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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Mother's Day Cards

It's Mother's Day this Sunday in the UK and it seems that every toddler, preschool and church group is full of activities that children can do to show their appreciation for their mothers.  I thought I would share a couple of simple ideas that I picked up along the way before sharing our own Mother's Day Card which Wugs and Dooey will give to my mother this weekend.

The Gift Card
The teapot card was made by Wugs at preschool this week.  It appears to have been made from pre-cut shapes (of decorative paper) that he had to stick together to create the teapot shape.  The little message and the attached teabag inside the card is a nice effect.  An inexpensive card that could be put together quickly using pages from magazines or wrapping paper.

The "MUM" Banner Card
This adorable banner card was decorated by my 22 month old Dooey.  I discovered this idea at a toddler craft lunch.  The card was cut from (what looks like) a folder (it is longer than A4).  This occupied Dooey for ages,  He decorated it with felt-tip pens, stickers and Do-A-Dot stampers.

The Flower Card
This card was of our own inspiration after a walk around some gardens last week with my mum. The card is made from tissue paper and paint.  I've written a detailed post about how we made it here.

Flower Cards

We made these flower cards for Mother's Day, but as they are for my mum, they could equally be used for Grandparent's Day (or any other occasion really).  Grandparent's Day is on 13th September this year (2015).

Last week we took a walk to some beautiful gardens and had the pleasure of seeing some flowers that had come into bloom - camellias, daffodils and a whole bank full of purple crocuses.   That trip provided the inspiration for our flower cards.

What we used:
Coloured card
Green paint
A small box (small enough for the child to get his fingers around)
Coloured tissue paper
Glue sticks

We started this activity by making the grass.  I wrapped string tightly around an old cream cheese box and asked the children to dab the bottom of the box into the green paint (until each section of string was covered with the paint).  Then I asked them to press the box against the card creating this grass effect. Our first attempt at this was better as I provided Wugs with just a small amount of paint.  Our second attempt with Dooey was a little smudged as the paint was too watery.

Once the paint had dried, we made our flowers by tearing up pieces of tissue paper and then screwing up the individual pieces into balls to make flowers.  Dooey does this naturally with all kinds of paper, so I knew he would enjoy this part!  Then I handed them each a glue stick and they stuck the tissue paper balls to the cards to create flowers.

These flower cards could also be made from pages of a children's magazine or any paper that is thin enough to screw up into a small ball.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Explore a Culture Through Its Traditional Ways of Living: Inside a Malaysian Village

Every culture has its own unique ways of living that are informed by climate, events of the past, stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, natural resources, education, political and religious influences. This month I am inviting the children to go back in time and explore life in a traditional Malaysian Village or "Kampung" (as it's called in Malay). The kampung lifestyle is often referred to nostalgically as a place of freedom, simplicity and proximity to nature, a place where relational ties are strong between family and friends.  With modernisation and the technological boom in recent decades, the kampungs have largely been deserted and the younger generations have migrated to the cities or modern housing estates. I put together these activities in the hope that the children will develop an appreciation for their Malaysian heritage and (having a grandmother who grew up in a kampung) learn a bit of family history along the way.

My main resource for exploring the traditional Malaysian kampung life has not been a textbook or a series of websites, but a couple of books by the renowned Malay cartoonist, Mohammed Nor Khalid (commonly known as "Lat"). The Kampung Boy, is a humorous recollection of his early childhood experience of living in a kampung: bathing and fishing in the river, being circumcised on a log(!), learning about the life of trees and plants from his father, receiving instruction on the reading of the Koran and attending a traditional Malay wedding.

The activities below are aimed at preschool aged children, but could be adapted for an older child and/or a different culture:

Kampung Small World
Our small world is an introduction to the setting of traditional village life.  At the centre is the classic wooden kampung house with a sloped roof (to drain off the rain) and set on stilts (to protect its inhabitants from predators).  I made the kampung house out of a bird box, craft sticks and various wooden shapes that can be purchased from a craft store.  (Once I've furnished its interior I will share in detail how I made it).  The peg dolls are clothed in tops and sarongs, with the women wearing their hair back in a bun (as was the custom).  I combined this activity with a language game where I taught Wugs the Malay words for the different objects he pointed out.

Making Batik
Batik is a traditional textile craft of Malaysia that goes back to (at least) the 17th Century according to the Malay Annals.  Batik involves creating patterns (usually flower or leaf motifs or geometic designs) on cloth from hot wax. The cloth is then washed in a dye and the wax is scraped off to reveal an intricate pattern.  My sister-in-law purchased these batik-making kits from Malaysia which have the wax design already on the cloth and a dye palette for the children to brush the colours on to the design.  Batik designs can also be created using glue and acrylic paint.  Check out these colourful designs from All Our Days.

Batik Matching Cards
When we were living in Singapore, I bought a variety of cheap batik material from a Malay market.  I decided to create batik patterned cards from it.  I placed the cards randomly on the table for the children to match them up according to colour and design.  Given how intricate the patterns are, this proved a bit challenging for my three year old.

A Kampung Meal
In Kampung Boy, Yesterday and Today, cartoonist Lat describes a typical kampung meal of boiled tapioca with grated coconut and sugar.  I decided we would dine kampung-style this evening and the sweet, creamy mix was met with approval from my boys.

Counting Sugarcanes 
One of Malaysia's natural resources is sugarcane.  Sugarcane is a stout grass stalk which can grow up to 6 metres high.  It is harvested for its sucrose, but can also be consumed in drinks (sugar cane juice) or (as Lat recollects) the sugarcane stick was chewed.  I created a simple counting activity using green painted cake sticks (for sugarcane) and a congkak board (congkak is a traditional childhood game in Malaysia, but a little too advanced for Wugs so we used it as a simple counting board).

Fishing in the Kampung
One of Lat's first skills as a young boy was learning how to fish in the local river.  Wugs had a taster of longkang (meaning "drain fishing") at a kampong in Singapore.  After heavy rainfall the drains would often be overflowing with fish and children would bring empty jam jars or tins to scoop up the fish.  For this activity, I printed off images of fish that would typically be found in a local Malaysian river, laminated them and put them in a tub of water between stones and plants for Wugs and Dooey to catch using tea strainers.  The children then needed to match the fish they caught with the images of fish on a reference sheet (with the name of the fish written underneath it).

Kampung Sensory Bin
The sensory bin was made up of things that are naturally produced in Malaysia (often in the kampungs).  Our bin contained rice, dried banana, sugar cubes, tin and rubber (gloves).  I added in some tongs for the children to use to pick up medium-sized objects and help strengthen those fine motor skills.

Rice Weighing
For this activity I borrowed a set of old weighing scales from my mum and instead of using the small metal weights (which are too heavy for the children), I measured out separate quantities of rice into bags.  On one side of the scales sit the bags (1 cup, 3/4 cup, 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup of rice) and on the other side, the children can add the loose rice into a bowl and experiment with weight and balance.

Traditional Childhood Games
Lat devotes a large part of his book , Kampung Boy, Yesterday and Today to the childhood games that were played in a kampung.  My husband also remembers playing these at school with his friends. In our basket is
- a shuttlecock-like object that is made of rubber and (traditionally) the feathers of a local bird.  It is tossed in the air and tapped or kicked.  The idea is for the object not to fall on the ground.
- a spinning top (traditionally made from guava bark with a nail pushed through it).  The string is wrapped around the top and then pulled away quickly.  Competitions were held over the distance covered by the spinning top, the speed of it etc.
- the ornate-looking catapult was traditionally made from guava bark and an elastic band.  This has proved to be a very popular toy in our house!
- the triangular bean bags are used in a game called batu seremban that involves throwing the bags on the ground and picking one up at a time, tossing it in the air and picking up another before the bag that is thrown in the air falls to the ground.

Whilst living in Singapore, I discovered a shop at One North MRT station (next to the Malaysian restaurant, "Penang Place") that sells the objects that are used in these traditional Malaysian games. Some of them can also be purchased at Kampong Glam (Muscat Street).

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Name Road Mats for Car Enthusiasts

Over the last couple of weeks, Wugs and Dooey have been enjoying these name road mats. Wugs has been doing some name recognition activities at his preschool, so I thought that combining his interest in cars with the letters of his name would be a fun way for him to remember it.

(My apologies for not displaying the mats in full on the blog - I like to keep the names of my sons private.  Hopefully the idea can still be shared through the photos I have taken).

What we used:
Two sheets of A2 white paper
Coloured black pencil
White sticker labels (white markers on the road)
Light and dark green foam paper (fields)
Black foam paper (concrete land)
White foam paper (railway tracks)
Black marker pen (railway tracks)
Blue perspex (lakes)
Contact paper
Wooden painted blocks (shops and trees)
Cars and trains

The mats were a bit of an experiment and whilst working on them, I wasn't sure if I wanted the landmarks to be permanent features or not and whether I would draw them on or cut out the shapes from different materials.  I'm not great at drawing, so I decided to make some of the features permanent (green areas, concrete areas, lakes and train tracks) and some of them changeable (the wooden block buildings, trees and sign posts).

I drew the letters on the paper and coloured them in black/grey and added the white labels as the road markings.  Then I covered each sheet with contact paper.  I built up the landmarks around the letters using a very strong glue to stick the features to the contact paper. (As each name has different letters, the boys had their own unique road mats with similar features - each had a lake, green space, a concreted area and a railway track running through it).

The making of the mats was not that easy for a few reasons (and hopefully by mentioning this, I can make the process smoother for anyone else who wishes to make one):  Firstly, I decided to colour the letters by using coloured pencil.  The contrast of black and white can be a bit garish, so I was going for a softer look.  Clearly it has been years since I have coloured using a coloured pencil as I hadn't anticipated that the black/grey from the pencil would smudge over the white parts of the mat and that the colouring process would take so long! In the end, I cut out the letters and stuck them to a new sheet of paper.  I would recommend drawing the letters on to paper that is already coloured grey/black.  Secondly, I had to cover the paper with contact paper (double-sided sticky tape) if the mats were going to survive at the hands of my toddler.  This led to a bit of a fight with the contact paper... but we got there in the end!  In my experience, there isn't a perfect way to cover paper using contact paper.  Hopefully it isn't necessary to use it (unless you have a child who eats everything of course...which I do!)