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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What: Putting textas and kids inside a box and leaving them there for a bit.
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.
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.
About: Tony and Bill take the rubbish out. Then they walk through the town, looking at the rubbish they find until they get to where all the bags of rubbish go. The pictures tell extra stories, of where rubbish comes from and all the crazy things we throw away. There’s no particular adventure – the main plot device is to gradually build up a sense of how much rubbish it all totals until you see it all at once. It finishes a little moralistically, with the two boys deciding that it’s up to them to do something about it – but that’s not a bad lesson, it’s just not a very exciting one. The book is published by North-South Books, who do a lot of gentler stories and whose books I seem to keep acquiring by accident.
Text and images separate for easy reading
Limited text good for reading practice
Complementary colours in watercolour give the pages a sense of vividness despite the thin colours and sunsetish orange-and-blue-based palette.
Several little jokes and bits of silly in the details of the pictures, including sequences from picture to picture
Environmental message that is relatively uncluttered (ahem)
Call to take action
Belief that we hold the power to change in our own hands
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.
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.
What: a two-layer picture on a clear plastic box, stuck to a window or screen door.
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.
What: Flower arrangements, using leftover / regifted flowers from a hospital stay.
How: When my mum got back on the plane home after an extended stay in a capital-city hospital, she didn’t take her bunches of flowers with her. One of the arrangements had been put into a large block of Oasis, the water-holding stuff that holds flowers and stems and leaves in place. I took all the flowers and greenery out, divided it into two as-equal-as-possible piles, and cut the Oasis in half so that each child had a piece. Then I let them at it.
Kid 4 and Kid 6 both quite liked the activity, regardless of gender assumptions, and we had plenty of conversation about whether you put tall ones together or in front of short ones, grouping colours (or not), what shapes different things were, what shape the arrangement was, how many flowers there were on some stems. Kid 4 put things where they wanted without a lot of consideration, until they were “done”. Kid 6 spent a little more time thinking about it and making reasoned choices, but not a lot more. They were both delighted with the results and had a great sense of achievement and ownership in making the arrangement, greater than I’d thought they would.
Extras: It’s really about the conversation and the visual results, so I guess doing this again I might think about what items I wanted to put on the table for them to arrange, though the idea is to re-use what’s available rather than getting new stuff so there’s not a lot of buying choice involved. We could be more specific about ordering from tallest to smallest or grouping by colour, and soon the older child will be starting to look at colour relationships. There’s also viewpoint – considering which way the arrangement was meant to be looked at (all around? just from one side? which side?). And also the idea of testing – put something in, look at it, decide to change it, take it out again and put it somewhere else. Both kids are at this point not very good at this – once something is done, it’s Done.