Saturday, June 14, 2008

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Can I Have the Duct Tape?

One of the things that frustrated me no end when I was a kid was that I didn't often have the chance to work with real stuff.

Here's what I mean: we always had lots of typing paper around, and glue, and tape, and even string; and we had crayons and pencils. And you can make some craft projects out of those things.

And we had Legos. Now those are cool--especially when you have the sets with the gears and pulleys and motors and things, and they did have a few of those on the market when I was in late elementary school in the early eighties.

And we had Tinkertoys, and you can occasionally craft something cool out of those. I actually managed once to get a working catapult built out of Tinkertoys and a rubber band.

But, it wasn't really enough. I wanted to be able to build real stuff. I wanted to work with metal! I wanted to work with wood! I wanted to work with glass, and fabric, and stone, and ceramic! But, no. We didn't have much in the way of scrap materials hanging around the house just waiting to be turned by curious young boys into world-conquering robots. For the most part, we had to content ourselves to using typing paper. And if we were really lucky and or obsequious, we might be able to scam some construction paper.

Well. As regular readers know, my eldest daughter (and to an increasing degree, her three-year-old sister) is quite the master of making things out of printer paper. There was the transmogrifier of a couple days ago that I wrote about; there was also recently a three-dimensional dollhouse (with roof! Although it was a flat roof, and it sagged a bit. I haven't taught her the secret of triangles yet) that I didn't blog about. She has also been making decorations, cutting them out, and taping them all over the house. Mainly, these are Halloween decorations; she's been really impatient for Halloween to come lately, for some reason. You know how everyone starts selling Christmas stuff four months out? Well, the Fairy is like that for Halloween.

So I've been trying to figure out how to create a stash of real materials that can be used in random craft products, as my kids are moved by the Spirit. I'm curious to see what kinds of things they would come up with if they had access to fabric, or wood. I'm thinking that what I read here sounds like a good idea. (Scroll down to Item #6, Arts and Crafts; then specifically, the paragraph that begins: "One of the most useful things I ever purchased....")

And I've also been trying to implant the idea in their heads that they can use their imaginations to figure out how to use the stuff lying around them, in new and interesting ways. And to that end, I did something a little interesting yesterday and today, which is the subject of this post.


Last Sunday, our church served dinner for the congregation on site, and we had an outdoor game night. One of the games available was called Blongoball. In this game, you are supposed to throw a bolo, consisting of two tethered golf balls, toward a target consisting of several horizontal rods. The goal is to get the thrown bolo to hang on one of these rods, and points are scored based on which rod gets caught. (Apparently, some of the rods are harder to catch than others.)

The Pillowfight Fairy loved this game, and couldn't stop talking about it when we got home. She's been talking about it all week.

Now, I don't want to be the kind of Daddy that spoils his kids--that any time they get a toy on the brain, I go out and get it for them. I'd much rather they learn how to entertain themselves with whatever toys (and non-toys) they find on hand. So I figured I'd give them an example of how this sort of thing is done, and see if any of this kind of thinking rubs off on them.

So last night, while we were all playing outside after dinner, I went and got the duct tape.

Now, we have a wood pile in our backyard. It was there when we moved in (although in a different spot in the yard), and it's gotten much bigger as most of the older trees on the property have died off and been cut up in the interim. We've been trying to think of how to get rid of all that dead wood, frankly. But last night, I went to this pile, and pulled out a dozen or so long, likely-looking sticks, and I started taping.

The girls were entranced. The Omnivore (formerly Happy Boy) was entranced too; he wanted to be right there in the middle of things, which made things rather hard.

So I set the girls to work. "Could you hold this for me?" "Can you hold this piece to that one until I've had a chance to tape it?" "Oh, don't drop that; I need that so it can hold up this thing over here." "Could you go tackle [the Omnivore] before he breaks that thing?" And so forth. And as I said, they were fascinated, and kept saying: "What are you doing?" and "What are you making?" and "Don't tape my fingers! Don't tape my fingers!"

When I was done, this was what I hath wrought:
No, not the boy. My wife and I wrought him some time ago. It's that thing of beauty he's sitting in front of.

Ok, so it's not a thing of beauty. It's ugly as sin. But! It was perfect. I told my daughters that it was a structure with which we could play "Boing Ball" (which was the Pillowfight Fairy's preferred name for Blongo Ball). And then this morning, I cut a few pieces of wood of the right size, tied them together into a bolo (partially hidden behind the Omnivore, not far from the unripe nectarine), and we had it. We played a fair amount of Boing Ball this evening.

And we didn't even have to spend any money. All it took was a bunch of scrap wood, some duct tape, some string, and some elementary engineering knowledge.


So: the next question this Daddy wanted to know was: did the intended lesson penetrate? Did the girls get the idea into their heads that they could make things using somewhat more exotic, more real materials than they were accustomed to using?

Well, it seems that the lesson at least partly penetrated the brain of the Adrenaline Junkie (age three). This morning as I was mowing the yard, she was trying to stick some wooden sticks onto our pomegranate tree. She said she was "making a treehouse", and to do this, she needed some duct tape. I smiled to myself, but tried to direct her attention elsewhere. My attempts at distraction only lasted a little while, however.

So when I was done with my morning chores, the Junkie announced that she wanted to make a castle, and she wanted me to help her. She then started pulling random sticks out of the wood pile, and she directed me to go get the duct tape. I rolled my eyes and complied.

I took the sticks she'd picked out, and built a three-sided pyramid, braced with three pieces so that each side of the pyramid looked like the capital letter A. It stood! It was stable! It was done!

Not so fast.

She wanted a real castle. She went back for more sticks. Bigger ones.

Uh-oh, I thought. She's wanting me to build her something along the lines of Linderhof. Ok, so at this point, I figured: I'd better get her to take ownership of this construction project, or she's going to get disillusioned by her Daddy's insufficiency pretty darn quickly. So I told her to pick out the sticks she wanted, and I had her show me exactly where on the "castle" she wanted them. And then I would tape them exactly where she was holding them.

"Don't tape my fingers!"

So we finally got up to ten or eleven pieces of wood, at which point I said, "I think that's enough for one day." She seemed satisfied by this point, and started crawling under the sticky-outy-thing on the right in the picture below. I think it's supposed to be a drawbridge. If I'd gone on long enough, she would have started having me do towers and dungeons and underground grottoes and stuff.

Of course, the Omnivore has been absolutely fascinated by these new additions to our RV pad, and he wanted to bless them in his own special way.

Now, the Omnivore has been quite taken lately by all the fruit trees in the back corner of our yard. We planted these things two summers ago, and several of them are getting quite large--and are so full of fruit that many of their branches have been weighted down to the ground. This is perfect for him: it provides several hiding places that only he can get into. And he loves to pull off the unripe fruit (which we can't get him to stop doing, short of taking him back inside) and perform experiments on it. How does it taste? How hard is it? How many can you put in a pile before it falls over? If I dump it on the ground, and forget about it for three days, what does it look like when I find it again? What does this shriveled brown thing taste like now? And so forth.

Well, today he decided that his sister's castle needed a little garnish, so he started balancing unripe nectarines atop it.

The Adrenaline Junkie was, for some reason, quite perturbed by this. "He's putting fruit on my castle! Nooooooo!"


So yes, these constructions look like horrible mutated insects--or like the Shadows from the TV show Babylon 5. They're not pretty.


But my girls now have a bit better of an understanding of how things get made. They know that there's more to making stuff than printer paper and tape. I'm hoping that this experience helps them, in some little way, to start thinking about making their creations a little bit bigger, a little more elaborate, a little more exotic. I hope someday that they won't be afraid to jump into the world of pottery or the world of woodworking or the world of metal casting.

And to judge from the Adrenaline Junkie's "castle", she's well on her way to mastering the art of Expressionistic Bronze Sculpture.


Chris said...


Just wanted to say "Happy Father's Day". I hope you had a great one.


Rose Godfrey said...

I LOVE it! Every now and then our back yard gets to looking like one of those south of the border shanty towns. We have tents and shacks and all sorts of things in the back where the kids build all manner of structures and play. It is so wonderful for kids' imaginations to create.