Sometimes, the cure for the summertime blues is found in a tube sock. Or a pile of cardboard. Maybe even in the ubiquitous empty toilet-paper tube.
Kids who spend hours communing with technology – plugged into televisions, computers and iPods – may benefit from some good, old-fashioned arts and crafts fun. Especially if they can then play with what they make.
That’s the idea behind “Make These Toys” (Perigee, 2010) by Heather Swain, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“The process of picking out the project, getting stuff together and making it” is only half of it, she says. “Then they go play with it.
“It’s not over. That’s what I like.”
Children might use Swain’s book as a jumping-off point. When I got it, my daughter, Grace Clarke, 11, whisked it away.
Hours later, treasures started to appear: gifts for her dad, her friends and her dolls.
“You really don’t have to stick to the book,” Grace says. “You can make things however you want. You can change them up a little bit if they don’t work with the stuff you have.”
Exactly, says Swain.
“I really find that the most gratifying – people not following my directions to a T but finding their own way,” she says.
Her book provides hands-on fun for young kids, with adult help, and for older kids, like Grace, who can do most of the projects on their own. There are a few advanced projects that require a utility knife, for which adult supervision is required.
As a former third-grade teacher, Swain says her toy projects teach kids skills and confidence. Children also learn how to entertain themselves.
The toys aren’t intended to last forever. After all, they’re made from cardboard tubes and glue.
“It’s going to break. It’s going to go away,” Swain says. “But they can make it again. They can change it and innovate.”
Another upside for parents? Some temporary peace and quiet.
“Sometimes you want to do a project with your kids,” says Swain. “At other times you want your kids to go away and do it themselves.”
Here’s a project for your family to try at home:
Adapted from “Make These Toys,” by Heather Swain
1. Cut the bottom off the cup, creating a big hole.
2. Without blowing up the balloon, tie a knot in the end, then snip off the top half-inch of the balloon.
3. Stretch the cut end of the balloon over the bottom of the cup so the knotted end is in the center of the cup hole, then secure the balloon around the cup with a rubber band.
4. Insert a mini-marshmallow into the cup’s opening and gently shake the cup until the marshmallow settles into the center of the balloon.
5. Facing the popper away from you (and away from other people), pull back on the knotted end of the balloon and let go. Watch as the marshmallow zings through the air!
Make more than one popper and have contests with friends to see who can pop more marshmallows into a bowl a few feet away, or whose can fly the farthest. Try popping other soft things too, such as foam earplugs, cotton balls and wads of paper.