The great thing about spending time with small kids is that they come up with all sorts of ideas for activities that we, as grown ups, probably would not have thought of. Last weekend, our youngest son, aged 8, mentioned that he would like to make cola from scratch. Other than lemonade, I don’t believe I have ever made a soft drink from scratch. Making cola would definitely be an interesting challenge.
Mr Pict decided to take the lead on this project since I was so busy. He googled and found a recipe, he took the littlest Pictling to the store to gather the ingredients, and then they set to making it. The mixture of citrus zest and juice and spices smelled wonderful as they cooked. It made me think of mulled wine on winter nights but I admit to cynicism about whether it would end up tasting remotely like cola.
Once the syrup was made, it was added to a glass and topped up with seltzer water. Our youngest son obviously got to be the first to taste it. He sipped and declared it was delicious. It actually was really tasty. It did not taste like cola in the way that Coke or Pepsi taste like cola but it did remind me of those glass bottles of old-fashioned cola you can find in places that also sell drinks like dandelion and burdock or sarsaparilla. The older brothers also approved. The experiment was a success.
Between our own road trip out west and the grandparents taking a brace of boys on a brace of vacations, we have not had a huge amount of time this summer for group activities. It is for that reason that I did no run a summer project this year.
One group activity we did do, however, was tie dying t-shirts. We decided to work outside so that we reduced the risk of staining things we did not want to dye and essentially reduce my stress levels. Since we have done tie dying before, this time I felt able to let all four of the boys take complete ownership of their shirts and complete the process for themselves from beginning to end (though I did do the laundry stage). My youngest son needed a bit of help with getting the elastic bands around his spiral folded shirt but otherwise they all worked independently. My oldest even decided to go for an ombre effect which was a style we had not attempted before.
Predictably, we did make a bit of a mess but that may have been because we were outside and knew we had the freedom to be a bit more lax. Blasting the patio area with a hose was all it took to make the dye puddles disappear, however. I think we will definitely do all future tie dye outdoors. I think the kids did a great job with their t-shirts and they seem pleased with what they created.
The Thanksgiving break gave us a healthy dollop of uninterrupted quality family time and that afforded the kids and I the opportunity to experiment with another arts and crafts activity. I had some little wooden peg dolls of various shapes and sizes and we each picked a few out that we customised. We used layers of acrylic paint and finally some paint pens for the smaller finishing details. Everyone had lots of creative fun and everyone was pleased with the results. My seven year old made a trio of aliens, including a large gold one; my 9 year old made Flash and a Scout and Titan from the anime ‘Attack on Titan’; my 11 year old made four ninjas; my 13 year old made a trio of little characters he decided were little demons or voodoo dolls; and I made the Bride of Frankenstein, a diminutive zombie, and a figure inspired by the portraits of Gustav Klimt.
After making sock monsters a few weeks ago, my 9 year old has been well and truly bitten by the sock transformation bug. Every few days he is looking to eke out time to sew a sock and turn it into something cuddly. I may have to create a security system for our socks soon to keep them safe from his scissors and needles. He and I are also making his Halloween costume. My sewing related stress levels are soaring yet somehow I keep encouraging him. Maybe some day he will be doing all of the sewing repairs in the household.
Most of his monsters have just evolved from the meeting of sock, thread and buttons but then he decided that he wanted to aim for a specific outcome. He wanted to make a Cthulhu. Mr Pict is into Lovecraft (and a board game called Eldritch Horror) and I have painted Cthulhu twice, despite not being a Lovecraft fan, so I guess that sewed the seeds of the Cthulhu plan.
He picked out a black sock with which to construct his Cthulhu and then he found a black glove (also in my sock orphanage) for the tentacled bit of the face. Orange and red buttons became the fiery eyes and he used some black felt for the wings. I think he did a fantastic job. The best praise he received came from his brothers who all declared it to be amazing and to wish they had a sock Cthulhu too. He was beaming from ear to ear.
PS If you like monsters crafted from textiles then you should totally check out the wonderful creations to be found on the CrawCrafts Beastie Blog. Helen’s Beasties are a monstrous marvel and an inspiration to my wee monster crafter.
One of our Summer “pot luck” activities involves each boy learning to bake a recipe of their choice.
The first to bake was my 9 year old and he chose to make banana bread. I probably make banana bread at least fortnightly. It is so simple and straightforward to make and it is impossible to fail at making banana bread – which is great since I am a pretty good cook but a pretty basic baker. I also like that banana bread uses up bananas that are so overripe and squishy that nobody is going to eat them so it prevents waste. I tend to make banana bread that contains either chunks of sticky date or chocolate chips but we had some surplus blueberries so my 9 year old decided to experiment with making banana and blueberry bread. It was pretty tasty and very sweet.
Next to bake was my seven year old. He elected to make Dulce de Leche chocolate cake from the Hungry Mum blog. Last time I made it, it was no chocolatey enough – though still delicious – but I have since got my hands on some better, more robust cocoa which made all the difference. My youngest did not have his patience tested making the actual dulce de leche: I already had one in reserve as I boil up several cans at once to speed baking up and then store them, labels off, ready for use. He was a great little pastry chef and followed the instructions given. His reward was getting to lick the spoons and bowl clean. We did end up overfilling the loaf tin but, since it was silicone, happily it expanded during cooking to accommodate the expanding cake batter. It was scrumptious and very sweet.
My 10 year old chose to make Tablet. Tablet – if you have not hear of it – is an incredibly sweet Scottish confection made from milk, sugar, and condensed milk. It is so sweet it makes teeth scream and gums cry. I do not, therefore, make it very often. However, I made some for my ten year old not so long ago as he was delivering a presentation to his class all about Greek mythology and decided that they should sample Tablet as a stand-in for Ambrosia. Imagine Zeus nibbling on Tablet?
Tablet is actually pretty simple to make. The real hassle is that it requires constant stirring for up to half an hour. The kids got fed up of stirring a pot of very hot sugary goop after approximately five minutes. This cooking stuff is hard labour, don’t you know!
It turned out we went a bit awry in our process (I said it was simple but apparently it is not foolproof) and probably let the sugar boil into too much of a syrup. The result was that when the tablet set it did so in a way that was still sticky rather than it becoming firm and smooth like fudge. Never mind. Since this batch could not be eaten as a bite size snack, we just had to turn it into dessert and serve it with vanilla ice cream.
Last but not least was my 13 year old son. Since he is older and a little more experienced, I selected a slightly more complicated recipe to work through with him. We made Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, a recipe I found on Cooking is My Sport. We found it a little challenging because I don’t own a mixer so we had to do everything by hand and the dough mixture became quite dense. He certainly worked his arm muscles stirring. I must admit that I was worried that we had allowed the butter to get too brown but my concern was unfounded as the finished cookies were absolutely divine. The flavour was incredible and they were just the perfect balance of chewy and crisp. I heartily recommend the recipe.
The boys loved our Picasso studies last Summer so were very happy when they pulled a slip of paper from the pot luck box inviting them to draw a favourite book, film, or television character in a wonky Picasso style. There is definitely something very liberating about not having to worry about accuracy of shapes and proportions when constructing a character. The key to this activity was, therefore, keeping enough of the character that would enable them to be recognisable while simultaneously having fun with the composition and shapes.
My 10 year old comic book nerd chose to draw Wolverine before and after being Picassoed. My 9 year old chose to draw Predator because he knows that Predator is one of his Dad’s favourite characters from the movies and graphic novels. My 13 year old and I both drew Harry Potter and it was fun to compare our different versions of the same character. My 7 year old chose not to draw a fictional character and instead drew a Picasso portrait of our tripod cat, Satchi.
You may have noted that when it comes to thinking up activities for my kids to do I definitely lean towards the Arts and Humanities. My brain is not much capable of STEM learning and, as such, I think it best that I leave much of that to their formal education providers. Sun printing, therefore, illustrates the proximity to which my activities with the kids broach science learning. It definitely was an experiment, however, as I have never done sun printing myself. We were all learning together.
I talked to my kids a bit about cyanotypes, an early form of photography and the process that creates what we think of as blueprints. I explained that the paper we were using was coated with a photosensitive chemical and that exposure to the sun would cause a reaction. We would then be developing the resulting print by rinsing it in a solution of water and a little lemon juice. I told the boys that it reminded me of developing photographs in the dark room back in my High School days to which the oldest remarked, “You are that old?” I let that one slide. Science bit over, it was time to get creative and experiment.
First up was my 9 year old who wanted to use a water pistol because it had such a strong, recognisable shape. We let the water pistol sit between the perspex and the paper for five minutes and then quickly moved it to the solution, which I had set up in the shade of the porch. It was interesting seeing the colours switch from positive to negative (or vice versa as I am not sure which way they would be categorised). Not overly happy with his first print, he then did a second using a dollar symbol that was much more flat to the paper.
Next up, my 13 year old decided to experiment with an Ugly Doll because it had a strong outline but was squishily dimensional. The result showed the gradiation in colours that occurs when the sun is blocked to varying degrees.
My ten year old tried out a selection of toys from his room. We assumed that the lizard, being flattest, would create the strongest silhoutte and that Batman would be the blurriest but our thesis turned out to be incorrect. The Lego man was surprisingly effective as a mask.
My 7 year old decided to use items from nature and went hunting and gathering in the garden. His turned out to be the best idea as his chosen foliage pressed completely flat beneath the perspex and resulted in the most clearly defined shapes.
I took a print from my house and car keys to see how the paper handled the mixture of flat items with slightly more dimensional items, such as the keyrings and car fob. The photos show the change that occurs before and after the prints are washed in the developing solution.
Sun printing was a fun activity. It was refreshing to be doing something together that none of us had any experience with so that we were all experimenting and learning together. I have a few sheets of photosensitive paper left so we might return to this activity again before the summer is out.