I really wanted to find an antidote to the pink princess mania that has descended on our house. The contrast between L’s and N’s birthday presents bothered me – not because pink princesses and fairies are intrinsically bad in themselves, but because L’s presents were so much more interesting, varied, educational, and had so much more scope for different kinds of play. I want N to celebrate her femininity, but never be constrained by it.
World Space Week brought a great opportunity to learn some science. It’s been a busy week, but we have found time for a few small activities. Here they are:
N made a solar system picture:
This was a very easy, half hour activity that N could do very independently – she stuck star stickers onto a piece of black craft foam (some fine motor skills practising) and counted out her pom-pom planets. She squeezed out eight dots of glue herself and stuck the planets in a line next to the sun. I did tell her their names but didn’t expect her to remember. My only goal is for her to have a concept of what is in the sky. We discussed the picture and she did already know that space is in the sky and that the sun is a big fire. We talked about the stars as being more fires in the sky, but far, far away, so we only see them twinkling.
We stuck the picture to a silver foil tray, which baby F had fun playing with first:
We also sang “twinkle, twinkle little star” in an effort to include F in the space theme, which seemed to please her.
Both L and N had a go at making play-dough aliens, which seemed the perfect use for that play-dough we made out of the flour and water gloop from a previous activity. Because none of the quantities were measured it was quite sticky, but perfect for aliens 🙂
I decided to set this up as an “Invitation to Play”, taking inspiration from The Imagination Tree, whose blog I have been reading a lot recently and is full of ideas I love. The alien is also from the blog. I set out the yellow and green play-dough, alongside some googly eyes, some aparkly pasta, some miscellaneous shiny thread, some pipecleaners and straws of varying lengths, some craft foam offcuts and some wooden skewers. You may recognise most of these from other activities (again, I love reusing materials in different ways, and putting together completely different activities without having to buy new things specially). It looked like this:
There is no magic to this. It is simply setting out materials in a way that inspires the children to use as they please. L isn’t comfortable enough with open-ended creative play yet for me not to introduce it in some way, so I did tell him we were going to make aliens. This excited him (of course it did, he’s a five year old boy and this is a space theme) and he was full of enthusiasm and ideas. He didn’t ask me what to do even once, he just got to work and created:
We ended up with an alien family, who have “lots and lots of eyes to see people coming so the other aliens can’t sneak up and eat them”.
I think L’s aliens were based on Mr Maker‘s “bugs in jars”. and he thought it would be great to make an alien in a jar, which we will do with salt dough very soon 🙂
N also had a go at the alien activity, despite being a bit hesitant about whether this was actually a boys’ activity, and a bit perturbed by the absence of any pink play dough. When I firat mentioned aliens she asked me, “are they for L?” – the gender role issue is becoming very ingrained for both of them, and I can’t really prevent it, but hopefully I can at least teach them to question it and provide them with experiences that make them rounded people. The promise of making a pink planet another day kept her happy, and she loves play-dough, so she got stuck in, and produced these:
I love all the children’s creations but Owl Alien was a work of art. N worked really hard to surround his eyes with the red play-dough, rolling a very thin sausage between her thumb and forefinger. She was really enjoying making different shapes with the dough:
And quite by accident, we made a very simple sensory box with a moon landing theme. N was a little bit sad not to have made the play dough herself, so I decided to make cloud dough with her, which I’ve had on my to-do list since a friend mentioned it a few weeks ago. It is made with flour and baby oil in a ratio of 8:1 although I did end up adding a bit more oil to give a less cloudy and more mouldable texture. We also added some glitter, and to keep our space theme going, I called it moon sand. I put Buzz Lightyear and his Alien in for N to play with, and then before L got home from school I added some stones we had collected on a camping trip this summer and brought home to paint, and some star shaped beads.
The cloud dough was very smooth and silky to touch, and moulded easily despite looking like dry sand. It was good to have a completely new material to play with, and when L arrived home he really brought the play scene to life – he clearly speaks the language of space-play, as he immedictely declared that they were on a “secret mission” and an elaborate game of exploring the moon ensued. L and I had used Google Earth to look at the moon the day before, which is a brilliant tool and he really enjoyed it. N caught his enthusiasm and they played happily together. I think she misses having him around during the day.
Now, all week I had racked my brains, trying to think of a simple yet original craft project to illustrate the planets travelling around the sun. The best I had come up with was a hanging mobile, which seemed very complicated to put together in the way I wanted. I also considered making a wall display, of which N’s picture above is a simplified version, but I actually wanted a visual tool to show the planets’ paths.
It came to me while I was boiling the kettle (our kitchen being dotted with craft stuff) that some of these beads would make perfect planets, especially the round, ridged ones:
But I was stuck for a medium. I considered threading them onto wire, or making a solar system necklace, but it still didn’t do what I wanted. Then it occured to me that this black sparkly play-dough (again from The Imagination Tree) might work – and then better still, I decided to use the black sparkly idea to make salt dough which could be oven-dried to harden. So L and I made the salt dough:
We covered a foil tray with the dough, and this is what we made:
Before oven baking the tray of dough, we rolled each bead around the “sun” (a wooden circle from another toy) then I deepened the grooves with my fingers. We used L’s planet encyclopedia to select beads to represent each planet. Halfway through oven drying I removed the tray from the oven and rolled the beads around their circles again to deepen and smooth them. Although they don’t roll around the sun independently which I wish they did, we can roll them around the sun and trace their paths, we can count them, we can use the toy as a starting point for looking up more planet facts… we like it!