Tesselation with blocks

What: Tesselating and making pictures or patterns with blocks.

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Several of the resulting creations, including some that come from putting blocks on top of each other. Note the flower stem is a two-layer pattern. 

How: I have no idea where we got these blocks – I played with them as a child, and it’s possible that my mum played with them as a child too. They are good manipulatives for starting to think about angles – many of the shapes fit together, in fact most – but not quite all. So you can easily spread a tesselating pattern out across floor space, working out from the centre. Or, you can just use them to make simple pictures, tangram-style. We did a bit of both. It held Kid 5’s attention longer than Kid 3, and I’ve played the blocks at younger ages too but this was the first time they really actively got into it and started manipulating the shapes themselves.

Extras: I think this is all in whether or not you want to start talking about the angles, how some corners are pointier than others, whether you want to look at the number of sides shapes have before and after you put them together, surface area, breaking up 360 degrees into equal parts, which shapes tessellate (and do you even want to say “tessellate” or do you want to say “fit together without spaces”, which I think is how it’s been put to Kid 6 in school).

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Carrot prints and painting

What: Printing and painting with food dye, using carrots cut into shapes as stampers and “brushes”.

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In progress. Kid 6 is beginning a picture on the left, kid 4 is making random stamps in the middle, and I am partway through some more coordinated stamping on the right. There is a tray of blue dye and a tray of yellow. Carrots don’t “wash off”, so double dipping has predictable results.

How: Cut the carrots on a couple of different angles and at different sizes – you should be able to get small circles, big circles, ovals, irregular/pointy ovals, and even a rectangle or two of various proportions. I also cut one carrot unevenly so that it stamped a half circle, and cut another to give a more triangular result. Take plastic or styrofoam meat/fruit trays and put a few drops of different colours of food dye on them. Rub the carrots in the dye and stamp them or roll them or “brush” them on the page to make patterns and pictures.

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Kid 6’s finished pieces on the left, and kid 4’s finished pieces on the right (which may have devolved into finger work). Streaking was a popular technique.

Extras: Careful choice of dyes means you get to talk about mixing colours – and the colours WILL mix! You can focus on making patterns of whatever level of complexity your kids are up to, do it “wrapping paper” style. Or use the shapes to build up a picture and talk about what shapes are in the picture or make up different parts of the picture. I would have liked to talk about what happens when you roll – that mental translation from a 3D object to what its sides look like in a 2D form as you roll it across the page – but neither kid 4 or kid 6 was quite up for that. At first (and mostly) they just used the carrots like pencils, but as they went along they began to see that they could do more than that.

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My two pieces, made for the purpose of keeping my hands busy, talking as we went and (without specifically saying so) demonstrating ideas. The first was wrapping-paper style stamping, the second was experimenting with techniques and shapes to make a picture. The “dunes” at the bottom are one piece of unevenly-cut carrot, rolled across the page.

Easter/Spring Chick Balloons

What: Fluffy chicks made on/from a balloon.

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Kid 6’s on the right, with surprising attention to bird face detail; kid 4’s and mine on the left, with fewer ruffles.

How: Blow up and tie a yellow balloon. We had pale and gold balloons and ended up with one of each. I also had a card of yellow lace that the local fabric/craft shop was getting rid of in a $5/card sale. It took about a metre and a half of lace per balloon, cut into three pieces of varying length. Tape the lace around the balloon in layers so that the ruffles hang down. This is not as easy as it sounds. Kid 4 did a great job of concentrating but grew tired of it after three rounds of ruffles, Kid 6 liked the idea of as much ruffle as possible but really needs more Mad Stickytape Skillz so four was their limit. If you can, get the top layer of ruffle around the approximate middle of the balloon.

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If you can, do the smallest/lowest ruffles first and work upwards. It’s tricky because you want to hold the balloon upside down, which makes the lace upside down.

Then, draw a chick face on with permanent markers. I made the mistake of sending Kid 4 to raid my pen drawer for them, and they came back with all the pointy-tipped ones – and then managed to pop their balloon with one on the very last bit of drawing. There were many tears. Gentle is the order of the day, and possibly broad-tip pens! I blew and taped a replacement balloon so that they could both finish their project.

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Two more Kid 6s came and made one each. They refused yellow balloons.

Extras: This was part of a morning of Easter crafts, where we did a whole bunch of egg and chick type activities (mostly $2 kits from the supermarket or chemist). Two more Kid 6s came over as we were nearing the end, and made themselves each a balloon too – a funny-face egg and a blue chick. They were very surprised to discover that we were using permanent markers and they couldn’t change their faces once drawn – that might be an interesting variation, to use normal textas and tell stories with changing emotions on the faces.

Eggs, chicks and religion: I don’t always focus on the egg side of things, because Easter here is not at nesting time – it just happened that way this year. We’ve had conversations before about whether you see nests and eggs in trees at this time of year, at the spring equinox as well as Easter, and we might have a conversation about that later today again. As a non-Christian household I don’t go into the symbolism of rebirth at this point or discuss “the real meaning of Easter”. I stick to seasonal observations as much as I can with the kids. And today I choose to smile and skate past Kid 6’s determined pronouncements that a pet rabbit will hatch from their egg.

Review – Too Much Rubbish

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“Too Much Rubbish, written and illustrated by Fulvio Testa.

About: Tony and Bill take the rubbish out. Then they walk through the town, looking at the rubbish they find until they get to where all the bags of rubbish go. The pictures tell extra stories, of where rubbish comes from and all the crazy things we throw away. There’s no particular adventure – the main plot device is to gradually build up a sense of how much rubbish it all totals until you see it all at once. It finishes a little moralistically, with the two boys deciding that it’s up to them to do something about it – but that’s not a bad lesson, it’s just not a very exciting one. The book is published by North-South Books, who do a lot of gentler stories and whose books I seem to keep acquiring by accident.

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“People throw stuff out of their windows”, said Tony.

Good things:

  • Text and images separate for easy reading
  • Limited text good for reading practice
  • Complementary colours in watercolour give the pages a sense of vividness despite the thin colours and sunsetish orange-and-blue-based palette.
  • Several little jokes and bits of silly in the details of the pictures, including sequences from picture to picture
  • Environmental message that is relatively uncluttered (ahem)
  • Call to take action
  • Belief that we hold the power to change in our own hands

The Big Cups

What: Big cups made from otherwise-rubbish items.

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Mochi wrappers, glue and one of the finished cups. For some reason Kid 6 was insistent that the pattern had to go on the glue-side and the white side had to be outwards.

How: I had popcorn cups from a movie trip, I had mochi wrappers in several colours (or cupcake wrappers would be equivalent), I had the highly decorated and patterned wrapping papers from rolls of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper. I put a selection of these on the table with some generic brush-on paper glue and let the kids go for it. Kid 6 was methodical and worked directly towards creating a functional object rather than any random creative thing, Kid 4 had to copy exactly what Kid 6 did. So we ended up with two traffic-light cups. Kid 6 was quite insistent we should drink from their new “cups”. I wasn’t sure about the water-holding abilities nor the food-safe-ness, so I put a bowl inside each cup and put their drink in that bowl. It so happened I’d found giant straws at the two dollar shop not long before, so they each got to put their cup on the floor and drink standing from a giant cup with a giant straw.

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This was the most hilarious thing ever.

Extras: Doing this with soft drink bottles with the tops cut off? Making hats – which was what I thought would happen with the popcorn cups, but they didn’t see it. Making pencil containers – really, anything we could think of is possible. And making nothing at all but a sculpture or 3D collage, which is just as good. I’d like to see more playing with the patterns on the wrappers, but the kids didn’t identify the wrappers as materials in their own right.

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Kid 4’s finished cup. Typically random amounts of meticulous finishing – there didn’t have to be dots all the way around but gods help us if there wasn’t a traffic light on each side. 

Plastic box landscape

What: a two-layer picture on a clear plastic box, stuck to a window or screen door.

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Our finished project. These type of gift boxes turn up semi-regularly if you keep an eye out for them.

How: I had some clear plastic packets from some gift or other. We took permanent markers and drew on each side of the packet. The pictures layer against each other when seen through the box. Kid 6 could see how this worked when done but couldn’t imagine it beforehand, Kid 4 was oblivious to the idea of planning anything, and I myself didn’t spot how it would work until the first time we held it up to the light while drawing – I’d just been looking for something to draw on that wasn’t paper to keep them distracted on a hot holiday afternoon. We did need to work to get colour patches broad enough – thin lines weren’t very visible. Once it was “done”, I taped the hang-fold to a screen door so we could see it lit up by the sunlight outside. (This turned out to be impossible to photograph.)

Extras: Next time I may go for wider-tip markers to make that bit easier, and I’ll make more of a point (at least with the older child/ren) of thinking and talking about what parts of the picture are background and what are foreground. We can also talk about flipping an image, seeing as when you turn the box around you’re drawing the foreground against a reversed background or vice-versa. This project gives the potential to look at colour combining / transmission – e.g. seeing red through green or orange through yellow. You could also insert another piece of plastic inside the box to get a three-layer picture if you wanted to be really complicated. A related activity would be to try something similar but with shadows and varying degrees of translucency, so layers of tissue paper and card and similar, but that’s starting to get a bit past the age where my kids are now.

Review – Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck

 

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Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck. Written by Michelle Gillespie, illustrated by Sonia Martinez.

About: This is a true story of rescue and adventure, retold for a picture book. In December 1876 the steamer Georgette came aground at Calgardup Bay in the south west of Western Australia. Many of the passengers were rescued from the waves by stockman Sam Isaacs and sixteen-year-old Grace Bussell, both from a nearby homestead. The two received medals of bravery for their actions.

Good things:

  • Strong artwork close to graphic-novel style
  • Local history
  • Western Australian setting
  • Young woman acting independently and collaboratively to rescue others
  • Bravery
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“Grace reaches Smiler’s leg with her hand and feels for the rope. The horse stumbles sideways, kicking to keep his balance. The child sobs in fear.”

Under-the-table chalkboard

What: A chalkboard on the underside of the (wooden) dining table.

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Note the line down the middle to make it clear whose drawing space is whose. 

How: I got a $4 pot of chalkboard paint from the local two dollar shop. Any chalkboard paint from any paint store or Internet recipe will probably do. I swept under the table thoroughly (see my last blog post!) and put masking tape around the inside edges to cover up surfaces that weren’t supposed to be painted.. I could have done this much more thoroughly than I did. For some reason I thought we weren’t likely to make much mess. Please learn from my experience.

The paint went into two “meat trays”, those styrofoam things that they sometimes sell batches of fruit in. I gave the kids half a sponge each and they sponged the paint on. It took a little while. I helped with corners and tricky bits. Then we left it to dry. I did come back after the kids went to bed and do an extra layer in places where they had trouble getting the paint thick enough, but I didn’t bother with a full second layer, I didn’t think we needed perfection.

24 hours later, it was five minutes til dinner time but Kid 6 and Kid 4 needed dinner Right Now and were ready to kill each other if not distracted or sated. So I handed them a packet of chalk and told them the table was dry. That ended up earning me a full fifteen minutes to finish cooking and get food ready and on the table.

Extras: The important thing I think about this was that they had a hand in making it. It’s a space that’s there for them, and they helped make it that way. Plus it’s given me multiple holiday crafternoon distractions – the painting was one afternoon, we’ve had a few drawing afternoons since. It’s also very much about making the most of small spaces and not needing a 40-square house to contain small children. The other thing this goes well with is my “cubby” tablecloth, which turns the self-same table into a blanket fort and which I’ll post about eventually. Oh, and it goes well with sweeping. But that seems to be my job.

Sweeping squares

What: Squares marked on the floor for the kids to use as a “target” to sweep into.

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Square is just a little wider than the broom. I’m not too fussed with the accuracy of targeting as long as there is some.

About: I’ve been trying to get my kids to sweep for years, with low expectations, and my expectations have still been too high. We formalised sweeping as a weekly chore about a year ago, and results were still poor. There was no sense of how it should look when finished, or whether one’s actions were improving or unimproving the situation – after ten minutes of sweeping I’d still have stuff all over the floor. And neither child could implement a broom well enough to try different things and see if they worked. I saw this idea on the Net somewhere, tried it, and so far it seems to be helping. Something to provide focus and structure was what was needed. Now at least most of the dirt and crud ends up in the square rather than just randomly redistributed.

How: I got a few rolls of fancy ribbon from the local two dollar store, cut them into lengths of about the right size, laid them out where I wanted the square to be and taped them in place with clear packing tape. That seems to have worked fine. It wasn’t easy though, ribbon curling and tape sticking all over the place, and in hindsight I should have just tried to find fancy adhesive tape and save myself a step. So far the packing tape is standing up to the random force of brooming, and maybe the nice adhesive tapes wouldn’t, and we all do like the ribbons I got. So, swings and roundabouts there.

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The cats won’t walk in the squares. I don’t know why. That piece of floor is now LAVA!!! Or something. I will resist the temptation to make a lava hallway for the rest of us to play with. Or not.

Extras: Not sure if this really builds on anything in particular. The aim was to give a target, it’s providing a target. My next steps will be to build on the sense of actually sweeping the whole area methodically, rather than just dragging the broom through once and assuming it has somehow magically swept the whole hallway. But I have no time-specific goal there. I’m more interested in building the sense that this is a trivial job, easy to get done, requiring no drama – and that it’s a job that has to be done regularly by someone.

Review – The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point

 

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written/told by Trina Saffioti, illustrated by Maggie Prewett

About: Saffioti retells one of her family’s stories, of her mother-as-a-young-girl entering the school’s fancy dress parade. This is one of those books that reminds you that history isn’t just about the big things, but also about the little things, the things that make us family and town and nation. The illustrations are warm and in an Australian palette, easily bringing the emotions of each page to life.

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Long after the prize money had been spent on sweets, people would still talk about the time Faithy-girl won the fancy dress parade at Flying Fish Point.

Good things:

  • True story and historical event, retold by someone with a direct connection to the event
  • Aboriginal author and illustrator
  • A small event with a big impact, easy to empathise with
  • Lead character is female, Aboriginal, POC
  • Strong and present family supporting the lead girl
  • Setting is Australian, non-Eurocentric
  • Artwork is warm, Australian colours, shows a range of emotions clearly