May 27, 2010

Lovely makey people

Despite having lived in the Bay Area for nearly six years, we haven't been able to attend the annual Maker Faire until this year. It always seemed to coincide with the dates that we were back visiting in the UK. This year however we got to go and it was all sorts of fun!

I'm afraid I didn't take out the camera once because there was just too much cool stuff to be doing. Paul managed to snap a handful of pics with his phone, but that's all I've got to show you. If you'd like to see more photos from the event then there's some great ones here
We got one of the Sunday tickets that gets a whole family in for $50 providing you enter between 10am and 1pm. I don't even know where to start with telling you about all the interesting, inspiring and exciting stuff there. The kids loved the giant mouse trap, and we all were keen to see the coke and mentos display too. There were two indoor activity areas that the kids REALLY loved, well, three if you count all the lego that was out on the floor by the Bay Area Lego Users Group.

There was an area by a group called "Smile Pathway", who you can find at From checking out their website, they seem to be trying to collate ideas for those who teach outside the realms of a traditional classroom. We spoke to Sherry Hsi there, who was from one of the partners (Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley). They had out a load of simple musical instruments that could be made with household items. Very simple, but very fun, and they had plenty of materials for kids to make their own too. Sherri showed us how to make two very cute rubber band reed instruments, made with a couple of tongue depressors and a drinking straw. They are apparently called "sound Sandwiches", and there is a pdf instruction sheet here, provided by The Exploratorium (another partner of Smile Pathway, and the place that inspired us to paint a whole wall with glow in the dark paint).
We have made more of them this week for other kids that have been over (with popsicle sticks, but my friend, who is a vet assures me she can get me some tongue depressors to feed this habit).
The other big hit with my kids (especially my five year old), was the "Tinker your way out of this 2.0" set up, run by Gever Tulley of Tinkering School. They had five different challenges for kids. Challenges that could be completed in a number of different ways, and that could be taylored to various different ages. My five year old spent a good half an hour to fourty minutes working her way through these and loved it! She definitely felt the strain when her suspended peg contraption broke a number of times, but Kudos to her for sticking at it and making it strong enough to hold an extra two weights for bonus points.

I really liked the whole set up there. It's the kind of environment where my daughter feels like she gets it and belongs. She's allowed to say "I can do that" and take the pen off the guy in charge to write her own name. She's even allowed to deliberately electrocute herself and then giggle maniacally (she wanted to do it again!). She was super proud to complete all the challenges and her prize was all the bits to make an LED throwy. Something that she got to make at the mini Maker Faire that I blogged about here. I've just noticed, that's the post where I "met" Kami, who now runs Austin Tinkering School (Kami, read your comment on that post and see how far you've come girl!)

I wish I'd taken a couple of pictures of how into this my five year old was, but luckily it didn't matter that I missed that opportunity, because Gever Tulley was busy taking his own photos and a cute one of both my kids popped up in his Flikr set from the event. Look at the concentration on that face! My younger daughter, who turned four in March, only did two of the challenges before wanting to go see something else with dad, but she still got a bolt and nut for her efforts, which pleased her emensely (although I think the game of "which hand is it in" by Mr Tulley was just as cool in her eyes). She wanted to stick it in our giant geoboard, but it's a bit too big. I suppose I should really get the drill out and make a bigger hole for it, because she was quite insistant.

Oooh! I just googled "giant geoboard" to quickly find the link to our project and look what I found! Dad Labs have done a video on making one based on our project! How cool! They contacted me to ask about if it was ok, but I never realised it was done.

I really should have said hello properly to Gever Tulley, only he looked so busy with everything and sounded a little like his voice might have been on the way out too (He did give a couple of talks also during the Maker Faire event). I think maybe my shy nature is to blame though for me not just shaking his hand and telling him how much I'm on board with his vision. Yeah, I'm kinda shy. Once you get me talking I'm not shy at all, but I'm just not very good at introducing myself.

Aaaaand in other exciting news... We bought a prehistoric scroll saw for $30. It's fabaroo! It's a gorgeous, ancient, affordable hunk of possibilities!

I haven't quite managed to establish whether there is a moratorium or an outright ban on turning the Nissan Dissapointment into an artcar yet.

May 26, 2010

Harmonograph experimentation

I've wanted for a long time to build a proper rotary harmonograph. One with gimbals and everything, pretty much like this one here (which is pure awesome), but it's a project that requires some time, some tools and some money, so it's been on the back burner for well over a year. I figured I needed to stop waiting and just make something that although not fabulous, would at least amaze the kids and not cost us anything.

I decided to opt for a solution based on this set up here. I didn't have a step ladder to use though, so I hung our dumbells from a beam in the garage. I just made a simple set up that was evenly weighted for the kids to try out. You can get different patterns if you offset the weights.

From one side of the dumbells I taped a paint stirrer with some pvc plumbing bits that would loosely hold a big fat marker pen, and on the other side of the dumbell I taped a metal ruler that had a couple of hacksawed bits of random tubing that would hold a regular sized felt tip pen. I figured this way the kids could experiment with different pens. You have to have something that doesn't grip the pen tightly because it needs to be able to move up and down freely in order to maintain contact with the paper.

This set up stayed in the garage for about a month with various sets of kids having a go at it and coming up with different works of art. The pattern that it formed was quickly referred to as "the watermellon pattern".

I do want to do this again with a better set up, but that's just the geek in me wanting to create a set up where you can fully and easily vary all the parameters, so that the kids can explore what effects those changes have. I'd like to try making one where the pen is static and the table moves before we try a set up where both do. I wonder if I'll ever get around to it. I have the attension span of a goldfish it seems!

The kids really did seem impressed with the set up and seemed fascinated by the rather hypnotic motion of the pendulum as it drew. They also loved the word "harmonograph" rather a lot too. I guess it sounds sciency. I like the idea of introducing "science concepts" in ways that pique their curiosity. So I guess this was an introduction to simple harmonic motion and pendulums without any mathamatics or pressure to do anything other than have a bit of fun.

If you want to involve some splatty paint to make pendulum art then check out Teacher Tom's pendulum painting art attack.

May 23, 2010

Music Wall (R.I.P. Music Tree)

Last year I wrote a little post about our music tree in the back yard. The kids had a lot of fun with it, but when it got to the rainy season here I brought in the musical bits, and for several months, the tree sat musicless and leafless in a soupy mud pit.
Fast forward a few months and the rain has stopped being so relentless, but when I went out to reinstate the music tree, I found that this dinky little apple tree that had never given us more than about five apples in total, was absolutely covered in tiny apples this year! Whoooo! I didn't want to put all the chimes back on and have the kids smacking all the growing apples with wooden spoons though. Dilema!
A short while ago Jenny posted about "music walls" and "banging posts" on her blog "Let the Children Play". She gave some great links to a bunch of different ones that people had made. You can find that post here.

Our landlord is in negotiations with our neighbour to replace a rotting fence between us, so there is no problem bashing a ton of nails into it over the summer. Long story short... here's our music wall... Broken xylophone, the old wind chimes and tambourines from the music tree, some bowls, pans and a load of sticks (wooden spoons or beads on wire sticks), plus a couple of the wire shelves from an old refridgerator that a neighbour was disposing of. Lots of clangy bangy goodness. All of the hardware used to fix stuff to the fence was lurking in the garage, so this didn't cost us anything to do. I honestly have no idea what these weird things that the chimes are hanging from are meant to be for. Something to do with curtains maybe? To hang the wooden spoons up I used a bit of electrical tape to stick a length of electrical tie in a loop from the end.
I actually like this much better than the tree, but I can't put my finger on why. Maybe it's having it all laid out like a giant instrument, rather than the randomness of the tree, but then I did like the randomness of the tree. Maybe it's just that it's something new. I'm always keen for change afterall. Here's the littlest lass to give you a demo...

Thanks Jenny for pointing us to all that lovely inspiration in your blog post!

Sorry to any of you that subscribe to Filth Wizardry and got a couple of non existant posts in your RSS feed yesterday. Blame my trigger happy keyboard short cutting while I was trying to consolidate all the unpublished posts I have lurking back here! Ooops, sorry! As the title of the non existent post said "Mmm, I love people" and I do, but all of that has been crammed into another post with some other stuff now, so be patient :) My mate is on the verge of labour with her fourth baby, so I will have a house full of children while she's in the hospital. My cunning plan is to hang them upsidedown from the ceiling like bats to fit them all in the bedroom overnight ;) Maybe a more reasonable solution would be to build a massive den in the livingroom.

May 18, 2010

Treasure tank

Just a quick one today. Nothing too involved ;) We don't have a paddling pool at our place for the kids, so I just let them play with water outside in a couple of storage containers and they seem perfectly happy with that. Today was a nice sunny day, so with five kidletts we filled the biggest storage box with water, added a bit of blue food colouring to make it look more oceanish, and then I gave them a load of random craft leftovers to throw in. We had some craft foam shapes that they could cut up or hole punch bits out of and of course those floated.

I also gave them some sequins and other random bits to chuck in, like some left over foam beads from the Dollar Tree. They added some sand from our sandbox and that made a kind of cool ocean floor. The littlest girls were really in love with the pretty floating flowers, and they managed to find a host of different things to do with this set up, the favourite of which seemed to be a make believe game of collecting sunken treasure on the ocean floor. I gave them some of the seives we have to sift the floating treasure with too, and they figured out that they could "suck" the floating treasure into the bottles we had in the recycling bin too, which was pretty cool.
It wasn't rocket science, but it was enough fun that I thought I'd share it here, because I'm sure people have a lot of random craft bits and pieces knocking around the house, that they just aren't sure what to do with. I'll pour it all through a collinder later and collect all the "treasure" for another go at it again some time.

May 15, 2010

Vacation and International postcard swap fun.

It's been quiet on our blog so far this month because we ran off to play in Yosemite Valley for a few days :) It was a lovely break that for once didn't involve the insane amounts of jet lag that the usual trip to the land of our fathers does. Like our trips to Wales though, we still got a great big healthy dose of natural beauty.
Here's me and the girls on Mother's Day at a motel outside Jamestown, on the way to Yosemite. I'm looking sheepishly happy about how much I am enjoying shelling pistachios with the kids whilst watching Superman II :) Notice that the Dollar Store dishtowel skirts of yore are still going strong, but due to rapid kid growth are more like miniskirts these days!
Yosemite was so much fun! Rainy with no coats, snowstormy in an unheated tent-cabin, but adventuretastic with all sorts of new experiences, like licking snow off the car, and building the world's most diminutive snowman.
Also the kids got to pee in a trash can so that we wouldn't have to take them out in the night into a snowstorm. Don't worry, I didn't take a picture of that. We found giant pine cones in the snow, and marvelled at the enormous and stunning landscape around us.
While we were out there we posted our five cards to our five allocated families as part of the International Postcard Swap organized by Zoe over at "Playing by the book". Because we were out and about the whole time, I ended up writing the cards myself, and then my five year old drew a rainbow on each (a rainbow from next to the waterfall). The kids clambered all over a fallen tree in a meadow on the floor of the valley while this was going on. You can see the top half of Yosemite falls in the background. This was our final day in the Valley and thankfully the sun came out to make it a toasty warm one!
We made it to the Yosemite Valley post office five minutes before it shut on the last day for mailing our cards (not that we were rushing to get there or anything, we just got lucky because we had no idea it closed early). Both of the girls want to send drawings to the other kids too, so I'll probably help them to send a letter too now that we're back home.

The last day of our five day vacation was spent down at Portola State Park, where the kids created a magnificent castle with a bridge over to it in the river. They really are fanatical little outdoor builders!

How big do you think they have to get before their dad can no longer do this without some kind of horrific stretch armstrong disaster? I've just noticed...there's the other dish towel skirt! I guess my littlest lass chooses to wear them quite often.

When we got back to our home we found four lovely pastcards from other families in the swap waiting for us. From Canada, Texas, Japan and Australia. Thank you to Rai, Deb and Simone, Ella and Agatha, and Cooper for the exciting postcard swappageness below.

We also had a really exciting package from Cleo and Miguel (not part of the postcard swap, just some lovely people we've been chatting and mailing thanks to blogland). They live in South Africa and among the lovely gifts in the parcel they sent were two gorgeous Zulu bangles, made from tiny seed beads, and the material that everything is on top of, which we are told is called "Shwe-shwe" because of the noise that skirts made from it create when you walk. How cool is that! Thank you Cleo and Miguel!
Thank you Zoe for setting up the postcard swap for us all. It must have taken a lot of organisation to pull it off, and it's very much appreciated :)