Gods’ eyes

What: The “gods’ eyes” that were a Big Craft Thing to make when I was a kid.

How: Kid 3 and Kid 5 went out into the garden with instructions to find two sticks, reasonably straight, “about yay long”. I had to assist them a little with assessing whether a given stick was strong enough or too thin or thick – understanding the relationship between “width” (diameter) and area of cross-section is a long way off – but they could do length fine. I got out my box of miscellaneous wool and let the kids choose an initial colour. We crossed the sticks, I tied on the first end of the wool and showed them how you go around a stick, then on to the next and around that, and keep going. When you get to the end of a piece of wool, pick a new colour and tie a new length on.

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Kid 5’s piece, decorated to be “a compass”, with mine and Kid 3’s in the background. Hanging was just a matter of wrapping a string around the same way.

You’ll find better instructions than mine online. What’s more important for you to know is that this was *hard* for the kids. Kid 5 is spatially-challenged anyway, all directions are identical, subjective and meaningless, and Kid 3 is a fiddle-fingers who can’t *stop* turning things around in their fingers. Even though the steps of a Gods’ Eye are simple, they rely on you doing them the same way consistently over and over again. So I spent a lot of time droning the rhythm at the kids – over, around, over again, across to the next – and helping them remember which way they were going so they didn’t unwind their hard-won earlier work or just do the same two spokes over and over again, or switch from looping over to looping under, and so on. Holding the wool at the correct tension was also tricky – it’s a skill you expect a kid to maybe begin to learn at this age, but my two hadn’t learnt it yet. The idea that you had to keep making sure the wool was tight enough and not hanging floppy every time you looped it was a bit tricky. But, they got there in the end. Kid 5 did quite a credible effort. Kid 3 did sufficiently well for them to be proud of their work, and enjoyed it enough that nine months later (as a kid 4) when they had to take something they’d made to school for class “news”, they remembered the Gods Eyes and asked to make a new one to take along. And that effort was distinctly better and easier.

Extras: On the face of it, this activity is just about manual dexterity, manipulating sticks and wool in space, the textures of wool and wood, feeling and holding the tensions steady – getting a feel (literally!) for textiles. It’s the sort of thing you do before you go onto knitting because it’s so much bigger in scale than little needles. A related activity would be back-and-forth weaving on simple looms.

Where this activity jumps into the extras though is in cultural awareness and in religion. Gods eyes were a big thing in the 80s. When Kid 4 asked to make one for school I went looking them up to see if there was another name for them, because as a non-Christian family in a very multicultural school I didn’t want to have to defend Christianity in a discussion about religious materials. Then I realised that their actual name was Ojo de Dios, they weren’t originally Christian, and that the 80s had blithely appropriated a really interesting cultural artefact for the sake of something “pretty” (how unusual /sarcasm/). At any rate, I attempted to teach Kid 4 the Spanish name and that they came from Mexico for the “news bulletin”. So depending on the age of your kids, going at some level into the cultural history of these is quite interesting.

From a pagan and religion POV, I quite like them. They are similar to Buddhist prayer flags or prayer wheels – physical prayers activated by movement. There are some conceptual similarities to the little icons of saints that people used to carry or have on their mantelpiece (and many still do). Making them is a lot like walking the medieval labyrinths, those pilgrimage substitutes, with the same kind of meditative repetition. As a mindfulness activity it’s quite fun too. I will bring these back into my pagan teaching at some point, when we discuss focus objects and how people use objects (and their making) to focus magic or prayer, and also as part of the ideas of sacred landscape and conscious journeying. They’ll also no doubt be a good example of the “cultural trappings” of magic, because the colours had such important meanings in a long-ago-far-away culture but now we might assign quite different meanings and have access to a different range of colours so the “meaning” or “intent” is not a universal constant.

Year of the Snake

What: A red and gold snake wall decoration for the Chinese New Year.

About: This is something I did with Kid 3 and Kid 1 back in the Year of the Snake. We were making a point of noticing seasons, seasonal festivals and changes throughout the year in that age bracket, partly because we’d moved to a new state and new climate, and also because that’s part of my basic grounding in druid practice.

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Year of the Snake wall decoration made with plastic plates, marker and alphabet stickers.

How: I got a pack of red plastic disposable plates from the supermarket and we each decorated a few plates, then I put them on the wall under the supervision of Kid 3. I wanted something gold for decorating and couldn’t find any gold markers or stickers except for one pack of alphabet stickers. Between that and the black marker we managed a few random decorativenesses, with no particular structure other than sticking to the traditional colours. I cut a couple of the plates to make the extra shapes. Kid 3 did this with some enjoyment, Kid 1 with a minimal engagement before wandering away to their own devices.

Year of the Monkey

What: A picture of a monkey, using gold doilies as a belly / focus and adding in other features.

About: Each year I’ve tried to do an art or craft activity related to the Lunar New Year festival. We live in an area that has a high population of non-Caucasians, and many of our local businesses either take holidays or hold special events for the New Year. The activities are intended to be a chance for us to talk about stuff as much as anything, setting up the beginnings of cross-cultural understandings. This year, the beginning of Year of the Monkey, happened to fall in the middle of our worst heatwave for the season. So instead of my planned very messy fireworks paintings (which I may still do next week), we went to the air-conditioned local library and did work with textas and glue and other safe-in-public materials.

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Our three monkeys. L-R: Kid 4, who attempted to mimic my discussion of monkey face shape and who worked out that you could colour in the spaces in the doily; Kid 6, who tends to work from stereotype/rule as much as possible but did venture out a little to play with the idea of fur and fringes; and my monkey, which was mostly me keeping my hands busy while we talked.

How: We found a book with pictures of monkeys in it in the kids’ non-fiction section – involving discussion of how the books are grouped by category so first we have to find all the animal books, then we look at each of those books to find one with monkeys in it. Kid 6 is the one who really needs to practice categorisation, but this time they got the idea much faster than Kid 4 (who hasn’t tried to find interesting books on those shelves before). Then we looked at all the pictures of monkeys. We glued the doilies down – I’d had them in my craft materials drawer after seeing them in my local supermarket one day – and the kids drew whatever extra bits around the belly they felt like. As we worked, I referred back to some of the monkey pictures and we talked about what the monkey faces actually looked like, how drawing zig-zag lines instead of straight lines made it look more like fur, whether or not monkeys had tails. Whatever kind of came up in discussion – the point is to talk as much as anything. We also talked about the festive colours of Chinese New Year, the dragon art project Kid 6 had done in school that day, where and what Chinatown is, when Kid 6 can wear a Chinese dress – again, whatever came up out of their random thinking.

Extras: I’m thinking I might follow this up at some point with either a drawing exercise where we only use zig-zag lines, or with another trip to the library to pick a different animal to look up and work out how to draw. Both of those aspects seemed potentially interesting/useful. The other obvious follow-on is to try using a doily as a stencil, colour through the holes and then lift it to see the pattern.