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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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

Rear view glasses for Super Spies

What: rear view glasses, found as part of the Mission during Kid 7’s spy-themed birthday party. And a message in mirror writing, to solve using the glasses.

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The pre-prepared glasses that Daddy and I stuck together.

How: I looked for rear view glasses online but couldn’t find any cheap enough to order in party quantities. Kid 6 had a pair from a school book club set, and I’d made some once as a kids activity at a science museum. So I knew the rough idea. I ended up ordering a bunch of kid-sized sunglasses from an online party goods store, and a bunch of small craft mirrors from a big box craft store, and assembling them myself. I did consider getting the kids to do it, but thought it might be a bit slow/tricky for a group of six and seven year olds to manage themselves. Maybe nine to eleven year olds would have been fine with it. The problem with self-assembly is that the bits don’t quite match up in size and shape – the glasses have too much curve in them (you want them to be quite flat rather than following the line of a face), the mirrors are too big to fit inside the frame and at the same time too small to see effectively in – that sort of thing. I tried superglue but couldn’t get the mirrors to stick well enough to the frames, so ended up using double-sided sticky tape. Which was mostly a temporary solution, but held together well enough to get through the party.

The kids found the glasses all ready for them in a box in the bathroom, and gleefully put them on. I’ve found with these that they are really tricky to use the first time, and then the second time it’s a lot easier. It takes a little practice working out how to focus on the mirror and make sense of what you’re seeing, and then how to turn your head so you can choose what to look at. The kids had fun trying them out. Some got it, some didn’t, but the idea was Super Cool (and it was sunglasses which are automatically cool) so that was all right then.

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Where do you write a message in mirror writing? On the mirror, of course.

Also in the bathroom, on the mirror, was this big message, in code. Well, in mirror writing. Which doesn’t seem like a tricky code, but given that several of the kids are still working through the first hundred sight words list and can’t immediately recognise words when they see them, and some are not reliable at identifying mirrored and flipped letters like b/d/p/q, mirror writing *was* tricky. I made it a little trickier by breaking up the words and using multiple colours so that even the kids who would normally recognise the words on sight didn’t just immediately know what the message was, and that seemed to even up the speed a bit or at least slow down the faster ones. Trying to read the message with the glasses was a bit tricky for the kids, but being in the bathroom there was another option. Several of the cabinets had mirrored doors, and there’s a mirror on the bathroom door, and if you move the various mirrors around you could get it so the letters were all the right way without having to use the glasses. The message was written with some pens I found that are specifically for use on mirrors, glass and bathtubs and the like. They go on like oil pastels and wash off easily.

Blanket tent

What: A blanket tent playspace in the loungeroom.

How: Well, we tried a few construction methods, it wasn’t all Mummy saying “do this and then do that”. So, this was our first successful attempt (I don’t have any photos of the first try!).

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Mummy, this really isn’t very big. How can we make it bigger?

Basically, we needed a long stable thing for a ridgepole – a broom worked well because the end of the broom helped keep the ridgepole from sliding off the couch – two places to hold the ends of the ridgepole (not as easy as it sounds!), a not-too-heavy blanket, and enough space on the floor free of Lego bits to actually make the tent (that was the hardest bit). Plus lots of conversation, querying the basic principles (“I think if you put it there it’s going to fall straight down… oh look, it did”), discussion of how the blanket just hangs straight down and doesn’t actually make a triangle shape, finding things to hold the edges of the blanket in place so that it does make a triangular space, and plenty more. I like to let the kids lead and discover, so they discovered for themselves that the blanket didn’t make a triangle. And that the blanket they were using didn’t make a *big* triangle. And stuff like that. I mainly only intervened to a) send the ideas in the direction of a blanket tent when the possibility first appeared, and b) if they actually looked like they were going to hurt themselves. Oh, and the occasional c) when they knew what the problem was but needed help solving it, I’d make a suggestion to get them going in the right direction to find the solution. Remember the philosophy: never open the door for them, just ask them if they’ve noticed this really cool doorhandle. (Or with kids well out of their depth in a situation, open the door but never push them through it.)

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The final version, weighed down with some books to keep it stretched out. Which worked fine until they wanted to take the books inside to read with them.

Extras: Well, we managed a few construction attempts at this blanket tent. It’s, as usual with me, all in the things you choose to discuss. We talked about triangular spaces, especially when they discovered that the blanket space was actually really tiny and they wanted more room. We tried a bigger blanket. We could have tried a different ridgepole, or taken it outside and used a tree branch and a tarp for an all-weather setup. If I had an old triangle tent we could have set that up, or I could have gotten out the little dome tent and we could talk about circles having more space inside them than triangles and why tents nowadays go up in circles rather than triangles. And of course, this also leads into a survival skills lesson: the basic debris hut shelter, your simplest “I’m lost in the bush and need to survive the night” shelter, works on a ridgepole triangular structure. So this activity is like a primer for some of the ideas that they’ll use when I show them how to make their emergency shelters.

Origami baby ball

What: a lightweight origami toy/gift for a little baby.

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Four month old, fascinated by something they can actually grab and hold and turn.

How: To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how or where we found the instructions for this, it was a random origami book somewhere, but I’ll bet it’s available on YouTube nowadays. The idea was that you folded six of these shapes, attached them together as a cube, and they flexed into a ball shape. The only trick was attaching the bits together. I think I used stickytape for this one, because I didn’t want to risk staples flying around when the baby grabbed with both hands and yanked in opposite directions. The first time I made one of these, for my first Kid 0, I used paper glue (just a standard glue stick) and that worked OK until they worked out how to apply more force than the glue resists. So, fastener is your choice, see what works for you and your kid’s developmental stage / attitude towards interesting objects. I found there was a huge difference between 3 months, 4 months, 6 months – and between children of the same age (there are smashers and kissers and many types between).

I loved this ball because it was light weight, so the baby could pick it up, wave it around and then when their hand strength predictably yet unexpectedly failed they could drop it on their face – and this wasn’t a problem. I also liked that it had lots of pointy-out bits – paper, not stiff, so they didn’t hurt or poke, but small grasping fingers could find plenty of bits to latch onto in order to try and grip. That made it suitable for a whole range of manipulative abilities, it wasn’t something they just accidentally knocked around the room because they couldn’t grasp it when they threw their arms in its direction. Because it was home made we could use a range of textures and colours and patterns in the paper, getting more subtleties than baby toys often have. It’s also visually interesting, with the combination of detail and symmetry. And it’s paper, so if they chew on it, well, it gets soggy and maybe it tears, but at the end of the day it’s still only paper. You can make another one easily enough.

Extras: The first one of these was made as part of an origami party for Kid 0, when friends of ours came over and made lots of origami shapes for a mobile. So it was a nice social thing. It was actually made by a Kid 11, from memory, who really enjoyed working through the printed instructions and then repeating the steps five times to get the six identical pieces. I think you’d need at least a Kid 8 or 9 to make it – it wasn’t too tricky, but it did take a little folding precision (plus of course the ability to read and follow instructions!). I made the one in the photo here, and I also made a third one that we mailed to a friend for a new baby gift. Lightweight = cheap postage!  These latter two were both made under Kid 1 and 2’s “supervision” – they helped select the pieces of paper I used and which order they attached in.

Little faces

What: Little changeable faces made from cardboard rolls, for storytelling and talking about feelings.

How: I took a couple of toilet roll centres and cut a face-shaped hole in each. I cut the other end a little, folded and spread the cut bits out onto a circle of cardboard cut from a used postpak and glued it down. When the glue was dry, I painted them with bright colours and patterns. Then I took the cardboard centre from a roll of alfoil or plastic cling wrap, which was narrow enough to go neatly inside the toilet roll centre, and cut it to length to fit inside the toilet roll. I drew faces around it with different expressions – cross, angry, happy, silly, sad, surprised – three faces to a roll. Then when it was all dry I assembled them.

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“He’s a silly nutmeg!” Dotty winked. That made Wiggles laugh! But Bluey didn’t like being called a silly nutmeg. He got cross.

Kid 2 loved them. The way I used them at that stage was to have little conversations between the people, where I modelled saying things that made people feel happy, sad, cross, whatever, or that were said with that kind of emotion, and turned the faces to match. This sometimes took a bit of quick thinking! I had lots of requests to “tell a story with the faces” to the point where I ended up hiding them away for a while. I’d often be asked to repeat the exact same story, and I couldn’t remember what I’d said the first time! That child is big on conversation and oral language, so the Little Faces were popular for a good year or so. I haven’t really had them out since , they got packed up for moving cross-country and have mostly stayed buried. So I don’t know how well they would have gone with the less conversational child, or at later ages. I may have to find them, put them out on a shelf and see if the kids will model their own conversations or if they can recognise the emotions drawn.

Extras: Kid 2 really wanted to make their own set of these, but it didn’t happen. It’d be a good craft project on the holidays now that the kids are a little older and I’m more patient with their attempts at gluing. As to using the set, getting the kids to tell their own stories – or to retell things that happened – would be interesting to try. I also see a good role for these in talking about how saying different things can change the face (feelings) of other people, now that Kid 6 is beginning to negotiate schoolyard politics rather than just blundering into them by accident and Kid 4 is having to deal with the politics despite being mostly oblivious.