We support plenty of "go figure it out" activities, especially during the summer.  So you aren't going to find many pinterest worthy craft projects here.  It's all about the process!

The parents' role in this type of play is in setting up the materials and in facilitating. We call these invitations... 

What is an invitation?

Invitations are arts and crafts, engineering, or science set-ups that invite young children to flex their minds while encouraging independent thinking through open-ended exploration. 

Once the materials are set up, the child can play with and manipulate the materials in whatever way he or she desires.  Hands-off, parents.  Unless it's unsafe, let them play.  To put it simply, set up a limited number of interesting materials, and see what your child comes up with.  This should be fun and easy for you as a parent!


#1 Marshmallows and Toothpicks
Build three dimensional structures using mini marshmallows and toothpicks.  Add some larger marshmallows into the mix for variety.   It’s been done with grapes and toothpicks too, but grapes are more expensive than marshmallows!
Mini Marshmallows

  • You'll need more toothpicks than you THINK
  • Slightly stale marshmallows work best for building; the fresh ones are really squishy.
  • As the sculptures dry-out, they become very sturdy.

  • Grapes instead of marshmallows
  • For younger kids, build 2-dimensional shapes flat on a piece of paper (triangle, square, octagon, etc)
  • For older kids, challenge them to build a bridge to traverse between two chair seats and can hold a hot wheel car.   Or functional doll house furniture, like tables, chairs, couches, etc.
#2 Collage
We consider collage to be a building activity because of all the layering that can take place.  The set-up is easy.  Anything that can be cut and glued.  Along with glue and scissors. Set out a select number of INTERESTING items: construction paper, scrapbook paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, aluminum foil, magazines, newspaper, fabric scraps, ribbons, etc.  

Also, select a BASE for your collage.  We like to use something sturdy, like cardboard or foam core. 
Collage materials

  • Pick your favorite glue.  We like modpodge in a small dish and a brush to go with it.  Glue sticks can be frustrating for young kids.  
  • If you go for the traditional glue bottle, be prepared for them to empty the whole thing.  Save the lecture.  Next time, use mini glue bottles like these.
  • Get age appropriate scissors that YOU feel comfortable letting your children use.  Yes, your toddlers can start playing with scissors.  Just find the right pair.  
  • Change the base.  Use old greeting cards as your base and you'll have some "unique" new thank you cards to send out next time.  
  • Print out some famous works of surrealist artists like Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte to inspire crazy collage worlds
  • Add glitter, sequins, and gemstones
  • Once the collages are dry, offer paint to the kiddos.  The texture and patterns below will show through a washable paint.

#3 Wood Building
Scrap wood, nails, hammer.  Soft wood is best; you can even get the nails started for them to make it easier.  If you’re little ones are ready for the real deal.  Use Styrofoam and golf tees.
Wood scraps

  • Best to do this one outside!
  • Wear eye protection
  • Hammering nails into a single piece of wood (instead of trying to join two pieces) is easier -- invite young children to hammer nails into a design
  • Add screws and screw drivers
  • Add art materials (markers, paint, etc)
  • Wrap string around the nails to "connect" the dots or make string art

#5 Recycled Boats
Don't throw that stuff away!  Cereal boxes, two liter bottles, kleenex boxes (pictured here)...they all make GREAT construction materials!  One of our favorite things to build are boats that we can float in the creek (or in the bathtub).
Boxes, bottles, cans, bottle caps, etc
Duct tape, packing tape, scotch tape, masking tape

  • Pre-rip tape strips for young kids (place on the edge of the table
  • Duct tape or packing tape will waterproof the bottom of cardboard
  • Do a "practice run" in the bathtub before heading to the creek -- make necessary modifications before leaving home!
  • Build something else - fairy houses, doll houses, angry bird towers, etc
  • Of course, add art materials once the construction is complete
#6 De-Construction
Any piece of large packaging Styrofoam will make do for this invitation.  Next time you purchase a large item and it comes padded with styrofoam...keep it!  

This is the opposite of construction...this is destruction!  Provide tools to tear apart the stryofoam blocks (we like screw drivers).  
Safety goggles
Screw driver

  • Outside, in the garage, or in the basement
  • Clean up all the little pieces with a shop vac (kids love to help with this!)

  • Try carving something into the foam!
  • Turn it into a printmaking activity like this one
#7 Natural Clay
Natural clay is an incredible building material because it becomes warm and slippery in your hands the more you work with it.  Add water to join pieces or if it begins to dry out.  You can let your clay dry if you want to keep what you make, or simply seal it up tightly for use another time.
Air-dry clay (we like Crayola brand)
Table covering
Tools (such as butter knives, forks, pizza cutter, etc)

  • Too much water makes mud.  Not a bad thing, but mud doesn't build well.
  • Explore different types of hand-building: coil, slab, and pinch pots are classic techniques. 
  • Dry clay is tough to get off furniture; cover anything from which you don't want to have to chisel clay
  • After painting, seal with a varnish to protect it; air-dry clay isn't as durable a kiln-fired

  • Polymer clay is great for small figures, ornaments, or beads
  • Model Magic is easy to work with, very clean, and lightweight
  • Playdough is a timeless classic!  Homemade or storebought.  Here's are favorite recipe
  • Try throwing on a wheel with natural clay. Creatology from Michaels makes a reasonably priced pottery wheel for kids.


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