Finding the Fun: Three guides for a new school year

Fall is here (yikes! Where did summer go, anyway?) which means that even though I’m not *literally* going back to school, I still get that happy feeling about September and bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils.

Click image for photo source

Click image for photo source

For those of us who are looking for that fresh burst of inspiration and wonder that a new school year always meant, here are three great books to find the fun in your everyday, in and out of a formal learning environment!

Art is Every Day by Eileen Prince

Subtitled “Activities for the Home, Park, Museum, and City,” this book caught my eye in the bookstore immediately.  Though it is of course full of fun art-making ideas and some great examples in full-color, the most helpful parts of the book are the substantive suggestions to parents and educators about how to talk with kids about art in general and kids’ own art in particular.

Made to Play by Joel Henriques

Everyone needs a book on how to make toys, right?  The projects in this book use everyday and easily recycled materials, require a minimum of crafting know-how (some light sewing and woodworking required), and leave a lot open to the imagination of the maker for how the final product looks.  I’m seriously considering a number of the projects for possible use with my Story Trails programs.

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

Probably better known for her “Wreck this Journal” series, Keri Smith delivers on ways to be a more observant, curious collector of experience with her “portable life museum,” inviting you to doodle with coffee stains, photograph interesting typography, record overheard bits of conversation, and make lists of 10 things you notice in a particular space, be it familiar or entirely new.  This is another great resource for journaling prompts for kids or just to revel in your own reflective, creative practice.

What books or resources get you excited for a fresh new school year?

Ideabox: Spools and Spindles

No princesses were injured in the creation of this post.

It’s time for another Ideabox–this time, on CD spindles and the many uses thereof, with a guest appearance by a few spools of thread.

ideabox spools

I think CD spindles are a remarkable piece of design: they’re the kind of thing that do what they’re supposed to very well, and then sit there and taunt you, gathering dust because they LOOK like you should be able to do something else with them.  If you have a few of these lying around that you’re looking to ‘upcycle’ into something new and useful, here are some ideas to get you started.  (Instructables was a really valuable resource in assembling this post.  You’ll see what I mean.)

First, a video that gives you four options in what feels like forty seconds, just to get you thinking:

Next, for the folks who can never get too organized:

  • The ‘you’re kidding, someone wrote instructions for that?’ Headphone Holder.  (Yes, they did.  But just because it’s easy and not exactly aesthetically pleasing doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid idea!)
  • The ‘I know a techie sort with too much jewelry’ CD Spindle Earring Holder.  (I know an artist who could really use this kind of display stand…)
CD Spindle Sandwich

Bagelwich Buffer

CD Spindles for the Plant and Animal Worlds:

  • Flower Planters — this is a particularly cool idea if you’re trying to do a science experiment that allows you to watch the roots of things grow.  Visible carrots!
  • Mushroom Storage Case — I wasn’t sure whether to put this under ‘plants,’ ‘organization,’ or ‘huh?’ but it’s cute.
  • High Speed Silent Hamster Wheel — For the fleet of foot, but not the faint of heart.

For the Electrically Savvy:

  • CD Spindle Lamp — Gorgeous, actually.  And using an LED or CFL bulb would make it even safer.  I’d love to see a version that took up less horizontal footprint though, for the sake of those of us who live in small spaces.
  • Water-Powered Tesla Turbine — There are a number of variations to this idea provided by ‘mrfixits’ on Instructables.  They’re all fascinating in a ‘how do you come up with these things?’ way.  I love the idea of using recycled materials and water power and magnets to talk about generating electricity, though.  (And on that note, a similarly cool variation, A Pringles Can Wind Turbine)

And finally,

Spools get to play too:

Detail from “After Vermeer 2” 2006, by Devorah Sperber. Click for link to artist’s statement.

Ideabox: CD’s and CD cases

photo credit to ChristopherA

Due to the upswing of digitally-downloaded music, mp3 players, et al. there are a lot fewer junk CD’s and spare CD cases lying around these days.  This is certainly good for the planet, but not so great for those of us who like making cool projects out of them.  Fortunately, computer programs still end up replaced, CD-R’s burn with skips in them and have to be redone, and random CD cases still turn up in the bottom of your desk drawer when you least expect them.

So…what are some fun and funky things to do with these fabulous plastic leftovers?

ideabox cds

CD’s themselves

It is, of course, completely possible to just Google ‘CD crafts’ and find some cute projects, especially for kids–there are a reasonable number of idea-starters at Kaboose, for instance.  However, all that sifting takes time, so here are a few others of my favorites so far.

For the seasonally appropriate: Making CD Christmas Ornaments

For the jewelry fan: Example of CDs turned into earrings

For people who like to play with fire: (no seriously, apparently they want you to use a candle to heat the CD in order to bend it!) How to Make a CD into a Cellphone Holster

For the purely silly: CD Air Hockey Rink

For the science-minded: CD’s are obviously cool for the way they split light into its component rainbow colors–this is called a diffraction grating.  For an explanation of diffraction grating, how it works, and CD’s in particular, click here.  For a really cool build-your-own-spectroscope project, click here.

CD Jewel Cases

For the nature fan: CD Jewel Case birdhouse/greenhouse

For the recyclables architect: Cubic Display Case on Instructables (there are a lot of other cool CD case projects on the same site, check the sidebar for a few examples!)

Still looking for more ideas? There’s another fun collection on HubPages, here.  My favorite idea there is definitely the suncatcher, but see what inspires you!

Stay tuned for the next Ideabox post: cool stuff to do with those CD-R and DVD-R spindles, thread spools, and more!

The Past in Motion

This does not, I suppose, technically qualify as archaeology.

However, in the theme of really-cool-bygone-stuff, I bring you: The Animated Bayeux Tapestry.

This is no substitute for getting to see the real thing–the sheer immensity of this tapestry just does not convey on a video clip.  However, it’s a cunning piece of animation, and the foley artist involved clearly had a lot of fun with everything from the feasting noises to the horses to the ‘guuuuh’ and ‘gack’ sounds of battle.  And if you’re looking for a way to liven up the story of 1066 and the Norman Conquest, this is a fun way to go about it.

Have I whetted your appetite for tapestries, Normans, or movie-making?

Britain’s Museum of Reading has a great site about the Bayeux Tapestry, including an activities page which made me grin.  [Specifically the directions on how to make your own Norman soldier’s helmet.  (Halloween, anyone?)]

If it’s the sounds that really caught your fancy, check out Paul Orselli’s great recent blog post: Exhibit Designer’s Toolkit: Creating the Sounds of Gore and Squidge

And if you’re intrigued by the illustration style of the medieval tapestry, try your hand at the Historic Tale Construction Cit (presumably pronounced ‘kit’ as all ‘c’s are hard).  Write and illustrate your own story using figures, settings, and beasts from the Bayeux Tapestry–careful, this is a hoot and dangerously addictive to those of us who grew up loving computer programs like Storybook Weaver.  The image interface is pretty sound, too–you can resize and flip the image elements, as well as type captions, with the option to create several frames, save them, email them, and submit to a visitor-created gallery.

IdeaBox: Altoid Tins

ideabox altoids

In a past life, I must surely have been a magpie.  (Oooh, shiny!)  I have always been an irredeemable collector, and in my current job, I have all the excuses I need to keep bits and pieces around for inspiration.  The areas on, around, and under my desk contain feathers, stones, LEGO’s, rubber ducks, silly putty, macaroni flowers, solar powered toy cars, and a whole box of interesting shaped containers, foam pieces, springs, and whatnots.  From these pieces of rubber tubing, marbles, fabric swatches, and more, I get program and exhibit ideas all the time.


And so I bring you the fun and funky ideabox links for today: Five Reuses for Altoid Tins.  Planet Green’s top five include building tiny speakers, a solar gadget charger, a wallet, a survival kit, and a geocaching box (think I might have to try some of those!).  Or, for the more artsy among us, a watercolor traveling kit, and create your own travel candle.  (Though I wonder about the heat–I’d recommend putting it on a plate or coaster before burning!)

Here are a few other (less technical!) idea starters:

– Altoid tins are magnetic!  Turn one into a tiny on-the-road game box with magnetic pieces.  What else might you be able to do with magnets and an Altoids box (or two, or three, or more?)
– Glue a mirror in the lid and keep your kleenex in the bottom.  (Don’t you hate how those little plastic packets let your tissues get all shredded in your pocketbook?)
– Sound shakers and mini-cymbals for the extremely young musician, when you’d rather save your pans. (The round tins are particularly good for this one!)
– Start seeds in the world’s tiniest window-boxes.
– Make a fold-out mini-storybook, photo album, or travel journal with accordion-style pages.