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.
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.
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.
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.