Your browser does not currently support JavaScript.

Kinder Realm - Exquisite, whimsical environments and educational tools for children and adolescents.

Whimsical environments, fine furnishings and learning tools for the young at heart

Kids' Corner

Welcome to the Kids' Corner!

 Hello.  Welcome.  I always hoped that as many kids as adults would find this site – either from hearing about it from someone or from having actually seen one of the cottages set up at a craft show.  Whether or not your family buys any of these furniture pieces or maybe some science equipment, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to look around in the photos and videos.  Everything I design and build is a bit unusual.  Besides a lot of artwork – carvings and paintings, etc. – there are playful aspects and lots of secret spaces.

I’ll give you the short version of my bio and Kinder Realm’s vision because it takes a little explaining to help you to grasp that this is not just furniture.

I've been creating artworks and building furniture since I was 18 years old. I became a teacher around 30 and had classrooms in a few Mountain towns around Colorado over the next 25 years.  Administrators often considered me a ‘fringe’ teacher in that I liked to have my students do some actual building in addition to the usual academics.  It’s called “experiential” learning.  One year I had each of my third graders turn a spindle on my lathe to make a railing around the loft platform I’d built during the summer to get more room in a cramped classroom … with a high ceiling.  I took my bandsaw to school several times to cut parts for ‘chain-reaction projects’ that sometimes went all through the classroom space.

I stopped teaching in 2007 and began designing and building this wild Kinder Realm project to try to bring some real elegance to the world of kids.  I always thought we adults were making a big mistake in saving all the finest things for our grown-up years.  “Kids will wreck it” is what I hear a lot, but after watching hundreds of kids play inside a cottage or go exploring for the hidden compartment in the dresser, for instance, I don’t believe it.  Kids generally feel a bit overwhelmed when they are inside a cottage and, I think, realize it’s worth taking care of.

I've tried to build a space that helps you to feel really comfortable and at the same time,  brings a sense of adventure into your lives. It's your own kingdom to set up however you like.  It’s all centered around a cottage with a loft you climb a ladder to.  The whole cottage is filled with unusual furniture and beautiful artwork.  There are many ways to use the cottage: it’s a place to study - a quiet spot when it’s needed; it’s a place to have your friends come to play; it’s a place to just sit and relax, to read a book - maybe write one; it’s a place to design and build some marvels of your own.

All the furniture has unusual features and several pieces can transform for different purposes.  For a few examples, the base cabinets for the desk can sit back to back and become a shelf unit;  the loft sofa can fold down to become a bed.  Also, the lighting around the ceiling and in the top section of the corner cabinet is dimmable. You can change the whole mood of the space just by turning the lights low.  It’s especially interesting to see your ‘treasures’ on the shelves of the lighted corner cabinet - being lit from two sides. You can also turn the lights up high and have plenty for studying or maybe putting on a performance.

I’m hoping you take time to figure out how all the working mechanisms, the hidden compartments, the locking drawers, etc. function.  There are springs and levers and wheels that add a little complexity to this realm.

The science apparatuses are to let you experiment with the basic forces of nature – gravity, centrifugal force, sunlight, etc.  There are wooden measuring tools and motor driven equipment for you to turn your home into a science lab.  Grow plants, build mechanisms, measure centrifugal (spinning) force, experiment with balance, etc.  These “simple machines” are the basics of every more complex machine. I’ve also designed some formal games to challenge your friends with hand-eye coordination while you learn the fundamentals of motion and weight.  I’m hoping you will have lots of fun but also that you will pay attention to how things function and use what you learn to experiment and create challenges and games of your own.

One big purpose behind this project is in wanting to have a place for your friends to meet - to use the cottage as a clubhouse.  The theater window even gives the brave ones among you a place to show off.  It works great for puppets or for singing performances. I’ve even made a white screen to fit the window opening so you can put a spotlight behind and do shadow plays.

I need to resort to being a teacher again to say that Kinder Realm has also been designed to help you learn to be organized.  I’ve built dozens of spaces of all different sizes to store your treasures and supplies - some completely secret unless you know the trick

Maybe more than anything else, I’ve tried to design a place where both science and fantasy are equally welcome.  Kinder Realm has been created as a place for your imaginations to unleash - a space that inspires you to believe in adventure.  I've designed much of Kinder Realm around my great love of epic fantasy: stories of hobbits and wizards, of braving great mountain ranges or deep caves … Delving into my and other people’s imaginations helps me to see that life offers us unlimited fields of wonder and magic to explore. Imagination is often a first step in bringing new marvels into the world.

Well, there you have a quick look at me and this wild project.  It’s simply a complex realm of natural beauty and great paradox (bet you have to look that one up!)  In my mind, the most important reason behind Kinder Realm is to give you some incentive to take off on an adventure of your own.  

Mr. C



The Incline Cabinet

By James Carlin November 20, 2013

I want to give you a more detailed description of our most unconventional and probably my favorite piece of furniture. The Incline Cabinet was designed with an artist in mind. There are several storage compartments to hold paper and art or drafting supplies. A removable box, meant to take to your work area, has shelves that tilt forward – moved and locked into place by a lever and spring mechanism. There are two shelves under the top storage section for artworks in progress or maybe to store larger drawing pads. The ‘hidden’ compartments on the side and up top are meant to store away those precious materials that you don’t want everyone else to find.

In addition to the storage compartments, the Incline Cabinet has an open center section to use as a showcase to display your collected treasures. We’ve built shadow box display shelves (of three different sizes) that stack together in several ways. The largest, L-shaped section is unbalanced if you stand it with the heavier leg of the L on top. This makes it necessary to either put the heavier leg on the bottom or to add counterweight with your treasures or another shadow box to maintain the balance.

All of this balancing of shadow box sections is happening on top of a slanted countertop surface. Leveling wedges (also in different sizes) are provided that allow you to stand the shadow boxes or other items vertically. I realize this is going to cause difficulty and require the owner to be continually aware of balance when placing any items on this slanted surface. It’s an exercise in balance, in counter-balance and an exercise in patience.
Another unique feature of this cabinet is that it is built to sit in the middle of a room. The display area is open on three sides and the lower cabinet sections open to either side – the drawers push through and there are sets of doors on both ‘front’ and ‘back.’

Art supply is of course, only one possible use for this cabinet and these storage spaces. I’m sure you can find many other materials and supplies that would work in these unusual compartments and narrow shelves. I hope you have fun with this cabinet and that it inspires you to display some of your favorite treasures or artistic creations. It was certainly a lot of fun to design.

There is a video you can watch of the working parts of this cabinet.

The Science Equipment

By James Carlin November 04, 2013

I want to go into a little more detail about the various pieces of science equipment – their purposes and functions as well as the potential hazards of some of them.

In general, we are building mechanisms that will let you experiment with gravity, balance and centrifugal force – the basic properties affecting the three “simple machines” : the lever and fulcrum, the inclined plane, and the wheel and axle.

As has been noted in a couple of places in this website, I had many of my classes design a simple machine based chain-reaction that snaked its way around the classroom space. This was always the highlight of any year – both for the class members who designed the components and built the mechanisms, as well as for the rest of the school classes who came in to witness demonstrations.

Part of the learning experience I intended for the students with this project was to find alternative uses for common items that might be found around the house or maybe in the garage … or, when needed, found in my own pretty extensive collection of household gadgets. The idea was to recognize that a tin can, for a simple example, is also a round cylinder and could be used, with the addition of an axle, as a pulley to raise or lower something on a cord.*

I also kept “raw material” on hand in the form of different sizes of doweling and thin strips of wood as well as some wide planks and pieces of plywood to cut out larger, often circular parts.

During this project, I kept a band saw at school (a very versatile saw which cuts curved and straight lines) as well as a small drill press – to be certain of drilling holes perpendicular to the surface of the wood. Safety issues with the power tools meant that I had to cut out the parts (sometimes quite intricate) for the students. I did allow them to use small hand saws and hand held power drills – with the work piece firmly clamped to a table. **

My hope for you at home is that these pieces of equipment will spur your engineering creativity into action and that you’ll follow the same kinds of practices – those of finding household items that can be used (with permission, of course) in alternative ways and modifying them when needed; as well as building parts from scratch – to assemble your own working mechanisms. I realize, however that very few of you will have access to power tools or friends with them and so we are building generic components of different sized wheels, gears, cams, pistons and pulleys. You can arrange these components in almost any order on the ‘slotted boards’ that attach above and are powered by the “centrifugal table” or on the free-standing ‘slotted boards’ that can be powered by turning a hand crank. We’ve made a few simple marble machines as well that work off cams and pistons. There is also a double geared mechanism that mounts on the edge and will transfer motion from one side of a ‘slotted board’ to the other.
Here are descriptions of each of the pieces of equipment – a little more in-depth look.

The ‘centrifugal table’ is a round table top that rides on four small wheels – whose horizontal spin is powered by an ice cream maker motor (@40 rpm) built into a wooden stand. The tables come in 3 different diameters (42”, 36” and 24”) and each is wrapped with rubber edging for safety. The table can be used with either the flat or the banked side of the table facing up. The spinning table allows for experimentation with centrifugal force and gravity. ‘Game boards’ are available that fit on the flat table surface. The momentum of the spin also acts as a power source for the mechanical components that attach onto the ‘bridge’ structure above.

The 60 inch high ‘bridge’ structure is a sturdy, highly adjustable wooden framework (break-down construction) that spans the table – allowing you to attach components (of your own design, or ours) that will interact with the spinning table surface. The bridge’s (removable) long axle allows wheels to contact the spinning surface and translate the movement into a source of power. Wheels, gears, cams, etc. can be set into motion when they are attached onto the ‘slotted boards’ made to fit the bridge.

The ‘inclined platform’ is a rectangular table that is attached to a trailer hitch ball, mounted on a small wooden stand. The table is able to pivot in any direction and lock in place at any angle. The table can also slide sideways along a T-shaped bar underneath. The ‘inclined platform’ is designed for experimentation with slope, gravity and balance. We’re making ‘game boards’ to fit the table with different patterns of channels cut into them, meant to be used with marbles or a traditionally shaped spinning top … trying, for instance to keep the top spinning while you help it navigate a maze. Another investigation might be to change the surface texture of the table from slippery to rough (sand paper, perhaps) so you could experiment with friction.

The ‘balance scale’ is a big lever and fulcrum mechanism. It has a 52” long hardwood beam (quite heavy) and a small stand that puts a metal dowel (fulcrum rod) 12 inches off the ground. There are small, round trays to hold weights that slide in a groove on top of the lever. There are also sliding hooks underneath the lever for weights that hang. The ‘balance scale’ is designed with both a single pivot point in the center of the lever that lets you detect minute differences in weight, as well as a double fulcrum rod system to broaden the pivot ‘area’ (now) for working with heavier weights.

The ‘pry bar’ is a lever and fulcrum mechanism with many holes drilled along the length of the lever – as possible fulcrum points. It has a short stand to support the fulcrum rod. The ‘pry bar’ lets you experiment with weight and the amount of pressure (counter weight) necessary to lift it.
Our many ‘spinning tops’ – a traditional, tear-drop shaped one and the many flat-disc type – are essentially hand powered tools to further investigate centrifugal force. Some of the larger flat-disc models are adjustable – with pockets to hold weights – and one style has a large metal disc to attach magnets and then more weight. Several of the larger tops are designed as game boards to challenge friends in eye-hand coordination as well as calculating and adjusting the balance of a spinning surface. The traditionally shaped top, with the precision of its ‘launch box,’ is intended as a moving game-piece for games and challenges on other ‘game boards.’

All of the science apparatuses are large and heavy and can be dangerous if used carelessly. Just a few examples:

  1. Two turning gears can pinch a finger seriously where they meet each other;
  2. The centrifugal table … is powered by an ice cream maker motor which spins the table at @40 rpm (revolutions per minute.) This motor is small but has a fair amount of torque – being designed to keep churning ice cream as it gets thick. So if someone were to fall into the table while it was spinning, he would stop the spin in a second or two – but, even with the rubber edging, two seconds might still be long enough to give a friction burn. Also, gears turning above and powered by the spinning table top can be made to spin quite rapidly and be an even greater danger in terms of pinching a finger or getting one’s hair caught.
  3. Even the large, flat disc, spinning tops can cause a friction burn if someone bumps them when they are spinning quickly. Or if a top were to get beaten up badly around the edges, splinters could develop and be very painful to remove!

Specific warnings will be included with every piece of equipment and with every top you purchase. In general, I strongly recommend parent or adult supervision until young children have proven their respect for the dangers and fragility of the equipment.

* I used to show my classes parts of the movie, “Goonies” (1985) as we were starting into this chain-reaction unit. My favorite mechanism the boys in the movie built is the one to open the front gate to the yard. It’s set off by pulling a cord that lifts a bucket off a bowling ball that begins rolling down a slanted track. It makes use of an air pump that blows up a balloon, a lawn sprinkler that winds up a rope, and a couple of levers that kick a ball and turn on the garden hose. The movie plot is that of the boys searching for pirate treasure in an underground cave system and having to survive the booby-traps (more mechanical contraptions) the pirates left to protect the treasure.

** Safety is the most fundamental concern. I always made this abundantly clear to every class before anyone used a tool – carefully going through the potential dangers of each. (A nearly perfect safety record in eight different years – a few scratches.) Clamping the work down to a workbench is necessary before drilling or cutting any piece, no matter how small. (It’s a matter of hand strength not yet developed in young folk.) That being said, I also strongly believe in giving young children experience in well supervised, potentially hazardous situations. Persevering through a dangerous activity connects together a lot of brain cells and builds tremendous self confidence.

Welcome to the Kids' Corner! Top