Winter leaves

What: Painted fallen leaves, arranged on the wall.

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The veining and shape of the leaves suggested spots to do different colours.

How: We collected fallen leaves from one of the local plane trees, choosing a range of sizes but mostly “the big ones”. Then I gave Kid 4 and Kid 2 each a paintbrush and a plastic takeaway container lid with some dobs of acrylic paint on it, and let them go for it. They mixed some colours on the tray, and others directly onto the leaf. I painted a few as well to get a bit of variety in colour and style. Once they were dry, we arranged them on the wall as if the wind was blowing them along. Kid 4 helped me with the sticking and enjoyed getting up on the stepladder to do it. So there were two activities here.

Note to people in other climates: here, leaves fall in winter – if they fall at all in this evergreen land. It just doesn’t get cold enough before then. So this for us is very much a winter activity. We also don’t get much of what people talk of as autumn colours – again, because even in winter it’s not cold enough to trigger the colour change in most of those trees that are famous for it. So painted leaves can be as close as we get, even if the colours are unusually fantastic.

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The drift of painted leaves lowing along the wall. I think we stuck them on with bluetack. I wasn’t too fussed about what it would do to the wallpaper underneath.

Extras: Talking about the seasons with the kids is something I have to do every autumn and winter – they are barraged with the cultural ideas of “fall” and “autumn leaves” and it’s not always obvious to them that the autumn they experience isn’t like that at all. Though as they get older they’re noticing it more. Our autumns – and indeed, much of our winters – means bright, bright flowers against brilliant hotly blue skies. Bougainvillea, trumpet vine, poinsettia, plumbago, umbrella tree – oranges, reds, corals, pinks, scarlets, light blues, purples all so vibrant. Autumn is also the time when the eucalyptus trees lose their bark and show their trunks in an amazing range of colours. So going on a colour hunt is something we should try doing (though now that it’s winter it’s too late for the tree bark!). There are other things to try with plane tree leaves too. This year we’re making a picture with the plane tree leaves, and I’ll put that up as a separate post once we’ve done it.

Grass seed picture

What: A picture “coloured in” with glue and collected grass seeds.

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The placing of glue and seeds is a little imprecise, though if you have the patience to do a bit, let it dry and come back for the next bit you can get more precision. We didn’t.

How: First, I and Kid 3 went out into the garden and collected seeds. We found different kinds of grass – there are several kinds of tussock and weed grasses in our overgrown back yard – and collected handfuls of seeds from each in different bowls. TBH, I did a lot of the prompting and collecting here, including sneaking back out and getting more of the kind that were most different, though Kid 3 thought they did it all. All with lots of conversation about the colour and size and differences. Then we went inside with our loot.

Inside, the bowls gathered dust sitting on the table for a day or two while Kid 3 “played” with them (i.e. talked about them to anyone who came near). Then I drew a picture on a piece of cardboard with big black marker (Kid 3 requested “a house”), and one section at a time we applied glue, then tipped seeds of a particular kind into the segment and spread them around with a popstick. I say “we” because glue and tippy things with a Kid 3 generally involves some “assistance” to make sure results match intentions (both yours and theirs). It took a couple of hours to fully dry, even though it was poked regularly to check.

Extras: You could do this with spices, or left over garden seeds from different kinds of plants – grass seeds have some commonalities, but seeds from the daisy/lettuce family or from the salvias or poppies or brassicas or umbrella herbs (parsley, celery, dill etc) can all be quite different in shape and kind while being similar within the family. You could draw patterns or shapes instead of a picture. And if picking the seeds together just doesn’t work out, taking a mixed bowl you’ve prepared beforehand and sorting or sieving them into different kinds might be fun too (depending on seed type).

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.

Food art plates

What: Morning tea or afternoon tea, sometimes lunch, served as curious and decorative plates.

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An actual picture rather than a decorative collection. Kid 3 has insisted on eating their snow peas disassembled ever since. Kid 5 was pleased that they recognised it as a picture and talked about it a lot. Only about half of the plate was eaten each, but it got them considering what they’d be willing to eat and making some decisions for themselves, which I try to allow within reason.

More details: Food art is one of those things that very occasionally you have time for, but mostly you just look at pictures of other people doing it on Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook and think “my gods, how does anyone have the time for that?”. And usually I’m in the latter camp. But occasionally I squirrelled away the time to try, such as when we were visiting Grandma. It let me give foundations for later concepts such as matching shapes, colour themes, presentation of “cafe” food that we were serving. It also broke up the routine just a little, allowing me to introduce or reintroduce unusual foods and combinations and try and keep the variation going. Because, you never know what they’ll be willing to eat when they’re caught by surprise, and all the gods know they’re not willing to eat just about anything you give them. The other thing it did was occasionally give *me* a creative outlet or break in routine so I didn’t feel totally stultified by the constant and relentless demands of toddlers on my attention and energy. So yeah, this is one of those things that made *me* feel better, which I then justified afterwards (though the reasons are still good).

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Stars. Star shaped flowers, bread with avocado, pieces of plum arranged with almonds. Kid 1 and Kid 3 were both amused at this. We also talked about how there was blue, red, yellow and green all together. Activities/moments like this let me get food into both of them despite one eating one thing and the other eating another. Over time they’ve learnt to negotiate with each other to swap bits, though they need more practice at that.

Back-of-the-door marble chase

What: A home-made marble chase, built by the kids, on the back of the front door, made from toilet roll tubes and cardboard boxes.

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Kid 5 testing the newest tube while Kid 3 cuts the next tube. The small box at the end was so that we didn’t have to keep searching everywhere for where the marble had ended up THIS time.

How: I collected a bunch of toilet roll tubes and set a couple of small boxes aside from the recycling pile. I taped one of the tubes to the back of the door with masking tape, and when the kids had gathered to see what their crazy mother was doing this time, I dropped a marble in the tube and let it roll out. Then I gnashed my teeth and rent my hair and bewailed at the insufficiency of it all and said it Needed To Be Bigger. The kids took over at that point. My main contribution was to insist that they did one tube at a time and then tested the chase with a marble, so they could decide if they needed to move the tube closer or tilt it more or what. Sometimes the testing had to be done several times “just to be sure”. Sometimes they’d have to change something further back down the line because the marble now had more speed when it got to that point. They worked out for themselves that they might need to cut the end of a tube a bit so that it would catch the marble better. Kid 3 and Kid 5 both did really well with this, though I did need to stick around – if I wasn’t paying them my direct attention they tended to wander off to find me instead.

Citrus prints

What: There’s a huge pile of lemons under the lemon tree at the moment. So when the kids saw Mister Maker doing citrus prints on TV, it became one of our summer art projects.

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Mid-activity.

How: We used a few different sizes of lemon, cut in half – I had helpers for the cutting to make sure there were several halves per paint colour. The paint was my standard acrylic, thinned with a little water and put on small styrofoam fruit trays for easy stamping. I picked three fluorescent colours this time. We each stamped over our page and let it dry, and then worked back into the design with permanent markers to emphasise the citrus shapes. Kid 6 insisted they wanted to do theirs exactly as they’d seen on TV and used a plain black marker, which gave quite a striking effect against the fluorescent paint. I used a range of coloured markers on mine to play with various effects. Kid 4 ignored this step completely.

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Kid 6’s final product.

Extras: While we were waiting for the citrus prints to dry, both kids helped me use up the rest of the paint with some finger painting. Kid 4 carefully built a complicated Star Wars narrative around theirs, layering in the story stroke by stroke. Kid 6 discovered that the paint was thin enough they could layer in the image handful by handful, and covered their whole page.

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My print, with multiple colours of marker and a variety of shapes drawn back into the print. I also allowed my shapes to overlap, something the kids weren’t quite sure was acceptable.