It looks like we have an early start to summer with hot sunny days in the garden to appreciate our Spring flowers. Spending time outside has been a big part of our Discovering Spring unit as we explore life cycles (plants and insects), do gardening, make art with our flower press, and visit farms to see the baby animals that have been born.
It’s also a great time to explore making hand made body paint using a few simple ingredients. This is a messy play activity that is best done outdoors.
Materials (per colour)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon flour (or rice flour)
1 Tbsp water
A squirt of shaving foam
A few drops of food colouring
Spoon, bowl, paintbrush
Tip: We like using shaving foam in art; we also use it to make marbled paper. Used in this recipe, it creates a puffy consistency that can also be used for textured painting on paper. If you would like a smoother, more liquid consistency, use 1 Tbsp suntan lotion instead.
In a small bowl (or cup), place the cornstarch, flour, water, and food colouring. Add a small squirt of shaving foam.
Mix well until smoothly combined. Add a little rice bran oil or shaving foam if too thick.
Use a paintbrush to draw designs. A hand mirror is useful for kids that would like to do their own. Try looking for inspiration outside to create flowers, leaves, and insects!
I love the ExperisenseNZ Life Cycles box which I purchased for $27. I was inspired by our annual Spring unit on seasonal cycles, growing food and flowers in the garden, and observing garden mini-beasts. We were thrilled to watch the hard work we had done earlier in the year, creating new wildflower beds to support our favourite pollinators, burst into colourful bloom.
We wanted to preserve some of our flowers and were excited at the idea of buying a flower press to create seasonal art and gifts. A classic press seems to cost around $24 so I was thrilled to get the ExperisenseNZ kit which comes with a flower press and a number of additional activities.
What is the life cycle of a sunflower?
We love sunflowers with their stately and colourful beauty. It’s also fun being able to harvest their seeds; either to dry and sow again, or, to feed to the birds in Autumn.
The kit comes with a laminated life cycle wheel for discussing the sunflower’s life cycle stages. It also comes with a generous amount of sunflower seeds and some compostable pots to get you started.
We made marbled paper and then followed the instructions in the kit to make a beautiful butterfly life cycle. Our wall poster shows the stages from egg, to caterpillar, to cocoon (or pupae), to butterfly.
Tip: Spring is a great time of year to consider growing Swan Plants to watch the Monarch Butterfly life cycle in action!
What is a ladybug life cycle?
What I like about the kit including both Butterfly and Lady Bug life cycles is that the two insects look quite different to each other in their stages. They also differ in what they eat! For instance, a Monarch butterfly caterpillar will eat a huge number of milkweed leaves; whereas, a Ladybug larve will voraciously eat aphids, tiny worms, and insect eggs.
We liked the rainbow foil print on this life cycle so much that we decided to laminate it and add it to our resource collection (rather than use it for a paper plate craft).
How to press flowers
We very much enjoyed using our flower press! We used our pressed flowers to make beautiful bookmarks.
Tip: Gather a variety of flowers on a sunny dry morning. Check flowers for dewdrops (moisture will impact the drying process). Avoid flowers that are very bulky i.e. cut the tips from lavender or choose rose petals rather than a whole rose. Remember that wild flowers, like oxalis, can be as beautiful dried as garden grown.
Pressed flowers are a wonderful way of making gifts from the heart. They are also a wonderfully creative way for children to make personalised Christmas, birthday, or thank you gifts for friends, families, and teachers.
Gather a variety of flowers on a sunny dry morning. Check flowers for dewdrops (moisture will impact the drying process). Avoid flowers that are very bulky i.e. cut the tips from lavender or choose rose petals rather than a whole rose. Remember that wild flowers, like oxalis, can be as beautiful dried as garden grown.
Follow the instructions with your flower press to layer flowers between the drying sheets and screw the press tightly shut. I like to store mine in the hot water cupboard to help the drying process (which can up to two weeks).
Gently take the layers of the flower press apart and carefully remove the dried flowers. I like to lay them on a flat wooden tray. We use gentle hands but you may want to use tweezers.
Cut coloured carboard or cardstock to your desired size; we like to have a variety of colours to choose from.
Enjoy the creative process of arranging the flowers!
Once you have decided on your arrangement, you will need to fix the flowers in place. If you are going to use a laminator (as we did) then all you need is a glue stick – a gentle glue is all that’s needed as it’s simply to keep the flowers in place while the laminator pouch feeds through the laminator. Alternatively, use a strong fast-drying craft glue that will dry clear.
We arranged several bookmarks in each laminating pouch and then fed each A4 pouch through the laminator. This helps to protect the delicate dried flowers (and preserve them from future moisture).
We then cut the completed laminated sheets to size. We liked some of the bookmarks plain; with others, we cut holes with the holepunch, threaded through ribbons, and tied beads to the end.
One of the things I love about homeschooling is the way you can be multi-modal and explore areas like science or maths through art. Kids love to learn by being creative and hands on!
This is a fun and easy messy play activity that is cheap to do and makes beautiful decorative paper that you can use for upcycling crafts, making cards or christmas crackers, or to theme in with other activities. This green and yellow design was done to explore Spring and daffodils.
Spray shaving foam (about an inch deep) to cover a tray at least A4 in size.
Generously drip food colouring onto the foam.
Discuss first what colours you will use; it’s a good idea to start with 2-3 colours and build up from there (to avoid eager mixing creating a muddly brown!)
Ask younger children to predict what might happen when certain colours are mixed together; i.e. red and yellow (orange); blue and red (purple).
Press the paper firmly onto the foam making sure that all parts of the paper make contact.
Scrape as much foam off the paper as you can.
Leave the paper to dry.
Voila! You have beautiful marbled paper!
This is an all year round activity, however, you will want to adjust your clean up methods to the season! In summer, consider doing this outside in the warm sun on the grass – hose down your kids afterwards and peg paper to dry on the washing line. In winter, consider doing this in the garage or kitchen on top of a tarpaulin – have paper towels (or a hot shower) ready for clean up and lie paper on a clothes drying rack.
Sensory kids may have different parts of this activity that they like to participate in or watch. It’s a great idea to have some washable toys on hand that can use to play in the shaving foam once you’ve finished with the paper – this may be your kids favourite part! If it’s summer, consider letting them use the left over shaving foam to create a slip’n’slide on the trampoline or a messy ‘snowball’ fight.
The Inca civilisation had a complex administration system keeping detailed records of supplies, people, tributes, and stored goods. They also maintained over 40,000km (25,000 miles) of paved roadways with an State chaski messenger relay system.
As well as a rich oral culture, detailed records and messages were kept using quipus (kee-pooz). Instead of a system of written symbols (such as hieroglyphics or an alphabet), the Inca had a woven system of multi-coloured knots suspended from a central string. Different kinds of knots, their colour, and their position had different meanings that translated into a numerical system.
Creating a simple number cipher
To explore the concept of recording information without using a written language, we will begin by creating a simple number substitution cipher where A=1, B=2, C=3, etc. This will then get translated into a series of knotted beads.
Start by choosing a word that you want to record (such as a name); as in English, you will read this from left to right (with each letter being read from top to bottom).
Weave a simple plait to act as your top anchor; it’s a good idea to have a loop at the left end so that it’s clear where to start reading from.
Knot a piece of yarn to the top anchor (you can slip it through the plait before tying it to help make sure it doesn’t move). Attach the relevant number of beads to correspond with the letter you are recording and knot beneath them so that they don’t slide off.
Letters A – I (numbers 1-9) will be represented by a corresponding number of beads close to the top anchor (i.e. A =1 bead).
Letter J (10) will be be represented as a single bead further down the strand.
Letters K-S (11-19) will be represented by a single bead further down the strand (representing one 10) with a knot to hold it in place, an approx. 5 cm gap, and then a group of beads to represent the ‘ones’ (i.e. S/19 will be one bead = 10, and then a group of nine beads = 9), and a knot to hold in place.
Letters T – Z will be represented by two beads further down the strand (representing two 10) with a knot to hold in place, an approx. 5 cm gap, and then a group of beads to represent the ‘ones’ (i.e. Z/26 will be two beads = 20, and then a group of six beads = 6), and a knot to hold in place.
Keep following Step 3, with a separate piece of yarn for each letter.
Lily (12/9/12/25) = One top anchor with four strands hanging from it. Reading from left to right, these will hold the following beads: low 1 (10) + 2 (2); high 9 (9); low 1 (10) + 2 (2); low 2 (20) + 5 (5).
Sam (19/1/13) = One top anchor with three strands hanging from it. Reading from left to right, these will hold: low 1 (10) + 9 (9); high 1 (1); low 1 (10) + 3 (3).
Tip: Older kids may want to create their own variation of this code by creating meaning based on the colour, size, or type of beads being used.
Want to find out more about the Inca?
One of my favourite books is proving to be Inca Discover the culture and geography of a lost civilisation. It’s well laid out, has plenty of pictures and infographics, and (very importantly) it has lots of ideas for easy to complete projects to help develop learning. This craft is inspired by one of their projects.
Well, lots of things really. It also differs so much from family to family. One unifying factor tends to be the freedom and flexibility to embrace a learning style that works for your particular child (or children). We tend to do lots of hands-on project based learning that weaves together different disciplines. This project for instance encompasses literature, world studies, art, engineering, and problem solving.
This particular project references the Inca using rope bridges made of woven grass to cross narrow river canyons (such as the Keshwa Chaca – Quecha Bridge).
A shoebox or similar (We made excellent use of a KiwiCo box!)
Yarn or string
Craft materials for decorating the landscape (such as construction paper, markers, or paint).
Imagine your box is a deep canyon with a river at the bottom. You can decorate it pretty much however you like (from marker pens, to paint, to showers of glitter). We opted for blue construction paper glued in as the river, and crumbled green construction paper as a mountainous landscape in the distance.
Use a sharpened pencil to create a hole near the top edge of one side of the box (and a matching hole on the other side). I was delighted to find that my Kiwico box width was exactly the length of my pencil which made the whole hole making process delightfully easy! I was happy doing things by eye, but a ruler will come in handy if you’d like to be more exact.
Measure a piece of yarn or string so that it will travel from one hole to the other with length left over at each end. This will form one of your handrails.
Thread the yarn through the hole and secure it with a large double knot. Then thread it through the opposite hole and knot it again (check the tension to ensure it is tight).
For your second handrail, move along the box about the length of your little finger. Make another hole (plus one opposite) so that you can repeat Steps 3 and 4.
Now you’re going to make the bottom of the bridge. Imagine a triangle (base facing the sky). Find the mid-point between two holes, measure down about 5cm, and create a new hole (see photo). Create a matching hole on the opposite side of the box. Thread the string through and knot if off (making sure to keep it taught. I used a pencil on each side to help weight the bridge (twisting to add tension).
The final step is making the sides. Cut lengths of yarn (around 15cm). Tie each length to a handrail, loop it twice around the bottom, continue up to the other handrail, loop it around, and then knot. Techniques will vary; I opted to loop mine back and do two sliding knots on the upward slant of the ‘V’. Repeat this process until have traversed the canyon!
You can tailor this project to the age and interest of the children involved. A simple way to get them involved is by asking them, ‘What would you make a bridge out of?’ and then talking about their answer (and relating it to the real world if applicable – easy to do if they say wood, stone, or steel, trickier if they say marshmallow clouds!).
Ask them at each stage of the process what else they think the bridge needs. After explaining that the first piece of yarn is a handrail, they will hopefully start thinking about the other hand and the feet!
Give them a couple of toys to test the bridge as it is built. Explain that testing designs is an important part of engineering. They may well delight in seeing the figures plummet to the depths below and swim to shore to try again. We found the best ‘to scale’ figure was a Playmobil child crossing the river to meet a grazing Peruvian llama at home in its Andean highlands.
Life in New Zealand has changed rapidly. Our borders are closed, domestic travel restricted, our schools and shops closed, and we are asked to remain at home in order to restrict the spread of Covid-19. Cars are now to be used only for essential travel (the doctor, pharmacy, or supermarket) and people may only leave their house to walk nearby. Social distancing is everything.
Our big field trip for today was walking to the top of the driveway and drawing pictures that the kids in the houses nearby can see from their windows. Creating chalk, with a few simple ingredients from the supermarket, has been both art and science. It’s also a way to share a little love and kindness with the community around us.
Why not bring a little colour to yours?
How to make home made chalk
Waxed paper / baking paper
Sellotape or rubber bands
Note: Alternative ingredients include plaster of paris + tempera paint, or a 1:2 ratio of very finely crushed eggshell + flour.
Prepare your moulds. Toilet paper rolls are a good size; I find a bread knife does a good job of sawing longer cardboard inner tubes into parts.
Cover the bottom of your cardboard tubes with waxed paper and tape / elastic band into place. You then want to roll more waxed paper and slot it inside (you may need to trim to size).
Pour cornstarch into a bowl and then add food colouring of your choice. Slowly add water and mix well. You want to add just enough water to create a very thick [viscous] mixture.
Pour or spoon the mix into your moulds.
Pop into a hot water cupboard (or somewhere warm to dry). You want as much of the water to evaporate as possible to dry before use (about 24-48 hrs).
You can then removed from the moulds and let the kids have fun!
If you add too much water then it will have difficulty drying (and remaining contained within the moulds). Never fear! Treat it as a chemistry and physics lesson all-in-one for the kids. You have just created a non-Newtonian fluid 🙂 You can take your ooblek outside for messy play fun with the kids. Pour it into your hands and watch how it becomes a solid if you clench your fist but magically liquefies if you release the pressure!
Upcycling tin cans is a great way to get kids involved in Christmas gift giving (and it’s cheap!). They can be filled with craft projects, candy canes, coins, colouring pencils or pens, or seeds for the spring!
Whether you’re homeschooling, or just enjoy learning with the kids, it’s easy to integrate S.T.E.A.M. into this project. Skip to the end for ideas!
420g tin can (15oz), empty, washed, and dried.
Measuring tape (dressmakers)
PVA glue (white glue)
Prepare your tin can. Tip: Choose one where your can opener left smooth edges! Remove the old label (warm water can help).
Select your scrapbooking paper.
Use a flexible dressmakers tape to measure the circumference and height of your can (or a piece of string which you can lie against a ruler).
Once you have your measurements, mark out a rectangle on your paper. I like to add several centimetres (an inch) to the length and height of what I’m going to cut out as this allows a margin of error and means you can do a pretty fold at the top.
Wrap the paper around the tin can and make sure the pattern will align correctly with how you plan to orient the tin. When you’re ready do a vertical line of PVA glue (the residue of the old glue will give you an idea of how wide you want to spread your glue). Wrap the paper around and smooth it down. Add more glue where the end of the paper meets and overlaps the start of the paper.
If you’ve allowed an overlap at the top, cut a vertical slit (to the metal edging) at the four compass points. Apply glue to the inside of the paper and then fold down smoothly into the can.
Once the glue is dry, you can fill it with all kinds of things!
Learning through play
3D Shapes: Cylinders can both stack and roll. Compare this with other 3D shapes like a sphere (ball) or a cube (dice).
Measurement: Curved surfaces can be more challenging to measure – we can use a flexible piece of string to wrap around the cylinder and then lie it flat against a ruler or piece of paper. The curved face of the cylinder will transform into a rectangle when it’s drawn.
Fine Motor Skills
School skills are being practised with cutting and gluing. A fun way to practice fine motor skills is to fill the finished can with pom-poms and then fish them out with mini-tongs.
As well as choosing pretty scrapbooking paper, you could use a hot glue gun to add ribbons, lace, colourful buttons, and all kinds of things to your creation! Googly eyes and a marker pen make an easy face and then stand pipe cleaners / chenille sticks in the tin as hair.
We were fortunate enough to receive a free Rainy Day Craft Kit from Sensible Mind Creative. I loved the thoughtfulness that had gone into the packaging and presentation.
The kits are designed to be awesome and inclusive for special needs families as well as neurotypical kids. The instructions are colour coded for each step (with matching colour stickers on the corresponding craft materials). The instructions have lots of colour photos so that there is strong visual support. Honestly, this was also really handy for me as a parent!
The great thing about doing a craft like this as a homeschooling family is that you can work at your own pace. Some kids would happily spend a weekend working through the steps themselves (and allowing some time for glue to dry). We spent about three weeks on it – sometimes it actually was raining outside while we worked on a step! Miss 5 liked best the soft fluffy cloud and making the umbrellas.
I posted recently about making our own Christmas Crackers (bonbons). I also like making our own Christmas cards. It’s nice because it’s an activity in itself and you can theme it around your children’s skills / ages. Christmas stickers or stamps are good way place to start with toddlers; or save their paintings through the year and turn those into cards!
Christmas Tree cards
This year, I decided to print a Christmas tree template and trace around it on a sheet of green felt. I also picked up a shiny bag of beautiful decorations that included everything from stars, to shells, to butterflies, to Christmas greetings. I wanted to make Christmas tree cards that would let Miss 3 be creative and feel involved.
Christmas trees and decorations
Stickers / glitter / craft shapes
Card stock / paper
Craft Glue / P.V.A. / glue gun
Double sided sticky foam squares (like for scrapbooking)
Create a Christmas tree template on paper / cardboard. Trace around it on green felt and cut out all of the trees that you need. (An adult will need to do this for toddlers / preschoolers; older children may be able to do all of the steps themselves).
Blu-tak the felt onto a large sheet of baking paper. This helps keep them in place while busy little hands decorate them and also raises them off the paper a little in case the glue soaks through.
Glue the decorations onto the trees. Craft glue will need to set over night, whereas a glue gun has the advantage of setting almost immediately.
Make plain cards by folding the card stock / paper. Once the glue is dry, use the double sided sticky foam squares to attach the trees to the cards. These have a nice effect as they raise the tree slightly and make the cards look a bit prettier but you can just as easily glue the trees on if you wish.
Ta da! Now you have a beautiful collection of cards and each one is unique.