Butterfly kite

What: A butterfly kite we made at a multicultural craft stall at a WA Day fair. Unlike the paper origami butterfly in my last post, this flies very well. It’s also constructed in much more detail.

The first step. Colouring in the butterfly, choosing from a Very Large Pile of textas on the table. You can see the thread bobbin here.

How: ToBeHonest, we didn’t do very much of the making of these. Somebody put in a LOT of effort behind the scenes to make sure dozens of children could swamp the stall at any one time and end up with a working item. We coloured in the butterfly, they stuck on the blue tail and away we went. Here’s some more detail of the construction.

The finished kite seen from reverse.

It appears to be normal photocopy paper (80gsm weight), they’ve probably photocopied three or four of the butterflies a page. On the back they’ve strengthened the butterfly with a line of tape across the wings and one of those paper-covered wire twist-tie things glued down the spine. Then someone has attached a bobbin of thread to the spine very carefully. That’s what we were handed to colour in. When it was done to Kid 6’s satisfaction (Kid 4 not being willing to try and get near the tent with that many kids elbowing each other), they taped on the tail. As best I can tell, the tail is light plastic – heavier than a shopping bag but not much heavier – that’s been cut into streamers by someone with a lot of patience (or maybe put through a shredder?) and then four or five of those streamers have been stuck together somehow. They had a little bit of double sided tape on them so that all the stall person needed to do was remove the protective paper and push it on and there you go, instant tail.

Two Kid 6s running through the fair with their finished butterfly kites. Taller people get more height on the kites more easily. 

They did fly quite well. The stallholder demonstrated and had it flying steadily quite easily. The Kid 6s I observed needed a little more practice – familiarity with kites would help I think! But they do flutter satisfactorily too. We had some issues with the bobbins of thread – nothing unexpected, just easy to lose sight of or to accidentally tangle around the kite (which being light paper is relatively fragile and able to be cut by thread that’s given a good yank). But they worked reasonably well too.

Origami butterfly

What: A folded paper butterfly that became the basis for a few different moments

One of the Kid 6s’ butterflies.

How: I saw a video of these on Facebook or Youtube somewhere – it’ll be around. The steps weren’t too hard and I had a go on my own. You need some square paper – not too large – and scissors. Depending on what else you do with the butterflies you’ll want to have blutack, stickytape or string on hand (or whatever else seems useful).

Once I knew what I was doing, I made them with the usual crowd of Kid 6s of both genders that seems to appear in a screeching flurry after school several days a week. The butterflies are a little fiddly in one or two spots but not too bad and all the kids did OK with them. Then they came up with things to do with the butterflies.

It swings better than it flies. Pendulum science! except it’s not quite heavy enough for that. Maybe if it was weighted a little.

A couple of them went on the trampoline. One got thrown around the room but this design doesn’t really fly well so that didn’t last. One went on a string and became a kite – but not a very good one. Then that Kid 6 got some spare paper off me and cut and taped it into a bag, with the butterfly front and centre as decoration and the string repurposed into bag handles.

Every one of the sides of that bag has been cut separately and stuck together with tape. It was painful. I’m glad this Kid 6 has now encountered “nets” at school and can conceptualise that you can make a bag out of a single piece with folding. But I’m pleased they conceptualised the pieces needed for the bag in the first place.

Extras: If I had florist wire we could make a few of these and stick them on and do flower arranging. A few different sizes and patterns would work well as a mobile. Several of the same size could be attached to a paper chain. Folding them out of something waterproof instead of paper would mean we could hang them outside. They can decorate anything. To me they’re a useful piece for something rather than being terribly exciting themselves, though they did work well for giving the Kid 6 crowd something to fiddle with for ten minutes.

Shadow outlines

What: Drawing around our shadows to see the way the sun moves – and how silly it looks when our shadows stretch or shrink!

Long Midwinter’s Day shadows, parallel like sunbeams.

How: You need a space long enough to do the shadows, that gets some direct sun. Our driveway is our preferred spot. Also, chalk. Then, it’s just a matter of when you do it. This week’s drawing was in honour of the winter solstice, done not long after dawn, so the shadows are at their longest for the year. On other occasions we’ve repeated the activity at noon or in the afternoon, so that you can see how the shadows point the same direction at a given time (they’re parallel) but point the other way later, or how they are much shorter at noon than they are early or late.

Extras: There’s so much to play with here, in the themes of astronomy, seasons, time and change. Winter and summer shadows are quite different in direction and size. If you do this activity every couple of months the kids may remember what it was like the last time (mine didn’t!) – or take photos to assist the comparison. You could stand on one spot and repeat the outline every hour or two to overlay a series of shadows for that day (older kids could talk more specifically about angles or measure lengths). There’s plenty to talk about how the sun moves, how it’s lower in the sky or higher with the seasons, how dawn is late in winter but very early in summer (if you’re getting up to do a dawn drawing!). My preference is to not talk much about it, but to try and do the exercise often enough that the kids themselves realise that something is changing and start the conversation themselves. Though more often they’ve gotten distracted by the presence of chalk and begun colouring in their own pictures and adding details – and that’s just fine too. At some point I will probably use this activity as a foundation exercise before we play with sundials – both the normal fixed kind and the kind where you use yourself as the gnomon. I’d love to build one of these in the garden with stepping stones! And of course there’s the survival skill of using the movement of shadows to find north, which is easier understood if you’ve spent time thinking about the idea that your shadow isn’t fixed or constant.

Review: Minnie’s Diner – A Multiplying Menu

Minnie’s Diner – A Multiplying Menu
written by Dayle Ann Dodds, illustrated by John Manders


About: Minnie’s Diner is conveniently located near to the McFay farm, full of hungry boys. Each one is double the size of the next – and places double the order! Bouncy rhyming text sets up a story based purely on the idea of doubling and exponential increase. And it’s funny. We happened to acquire this book at the time that Kid 6 was beginning to work on the idea of doubling, and it fit in perfectly. It’s also an introduction to powers of 2, should you be needing reinforcement on that concept.

“I’ll have what Bill has, but make it a double.” “Of course,” said Minnie, “That’s no trouble.”


Good things:

  • Maths makes the plot and meshes into the story
  • Doubling, exponential increase and powers of 2
  • Repetitive text for easier reading
  • Variety of visual perspective angles
  • It’s about food! My kids forgive a lot for that.

Immiscible glitterable bottleable

What: a (well-sealed) bottle that shakes up and separates out

How: You need a leftover plastic soft drink or sports drink type bottle, around the 600ml size-ish makes for good handling, with a lid that can be glued shut. (This isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary… oh, who am I kidding. Glue or tape that f@!#!@ker down good and tight once you’re done.) Fill about a quarter of the bottle with oil, add a capful of food colouring, a guinea pig’s fart’s worth of loose glitter (I don’t know how much that is exactly, but I’m told quite sincerely it’s correct), and then top up with water leaving a small airspace at the top.

Mostly separated pre-shaking. The glitter usually collects at the base of the oil, but some always sticks to the bottle sides.

This was a baby toy I made for Kid 1 after seeing something similar at an open playgroup-in-the-park in Darwin. The idea is that they can shake it up, roll it around, try and crawl towards it or grab it, fiddle with the textures on the bottle (if your bottle has textures), all depending on age. And, of course, they can watch what happens as the oil and water mix and then separate out again. I found that the glitter tends to stay in the oil, and the colouring stays in the water. I suspect it might be possible to get oil-based colourings that would colour the oil as well so you’d have two quite different colours. I just used craft glitter, but if you were concerned about it being swallowed then edible glitter’s available at cake stores and should work fine for this too. I’ve never bothered trying to explain the oil and water thing to the kids, to me this is just a foundational activity, the sort of thing the kids add to their memory banks of “how the world works” that later on they can pull out and say “Oh, is *that* what that was about”. Such as when a grandparent says knowingly “Like oil and water, dearie” and the kids are all “Like what now?”.

Extras: Really, there’s not a lot more to this, it’s pretty much what it says on the box (but maybe with less syllables than I like to use). There is one modification I’ve seen that could be useful though – using the bottle as a timer. Go to your room, and you can come back out when the bottle’s cleared again. Gives them something to watch, and a known amount of time to spend calming down or getting themselves together or just getting over it (whatever “it” is). My bottle only takes a minute or so to clear, but I think there are recipes online using glitter glue that separate out a little more slowly so you can tweak the timing.

Gumdrop construction

What: construction using gumdrops and toothpicks. This was one of a series of STEM projects I did over one set of summer holidays when we were trying to do at least one STEM thing every other day. I got the idea from the Tinkerlab book (which is much recommended and which I will review here eventually).

Vertical is over-rated.

How: I think I used one bag of gumdrops that I tipped out onto a tray for better sorting through (seeing as some kids *have* to use The Right Colour), plus a spare bag in reserve if it was needed, and I had a couple of toothpick holders with double-ended toothpicks in them that could get passed around. I put them all out on the table at a family event, and children and uncles and grandparents all had a go.

A variety of creations and careful sortings.

Kid 3 is pattern-obsessed and enjoys visual-spatial stuff, and spent quite a bit of time doing extended 2D flat patterns with a very simple arrangement repeated. Kid 5 is much less spatial or directional, and had a lot of fun just playing and seeing what happened without repeats, but also stayed 1D and 2D. Eventually I built a 3D shape or two to show them that they could go up as well as out, seeing as they didn’t appear to have imagined that on their own, and Kid 3 happily copied it to see if they could. They had minimal success seeing as the gumdrops do tend to sag over time, and sometimes quite quickly if not placed carefully. But the idea was there. Kid 5 was surprisingly engaged with the activity and took quite a while to start asking if they could eat the gumdrops yet – it’s usually the first thing mentioned.

“This one is purple, and then a yellow one, and then orange next. I’ve made ten squares.”

Extras: there’s so much you could try here. Marshmallows instead of gumdrops, kebab skewers instead of or as well as toothpicks to get different length sides. It was hard to do long sides using multiple segments as they did tend to sag, so you couldn’t easily do big structures with just the toothpicks – but you could try. Copying interesting architectural structures – e.g. building the Eiffel Tower, seeing if you can make all of the regular-sided polyhedrons, or just build a Monster Truck model or a T-Rex. Or go the other way for a more junior age group, and see what 2D shapes you can build. What *does* a 36-sided shape look like anyway? And how many toothpicks and gumdrops do you need? Any kind of construction that suits your fancy. All should be possible with patience. And possibly blue-tack instead of confectionery, though that’s not nearly as much fun!

Midwinter “stained glass” windows

What: Circles of “stained glass” patterns made with cellophane and cardboard, to play with winter light.


How: I cut circles from cardboard from the boxes frozen pizzas come in, and cut patterns in them with a Stanley knife or craft knife. Kid 4 and Kid 2 helped me paint the cardboard black (sitting on some layers of newspaper of course). When it was dry we took pieces of coloured cellophane and stickytaped them to the back of the cardboard, sometimes layering more than one piece to get different shades or depths of colour. Then we blu-tacked them to the window to see them in the light!

Extras: We just did very simple patterns with no particular rhyme or theme. I was picking up on the idea of “wheels” and some of the traditional circular designs (the quartered circle, a six-fold wheel, a St Leonard’s Cross) but didn’t talk to the kids about them at all. You could choose colours and shapes more carefully to fit a theme or idea, copy famous windows and patterns from around the world, do more complicated patterns and pictures inside the circles – there’s plenty of room to make beautiful art out of these. The first ones I ever saw were ones my mum made when I was perhaps 4 myself – she made angels for Christmas. I was captivated by the stained glass effect and the visceral sense of how it felt to have colours falling through the windows – I think I danced the story of the colours on my skin for the rest of the day, or just stood there soaking it in in absolute delight. As an adult I remembered the project and thought it would be a good thing to do for Midwinter when we celebrate the returning of the light. As my kids get older we might make another set of these, and let them do more of the planning and the cutting – these ones were set up beforehand ready to go and pretty heavily guided.

Review: 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids

150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids, by Asia Citro, MEd


About: This is hands-down one of my favourite books and a regular go-to for “What can we do this afternoon?”, “Mummy, please play with us” and “I don’t know what to DOOOOOOO” moments. I look through the book myself for something I’m willing to face up to, or I hand the book to the kids and get them to pick something out that they like the look of. I’ve also handed this book to Daddy for his nights-doing-stuff-with-kids and told him if he picks something he wants to do, I’ll make sure we have the ingredients. I really like Citro’s approach – she encourages a lot of the fundamentals of very-early-childhood science, which is basically investigating substances and the way they behave when you do stuff to them. It’s all play. Much of it is messy. It’s fun, it’s delightful, it’s imaginative, it can be wondrous. Many recipes and activities are suitable for kids who put things in their mouth, or who have allergies. Some take more prep or cleaning up than others, so I can choose what I’m capable of on a given day and find something fun. There’ll be a few activities I post up on this blog that have come from this book, or from Citro’s blog, FunAtHomeWithKids.com, which is well worth an explore. The age range of activities is probably 0 to 10 years, at least, so it’s a book you’ll get plenty of use out of.

Each activity has preparation time, suitable age range, and a bunch of other quick things you might be looking for (eg eat safe, gluten free, nut free etc). I also like the “Tips for doing things on a budget” boxes in each section of the book, though they are less relevant if you’re not in the same country as the author.

Good things:

  • Wide age range suitability
  • Lots of ideas with accessible ingredients
  • Well laid out and photographed
  • Kids can look through the book themselves
  • Good science fundamentals (and literacy and numeracy and manual dexterity)
  • Basically, all-round good early childhood resource
There’s also variations on each activity, to break it down or build it up to different age ranges, or to work with different materials if you don’t have something in the cupboard, or to extend it if you’ve already done this activity ten times and your kids want to do it *again*.

Men’s Tea Party

What: It’s just a doll’s tea party. With whatever Kid 3 and I had on hand. Using “boy” dolls instead of the usual girl dolls, because that was what we had on hand. (I know, they’re supposed to be called “action figures”. Live with it.) The usual storytelling happened. We modelled conversation. It’s worth noting that the type of doll does influence the story. It might or might not have been different using wrestling figures than if we were using Bratz, for the most part it’s hard to tell and anyone can love a good cuppa. But I’m fairly sure a couple of Bratz girls wouldn’t have been talking about whose turn it was to win the championship belt.

My coffee is bigger than your coffee just like my smackdown is bigger than your smackdown.

Extras: There’s so much scope here for playing with what kinds of conversations men can have or women can have, and for subverting the cliches. Kid 3 wasn’t that aware of the cliches – they had no cognitive dissonance with the wrestlers wearing pink love hearts, for instance – but they weren’t completely unaware, either. They might find it quite a different experience doing this again as a Kid 7. Also modelling men talking to each other socially was a useful thing, and something I might get Male CoParent to come back to and play again with The Male Child.

PIZZZAAAAAAARRRR!!!!!!! With a nice tablecloth, of course.

Everything goes on a cracker

What: Strawberries on cheese-and-crackers

Mummy, it’s bigger than my mouth.

How: Kid 5 invented this. They like crackers, they like cheese and particularly the soft kind that comes with chives, and they like strawberries – the bigger the better. The only “how” here that’s at all difficult is how we got one to last long enough to get a photo. Food construction For The Win! The curious bit about this is that Kid 5 hates mixing food. But they ate their mixed constructions quite happily. So it was a tentative foray into the idea of what happens when you combine flavours and textures in one mouthful. Maybe we should have watched the beginning of Ratatouille next!

Extras: When this happened, it was just food experimentation, plain and simple, with the big box of strawberries Grandma had got from a local farm plus our usual collection of cheese-and-crackers left over from morning tea with some visitors. A wider range of ingredients could get some more serious building going on with more focused ideas about shapes and meaning and imagination. It also seems like I missed an opportunity to build on this spontaneous kid-generated activity by doing more play with food flavours and textures, and hopefully sneak in a few “mixed” dishes into our meal routines. I have very few of those – no winter soups or casseroles, because anything mixed is “yucky”. Another direction to go is that there are carved-strawberry-and-topping hor d’eouvres and kids’ finger food that you can make, so we could build on the basic idea and make something more complicated or fancy-looking. Kid 5 at this stage was using very basic kids’ kitchen knives (paring and smaller) to cut softer things like strawberries, watermelon, cucumber, banana and mushroom, so we could have gone with a cutting exercise of some sort. Wasn’t going to happen on this day though – the important bit was that the strawberry was as big as possible!