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!).

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.)

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.

Rainbow room

What: Decorating the room with “real” rainbows, made with CDs.

How: We chose a few spots by windows that get direct sunlight, and put old CDs there. The rainbows form throughout the day, moving, shrinking, appearing and disappearing with the sunbeams.

As an activity this takes no time at all, unless you do it as a discovery project (see Extras). The beauty of it is in what it does to a room that you’re spending a lot of time in. Our CDs are in our north-facing front lounge room, which is the warmest and brightest place for most of the day during winter. The rainbows brighten it even more. For us it’s purely a decorative thing, all of us love colour and find the rainbows peaceful.

Obviously this works best on a white ceiling, so please pretend ours is white and not covered in years of grime.


Extras: And, of course, there’s heaps of things you can talk about. We went through an accidental-discovery moment, which you could set up in advance to happen if you wanted to. First we discovered one of these rainbows that had formed by accident, and had to find what was making it. That took some conversation and exploring. Then we had to get some more old CDs to try making more. When that worked, we put them in windows – but the rainbows moved! And later when we looked again one of them had disappeared! The idea that things change over time, even if we’re not watching them or even when we are, is a basic scientific idea that kids spend a bit of time learning and reinforcement never hurts. Especially the bit about how you don’t have to be afraid of change because everything *does* change.

My kids aren’t old enough for me to bother with explaining the difference between diffraction (which is how CDs make colour) and refraction (which is how rainbows make colour). It’s enough to talk about how white light is made of all the colours and if you separate them out, that’s when you see the rainbow. Kid 6 worked out for themselves that this was a bit like when they looked through Mummy’s prism. Kid 5 also happily talked about times and places they’d found rainbows. We got to talk about the colours we could see, and whether they were distinct bands or blended into each other, and how many colours we thought there were. That’s always a good conversation, because kids get drilled early on the idea that there’s seven colours in a rainbow, and there totally isn’t. ROYGBIV is just the way it was written down some three hundred years ago by an early scientist, when we named common colours differently to the way we do now (cyan, anyone?). And it’s a handy acronym for remembering the order of colours, if you want to talk about how rainbows always have their colours in the same order, but beyond that its usefulness drops off quickly. (Yes, I have opinions on colour.) Add that to how kids get all kinds of weird-coloured rainbows on their toys and clothes, especially girl clothes, and they can come up with some fascinating and funny observations. Though I still don’t have a good answer to “Why isn’t there any pink in it?”. (I tried saying that it’s just that pink is “light red”, but that didn’t wash.)

Under the table Cubby House

What: A tablecloth made from an old sheet that converts the dining table into a cubby house.

Quick and simple. Mopping the floor first was the longest bit.

How: I had been wanting to make a tablecloth cubby house for ages. You can make them properly sewn to the right size (i.e. cubical with no baggy corners), and I imagined sewing on swatches of multicoloured fabric to make it look like an actual house with windows and doors etc. But in the end I opted for the simplest possible version. I had an old sheet that needed sides-to-middlesing but I’d never gotten round to it. A few minutes with marker pen and scissors, and the cubbyhouse tablecloth was done. I highly recommend drawing a rectangle on the top so that you know which bits of table and cloth to align.

I made this one December, just at the start of the six-week summer holidays. I thought the kids would enjoy having a quiet, enclosed space to play in every so often across the holiday season, be it together for a game or just on their own without anyone else in their face. Especially Kid 3, who would be starting kindergarten at the end of the summer and who definitely needed some practice dealing with their emotions while hiding from people. In fact what happened was that it was used a little bit at first and then not again for a while – it was hard to keep the floor under the dining table clean enough for them to want to go under, plus we kept needing to take the tablecloth off so we could do craft projects or playdough or other messy things. Making it this simply also meant it was a little vulnerable to ripping – despite the “door”, those windows were very tempting to climb out of! However, as an additional idea to keep kids busy or distracted for some random small time in a small space without a lot of outdoors options (this was heatwave season!), it was just fine.

Extras: This works quite well with the under-table chalkboard. I could also make another one of these, letting the kids be in charge – Kid 5 was quite keen on the idea of decorating it themselves with textas (in fact they did so), and Kid 7 would be quite eager to help with selecting fabrics and cutting shapes to make more solid decorations. I think I might have gotten more use out of it in the first round if I’d steered activities they could do inside the cubby, like setting up a tea party or putting colouring books in there. Kid 3 and Kid 5 weren’t quite able to generate enough ideas for things to do themselves inside a cubby.

Things to do with a large box, 2

What: Making a cave with a large box and spare LED light strings.

Is it a transmogrifier? Is it an electrocution device?? Is it a four-legged robot??? No… it’s a small, contained cave-like playspace with its two builders.

How: I had two Kid 6s come visit me, and I got them to help me make this. I found a string of Christmas lights that weren’t in use – really, any string of LED lights will do but I know many people have Christmas ones around. (The LED bit is important because it’s very low heat, so you don’t have to worry about fire risk when the lights get left on and forgotten.) We cut one end off the box to make an entry way (the end was coming off anyway after enthusiastic use earlier in the week, see previous post). I flipped it over and used scissors to make holes in the base at about the right distance apart to match the Christmas lights. With a little bit of preparation, the Kid 6s probably could have done this, or at least marked the spots for me to make the holes if I didn’t trust them to stab boxes with scissors. However, they arrived as I was beginning, so… they got the job of pushing the lights into the holes. It worked best if I made slightly keyhole-shaped holes, so that the lights would push through but not fall in once through. I did have to specify that they needed to take the next light in the string and not just any light. Once all the lights were in, we plugged it in and switched it on. Instant cool cave! Popular with all the Kid 6s, Kid 4 and the cats.

View from inside. I had a string of red lights to hand. I have a string of multi-coloured somewhere but I don’t know where.

Extras: Planning the placement of lights for patterns or colours or designs, letting the (older) kids take more of a lead on it and do more of the work. I’d actually like to make a large pegboard-type thing that you could wind a string of lights around to make a picture and then put it up on a big wall, but that’s a ways off coming into existence. My dream house has stuff like this in some of the ceilings. Maybe when the kids are teenagers I can convince them that installing Gyprock sheets is an important life skill.

Things to do with a large box, 1

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

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.

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.