Poster of the Month

What: A group-drawn-and-designed, parent-led poster that features seasonal things about the month we’re in.

How: A big sheet of butcher’s paper, or a leftover page from an A2 visual diary, whatever works – plus a big black marker, and textas or crayons as suits. I laid the paper out on the floor and we talked about the month – what the name of the month was, what happened in it. That included

  • festivals or special events or birthdays,
  • trees that flowered or flowers we found in the garden or fruit that was in season,
  • what the weather was going to be like and what would change,
  • relative lengths of days and nights.

Kid 3 had no idea about any of this, but was pretty clued up on the idea of birthdays and excited to hear about coming festivals. Kid 1 was only mildly interested. The main point of the activity was to start giving a sense of time passing and repeating, putting markers and waypoints into the endless Now, and kid 1 wasn’t ready for that but kid 3 was.

Once we’d identified the things that were important about the month – and I was very flexible and child-led about this – I drew some very generic pictures and kid 3 and kid 1 coloured them in. Kid 3 added some of their own pictures too along the way, when so inspired. The conversation helped to steer that so that the pictures were related and not totally random.

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The posters were pretty random and very simple. Plus things like yellow flowers got added even though they aren’t in bloom til October, because, well, Endless Now. All parts of time get drawn simultaneously.

Extras: It helps that I have a detailed knowledge of the local seasons, so I could lead on ideas like the equinox or solstices, or predict which trees we’d see flowering. If you’re Australian, there are websites and now even apps with local Indigenous knowledge for your area that you can tap into for this, and garden centres and clubs will often have “what to plant” or “what to harvest” or similar lists that you can use as well. My being steeped in Druidry meant I always included the sun’s path, the solstices and equinoxes, when relevant, and also acknowledged the local Aboriginal seasons (which are way more accurate than the “official” ones), but whatever floats your boat.

Other activities that relate to this would be anything that works with the months of the year, or just working with the idea of what a month is – thirty days is an uncountable number at this age! – or more specific seasonal activities.

Another related activity is that around the same time I tried introducing a day-to-a-page nature journal, where we wrote down the weather and any birds or animals or flowers we saw that day and which could be used in multiple years so you’d see what you wrote down last year on the same page. But that was a bit much for the kids at that age so it got dropped pretty quickly. It would be worth reintroducing now they’re older and observing and writing or drawing independently.

Rearranging flowers

What: Flower arrangements, using leftover / regifted flowers from a hospital stay.

How: When my mum got back on the plane home after an extended stay in a capital-city hospital, she didn’t take her bunches of flowers with her. One of the arrangements had been put into a large block of Oasis, the water-holding stuff that holds flowers and stems and leaves in place. I took all the flowers and greenery out, divided it into two as-equal-as-possible piles, and cut the Oasis in half so that each child had a piece. Then I let them at it.

Two cream-coloured bowls each have bunches of orange and yellow flowers stuck in them with big green leaves pointing out. The arrangements are very random. A small child looks on, out of focus. The table is very messy.
The two final products. The styles were quite different in the end.

Kid 4 and Kid 6 both quite liked the activity, regardless of gender assumptions, and we had plenty of conversation about whether you put tall ones together or in front of short ones, grouping colours (or not), what shapes different things were, what shape the arrangement was, how many flowers there were on some stems. Kid 4 put things where they wanted without a lot of consideration, until they were “done”. Kid 6 spent a little more time thinking about it and making reasoned choices, but not a lot more. They were both delighted with the results and had a great sense of achievement and ownership in making the arrangement, greater than I’d thought they would.

Extras: It’s really about the conversation and the visual results, so I guess doing this again I might think about what items I wanted to put on the table for them to arrange, though the idea is to re-use what’s available rather than getting new stuff so there’s not a lot of buying choice involved. We could be more specific about ordering from tallest to smallest or grouping by colour, and soon the older child will be starting to look at colour relationships. There’s also viewpoint – considering which way the arrangement was meant to be looked at (all around? just from one side? which side?). And also the idea of testing – put something in, look at it, decide to change it, take it out again and put it somewhere else. Both kids are at this point not very good at this – once something is done, it’s Done.

Review: Noodle Magic

written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So

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Noodle Magic. Written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So.

About: A cute little tale about finding the magic within, told in the style of a Chinese folk tale. Plus, noodles! That made it an instant hit with my kids. The author spent 16 years living, working and studying in Asia, the illustrator is Hong Kong-born and British Empire raised. This book goes nicely in my collection of books about makers.

Good things:

  • Non-Eurocentric / Western-centric setting and characters
  • Little girl finding her own ability to do incredible things
  • A maker story
  • Author and illustrator both having a genuine connection to the culture they’re depicting
  • Sense of community in the illustrations
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The next morning, Mei and her friends played and jumped with strands of white, wheaty dough. “If only I had your gift,” Mei sighed. “I think you just might,” said Grandpa. But Mei knew that no one could spin magic like Grandpa Tu!

Pasta pictures

What: Pictures made by gluing coloured pasta to paper.

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Red and blue pasta stuck to heavyweight black paper. This was my bird, that I could work on slowly filling in the space and adding texture while the kids talked to me over their own work. Keeping my own hands busy elicits a lot more conversation from them.

How: We had two bags of previously coloured pasta (see Extras) that I wanted to get out of the craft cupboard. So I put them on the table with some PVC “gloopy” glue (in a plastic cup, with paintbrushes to apply it) and some black and white paper and let the kids go for it.

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The Flower of Heaven, done by Kid 6. Glue is put on the paper rather than the pasta, to avoid the food colouring coming off on fingers *quite* so much.

I like to work with the texture and shape of things to make texture in the artwork, building up solid shapes, but the kids aren’t quite on that page yet. Kid 6 is (as is typical I believe) quite line focused, and used the pasta to make outlines of what they wanted to achieve. In their second piece they’d seen what I was working on and tried laying out pieces of pasta to take up space, then gluing them down – which resulted in the butterfly. Kid 4 went abstract, with no picture at all, and concentrated on making a pattern. After the pattern was done to their mental and emotional satisfaction, they began to add in other bits to make it more of a “picture”.

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Kid 6’s butterfly. This was originally more densely packed inside the wings, but the process of lifting each piece off, putting glue on it and putting it back got a bit much and they lowered their goals a little bit .

Extras: This is actually the third activity we’ve done with this pasta. Kid 2 and Kid 4 helped me make it originally – we put pasta in plastic bags with a whole lot of food colouring and mixed it around and around (from the outside of the bag) until they were all covered in colour. Smooth pasta takes colour better than textured pasta, but the latter gives some cool effects too. Also, the blue was harder to manage because when it was even, it’s a bit dark and you can’t see the colour. Brighter and lighter colours are more optimal. The second activity was once the pasta was dried – we used it for threading pasta necklaces. There’s an age where threading seems to be a useful manual dexterity skill, and pasta and a bit of wool is a nice cheap way to do that. Plus having two linked activities meant we got a bit of time spent for not so much of my mental effort. Unfortunately, macaroni is really crap for threading – a lot of the pieces are squished at one end so you can’t get wool through, and that was very frustrating for Kid 2 and Kid 4. The penne was fine! The last thing you could do with this pasta is try cooking it. We didn’t, and now I wouldn’t because it’s had a *lot* of handling and sitting around gathering dust etc etc, but if you were doing these activities all in the same week then cooking up the pasta and seeing if it held its colour would be a nice finisher off. Plus then you’d have none left to take up space forgotten in the craft drawer.

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Kid 4’s pattern, with some additional bits to begin turning it into a “picture”. I think it might be a plane with wings, or something with wings, I’m not sure.