Two Ingredient Tuesday: Spray Bottle & Water

I know that everyone seems to have been talking about the heat wave lately… it seems to be finally relenting its grip on most of the country, but any excuse to get outside and get wet still seems like a good idea to my kids.  I had picked up a bunch of new spray bottles recently for another project, so we filled up a couple and headed out for some late afternoon fun.

There were SO many things to spray!  First, the flowers definitely needed some love…

The shed was next… It was fun for S to see how the water changed the color of the wood.

Then we decided that McQueen needed a trip to the car wash…

After observing the good time his sister was having, H wanted to get into the action.  He had fun just spraying the water up into the air and trying to catch the drops in his mouth.

And of course it ended with a sibling water fight — what says summer more than that?

This is a low-effort, low-cost, low-mess activity that’s great for all ages — perfect for a hot summer afternoon.  Plus, it’s always fun to see the joy that such simple things as a spray bottle and water can bring to a child’s face!

What are your favorite Two Ingredient summer activities?

It’s Summer! Fun with Jello & Ice Cube Paintbrushes

Just the other day, my daughter asked, “Mommy, I want to paint.” Without even thinking twice,  I was quick to discourage her efforts.  But as I was saying no, I asked myself why not? The answer was simple. I didn’t want to deal with the mess. For my eldest, I made activities involving paint, sand, glitter, glue readily available. For his younger sister, I only cringed at the thought of the havoc she could wreak. My son was capable of independently using these materials; I knew he would use them for what they were intended. However, my free-spirited daughter would definitely test her limits – you can only imagine the kind of “accidents” we’ve had in the past. The clean-up usually took longer than the actual craft. But after realizing how frequently I rejected her artistic curiosity, I decided that from that day forward, I was going to make a conscious effort to spend more time doing arts and crafts with her. I went on a search for crafts that weren’t daunting or overwhelming for me, and would be entertaining for my daughter. My first project was jell-o painting – materials were readily accessible, messiness was low, and it was a huge success.

First we made ice cube paintbrushes; filling an ice cube tray with water, covering it with foil and inserting popsicle sticks into the cubes.

Then we waited patiently for the cubes to freeze. Of course, my daughter forgot about the ice cube paintbrushes five minutes after they were in the freezer, but she was excited the following day when we pulled them out. The next day, we spread an old towel on the floor, laid a big piece of white paper on it,  sprinkled green and red jello powder on the paper, and away she went, painting with her ice cube paintbrushes! The powder amazed her, the melting ice amazed her, the designs she created amazed her, even the taste amazed her, and, as usual, she amazed me!

Though this is an activity that’s great for getting younger kids involved with creative materials, older kids can enjoy it as well.  Everyone gets a kick out of experimenting with new materials and using them in unconventional ways (painting with jello?? and ice cubes??? how cool!!!!).

What are your favorite unconventional art materials?

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Pot Lid & String

There are some days when it doesn’t take anything parent-led, packaged or planned to entertain your kids (of course, there are also days when it does!)  When the stars align and you can sit back and watch your kids make something magical out of almost nothing at all, it’s a pretty fun thing to behold.  Case in point:

My nephew absconded with this pot lid one evening when I was making dinner.  He shortly came back, requesting string because he needed to make “a mousetrap.”  Just by tying two pieces of string around the handle of the pot lid, this is what he came up with.

With my help, he tied one of the strings to our baby gate, and then he gave the end of the other string to his delighted little brother.  Together they happily trapped various toy by raising the lid, sticking the toy under it, and dropping the lid.  I had to confiscate it in order to get them to get ready for bed.

This is, of course, the two-man version of this activity, but kids without an accomplice in the house could easily make a more portable one-string model.

What’s the best non-toy toy your kids have discovered / invented recently?

Do That Dump

My son, Sohan, started coming home from school with odd knick-knacks, ranging from things as simple as popsicle sticks to much more elaborate items like parts from an air conditioner.  This odd assortment of things canvassed our living room floors and hallways at home!  Curious about their origin, I asked Sohan one day, “Are you allowed to bring these things home?” Innocently, Sohan responded, “Of course, Mom! You can bring anything home from the Do that Dump!” “Umm… the what?” Sohan quizzically glanced at me, as if I was being absurd, and responded, “The Do that Dump, mom!”

The Do That Dump is a box at school that contains materials from anywhere and everywhere; the school collected random items and “dumped” them into a box for students to explore and scavenge through.  Something as seemingly simple as a box of stray items dressed by a fun-to-say name, “The Do That Dump,” provided an outlet for the inner workings of these students’ minds.

Soon enough, we built our own Do That Dump box at home.  And shortly after, we watched it grow as items that we would have otherwise thrown away became the building blocks for my son’s and younger daughter’s imagination.  At least once a day, Sohan would go to the box, pick out a bunch of things and build something.  Some days we had ships and cars and others just modern art.  It was fascinating to see his creativity in motion.  Where I saw an antenna from a broken radio set, Sohan saw a road for a bridge.  Where I saw a paper plate, Sohan saw a steering wheel for his box car.

One of our favorite creations and one of the few that has lingered around for longer than a week was the jet pack.

Sohan found a cardboard wine case in the dump and used a high chair belt to wrap it around his back.  “Look I made a jet-pack, but it isn’t staying on tight,” he said.  This turned into a family project – from figuring out ways to hold it together, make it sturdy and comfortable to adding decorative items such as bottle caps and broken pencil sharpeners and of course the fire “to make it work.”

Sohan saw past the labels and their respective definitions that I had routinely come to associate these objects with.  Perhaps this is a lesson I was once familiar with, but in the process of becoming older and of course, wiser, I may have stopped seeing things for what they could be, focusing too much on what they were defined to be.  As I attempt to see things the way my children do, it’s a lesson in imagining the possibilities.

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Mailbox & Paint

When we walk around our neighborhood, we love admiring the mailboxes.  There’s a choo choo train mailbox a few streets down, a kitty cat mailbox across the street, and a little castle mailbox a couple of doors down.  Then, there’s our mailbox.  Very non-descript and boring.

So, my kids and I decided to do something about it.  It was time to bring a little pizzazz to the mailbox.  We dug up some washable tempera paint and went to work.

Here’s the two-paintbrush, two-handed painting technique.

Note that in additional to a mailbox and paint, you do need some paintbrushes and probably something for your little ones to stand on.  In our case, we used our little chairs.  Peekaboo!

My daughter was intent on bringing the combination of two things she loves most to life: hearts + flowers = heart flowers.

It was so much fun, and the results were colorful and lively.  We suspect that our mail feels that much more warm and welcome now.

Wonder what our mailman thinks.  Hoping it brings a smile to him and anyone else who moseys down the street.  It brings us smiles!

We can’t wait for it to rain and wash away the current design.  We’ll be ready to paint a new masterpiece.

What fun things do you spot in your neighborhood?

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Duct Tape & Cardboard

I think that if I could only pick two toys to entertain a child on a desert island, it would have to be duct tape and cardboard. It’s not really a question of what you can make out of duct tape and cardboard, because as far as I know there isn’t anything that you can’t make out of duct tape and cardboard.

Our current duct tape and cardboard jag began with my nephew making this enormous pirate ship. As it developed, it eventually also came to incorporate balsa wood, paper plates, and pipe cleaners, but these are really optional extras. The heart of the project is the duct tape and cardboard. This project kept him engaged for hours and hours, as he kept returning to it and expanding upon it for several weeks. Then he declared it “broken” and began work on another one.

Because he’s especially fond of all modes of transportation, my nephew has also made innumerable other cardboard and duct tape vehicles. He made this rocket ship and liked it so much that he made another one to give to a friend as a birthday present.  Note that he insisted that we use colorful cardboard (in this case from a case of diapers for his little brother) so I recommend keeping the particularly brightly colored boxes around for crafting purposes.

Remember that cardboard comes in all shapes and sizes. This Diet Coke box was first pressed into service as a car for Baby Tiger (the most beloved stuffed animal) and later developed into a spaceship, complete with a cupcake liner used as a rocket booster.

One of my personal favorite duct tape and cardboard projects is this little baby swing that he made for Baby Tiger.

Duct tape and cardboard also work really well as prototyping materials. This is a mock-up of a house for – you guessed it – Baby Tiger, which we later built out of wood.

There’s a little adult involvement required, because my nephew has a lot of trouble ripping the duct tape himself and I also do a lot of the cardboard cutting
(though you could easily do that in advance and just give them a pile of various sized cardboard chunks), but the results are completely worth it.

Paper Roll Marble Run

If you’re like me, there’s a pretty good chance that you have a growing “collection” of toilet paper and maybe paper towel rolls filling up your recycling bin, and you may have already found ways to repurpose them into crafts with your kids. This project was born out of my daughter’s interest in marble runs, and it kept her entertained for hours over the course of a week, which is truly a feat! What I especially love about this activity is that it requires very little in terms of materials, the clean-up is minimal, and it encourages children to use problem-solving and creative thinking skills.


  • Toilet paper and/or paper towel rolls
  • Masking or Painters Tape
  • Scissors
  • Marbles
  • Optional: Your favorite mark-making tools. We used markers.
  • Optional: Colorful tape for decorating the tubes.

My daughter began by decorating the tubes with strips of colorful tape. When she was done, I cut the rolls lengthwise and then she decorated the inside of the rolls with markers.

With her help and input, I taped the tubes to a canvas with blue painters tape, and then we tested the run to see if it worked. It did! If you look closely you’ll see an orange marble falling (very quickly) out of the bottom of the last chute. The nice thing about the tape is that you can move the parts around easily, add new chutes, and test out different configurations. After this prototype, we made another run — much larger – directly on our newly-painted walls…and it worked out great.

Happy rolling!

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Cornstarch & Water

I love interesting activities that you can do with things you already have around the house. I have a lot of old ingredients in the kitchen from one-time attempts at cooking (I hear the sighs of relief from those who do not wish to see a second attempt) – so I was thrilled to find something to do with the extra cornstarch that has been sitting in my cupboard for years – making oobleck!

Pour cornstarch into a bowl or pan, slowly add water and mix until a very special effect happens – the mixture becomes hard the more pressure you apply to it. It looks like a liquid lying in the pan, but when you press on it, it hardens and feels like a solid! For even more cool effects, add food coloring and you can see the colors changing as you press down. You can take the mixture out into your hands and experiment with pinching it, hitting it with objects, etc.

Before they touch the mixture, ask your kids what they expect to happen. Are they surprised by what happens when they touch it? Why?

This activity is very easy to set up and keeps kids occupied for ages!

Two Ingredient Tuesday: Sequins & a Dixie Cup = Collecting Fairy Treasure

We’re starting a new series: Two Ingredient Tuesdays. We’ll share fun activities to do with your kids involving just two ingredients!

Every few weeks for the past two years, my five year old has brought tiny little paper Dixie cups of sequins home from preschool.   I was a little perplexed by the origins of the treasure until about a month ago when I was volunteering in my son’s classroom.

It was reaching the end of “free play” time, and things were getting a little chaotic when I observed their teacher strolling quietly through their playground area, dropping little handfuls of sequins behind her – along the pathways and in the sand box.  The effect was amazing – one child noticed some sequins sparkling in the sunlight, and announced “treasure!”  The rest of the kids grabbed cups and began diligently picking the sequins up off the ground with their little fingers.  The whole group quieted down, focusing intently on the task at hand.  Once again, I was inspired by and in awe of the wisdom of preschool teachers… and so excited to take this little tip home with me!

Just last week, we were doing some kid-testing on projects for Kiwi Crate.  As we were wrapping up, I thought I’d try out the Fairy Treasure trick.  I strolled through the front yard (see pic below), dropping the Fairy Treasure behind me.

Then, after I distributed baggies (instead of cups – it’s what we had on hand), it was off to the races!

The kids were totally mesmerized – it was remarkable!  We played the game again and again, and it never seemed to get old (for them, at least ;)).  Sometimes, the kids tried to get as many as possible.  Other times, they were selective about the shape or color they were collecting.

It was a great way to engage them in independent play – and for them to practice their sharing and bartering skills as they displayed and swapped their treasures.

So I’ve invested in a few bags of sequins to keep on hand for those times when we have a bunch of kids over (or just my own kids are going a little stir-crazy), and I’m looking for a way to entertain them for a bit.  The experience is magical for them – and the 10-15 minutes of silent play is pretty magical for me :).

Do you have a go-to activity (involving two ingredients — or more) to engage your kids in an independent activity?

Felt Cuffs at Maker Faire

This cuff was our booth activity at this year’s Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA. It was two days of non-stop cuff-making madness, and it was so much fun. We were excited to receive the Educator Award for our activity, and we wanted to share the project that engaged 400 kids.

Here’s what we used:

  • Felt
  • Sticky-back felt sheets (or felt and glue)
  • Sticky-back Velcro dots (or snaps)
  • Scissors

First, cut a 3-inch wide strip of the plain felt. (We found that 3 inches is a good width for optimal decorating space and style, but feel free to make it larger or smaller.) We helped children measure the cuff around their wrist and cut so there’s an inch overlap. Stick on the Velcro dots – one on each side/end as the closure, and ta-da – a cuff!

From there, the kids decorated them by cutting the sticky-back felt sheets into various shapes and sticking them onto the cuff.  If you’d like, you can add sticky jewels or beads on a safety pin or marker.  A word of warning: we found that washable marker tends to smear.

What I loved so much about working on this project is how intense the kids got about these little strips of felt. Each cuff was unique.  My favorite moment of the day was when a 3-year-old who declared that his cuff was a wrist communicator and walked out of our booth telling his wrist, “Batman! Batman! Hello Batman!”

Here are just a few more of the amazing cuffs from our Maker Faire activity.

Hey – that’s our kiwi, on cuffs!

This is now my go-to activity for kids’ birthday parties. I love that it’s low-mess, accessible to all ages, and you can create a design that works for any theme from fairies to robots to pirates.