Sunday, March 31, 2013

OBJECT #22: “Scary-nut Owl”

    This simple craft project has been around since my oldest kids were little, which is longer than I want to admit.  When my oldest daughter was 2 or 3 years old she was afraid of dark holes, no matter how large or small.  Even a tiny crevice was threatening because you never could be sure what would come out of it.  One day she found some black walnut shells that had been spit open and the nut removed by either squirrels or insects.  She began talking to me about “scary nuts.”  I could not fathom what she meant so she had to take me to see them.  I chuckled when she pointed to the walnut shells.  I tried to show her that the holes were empty and therefore harmless, but logical reasoning doesn’t get you very far with a toddler.  Perhaps she did see a worm crawl out of one of them?  At any rate, black walnut shells have been known as “scary nuts” in our house ever since them.  Unfortunately, our present property has a plentiful supply of scary nuts.  They get dumped onto the outskirts of our lawn every fall.  If they fell down looking like these, it wouldn’t be so bad.  But they come down as huge green balls (the size of tennis balls) and ooze out smelly brown liquid if you let them sit too long.

    Not long after we discovered the “scary nuts,” someone pointed out to us that they look like an owl’s face.  We learned how to put two half-shells together to make a pretty convincing little barn owl, especially with a dab of white paint to accentuate the owl’s facial features.  Of course, after that, the nuts were never scary again, but we still jokingly call them by that name.  We made a few of these owl craft projects (whether to sell or to give away I can’t remember) and I think this is the last remaining craft from that batch, years ago. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

OBJECT #21: C3PO Talking Pen

   I’ll bet I’m not the only one who has semi-vintage Star Wars paraphernalia sitting around the house.  We acquired this pen around the time that the first of the new movies came out.  Which is now a shockingly long time ago if you stop to think about it.  (Shocking for those of us who lived through the original Star Wars craze, anyway.)   

    My two oldest kids were in elementary school when we bought this pen.  They loved to scare their younger sister with it because it talks.  Tiny talking robot pens can be very scary to a 2-year-old.  This pen has four sound options: “I am C3PO,” “Let the Wookie win,” “This is madness!” and their favorite, “We’re doomed!”  (Even worse than the pen was the walking, talking version of C3PO perched on top of a piggy bank alongside R2D2.  My toddler was terrified when the figures lurched into action and slid forward.  My son used this device to keep his sister out of his room.)

    Another favorite activity they did with this pen (writing with it was never even considered) was to play these sound bytes in front of the cockatiel’s cage, hoping the bird would learn to say them. I don’t think it worked.  I remember him saying “Peekaboo,” and “Where’s Cecil?” but not any of C3PO’s quippy phrases.

    My kids outgrew this toy years ago but I can't bring myself to pitch it.  So I guess I am stuck with it on my desk until I can give it to a grandchild some day. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

OBJECT #20: Giant “Thumb Guys”

 (as some people in my household call them)



    These are huge versions of those little fingerprint people that show up in my science books.  I made these large fingerprint people to take along to a curriculum fair a few years ago.  I thought two of these guys perched on my table would be eye-catching.  They don’t usually sit on top of my cabinet doors.  I just propped them there for the photo.  They usually lie flat somewhere.  (Though they did sit on my mantel for a year.)

    I’ve never had names for these things. “Thumb print people” is usually my default term, but to be more accurate they are prints of my index finger, not my thumb.  So why do I call them thumb print people?  I don’t know.  (But talk about leaving your fingerprints all over your work...)

    They were originally invented during my teen years, and I think my sister gets credit for making the very first one.  She’s a writer now, not an artist, so this could be her biggest contribution to the world of visual arts.  I picked up on the idea right away--so quickly that we remember it as always being something we did together.  About the time I went off to college, I tucked those early cartoons into a drawer and didn’t think about them for a number of years.

    When I began to write “The Elements” I knew I had to make the subject of chemistry seem friendly, and maybe even silly, to prevent kids from being afraid of it.  I decided that I needed some silly cartoon people to sit in the margins and say funny things.  I also knew I didn’t want to draw complicated cartoon people over and over again.  What could I use that was ridiculously simple, yet very effective?  I immediately thought about those old fingerprint cartoons I used to make.  They turned out to be perfect.  Once I started using them I couldn’t stop.

    I’ve had lots of feedback from parents about how much their kids love these fingerprint characters.  In fact, some parents have told me that their kids will go through and read all the cartoons first, before they even read the lessons.  (Bet they peek at their Christmas presents, too. ;)  I decided not use the fingerprint people in the “Mapping the World with Art” curriculum because I wanted to pitch it to older students.  However, my friends in France (who translate my curricula into French and sell it to francophone homeschoolers) decided that even “Mapping the World with Art” had to have the fingerprint people, so they borrowed pictures from other curricula and created captions for their French version.  (I studied enough French in college that I can basically read the French curricula (with a little help now and then from online translation programs) and I love to read how they translate the many idiomatic phrases used by the “bonhommes.”)

    They’ve never had names and I’ve tried to avoid thinking of them as two separate characters with different personalities.  I’d like them to stay similar enough that they are both equally capable of being intellectual or silly. In the “Cells” curriculum I did make one of them the official complainer, however.  That’s the only book where there is a basic scenario that is consistent all the way through (one of them has a remote control and can pause the book).  When just one thumb guy shows up on a page, you are never sure which one it is.  That’s because I don’t know which one it is!  But that’s intentional.  I like to keep myself guessing, too.