May 20, 2009



Be seeing you in two weeks my lovelies!

Oh, and it's been a year since I started this blog, tomorrow I think. Soooo glad that I did. I've met some lovely crafty people online through it. If you're thinking you might like to start a blog, but aren't sure you have the time to dedicate to it, just give it a go. I started this one with the plan that a couple of posts a month would be enough to keep a little family diary of our kiddy craft fun. I have ended up finding the time for many more posts than that, although I still haven't put all our projects on here. I don't think I could find the time to get them all blogged about, but I still feel happy about what has made it up on here, and even more happy for the feedback and occasionally hearing that someone else has given these projects a go after seeing them here.

Anyhoo blogpeeps, back with you in June for some more messy mayhem and general filth wizardry (and to catch up on what's been happening in your blogs too). Have a good two weeks!

May 16, 2009

Origami for preschoolers

Notice this isn't origami BY preschoolers. I'm not that ambitious/insane. There are however a load of simple origami bits and bobs that are pretty easy to learn that the kids love to play with once they are made, so I thought I'd share a few with you that have been repeated hits with my two.

1. Paper aeroplane.
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. I'm not going to show you how to make a paper aeroplane because there are a zillion ways to make a good paper aeroplane that flies well and usually the way you make one has been passed down from your parents or older siblings.

2. Paper boat.
Now I know there are a few different types of paper boat that you can make too, but this one I think is great! It's really simple and I've been making them for the kids to play with since they were tiny. It's easiest to practise the first couple with a big bit of rectangular paper like a sheet of letter or A4 printer paper, because those are easy to do the last step of turning it inside out with. Here are the step by step pics to show you how to make one...

This shows the method for turning the folded boat inside out to finish it. Fold out one end of the boat and then turn it around and fold out the other end. Once it's turned inside out like this, it's a rather sturdy boat. You have to be careful not to either rip the outer edge of the boat or the pointed ends, so just turn it out slowly and it should be fine.Once you can make the bigger ones then it's easy to make smaller ones too.You can make them out of wax paper or tin foil too and they are good for a bit of bath time fun, or paddling pool, or on a lake. Despite being paper they hold up pretty well as long as you don't dunk them. 3. Paper shirt.
I've been making origami paper shirts since high school days, usually out of used up tobacco packets (I used to smoke in uni). It was one of the first origami bits I tried to entertain my kids with at a restraunt one time and they were happy to decorate a paper shirt with pens for quite a while. It would be fun to make a pretend clothes line in the house and peg them all out with mini clothes pegs.

I won't show you how I make them here, because there is already a very nice tutorial showing things clearly on Alphamom here and they use them to make very sweet fathers day cards. I make the sleeves in a more simplistic way by just folding them out like below, but the shirt comes out looking pretty much the same.
4. Paper basket.
I only saw the instructions for this yesterday here and it was what made me think I should post an origami blog entry. It's a fab way to make an easy origami easter basket. The kids thought these were really cute and once we'd made some they had a lot of fun playing with them as cable cars. I might have to make them a cardboard big wheel toy and use the baskets as seats on it, so they can give their toys rides at the fair.
5. Paper stars
A freind in high school taught me to make these. Thank you Po Yu! They are very simple. Here is a video showing the technique. It's very quick to make a lot of them.

Sometimes lots of teeny ones are fun for the kids to play with and sort into colours etc. I think I might make 26, each with a letter of the alphabet on each for the kids to arrange in order or make a game out of them. It also works out well making large ones from strips of butcher block paper for the kids to decorate with pens. They make cute ornaments. I think we might do a decorative craft with red, white and blue ones come 4th July.
6. Paper boxes.
Origami boxes can range from easy peasy to rather complicated. With younger kids it's best if something like this is the quick and easy version because you know it's not going to last long being played with. This tutorial shows a nice simple origami box that it doesn't matter if the kids squish in five minutes flat (they like pretending those are beds for toy animals and for collecting and sorting all manner of nonsense).I really like ones like this for gift boxes though.

I like EASY origami. I taught myself to make a crane from an online tutorial a while back, but that's about as complicated as I've got. I like to make modular geometric origami too, but the kids are a bit young for playing with those at the moment.

Most of the lower level origami animals often look nothing like the animal they are supposed to, so the kids aren't going to be that enthralled with them, but the items that I posted above have uses beyond being ornaments, so the kids seem to get a lot more out of them.

It makes me happy to see a piece of paper become a toy and of course they are recycleable, so you don't have to landfill them when the kids break them or get bored of them! It's also very very easy and unobtrusive to have a pack of origami paper, or any paper for that matter in your bag for emergency entertainment value. I've made stuff out of receipts before now.
Do you have any origami toys that you make for your children? I'm always keen to widen the repertoire!

May 15, 2009

Amateur birthday cake decorating

I just wanted to share a few pictures of some of the birthday cakes I've made for my girls and see if any of you reading want to share links to cakes that you have decorated, because several people have remarked on how they think my home made cakes are nice, but would never attempt anything so "ambitious" as to decorate their kid's cake themselves.

I'm not a great baker and I have no training in decorating cakes and it's not even really that labour intensive, so I'm wondering what it is that intimidates people who would like to try making their own family cakes but shy away from it.

The cakes I have made are decorated in the most unproffessional way. They always end up looking very homemade, but they are fun and taste pretty good and I think that's all that matters really.

I bake trays of chocolate brownies with an extra egg, so they are more cakey than stodgy, but not as flimsy and fluffy as an actual cake recipe, so easier to spread icing on. I sandwich them together with raspberry jam and chocolate spread and ice them. It's pretty quick and having the cake be heavier like brownie means you can make smaller slices and hence a smaller cake (although my hub's work mates usually get half a cake the day after anyway because I always seem to over cater).

Then I get to figure out how to decorate them, which is the fun bit. The only pre-requisits my family have is that it's got to be chocolate cake and we don't go for thick fondant icing or the super sweet shaving foam type icing either.

So here you go, if you fancy forgoing the store bought cake but are afraid of what having no clue about cake decorating might result in, fear not! I also have no clue what I am doing, but it kinda works out anyway (temptation to make a parenting analogy).

Very hungry caterpillar. Last page in the book (favourite book at the time). This was just white chocolate icing that hardened enough for me to paint on it with food colouring. Here it is before painting the food colouring on...

and here it is after...

Train cake for my daughter and her best freind who had a joint party that year. That was painted white chocolate icing again.
The Angelina Ballerina one was baked in a disposable roasting tray from Safeway. The icing was cream cheese this time with the decoration piped onto it (I sketched it out on the cream cheese with a BBQ skewer before having at it with the black piped icing just to be sure it would fit) The Gruffalo cake was the trickiest I guess, because I made the spikes on his back and his orange eyes from marzipan, but decorating this still only took about two hours/two and a half hours total late in the evening. The background was cream cheese icing that I coloured blue, green and yellow before spreading on and then I piped on the gruffalo on top with chocolate icing. "What's a Gruffalo? A Gruffalo, why, don't you know?"

Pirate-superhero-mermaid cake, which was made up of four trays of brownies and cream cheese icing. The superman logos around the side are party favour rings that I smooshed in, so the kids could lick the icing off and keep them. The mermaids are just polly pockets rammed into the cake up to their waists and then tails piped on with icing. The island in the middle was some stacked up pancakes with jam holding them together (weird I know, but it worked).I never shell out for cake boards either. I just cut corrugated cardboard from in between the pallets at costco and put one layer over the other at right angles to give the corrugation strength in both directions and then cover it in aluminium foil or plasticy wrapping paper for moisture proofing (just make sure it fits in your fridge. Yeah, I made that mistake once).

I guess I just wanted to post about these cakes to encourage people to have a go and not feel that they have to know secret baking/decorating techniques to accomplish this. Everything I made above was done using the age old technique of flying by the seat of ones pants. The kids are going to like cake whatever it looks like and when they grow up they will look back at their birthday cake and know that you made it just for them.

I know loads of you already make and decorate your family birthday cakes, so, if you have done and have blogged about it then please do post a link in the comments, because I'd love to see and hear about the cakes you have made :) or any unusual tips on cake making and decorating that you have discovered too.

Of course it doesn't always work out. My second daughter had the most bizzare first birthday cake, because we had just found out very suddenly that we might have to move back to the UK within the space of a week, so her birthday party at a local playpark had a strange kind of trifle cake thing that was made up of whatever fruit was in the fridge that needed to get eaten, a tin of mandarin segments and some jello packets and brownie mix that we had to get rid of prior to fleeing the country. Sadly I don't have a photo of that monstrosity. I don't feel bad about it because, well, even the proffessionals screw up.

I do have a photo of her at that party with her head taped up from a fall a few days earlier where she was running from big sis playing and cloncked her head on the hinge of a door.
(maimed birthday girl) + (medical glue) + (job loss) +(visa fiasco) + (emergency house moving) = lame week.

Ah well, all turned out ok in the end. We were able to stay in the US and for her second birthday she got the Gruffalo cake (again favourite book at the time).

Lastly, I got asked to make a diaper cake a couple of years ago for a mate here in the US, for her baby shower. I'd never heard of a diaper cake before, but after having it explained to me I did manage to make one and rather enjoyed the challenge too. Apparently, according to my mate, some of her relatives saw it from a distance and thought it was a real cake. Ha ha! way to disapoint myopic party guests!

May 13, 2009

A load of cobblers

Or "The elves and the shoe maker".

We went on a shoe mission the last couple of days. Remember the paper shoes from a while back? Well, the kids loved that, so I thought we'd investigate a few other ways to make some play shoes.
I mentioned wanting to try and squish some tin foil onto a pair of regular shoes to make sparkly genie slipers at the end of my tin foil dress up post last week. We did have a go at that and the kids stuck a load of jewels and pom poms on them. This is how they ended up. Don't worry, the shoes underneath are undamaged.
Ages ago I saw a post on Earth and Living about making leather viking shoes for adults and that got me thinking that I'd love to let the kids make some with felt or craft foam, so we tried that too. I measured and cut out the pattern from one sheet of blue craft foam (great instructions on how to do this in the tutorial here) and the kids coloured them, then it just took a pipe cleaner to tie all the toe pieces together and a pair of old laces. I glue gunned the heels together. They would be more durable if I'd made them from felt, but I wanted the kids to be able to colour them in.
Lastly, I had nine kids over on Tuesday and we made cardboard and pipecleaner flip flops. Now you have to help me out here, because I saw this idea on another blog a little while ago, but I've searched and I can't find where it was now. I know it was a mum that did this with two children and it really was exactly what we've done here (cardboard, pipecleaners and beads), so I'd love to link to her and give her credit for what was a totally fun craft for a lot of kids. Anyone know who I'm talking about?
LiEr made some cardboard shoe templates for her kids to practice tying laces with recently, but awesome as that is, it's not the post I'm thinking of.
Gah, why does my brain fail me in this way? (shhhhh, not lack of sleep surely?)
Anyway, I'll update the post when I find the illusive blog link I am referring to.
LiEr found the link for me! It's from Ramblings of a Crazy Woman. Here it is! She credits Teaching Two, so go have a look at these two links to see more of this craft! There are also lots of versions of flip flops on the intertoobs made by kids using craft foam for the soles and ribbons as the straps.
I drew around the kid's shoes and cut the soles out of more pilfered Costco cardboard with my trusty exacto knife. Only six pairs cut out in this pic. We had three more kids arrive and join in later. I labelled the backs of the soles with the kid's names to avoid confusion.
The kids then coloured in their shoe soles with markers and crayons.

Once that was completed (and luckily for me, everyone finished at different times), I got them to stand on their shoes, while I poked holes in the cardboard with a wooden skewer where the straps needed to go (two holes close together in between the big toe and the second toe, and another two holes, one on each side of the foot. Then we threaded a pipecleaner up through the two holes between the toes and twisted it a few times to secure it. The kids added some beads onto the pipecleaners and then I threaded the ends into the holes at the sides of the foot and taped them down on the underside to finish the flip flops

Here are eight of the nine pairs (one was still being worked on)

This was a really good project for a lot of preschoolers at once (aged 3 to 5). They were all very proud to have made their own custom shoes to take home.

May 11, 2009

Volcanos and Earthquakes!

We've had a geology and plate tectonics binge lately. Partly at my mate Jeni's house with some older boys and partly at home with my girls and some of their other friends too.

Jeni is my inspiration for delving more into science with the kids at an early age. I don't really expect them to grasp fully the concepts, but just enjoying the process and gaining the vocabulary and the gist of the science is a fine start as far as I'm concerned. The six and seven year olds really get it and the younger ones partially get it and are swept up in the fun too, so it's a nice experience for everyone.

We had an afternoon long play date at Jeni's house with some more of their friends from three years old up to seven years old. This post is only going to have some of the things we did with the kids. Not all the things we did, because I think there were something like fifteen projects for them that day! and I don't want to hog the blogspace here with too much older kid stuff. Maybe I will have the gumption to get another blog going for the science related stuff at some point, because we've had dinosaurs/robots/medieval technology and electricity and magnetism since Jeni first invited me to help out. Also, there are some pictures in this post from further experiments we did along the same theme at home a few days later with some more of our friends.

Firstly, here is a floor puzzle I made for the kids to put together, showing all the earth's tectonic plates. It's a printed out image tiled together onto cardboard I pulled from in between the pallets at Costco, edged with electrical tape and cut up with an exacto knife. Yep, there's my cup of tea that I need to get anything done. I have one sat right by me at this moment in fact!
I was amazed that all eleven children worked together on this with mini printed images of how it should fit together. It was more team work than I could have ever hoped for! I also found a strange globe for $3.99 in Savers that was completely white with the countries drawn on in black outline. I have no idea what it's intended purpose was, but it was great for me to draw the plates on and label them for the kids to see how the plates from the puzzle fitted together in 3D space. To emphasize this concept, we hard boiled eggs and then let the kids roll them on the table until they cracked showing plates like those on the globe. Some kids managed to squeeze the eggs enough that a crack in the white made some liquid yolk ooze out like magma. Another project I put together for them was to test building structures and see what was strongest and most earthquake proof. To do this I built a quick and easy shake table out of a tray, a piece of scrap wood, some nails, some clips and some rubber bands. Here's the diagram showing how it all fitted together to suspend the wood over the tray on the rubber bands. Moving the tray slightly sets the suspended wood wobbling. The hubster was planning on making us an electrical shake table that we could build lego on with a variable shake dial, but his wisdom teeth extraction intervened and a quickly thrown together manual shake table had to do.
The kids built various wooden block structures on the shake table and saw which was strongest. Short/Tall, Weight low down/Weight high up, then we tried some base isolation, using dish sponges, talcum powder and later Jello to separate the buildings from the "ground". The kids thought using Jello was hilarious. It definitely proved a point though, because the structures on the "isolated bases" really did withstand more shaking. My two have enjoyed playing with the table at home quite a bit, having competitions building towers next to each other and seeing whose falls first in a quake.
I made a tonne of home made play dough for us to roll out and layer up and see what effects pushing and squashing had on the shapes of the layers of sedimentary rock. All the kids liked that project too and when we were done we used the play dough to make baking soda volcanoes.

I'm from the UK and I'm not sure if the baking soda and vinegar volcano is just a big thing in the US for kids or if I led a sheltered upbringing back home, because I'd never heard of it until I came out here and learned that it's a bit of a school science fair cliche for Americans. My kids thought it was the greatest thing since ice pops when we did this at the beginning of the year and the novelty hasn't worn off, so we keep doing it. I set them up with some cardboard to make a cone and we stuck the cone over a couple of old vitamin tablet bottles, stuck it down with play dough and then for a laugh they endangered all their toy animals at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The next day they took turns with their friends putting a table spoon of baking soda and a little water and food colouring into the bottle, then pouring on a quarter of a cup of vinegar and watching the eruptions.

Another one that the kids thought was great fun was the home made geyser. We used a laundry detergent bottle and some tubing and a bike pump, so that when you filled the bottle up about half way and then pumped air in with the bike pump, the pressure built up and the only way for the pressure to be released was by a cork blowing out and the water being pushed out in a geyser like spurt. I don't have any "operational photos" for this one though :( Just a diagram I drew and what the hodge podge looked like.
Of course, if you're feeling daring (Jeni was) and everyone stands back, you can always pop some Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke (and then run)...