dough

And now the color!  Divide the dough into 4 or 5 pieces, or as many colors as you’d like to make. The dough is so sticky that kneading it on the countertop is pretty messy and difficult, so I found the best method is to put each piece into a cereal bowl and mix it there.  We had fun adding the food coloring just a drop at a time and watching the colors change. You can knead by hand or mix it with a fork. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly combined, the cookies will still look nice.

At this point my son was losing focus so I called for a break, which turned out to be a very good idea.  The dough was getting very soft with all the mixing, so an hour or so in the fridge made it much easier to roll out into rainbows. To prevent it from drying out, wrap each color individually in plastic wrap. (You can leave it in the fridge for up to 2 days, or freeze it for up to a month.)

Make the rainbows

When you’re ready to bake, start the oven preheating to 375F and cover your baking sheet with parchment paper.  (You can bake without it, but you run a much higher risk of the cookies sticking.)  Take out the dough and get out a little flour for dusting your work surface.

To make a rainbow, pinch off four or five small pieces of dough in different colors.  Roll each piece into a little snake and arrange into a rainbow shape directly on the parchment-covered cookie sheet.  Lay each one down in an arch shape, one on top of the other, and then gently press together.  Keep your cookies at least a half inch apart.

When you have a sheet full, bake at 375F until edges are golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.  You’ll have better results if you bake them one sheet at a time.

When cookies are done, immediately transfer them to a cooling rack.  You can just slide the entire piece of parchment from the cookie sheet onto the rack.  When cooled, these cookies can be stored in an airtight container for a couple weeks.

Of course, your kid might have entirely different vision for his cookie, and that’s ok, too!  Happy baking!

Sharpie Pen Tie Dye

Some of my kids’ FAVORITE art supplies are Sharpie markers.  I can totally understand – the colors are so vibrant and fun.  Of course, they do always make me a little nervous — the PERMANENT aspect and all (especially in a house with a 20-month old who is eager to get his hands on everything!)  But I was excited to find a project that we could do together with these beautiful colors and learn something new about the cool properties of permanent markers.

I found great instructions for making tie dye with Sharpie pens here at Steve Spangler’s website (which is a great source for all kinds of great science projects.)

Here are the supplies you need:
Rubbing alcohol
A squeeze bottle or dropper
Plastic cups
Rubber bands
Fabric to dye – we decided to tie dye some white cloth napkins we have

Place your fabric tautly over the cup and secure it with a rubber band (this is the area you will be decorating).

The directions I found suggest that you make about 6 dots of ink from one marker in a circle pattern about the size of a quarter, and then fill in the circle with dots using other colored markers.  That approach definitely produced the best rainbow-like results, though my kids did not necessarily follow those guidelines (see previous post on Mom’s Vision vs. Kid’s Vision.)

Then slowly drop about 20 drops of alcohol in the center of the pattern.  (Note: if you are using a squeeze bottle, as I did, you may need to place your thumb over the end so it doesn’t come out too fast.)  You’ll see the molecules of ink spread outward to the rim of the glass from the center.  If your kid has used different colors, it does actually turn out like a rainbow!

We let the pattern dry for a few minutes, then moved the napkin to decorate another area.

After you’re all done decorating, you’ll need to set the colors by placing your fabric in the dryer for about 15 minutes.

Steve Spangler has a great explanation for why this works on his blog: “This is really a lesson in the concepts of solubility, color mixing, and the movement of molecules. The Sharpie markers contain permanent ink, which will not wash away with water. Permanent ink is hydrophobic, meaning it is not soluble in water. However, the molecules of ink are soluble in another solvent called rubbing alcohol. This solvent carries the different colors of ink with it as it spreads in a circular pattern from the center of the shirt.”

So maybe I can rest a little easier when my kids are playing with the Sharpies, as long as I have rubbing alcohol around!

The finished product is a colorful napkin – one that I think H will be proud to take in his lunchbox to school!

Kiwi Crate Launches!

I’m very excited to announce the launch of Kiwi Crate.  Kiwi Crate was built out of a passion for hands-on fun that encourages creativity and curiosity in children. I had a deep appreciation for these projects, but often found that my greatest intentions fell short. It was tough to find the time to come up with engaging hands-on activities, let alone get the materials.

So, as I started to develop creative projects with my kids, I thought, “why not share them with friends, who are also busy?” At playdates, the kids had a bunch of fun, and the parents appreciated having all of the materials and inspiration for the projects provided. Several parents mentioned, “I wish I could do this at home with my kids!”

Kiwi Crate was created to fulfill that wish and to celebrate kids’ natural creativity and curiosity.  We want to make it fun, easy, and delightful to spend time building, exploring and creating together.  Since its inception, the Kiwi Crate team has grown.  We’ve added creative parents who dream up the projects, valued experts who review them, and a community of kid testers who keeps us on our toes and ensures the projects are fun and engaging.

We love working on Kiwi Crate and cherish the involvement that our kids and friends have in bringing the product to life.  We look forward to hearing what you think too!

~Sandra & the Kiwi Crate team

p.s., If you’re curious how we came up with the name Kiwi Crate, here’s the story.

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Ivory Soap & Microwave

I’ve seen this super interesting trick involving just Ivory soap and your microwave a few places on the internet lately.  My kids were itching for a quick project before dinner tonight, and this was so simple – great for some good, CLEAN fun!

True to our post’s title, all you need is a bar of Ivory soap and a microwave.  To start, unwrap the soap and place on a microwave-safe dish.

Like any good science experiment, ask your kids to form their hypotheses about what they think will happen to the soap in the microwave.  My son H said “I think it will melt all over the plate.”

Pop it in the microwave and turn it on for 60-90 seconds (depending on the strength of your microwave, may take longer than 60 seconds to foam up.  But it won’t explode, so you don’t have to worry about that.  You may get a little on the side of your microwave as it expands, but it wipes off easily – it’s just soap, after all!)

Here are my kids watching the soap foaming up – you can see it in the background.  (Not to worry, I don’t normally let them hang out with their noses pressed to the microwave door!)

Here’s the finished product – doesn’t it look cool?  The texture is really interesting too – it doesn’t feel like cotton candy, even though that’s what my kids thought at first!

Next, H wanted to see what would happen if we put food coloring on the soap.  This wasn’t part of the plan, but we decided to roll with it and check it out.  He placed drops of food coloring on the soap, and poked some holes in the soap to get the dye to “soak in”.  H’s theory was that it would color the whole soap foam sculpture, like rainbow cotton candy. Back in the microwave… and here are our results.  Not as dramatic as we thought, color-wise, but pretty interesting, nonetheless. The final surprise was the random lesson found on the Ivory soap wrapper: “Family is nature’s way of providing us friends”.  Deep thoughts from the Ivory soap bar – who knew?

Button Pumpkins

This was meant to be a post about how to produce beautiful, unique fall decorations with your children.  They would adorn our dining room table, and we would admire them all season.  That was my vision, inspired by this image I stumbled across.

Of course, things didn’t turn out that way.  I should have known better than to enter into a craft like this (with a GIANT styrofoam ball, COOL buttons, and PINS) with a 3-year old and a 5-year old with a rigid end product in mind.  But of course I make mistakes like this every day.  Multiple times a day.  Oh well.  It’s actually still a great project, and I’d totally recommend it!  There are some lessons I learned about how to set it up better, if you’d like to steer toward a more complete end-product.  But the greater lesson I learned is that it’s about the PROCESS, silly.

On to the project… materials:

Styrofoam ball – mistake #1: mine was WAY TOO BIG.  Ours was probably 8″ in diameter; unless you want this to be a multi-day activity (or your kids have the patience for a 60-90 minute project), I’d suggest one 3-4″ in diameter would be plenty big.  I realized once we got started that there was no way my kids were going to have patience to cover this thing.

Stick pins – I bought a box of pins at Michael’s – the kind with the big round ends. Not quilting pins, but slightly smaller.  Obviously, these are sharp, so use your own judgment as to whether your kids are ready for this.  My 3-year was fine; I wouldn’t trust my 20-month old.

Buttons – I got 2 bags of fabulous, random buttons at Michael’s.

If we had gotten to completion, I was planning on using green pipecleaner (doubled on itself) and sticking it into the ball with the pins to use for a stem.  We’ll try that next time.

We placed the ball on a ramekin to stabilize it, and put all the materials on cookie sheet so S could spread the buttons out if she wanted to (and to contain the buttons & pins in one place.)

To affix the button to the ball / pumpkin, you just stick a pin through the button hole.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

It’s pretty fun to do and to watch.  But you can see how it would take quite a lot of patience / time to cover the whole thing.  So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when S announced she was all done at about this point.  (“Really???  But don’t you think it will look so much cooler if you cover the whole thing?!?  Don’t you want to do it for a little while longer??”  Oh right, back off Mom and get your own craft.)

I assumed we were done at this point.  But then S and her brother H (he had done one too) announced that they needed the plastic wrap (huh?).  They proceeded to wrap those balls completely in saran wrap, secured with half a roll of scotch tape.  And then they decided they had to wrap them in wrapping paper to present to their dad when he got home from work.  They meticulously traced out a big square on the wrapping paper, cut it out and and used the rest of the scotch tape to wrap those puppies beautifully.

Appreciate the contrast between their vision and mine.

This was a great lesson for the All-Knowing-Mother-With-A-Master-Plan in me about honoring my kids’ vision — which is so often a work in progress, an exploration of materials and techniques, and an ongoing collaboration with siblings/friends.  Their approach is of course so much more rewarding and more fun!

But what should we do with all these cool buttons??