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!).

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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.)

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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.

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Under the table Cubby House

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

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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, 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.

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.