Category Archives: Handmade toys

Free to Make : Cardboard Box Cars

While I was working, the boys were left to their own devices. This meant they had a full morning free to do whatever they wanted, provided there was no power tool usage or video game playing. (The “new to us” band saw requires Dad’s supervision, and video games are reserved for the afternoon heat). Thankfully, we had some recent Amazon deliveries. Cardboard boxes! Woo!

a picture of an 8-year-old boy creating a car from a cardboard box.

C, age 8, is hard at work on his cardboard vehicle.

I’d like to tell you they were inspired by this book from the library, Out of the Box: 25 Cardboard Engineering Projects for Makers. But they weren’t. We didn’t even check that book out until AFTER these contraptions were built. Rather, these boys have always been fascinated with boxes. (As in, give that kid a box…instead of the toy). Thankfully, their projects have gotten more sophisticated as they’ve gotten older.

Made by R, age 11.

Cardboard Box Cars

Their favorite things to make are cars. Obviously. If you can’t drive a real one, there’s something satisfying about making your own. I am especially fond of the computerized system in my 11-year-old’s. I think he has too much Tesla on his mind.

a picture of a boy's cardboard car

An all-electric vehicle…complete with its own ipad.

Cardboard, Free Time & The Maker Movement

And in a somewhat coincidental twist, I finished reading Dale Dougherty’s Free to Make as they were working on their creations. Dougherty is the founder of Make Magazine and one of the people behind Maker Faire. I am very drawn to the maker movement, not just for myself and my children, but as an educator.

I was pretty familiar with most of the content, although it was interesting to see a slim chapter on how schools are incorporating “making.” I am looking forward to more educational research on the maker movement. I just wish we could combine “making” with environmentalism. Right now “making in schools” seems to incur a lot of waste.

I think we just need to find a way to recycle tape. For a short time, tape was banned at my house since it’s not recyclable. We still consume it in limited quantities due to the waste factor. Oh, the things my kids could make with more tape (and free time)!

C’s car has a working accelerating pedal. (His words, not mine).

Making and Book-Swap-Palooza

On Tuesday, Gwen and I were fortunate to be a part of School Notes‘ 1st Annual, Book-Swap-Palooza. It’s a mini-celebration that promotes books, reading and pizza. 🙂 The outdoor event was held behind Domino’s Pizza on Archer Road.

We already had a lot of fun, hands-on activities, but we also created these fairy tale finger puppets to go along with the reading theme.

A picture of pig and wolf finger puppets

It’s easy to retell this classic tale with homemade finger puppets.

Making in Action

Coincidentally, these puppets also promote our “Making in Action” camp, where students will design, create and film their own stop-motion animation movie. This year’s theme is fairy tales, fractured tales and Greek or Roman myths.

As usual, I didn’t take nearly enough pictures.  Thankfully, we were kept busy as we met a lot of nice, creative kids and they took their time playing with LittleBits and Legos, while also making a finger puppet (or two).

wolf finger puppet

Made by a student that stopped by our booth.

Making in Action camp takes place on June 20 – 24, from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. To register, go to the Making in Action camp page.

We hope to see you there!


Maker Camp 2016

A picture of two 4 inch handmade dolls - a boy and a princess standing in front of a night sky.

Boy character made by R, age 10. Princess made by Liz.

I am happy to announce my newest camp, Making in Action! This is a joint venture with another local, family-owned business, WizzBangz. Gwen Thompson and I have been teaching S.T.E.A.M. classes for the last few years (three for me, and four for Gwen) and we are excited to team up to offer this creative camp.

Maker Camp

The final project will be a stop-motion animation movie which will be written by the students. During camp, students will learn a variety of “maker” techniques, such as sewing, painting, using the resources at hand (that means a lot of cardboard) and in doing so, will learn about the engineering design process and the importance of trying, prototyping and making changes to their story and their designs.

A picture of a pipe cleaner 4-inch doll skeleton.

Learn how to make dolls from pipe cleaners with the book, Felt Wee Folk.

Through each step, Gwen and I will act as facilitators to each group of students. We will guide them through the design process and help them to edit and make changes to their story. In addition, we will be helping them to create their own characters and mini-sets. By creating their own characters, students will be utilizing problem-solving skills, as well as learning the value of multiple iterations and working collaboratively.

R, age 10, is sewing on the boy's clothing.

R, age 10, is sewing on the boy’s clothing.

We will be using a variety of materials and resources with a special emphasis on empowering our students with a maker mindset. We hope you will join us at The Einstein School for this fabulous camp. To register, go to Making in Action 2016.

A picture of half a cereal box painted to look likethe night sky...had two 4-inch dolls as a characters.

The backdrop is hand painted. It’s also made from half a cereal box.

Making Stuff :: A French Board Game for Youngsters

As the “maker” movement becomes more and more popular, I think it’s important to step back and think about how people have been creating…well, for forever, really. That first spark of fire had to be something pretty amazing and that first lobster dinner? Yum.

I love that being a “maker” is becoming hip. It’s not just something the poor families do because they don’t have any money to buy that (fill in the blank). I love the empowerment that comes from being able to fix things and from choosing to make it – or spend that time elsewhere and purchase it. I love the push back against rampant consumerism and the ultimate care for the precious resources that we have on Earth. While I love exploring electronics, sewing, knitting, and helping my sons tinker with robots and programming, I really like being able to solve a problem by making something myself – in the most inexpensive, environmentally-friendly way possible. I think making is more than knowing electronics, computer programming or doing art. It’s about seeing everything as changeable – the possibility that it can become something else. And, sometimes stealing that idea from others and making it your own.

Homemade French board game with pictures, less words.

Homemade French board game with pictures, less words.

In the spring, I made this board game for my kiddos. We are a French-learning family and I am determined to conquer this language – despite the multi-year breaks that I take in between. (Yeah, that might be part of my problem). We are lucky enough to have a fabulous French-speaking teacher near where we live and my youngest son has taken classes with her for a couple of years. I had the privilege of sitting in on one of the classes and noticed she played a homemade board game that helped the kids with correctly interpreting questions asked in French. It was fun, the kids liked it and it reinforced the lesson without boring copy work.

I immediately went home and made my own. It was great French practice for me and a fun way for the kids to reinforce their learning.*  It’s been sitting on our shelves since the summer (our work schedules are quite hectic), but I am looking forward to bringing it out again soon. A homemade solution to a real-life problem that was done in one of the most environmentally-friendly way possible. I’m a maker. How about you?



*For those interested in recreating the game – the kids roll a die and have to name the picture in French or else they can’t move to that space. The pile of questions are at various levels of understanding and are pulled out when a child lands on a question space.

Handmade Easter gifts

We all came together this weekend for good food with family and friends. There was lots of thanksigiving and joy for the season. Easter baskets were filled – in the nick of time – and spinach pies were made and delivered to the table. And, there were lots of handmades for the kids.


First, we dyed eggs with all natural materials. From left: roasted beets, red cabbage, curry powder, turmeric and a spinach/cilantro mix. We steeped the veggies and herbs for an hour with boiling water…and the eggs were soaked for four more hours in the fridge. Not too much instant gratification here, but very nice results.


The green deepened the next day and the red cabbage was a big dud. And, I needed to mash the beets a bit more. But, of course, I had some handmades that I needed to finish.


Pom-pom chicks…you can't have a mama hen without some babies! (From the book, Creative Play for your Baby). They were pretty easy…I ended up felting them to keep the yarn from pulling out of the pom-poms.


And, what has become my Easter handmade tradition : mama-made people. Last year, it was a fireman. Initially, I couldn't find one that I liked, so I made him. This year, our minds have been on farming and urban homesteading. There was very little thinking about this year's doll: a little farmer girl seemed like the perfect addition. She's already working on her animal husbandry.

(Joe made the wooden gates too…we all got in the handmade act. More on that project later).


In the week before major events (holidays, birthdays, etc.) it seems as if I need four extra hands and another twenty-four hours in every day. I must have been wearing my "super-crafting-ability" goggles at the time I made out this list of to-be-made items for my boys. Of course, I could drop a few things, but my heart is set and I do like to have some sort of crafting traditions. Plus, our table has been cleared every morning – in anticipation – of all the crafty projects surrounding our upcoming holiday.

During the day, we're trying some crafts (directions found here). And, tomorrow, we're attempting egg-dyeing with all natural materials (found here). Wish us luck!


And, at night? A tired mama puts on some tea and works some crafting magic.


Have a happy and safe Easter!

Handmade for the babies :: mother hen

A little bit of crafting and I can see the world in a whole new light. A completed project makes me feel so good about myself – it reaffirms my ability as a crafter and I know that I can tackle those less than appealing projects with a new gusto.  I am definitely a more patient wife and mom to my family when I get a little bit of quiet time with the sewing needle. (That feeling stays with me even when that lone crafting turns into a group project!)


Plus, I get to cross something off my "to-make" Christmas list. (And such a long list it is…) Do you remember this post and this one? The people who brought forth Creative Play for Your Toddler, published another book for making toys for the wee ones. It's been staring me down for the last few months – begging me to get started.


The creative juices are flowing and I can hear those squeaky wheels turning. My brain is scrambling with all sorts of fellow farm animal fun for my little guy. I've already had a request from the older brother as well, so we will have to see what type of animal I can create (or he requests). I just hope it is something that looks good with a wool felt coat.

A Handmade Fireman Doll


There are a lot of projects out there that I think my son (husband, sister) will like, but I’m never sure. And, most of the time, that’s all right with me. I hardly ever finish a project if I’m not enjoying it. So, even if they don’t like it, I loved making it.

In this case, I thoroughly enjoyed creating this fireman doll from scratch for R – AND – I think that he will just love it. (Not so much with the fishing game).

I have been secretly working on this project for the last two months (it will be an Easter gift). He saw the wooden figure and knew that I was going to make a fireman, but it’s been out of sight, out of mind. Right now, he is really into firemen and looking around, we realized that we were short on people. We’ve got lots of Legos and wooden roads to build, but there’s not a lot of person-to-person interactions going on here.


In typical fashion, I though it might be fun to try and make one for him. I ordered the wooden doll and wool felt from here and used patterns for the jacket and pants from the two books above. The jacket will come off, although the pants are sewn on for good. He can always become someone else who just likes to wear red pants!

But, the hat. Oh, the hat.

A fireman just isn’t a fireman without his hat.

The hat I had to create myself. I’ll admit – it wasn’t easy. It took me
quite a few tries to get it just right (or at least recognizable). But, I had so much fun creating and learning the ways of the small, wooden doll. Maybe, next time he’ll ask for a farmer. I wonder how hard it is to weave 2-inch pieces of straw together…


Handmade for the babies


Apparently, I am on a quest to make as many felt fish as I possibly can. (In fact, I have a great idea concerning more fish, but that is a project for another day). For now, I am showing off my blanket stitch handiwork (um, I had to learn how) with this felt fish for the new baby. As we were making the fishing game, Ronan suggested that we make a fish for his baby brother, so he picked out some white felt and I chose some groovy colors and, voila, the 70's fish is born.

And, I finally got around to tracing out my hand-drawn fish and my lovely husband make it a PDF for me (and you)! It's on the sidebar, or you can find it here.

Just a quick side note about the "For personal use only" label on the PDF. As a librarian, (yep, my "professional" degree is in library and information science), I am a bit preoccupied with copyright infringement. Since I got the idea for the fishing game from Creative Play for Your Toddler, I didn't think it was okay to release the template to the public domain to be used by for-profit businesses. I did draw the fish myself, but I was basing it on the picture in the book. So, use it for yourself or your friends, or your local school, etc., but no selling. Thanks!


And, since I hate to end a post on a technical note…here's a picture of some of the other handmade toys I've purchased for the new baby. The wood stacker and the teething ring are from this etsy seller and the colored rings are from here.

Handmade toys: felt ball

Is it possible to be in love with a book? Because, I think that I am in love with this one. I have been on a quest to learn as much as I can about the Waldorf philosophy of education and I grabbed everything from the library that was even remotely related. A neighboring library sent forth Creative Play and I have been in a dreamy, toy-making state ever since.

(100% Wool felt ball, stuffed with bamboo)

I modified the instructions a bit since I used my sewing machine to make the seams on the inside (rather than show off my pathetic blanket stitch). In changing the pattern, I had to modify the dimensions a bit to compensate. (When I get a chance, I'm going to post a PDF of my completed drawings).

I ordered the colored 100% wool felt from here (along with some other fun craft materials). The book originally calls for wool stuffing, but since we live in Florida and wool stuffing can be hard to track down, I subbed some bamboo instead (seems to be another sustainable, antibacterial fiber, although a bit more research on my part is needed). I've used the organic cotton/bamboo batting for a number of quilts and I have been quite impressed with the texture of the fibers.


We also made our own wrapping paper via sponge art. I had a few pre-cut sponges from an art kit and I cut out some other shapes from a house sponge and showed Ronan how to make prints. I think I enjoyed it more than he did because he just wanted to use a paintbrush instead of making stamps. Oh well. He really did enjoy wrapping the present later in "our" paper. And, we think the birthday girl enjoyed it.


Happy 1st Birthday Ella!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment of handmade felt toys: the fishing game.