Counter Top Swatch Upcycle: Chalkboard Tags

counter top samplesI’ve had a string of counter top swatches hanging in my storage room at school for what seems like forever. I want to say I was given these (or picked them up from a home store – don’t remember how I got them) about 20 years ago. I’ve only used a couple of them over the years, but could never part with them because I was certain there was a project they’d be perfect for ….I just couldn’t seem to figure out what it was. Well, I finally did!

When I was preparing for back to school this year, I was making some little pots to hold my “leader of the day” sticks. I wanted to put a tag on each of the pots to distinguish between my morning and afternoon classes, and it suddenly dawned on me that the samples I’d been hoarding (I mean saving) for all these years would be perfect.

Counter Top Swatch Upcycle:

This has got to be the simplest project in the history of upcyles! Here’s what you need:

  • formica/arborite counter top swatches (smooth finish)
  • black chalkboard spray paint
  • spray paint (optional)
  1. Lay the swatches down in a “spray safe zone”. (You don’t want dust floating around or off spray ruining anything. I do all of my spray painting in my DIY spray tent which was made from a garage sale garment storage bag.)
  2. Paint one side of the swatch.
  3. Let them dry and then flip them over and spray the other side. (I used chalkboard paint on both sides, but of course, you could leave the original formica colour as is and just paint the back with your chalkboard paint, or use a colour of your choice to paint the reverse side.)

Marvy Garden MarkerAfter the swatches are dry, you can use chalk or something more permanent to write on your chalkboard tag. Depending on the project and how much the label will be handled, I often use my White Marvy Garden Marker for projects in which I want a “chalk look”, but the durability of paint/marker. These garden markers come in different sizes and colours, but I generally use the 6mm white marker. It goes on like paint, but has a chalk kind of look.  (I bought my Marvy at Michael’s, but I found something similar on Amazon called the Bistro Chalk Marker.)

You could also use acrylic paint to decorate the edges of your tag(s) with dots or swirls. The uses for these durable chalkboard tags are endless:  lunch bags, backpacks, basket tags, gift tags, etc. I honestly have at least 60 of these hanging on a string in my classroom storage area. I’m so glad I hang on to them! I’m going to bring them all home to paint.

If you’d like to find some counter top samples for yourself, I would suggest contacting home stores. They often have new lines of product and are getting rid of their old samples. If they don’t have anything available at that time, they might be willing to hang on to old samples for you. If you find a little “mom and pop” type store, they might even call you when they have some. Companies are constantly providing their retail outlets with new product/colour samples, so even after all these years, I think you should be able to get your hands on some.

I’m so excited about this simple project. I’m sure you’ll be seeing these chalkboard tags in many of my upcoming projects!

Dramatic Play Center: Boston Pizza Restaurant

I am still working on a few items for the Boston Pizza Restaurant in my kindergarten classroom, but it is already up and running. I will add the extra items as I find and finish them. I really tried to make this fun and a great learning opportunity as well. Play is such an important part of learning and should never be considered meaningless or a waste of time. Here are just a few of the concepts I tried to incorporate to make the play area not only fun, but educational as well:

  • size comparison (small, medium and large ~ pizzas and drinks)
  • play money (opportunities to use play money for the exchange of goods and begin to learn the monetary value of the coins and bills as well as their names)
  • writing (orders can be taken or for those not yet ready, I created a “write and wipe” order sheet that is laminated)
  • reading (the signs in and around the restaurant as well as the menus)
  • math (number recognition, simple addition for those that pursue it, money concepts and even fractions)
  • how to set the table properly (use the placemats to properly set the table for customers)
  • learn about the different roles of the people who work in the restaurant (Chef, server, dish washer, host, etc)
  • fractions ~ we talked about how if one person likes a topping and the other doesn’t, you could order your pizza with a topping on only 1/2 of the pizza
  • manners and customer service
  • phone etiquette
  • taking turns (only 5 children allowed in the center at one time and deciding who will work in the restaurant and who the customers will be)
  • vocabulary development
  • the opportunities for learning really are endless and something that is so engaging also makes a great springboard for other learning activities in the classroom

*Be sure to click on the first image. It will take you to the enlarged slide show and reveal the captions.

Some of these concepts are definitely more applicable to a classroom or day care setting, but setting up a similar play area for your little ones can foster the same great learning opportunities at home. Let me know if this sparks some creative play ideas in your home, classroom or day care!

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Pretend Pizza for Dramatic Play

I have been working on transforming my play kitchen at school into a pizza restaurant. I will share the entire center, but wanted to start by sharing the pretend pizza. My goal was to create pretend pizza that I could use over and over again, year after year. I wanted to put big effort into the creation of the center, so that I could simply store the items away when it is not in use and pull them out the following year. I didn’t want to have to re-collect and re-make items for the restaurant. I came up with this idea for the pizza and they turned out great. I am still on the look-out for a 12″ wooden base, but otherwise the pizzas are done. This would be great for any classroom, day care or child that loves to engage in dramatic play. What a great DIY gift for that special little one who loves pretend play.

Any child that likes to play house would love this as a gift or play center at school or day care. The bases were not easy to find, but the felt pieces were super easy to make. You might be able to opt for plastic or metal plates/trays if you are finding the wood bases too hard to find. I really had/have my heart set on wood, so I will continue to look for a piece that will work for our “large” pizza.

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Rainbow Jars

Here is another quick and easy project that could be used in a children’s bedroom, classroom, office or even for a Rainbow birthday party decoration. Again,  I can’t take credit for this idea. I saw it on pinterest and just had to make a set for my classroom.

Rainbow Jars:

  • Purchase a set of jars at the dollar store.
  • Add water and food colouring to each jar.
  • Seal and shake to mix.
  • Place on a window ledge to catch the light.

You will notice that I don’t have all of the colours of the rainbow and they are not actually set-up in rainbow order.  I played with the order until I like it. Unfortunately, when I was taking the photo for this post, it was overcast. When the sun shines in the classroom windows, it creates a beautiful reflection of light and colour through the jars.  The children love to look at them.

rainbow jarsThe original poster had the jars set up in her kitchen.  I am not sure that would work for me, but it gets me thinking that it might look cool to create a set in different hues of the same colour for home decor.

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Melted Crayon Art

I am sure that most people have seen the very cool melted crayon art on Pinterest.  Last year, I decided to take the idea and create a series of pictures for my classroom.  The cool thing about this project is that you can use any image, word or colour you want to create the perfect look for your home or office. My goal was to create a way to display my “colour” words in my kindergarten classroom in a new and innovative way.  I love the finished look!

Melted Crayon Art


The above video gives a very good description of what to do, but I will share a few specifics about my project.

1. I used seven 12″ frames from the dollar store for this project. I did not prep the canvas as she suggested in the video, but I did end up with a bit of chipping. (Especially when the construction workers were sledge hammering my exterior walls and the art was falling off the walls and onto the floor!)

2. I bought lots of crayons. I don’t remember how many, but I am thinking about 5 to 6 packs of 64 as I wanted blocks of colour for each frame.

3. I wanted to highlight the “colour” word in my finished product, so I carefully measured and centered each colour word on the blank canvas with vinyl stickers. You could purchase stickers if you want to do a word, but I cut mine with my Cricut machine.

4. I used a hot glue gun to adhere the crayons and it worked fine, but they did not with stand the fall to the floor during construction.  Be sure to plan the order of your crayons and think about whether you want the “Crayola” label to be uniform across the piece or not. I did, so I made sure that I glued the labels the same way across the width.

5. I melted my crayons with a heat gun.  Some suggest a hairdryer and it does work as well, but you do not have the same control and get more “splashes” and a less uniform look.

6. Shortly after melting and before the wax was completely set, I peeled off the vinyl lettering (with tip of a craft knife) to leave the word in the negative space where there was not any melted wax.  The final effect is more of an impression of a word than clear concise lettering, but I think it looks great. (Click the images to enlarge.)

Other Examples of Melted Crayon Art

Overall, this project is very simple and inexpensive to do. Would look great in a kid’s room with their name taking up the negative space or even an oversized initial for their name.

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