Suncatchers (party activities #3)

What: Suncatchers to stick on a window – one of the activity stations at our make-lots-of-art birthday party.

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One of the finished products. This also worked as a settling-down and quiet activity for a couple of kids who needed a slower let-down after the party’s main event.

How: I took overhead transparencies (remember those?) and cut them in half. I also cut out two rectangles of cardboard to use as templates. The kids drew around their rectangle in black permanent marker. Then they took any of the ruler shapes (a standard math set) and drew lines and shapes across their rectangle. Then they coloured in the result with coloured permanent markers.

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Individual works-in-progress.

More detail: I saw this on the internet, done with printable overhead transparencies and highlighters. The instructions were specific about using printable transparencies, because the print-side coating would allow the highlighter ink to stick. Problem is, who the heck uses transparencies any more? I finally tracked down one pack – one lone pack – in the whole of our big-box office supplies store, and they weren’t cheap but I bought them so I could use them for other craft projects in the future as well. I figured they’re not likely to become *more* available. However, when I tried this activity the night before, transparency manufacture has moved on and the “special coating” on these ones wouldn’t take the highlighter ink. Luckily I got a big pack of coloured permanent markers for Christmas, so I quickly removed those from all the art stations I’d already set up (they were for writing names etc) and put them on the suncatcher table. They gave much more vivid colours than highlighters, which I think was a plus. In future I’d just use those plastic sheets that go in files, because you can get a pack of 20 of them for under $3. Or anything else clear plastic!

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Cooperation and concentration with seven kids at the desk (plus one parent).

Party setup: It happened that we had a white-topped desk sitting in the patio outside, waiting for Kid 5 and I to fix it up so it can be his desk. A white surface does make things easier. I made one suncatcher and taped it to the middle of the desk so the kids had an example right in front of them of what those permanent markers were meant to be used for. I explained the activity to the first couple of kid 5s who came over, and they shared the instructions on (with occasional parent help). We easily had six kids or more working on this at a time, and being very cooperative about sharing the markers (it helped that there were about 16). This was the longest of the activities, the kids were quite focused about it, so each kid spent quite a bit of time at the desk. It helped that this was close to the balloon painting which kids could do a little bit of and come back to as suited, so that waiting wasn’t an issue for anyone. The other great thing about this was no paint, so no drying time, the kids could put them in their party bags as soon as they’d finished.

Other art party activities: sticky tape resist paintings, balloon painting, paint making and party bag decorating, and the cake.

Things to do with a large box, 1

What: Putting textas and kids inside a box and leaving them there for a bit.

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Box decoration in progress.

How: I helped a friend clean their spare room, and claimed a few of the large boxes that were otherwise going to recycling. One of them was big enough to fit both kids in. So I put it on the floor, asked them to both climb in, and handed them each their tub of textas. Then I found something else to do for a bit, because they were busy. Only for a bit, because that was a day where Kid 6 kept picking fights with Kid 4 because Kid 4 wanted to copy what Kid 6 was doing. But hey. You get that some days. Mostly they were fine in the box together. I’d seen this idea online for toddlers (seeing as then you know they aren’t drawing on walls) and thought these kids might be too big for it, but no, it worked great. They drew themselves steering wheels, and played “driving each other in the bus” for longer and more nicely than I thought they would.

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A well-labelled console is important.

Extras: Nothing in particular and yet everything, because it’s A Box. This box ended up becoming a bunch of other things along the way – see my next post. You could give a focus to the drawing if you wanted by suggesting what the box was going to become – a pirate ship? a sunken cave? a forest treehouse? a space rocket? – but I was happy just seeing what they came up with.

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.

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.

Pattern generation

What: A multicoloured pattern, similar to some wrapping paper designs.

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Shapes going diagonally to the right, coloured squares going diagonally to the left. A maths and art activity.

How:

  • We took an A3(ish) sheet of drawing paper and folded it into a strip, then folded the strip into a small square. When we unfolded it, there was a grid of creases in the paper.
  • In the first square we drew something small, an easily repeated shape, with a coloured marker from a tuned set of six. We then counted across one square and down one square and drew the same shape again, and repeated til we had a diagonal line that went down to the bottom of the page.
  • We then went to the second square, and drew a new shape in a new colour, and repeated this down the diagonal line. There was a little bit of fiddly explanation to show how the line “wrapped” around from the right hand side of the paper to keep going on the left – Kid 6 took this as a random nonsensical instruction and followed it meticulously, eventually beginning to get a glimmer of why, and Kid 4 (who is very pattern oriented) grasped the idea immediately but had difficulty with implementation. Both kids worked out pretty quickly that moving one over and one down always put you on the right of the drawing you did before.
  • We kept going until every square had a shape in it. This is where Kid 4 ran out of patience / thought their pattern was complete / decided they were Done, and where I encouraged them to stop.
  • Then, we took a new colour of marker from the set and coloured the right-most-top square’s background, and went one over-left and one down to make a new diagonal line. I took some care to try and pick a colour that wasn’t going to turn up in the shapes we were colouring around. Eventually Kid 6 worked out for themself that there was a repeating pattern in the shapes they were colouring around – e.g. orange, brown, blue, orange, brown, blue – and that some of the colours weren’t in each line at all. The idea was to keep the background colours wrapping around as well, but Kid 6 lost track of this and decided to do their lines in a symmetrical colour pattern (green – purple – blue – purple – green) instead of wrapping (green – purple – blue – green – purple – blue).
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Kid 4’s pattern, with just the shapes and no background to make it simpler/quicker. Kid 4 also made each diagonal its own pattern, with shapes rotating or growing or changing in size. They are a bit obsessed with patterns and I was OK with them playing with the idea of nesting patterns inside other patterns.

The whole thing took us quite some time, it was meticulous work, and a reasonable way to fill in part of an afternoon when it was too warm to go outside. I actually did this activity with each of the kids separately, having thought that kid 4 wouldn’t be up to that much drawing / colouring (which they hate) but that kid 6 would like the time working quietly with me and talking, and was quite able / needing to deal with 2D patterns instead of linear ones. However, kid 4 is competitive (they both are) and didn’t want to miss out on having a pattern on their gallery wall if kid 6 had one.

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Kid 6’s finished pattern, which they were very pleased with the appearance of. Tuned colour sets do help with the final result. 

Extras: In theory, if we used butcher paper instead of good drawing paper this could become our own wrapping paper. I suspect if it was a good enough piece I could probably digitise it and find somewhere online that prints wrapping paper too (Spoonflower?). We could do something like this again but with stamping and gluing paper squares instead of drawing and colouring, which would speed it up / make it a little easier on the non-drawing child (it’s a long time to grip a marker).  Spending more conscious time on the idea of nesting patterns would be interesting, to see how the results then changed across the whole grid. A related activity would be to tape paper around a cylinder of some sort, get them to draw lines around the cylinder and then untape it to see how the wrapping had mapped back to flat.

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.