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Derek the Dragon

As a general rule, I don’t plan out my crafts. I have really tried to be organised and plan months in advance but I think my years as a primary school teacher entirely put me off a planned approach to being creative! To me, part of the beauty of creativity is being inspired and just going with the flow. Take Derek the Dragon here, he was created because I came across some rather magnificent dragon googly eyes in Riot Art & Craft. 

If you want to make your own, please use this post as a guide rather than a definitive ‘how to.’ You may have different recycled materials at hand which will change the shape.

As you may know by now, we are big fans of recycled crafts and if you’re a parent of young kids, I really encourage you to keep anything that might be useful. Derek here is made from a nappy box, an empty washing powder carton, that random ridged packaging that electrical goods usually come in (in this case a blender!) and two takeaway coffee cups!

Derek was a time consuming build, so I recommend you make him over a weekend or during the school holidays. You’ll definitely need time for paint to dry and glue to set!

dragon 3
Can you guess which flag Derek is based on?

To make your own dragon:

  1. Assemble all of the boxes/ materials you want to use to see if they work. My original idea didn’t quite fit so I had to use other resources.
  2. Whilst Derek was painted then glued, i’d recommend assembling with masking/ gaffer tape first (our little low-temp glue gun didn’t quite hold up his weight!)
  3. Once you’ve chosen the base colour of your dragon, use foam dabbers for quick coverage.  We actually used 3 different colour reds to give Derek a more mottled look.
  4. Leave to dry and paint again. Depending on the type of box used, you may need to paint the base colour again – if not, go onto the next step!
  5. Choose some complimentary colours to stiple over the top. We selected greens and golds for Derek.
  6. Attach eyes, horns and other loose parts with a glue gun.
  7. Choose details like the box lids to create the dragons frills (a craft knife is a good option here.)
  8. Stare wondrously at the magnificent creation you’ve made!

 

If you’d rather bypass the words, here’s a general photo guide…

dragon 5
We used the flaps of the nappy box to create frills. A craft knife or decent pair of scissors is a must here!

 

dragon 2
Derek was made from 3 boxes of various sizes which were stuck together with a glue-gun.

 

dragon 4
Over on Instagram I did little hint in my stories, but this also shows the colour build of red base and green/gold overlay.

 

If you make your own version of Derek, I would LOVE to see! Either post in the comments below or tag me in on Instagram/ Facebook.

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Bob the Blob: A Halloween Slime Craft

Halloween means slime – right? We’ve tried a few different versions of slime before, but this recipe is hands-down the best for some gooey fun! As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, we like to make our Halloween crafts cute rather than creepy and Bob definitely fits the bill!

As a quick word of advice before commencing this activity with the kids, this is best done with older children (from 6+ really) because of the ingredients used – this is definitely not a taste safe recipe!  Don’t do this activity unsupervised and make sure that hands are washed thoroughly after use! 

You will need:

  • 500ml of clear glue
  • Saline solution / contact lens solution containing saline
  • 1 tsp Baking soda (otherwise known as bicarb of soda)
  • Food colouring
  • Googly eyes
bob the blob ingredients
We used a cheaper alternative to contact lens solution from the local chemist which seemed to work just fine!

 

Method:

  1. Add the majority of the 500ml bottle of clear glue to a mixing bowl. I kept some back to adjust the mixture as needed.
  2. Mix 1 tsp of baking soda into the glue.
  3. Use a few drops of food colouring to create the colour of your choice and stir in well.
  4. Add a few drops of saline and keep mixing with a spoon. You should start to notice the mix binding together.
  5. Keep adding a few drops until you end up with a stringy ball – it’s best to do this gradually so that the slime doesn’t become too sticky!
  6. Start to knead the slime with your hands – be patient and the slime should start changing consistency but if its still too sticky, try adding a bit more of the glue to the mix.
  7. If needed, strain out any extra ‘watery’ mix with a sieve. You should end up with a stretchy, malleable slime that doesn’t break apart easily.
  8. Once you are happy with the consistency, add in some googly eyes.
  9. Pour slime mix into an airtight container to preserve.
bob the blob
Don’t googly eyes just make everything better?

 

bob 4
The slime needs to be stretchy without breaking apart too easily

 

bob 3
An airtight container should preserve the slime for longer!

If you have your own version of slime, i’d love to hear about it in the comments section below or you can tag me into your FB/ insta posts.

Also check out our other Halloween themed posts: Cute not Creepy, One pumpkin: two invitations and Betty the Blue-nicorn! Happy Crafting 🙂

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Betty the Blue-nicorn

When I was recently asked to do an Instagram takeover of the Parent Talk Australia account, I decided to make a special craft to mark the occasion!* Here’s a step-by-step guide for making your own version…

You will need:

  • Carving pumpkin (ours was medium sized)
  • Binder/ sealant
  • Non-toxic acrylic paints
  • Hairdryer
  • Wax crayons (we used crayola)
  • Low temp glue gun
  • Shell or something conical for the horn
  • Posca pens or similar.

The vast majority of our craft supplies come from Riot

How to Make:

Cover your pumpkin in a binder/ sealant. This just helps with coverage and the acrylics seem to go on easier:

pumpkin binder

 

Once dry, cover in acrylic paint. You might need more than one coat, but that will depend on the paint you are using! We added a sparkly touch to Betty with some glitter paint too 🙂

betty 10.jpg

 

Leave to dry for at least 24 hours before you start phase 2 – which is basically melting the crayons!

Attach wax crayons to the top of the pumpkin with a low-temp glue gun:

betty 9
It helps to glue the crayons into the natural ridges of the pumpkin.

Start to melt the crayons with a hairdryer. We found that a high temperature and medium speed setting worked well.

betty 8
Team effort! Even the husband did his fair share with the hairdryer 🙂

Once the crayons have started to melt, gently bend the crayons against the pumpkin to avoid spray:

betty 7.jpg
We always use a giant paint tray for crafts as it helps to catch any mess – like the spray back of the crayons you can see here!

 

It can take a little while for the crayons to start melting, but once they do you can start to manipulate the direction of the wax:

betty 5
Messy! But beginning to take shape!

 

Once you are happy with your creation, you can start on the unicorn details! Or if you like, just keep going and melt the crayons further. I decided on a complete whim that the pumpkin would be turned into a unicorn as the crayons started to look like a pretty cool mane!

betty 4
I added details with Posca pens. In my opinion, they are definitely worth the money!

Last but not least, add the unicorn horn! We struggled for a while to find something suitable before finally deciding upon a shell:

betty 2.jpg
Glue on the shell with a glue-gun.

 

And there you have it, one beautiful blue unicorn!

betty

If you make your own version, I would LOVE to see! Either comment here or tag me in on Facebook/ Instagram. There’s plenty of Halloween themed posts on the blog if you want ideas for other activities so also check out Cute not Creepy  and One Pumpkin: Two Invitation 

*Betty is a great no-carve option for Halloween but make sure that any children helping are under constant supervision. My eight year old helped with some parts, but do be aware that the wax from the crayons can spray if the hairdryer is held at the wrong angle!

 

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One Pumpkin: two invitations…

Okay so pumpkin carving isn’t exactly new, but it is an immense amount of fun! If you’re on Pinterest, and lets face it, who isn’t? You’ll see a myriad of pumpkin ideas ranging from easy peasy to super skillful. When you’ve got kids, you just have to go for the options that are accessible and fun so here are two activities you can try with just the one pumpkin – i’m sure you’ll all agree that this is a money saving win too! 😉

An invitation to play…

pumpkin scoop 5.jpg

In the beginning, I wasn’t going to carve the pumpkin at all, but then I started to think of all the wastage which made me a little sad! After I lopped the top off of the pumpkin (definitely an adult job!), I set the kids to work scooping out the flesh. They used scoops, spoons and their hands to remove all of the pumpkins innards for a real bit of sensory fun!

Great for:

  • Fine motor skills: using fingers to grasp at the pumpkin
  • Hand grasp: using the spoons/ scoops
  • Language: describing the texture of the pumpkin, what it sounds like etc.
  • Sensory development: everything from smell, taste, touch, sight and sound is covered in this one activity!

Side note: younger children should be under constant supervision due to the size of the pumpkin seeds.

 

pumpkin scoop 2
If you do a lot of sensory play, a tuff tray like this is a good investment. Ours is from Invitation to Play 

 

pumpkin scoop 4
Zoey really loved the texture of the pumpkin seeds and flesh.

 

pumpkin scoop 1
All of the seeds were ‘sorted’ into a pan – you could get older kids to sort the seeds from the flesh too!
pumpkin scoop 6
Once the kids had finished, I scooped out the extra flesh myself to avoid any mould.

An invitation to create…

pauline the pumpkin
This is Pauline – Isn’t she beautiful?

Have you ever tried to carve a pumpkin? It’s not that easy and certainly not a job i’d entrust to the kids. There’s way too much margin for error but compromises can be made if you want to get your creative on as a family. Like I said above, I was loathed to waste the flesh, so Pauline is a halfway house between a no-carve and carved creation. Here’s how she was made:

 

pumpkin scoop 6
1. Scoop out all the flesh! Just in case you missed the bit above – getting out every last bit of flesh is important so that the pumpkin lasts longer. Any extra pumpkin flesh tends to get moldy pretty quickly!
pumpkin 6.jpg
2. We used a binder/ sealant from Riot  as a base.
pumpkin 4
3. After the binder had dried, we set to work on the white acrylic. We used approximately 3 coats, but you might need more of less depending on the brand of paint!
pumkin 3
4. Once the white paint was dry, the kids set to work splodging neon paint all over the pumpkin – so much fun!
pauline 2.jpg
5. We left the pumpkin a few days before I carved the eyes with a craft knife (in hindsight, this would’ve been best done prior to painting) Then we added in ‘Day of the Dead’ style drawings using Posca pens. The flowers have been recycled from a previous craft – you can find out how to make them here.

This activity is great for:

  • Expression: the kids went crazy with the neon paint.
  • Fine motor skills: drawing on the features.
  • Creative thinking: how could we all join in with the activity?
  • Teamwork: sharing out the tasks.
  • Historical research: with older kids, you can explore the background of the Dia de los Muertos festival for the ‘why’ behind the decoration.

 

Side notes:

  • Carving should really be done by an adult.
  • Be aware of the paint you are using if you want to light up your pumpkin with tealights. Although we used water-based acrylics (which are considered safe), we avoided any dilemma altogether by placing a mini torch inside Pauline.  Definitely do not use oil based paints!!!
  • And FINALLY, although Pauline was very beautiful on the outside, by the 5th day her insides were a totally different story. I suspect the paint caused her to get moldy quicker so if you want a longer lasting decoration, I would go for the no-carve option. As it happens, it turned into a fascinating STEAM experiment! 🙂

 

Have you got an accessible pumpkin idea you’d like to share? Either comment below or tag me in on Facebook / Instagram. 

 

 

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Puzzling it Out!

Here at Thomas Towers we’re kinda obsessed with jigsaw puzzles. Not only are they a brilliant learning tool but allow for some quality family time too. We were recently gifted the Janod hospital themed observational puzzle from Little Sprout Toyshop in Canberra so we decided to try it out over the long weekend – here’s what we thought:

First Impressions:

puzzle 1
Eye-catching packaging always gets a big thumbs up from us!

The puzzle comes in this really cute carry-case which would be perfect as a present for children aged 6+. The illustrations are super cute too which is always helpful when spending time putting a jigsaw together!

Inside the case, the pieces are all neatly packaged so you’re less likely to be scrabbling around for that essential missing part! There’s also a poster of the puzzle included which makes it so much easier to put it all together, especially for the first few tries.

Age Range:

puzzle hand eye coordination
A little teamwork gets the job done!

The suggested age group for this observational puzzle is 6-9 which is pretty accurate; though we think the puzzle is best suited for upper end of this age range – this will also depend on the age/ ability of the child in question too! Harrison (aged 8) found it pretty challenging in the beginning but after encouragement to persevere, he was able to finish it with the help of dad. Of course, most puzzles are hard the first time around and that is partly why we love them!

What we loved:

puzzle finished
The objects around the outside border all need finding once you’re finished.

With an ordinary puzzle, you might simply sit back and admire your work before tearing it all to pieces again. Not so with this observation puzzle because once you’ve finished making it, there are 50 items that need finding! The objects in the hospital version range from stethoscope to crutches, meaning you could also have plenty of discussions around the items that are typically found in hospitals. In turn this means your kiddo will have a wider understanding of the world – big win!

Other observation puzzles in the range include firefighter, kitchen and school. 

Key Benefits:

puzzle 3
There are so many benefits to completing jigsaw puzzles.

There are so many reasons why you could add a jigsaw like this observation puzzle to the Christmas/birthday list:

Problem solving was the first thing that came to mind when putting this puzzle together. Whether to tackle it in sections or create the outside first was all part of the discussion, as well as working out which pieces fit in the right place – all of this helps logical thinking too.

Any puzzle will help to boost cognitive skills. As well as spatial awareness, the jigsaw helps develop a wider understanding of the world – this observational puzzle was particularly great for that skill!

By choosing a puzzle within the correct age range, there is also the correct level of challenge.  If the puzzle had been easier there wouldn’t have been the huge sense of achievement Harrison gained from finishing – a great self-esteem boost.

The above also ties in with perseverance: Harrison often prefers life to be easy wherever possible, but with encouragement he was able to complete the jigsaw even though he found it difficult in the beginning.

By using a pincer grip, Harrison was able to continue developing his fine motor skills.  This is also why more basic puzzles are really essential in the early years of a child’s development too.

Due to the size of the puzzle (208 pieces) and the level of challenge, it proved a great opportunity to spend some quality time together. This kind of teamwork activity teaches children to share, work together, overcome problems and compromise. Whilst we did the puzzle as a family, in another setting it would be a great social opportunity for children to work together.

By checking the poster and finding the pieces that fit, hand-eye coordination got a really great workout. The brain needed to decide where the puzzle piece went and manipulate it accordingly.

Puzzles are a brilliant way to enhance memory. Each time the image is recreated, it becomes easier because the brain remembers where certain pieces go.

Finally, jigsaws can be a great way to start goal setting. Perhaps first time around, the puzzle takes a few hours, then one and so on or perhaps the goal would be to finish independently.  All of this links in with a huge sense of achievement any time the puzzle is completed.

These points would apply to any age group – hence why we love puzzles so much! Just look at all of the learning happening whilst having fun at the same time 🙂 

Overall…

puzzle 2
Working out a strategy: the boys decided to conquer the outside of the puzzle first!

The hospital observation puzzle was a brilliant way of working on all of the skills mentioned above, with the added bonus of further play when finished. We will definitely be seeking out other puzzles in the range as part of Harrison’s Christmas presents this year!

Whilst the puzzle was gifted for the purposes of this article, all opinions are genuine and we had a brilliant time putting it together.