Activities for Kids: Small solutions for BIG problems

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I’m posting my latest activity for all us of kids big and small stuck at home. So far, I’ve posted an activity to build a shrink ray and peg figures, along with the handouts to map a miniature person’s trek across a room in the house. It’s my attempt to make us perceive our current confined settings as bigger than they actually are!

Continuing the theme, I’m introducing another angle to this set of activities.

Creature Attack!

Whenever I’ve asked my students to map out an epic journey across a single room in the house, I then surprise them by springing a new challenge upon their characters: an attack by a deadly creature!

Well, it’s not SO deadly if you are normal sized, but for miniature characters, beetles, centipedes, and frogs are quite perilous!

What you will need:

  • Paper and writing supplies
  • Plastic critters (available at any dollar store, or also in your nearby toybox!)—spiders, snakes, beetles, grasshoppers, frogs, cockroaches—you name it!
  • Small “tools”:
    • Buttons
    • Bottle caps
    • Coins
    • Drink umbrellas
    • Birthday candles
    • Plastic spoons
    • Popsicle sticks
    • Spools of thread
    • Toothpicks
    • Crayons
    • Clothespins
    • Elastic bands
    • Paperclips
    • In other words, anything you have lying around the home that a miniature character could “repurpose”

I like to begin this activity by putting all the critters in “Bag #1” then having the students picking one out “blindly.” This introduces an extra element of fun and surprise.

Then, I put all the “tools” into Bag #2 and ask the students to pick out two or three of them.

Now, we’ve got the problem (the critter) and the solution (the tool), and we just have to figure out how the character can use the tools to escape and survive. This is fun problem-solving!

If you’ve been following along with these activities and already mapped out the setting, then this confrontation with the critter can take place in that epic landscape (like in the middle of a shag-rug forest)!

At the very bottom, I’ve posted a handout so that kids can brainstorm some solutions. And here are some photos from some of the past classes where I’ve rolled out this project.

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And here is the Big Problem — Small Solution handout:

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If you have writers in your family, this set of activities provides a lot of inspiration! But I have one other creative output that you can do with this set of projects, which I will post in the coming days. Stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .

 

Activities for Kids: Dragon egg building 201

Everyone is looking for fun home-based projects so I’m going to post some of the fun activities I roll out with my own family and the students in my creative writing and art programs.

I’ve already posted Dragon egg building 101, which involved a simple way to craft your own magical creature egg. This second approach is also pretty simple, but is better for older kids.

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Dragon Eggs: The Hot Glue Gun approach

Obviously, it’s the hot glue that makes this a poor fit for toddlers! It also requires more patience, since it requires waiting for the hot glue to dry. This is the method that I’ve rolled out at many schools and programs in Canada, Korea, and Thailand—I’ve probably overseen hundreds of these eggs being made!

What you will need:

  • Eggs (real, plastic, or cardboard)
  • A low-temperature hot glue gun
  • Black paint
  • Metallic or glitter paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Mod podge

I’ll repeat here what I said about eggs using the sticker approach. You can use plastic or cardboard ones, which are highly available at this time of year from your local dollar or art craft store.

You can also use real eggs. In this case, you need to poke a hole in both ends, blow out the yolk, rinse the insides with hot water, then bake them at 325 degrees for twenty minutes to “cure” them. Real eggs are obviously more delicate than using the plastic forms, but they will work.

Once you have the eggs prepared, follow these steps . . .

Step 1: Paint the egg black

After a lot of experimentation, I have found this produces the best final result. By painting the eggs a base color of black, you provide a rich base and makes whatever colors you apply over top to be more vivid and vibrant. Because I have often done projects at schools where we needed to build a hundred eggs over a week, I often mass spray-paint a batch in advance, but black acrylic paint works just as well.

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Step 2: Apply the hot glue

Once the egg has been given a base color, and the paint has dried, heat up the low-temperature glue gun and start applying it to the egg. You can almost paint it on with the nozzle of the gun, making different patterns and designs. I’ve tried swirls and wavy lines, but, honestly, you can apply it all kinds of random patterns because what you’re really trying to accomplish is make the egg look like it came from anything other than a normal bird!

You can see many of the different styles created by me and my students on this post. If you allow the glue to dry, you can start adding additional layers and build up certain features. I’ve even had students build horns and wings with the hot glue!

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Step 3: Paint with metallic paint

Once the black paint is dry, apply your chosen final colors. I find that metallic paints are the best, because they provide the eggs with a magical appearance.

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My main recommendation here is to paint lightly or to dry-brush the metallic paint on. This technique works especially well if you have pre-painted the base shell black (though, sometimes, my students apply so much glue, that there is no evidence of the original shell—which is okay, of course!).

You can also dry-brush on different layers or section of colors. If you don’t like the look of something, just paint over it and start again!

Step 4: Paint with mod podge

You can stop after Step 3, but I often like to seal the egg with a layer of mod podge, because it helps protect the paint and makes the egg more durable—which is important if, like my family, you want to plant them around your house or garden for a dragon egg hunt!

If you want your egg to be purely for display, you can always mount it on a base, such as a half-sphere styrofoam ball or, as one of my industrious students did, a cut plastic cup.

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If you’re looking for something extra to add to this project, well then there is plenty of storytelling and writing you can do. In my creative writing classes, I often ask my students to write care instructions. You can download the project sheet here.

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The Guardians of Zoone takes flight!

The Guardians of Zoone takes flight!

Planning a book launch isn’t all that different from planning a wedding—there are invitations, food to organize, giveaways, speeches . . . and all the stress to go with it.

Which is all to say how grateful I am that the launch for my latest book, The Guardians of Zoone, was such an overwhelming success. A big thank you to the Main Street Book Warehouse in Vancouver for hosting. The store was packed wall to wall and we sold out every book in the store emblazoned with the word “Zoone” on the cover!

I am blessed to have friends and family in many talented areas, who helped out with the event. My wife, Marcie, and our friend Stacey made delicious skyger cookies with melted turquoise chocolate. My friend, Jeff, took my drawing of the key to Zoone and turned it into a template to 3D print keys for prizes (by the way, that template is loaded up on my website, so that anyone can print their own key—the template is here). My friend, Jina, took all the amazing photographs you see below (you can check out her Instagram at @jinakimphotography).

I dressed as a portal pirate for the occasion (since they play a big part in the book) and had plenty of freebies to hand out—including keys and stickers. The prizes included the 3D-printed Zoone keys, and some props handmade by me: a dragon egg and a “moto” probe (a robotic spy that flies about the multiverse, gathering information on worlds to “motonize”).

A big thanks to everyone who came out! And, of course, you can check out the order links for the Book of Zoone here.

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Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

I had the joy of starting off the new year in a fun way: by leading a “Dragon Masters” camp for tweens.

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The camp was hosted by the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) and involved sculpting dragon scales, painting gemstones, drawing fantastical creatures, and—of course—writing about dragons, too!

One of the best aspects of this three-day camp is that I had only 15 students, which meant that we could really immerse ourselves in the activities and I had a lot of one-on-one time with each one of the kids. Many of them had worked with me in the past, so it was a fun way to reconnect with them.

“I Am” poetry

The first activity we worked on was a pair of point-of- view poems. Students brainstormed two characters, one a thief trying to steal something from a dragon’s lair, and the other a dragon who was being threatened by the theft. The students wrote one poem from each perspective.

To help with this activity, we sculpted our own dragon scales, prompting many of the students to choose this as the item that the thief would steal from the creature. Of course, the students had to come up with a reason for the theft and the response from the dragon.

One thing about sculpting, is that it’s good thinking time for writers! While the kids sculpted, they could work out some ideas for their writing. But, of course, the sculpting project in itself was a lot of fun.

Sculpting dragon scales

Here are some photos of the scales in progress. We started with plastic shapes cut from a soda bottle, then plastered them. Some students opted to sculpt ridges or shapes into their design; others decided to do a flat surface, leaving the detailing for the next phase.

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We actually had to let the scales dry overnight, but by the next morning they were ready for the students to add more detail by bejweling them (if they chose). By using acrylic gems, the students were able to add intricate detail and give their scales texture. By using the strips of acrylic gems (available at any dollar store), you can gain some uniformity, too.

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Afterwards, we painted the scales with mod podge, to help bind everything together.

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The last step was painting. I find that painting everything with a black base provides a rich undercoat; once this coat is dry, students can dry brush on a variety of metallic colors to help achieve that dragonish feel.

Of course, each student had a very specific idea for what their dragons looked like, or the type of environment they lived in, so their scales were design to match these concepts.

Here are a few of the completed projects:

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Developing a story

After the students had explored the point-of-view poems, I had them choose one of the points of view, either the dragon or the thief, and then develop that perspective into a longer, more conventional story.

The poems were more about capturing character emotion, but the story provided the students with an opportunity to flesh out a plot.

I led the students in some brainstorming exercises and provided them with some vocabulary words to help invigorate their stories. (Honestly, I’m tired of my students overusing the word “run” so we worked hard on developing a list of alternate ways to describe how characters such as dragons and thieves might move.)

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Gems of sorcery

One of the other projects that we worked on was painting glass cabochons to look like magical gems. The idea here was that these gems could be found in a dragon’s lair or a character could already be in possession of them and use them to train or communicate with a dragon.

The project is pretty simple; all you have to do is paint on the backside of the cabochons with fingernail paint. Abstract designs work well and are easy to do, though some of my students tried their hand at painting dragon eyes.

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Welcome to the Dragon Races

One of the challenges of teaching a camp is making sure students always have something to work on. Everyone creates at a different pace, and I like to have everyone work organically, which means instead of developing a checklist of projects that MUST be completed, I just have a cauldron of projects to choose from once we start getting close to the end.

For the final day of our camp, I brought in my own custom-made dragon eggs to inspire extra stories about dragon’s hatching.

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And, finally, for those students who had written, sculpted, and painted everything I had them finish off by imagining there was a dragon race coming up and had them illustrate posters.

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This turned out to be a really successful camp. I want to thank the organizers and my two assistants, Jamie and Chelsea, who helped the kids work on their art projects and did a lot of the clean up. Jamie and Chelsea have been students of mine in the past and it’s really gratifying to see them step into a different role.

Next step? We’ve collected all the students’ writing and drawings and we’ll be publishing them in a short anthology.

A storytelling carnival in Korea

A storytelling carnival in Korea

I recently returned from Korea where I led a week-long creative writing camp for tweens and teens with authors Stacey Matson and Dan Bar-el. We survived the heat (at one point, it was 49 degrees Celsius, with humidity!) and managed to deliver a great program for our students.

Creative approaches to writing

Our creative writing camp was delivered through the Creative Writing for Children Society of Vancouver (CWC) and was designed around the theme of a Storytelling Carnival. This gave us lots of fuel for creative ideas—including gift parcels (in old-fashioned popcorn bags) full of fun activities such as yo-yos, stickers, and circus animal erasers.

At our camps, students usually write a lot of stories and poems, illustrate their work, and build props, working towards the goal of publishing an anthology of their creations.

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Storytelling

This year, we added a whole other factor under the expert leadership of Dan Bar-el: Oral storytelling. Each evening, Dan led “campfire” sessions, in which the kids created stories and practiced telling them. The younger students wrote stories based around the idea of a carnival and did the storytelling in themes. Our older kids took on a greater challenge: their subject was taking traditional Korean myths and telling modernized versions.

Prop-building, steampunk style

One of the main projects I led at camp was helping the students to design and decorate their own steampunk style books. I did this project at local libraries in BC a couple of years ago, and decided to bring it to Korea.

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The idea is that the students not only get a cool notebook by the end of the project, but it can serve as inspiration for a short story. There are plenty of tales of dangerous or forbidden books in the fantasy genre (think of the chained books in Harry Potter), so I thought this would be a good way to stir the imagination.

Here are a few photos of some of their creations:

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Character brainstorming

One of my favorite activities that I led was an interactive brainstorming session. I had the kids brainstorm a character who might participate in the circus, including coming up with all the minute details. As a way to galvanize them, I brainstormed my own character at the front of the group, using their individual suggestions to help build my character.

Here’s my character . . . “poop boy”:

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And here’s a few of the characters the students came up with:

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Afterwards, the project was to write a short “I Am” poem about the character. I decided I would write one based on the group character we developed. Here it is . . .

I am a poop boy

I am a poop boy
Shovelling truckloads of dung
Every
Single
Day.
It never ends.

Lions, monkeys, and elephants
—which is worse?
I can’t tell you.

The monkeys swing above me
Bombarding me with feces.
Sometimes, they even fling it at me,
Forcing me to wear
A handkerchief around my head.

The lions mangle and maul me,
Snatching at me with weaponized paws;
Those razor nails scratch and scrape me
Until I look like shredded paper.

And the elephants?
They leave behind MOUNTAINS of poop.
I wear three masks around my face,
A clothespin on my nose,
Goggles across my eyes,
But nothing seems to work.
The stench always wriggles its way through,
Causing everything to run:
My eyes, my nose, even my ears.

I wish I could run.
Away.

But I can’t
—not if I want to achieve my dreams.
One day, I will stand and strut
In the glare of the bright lights
And be the star of the show
With a crack of my whip
A twirl of my cane
And a tip of my hat.
People won’t call me
Stinky Will anymore.
No, sir!

They’ll look at my fine clothes,
Not handed down to me
From some second-rate clown,
But tailored and hand-stitched
Just for me,
And they’ll call me Ringmaster Will
And all of these poopy problems
Will be just a distant memory.

~

Well, most kids came up with characters far more prestigious than a poop boy! We had a lot of ringmasters, acrobats, and knife-throwers. Having the brainstorming portion completed help them be more detailed in their poems and, also, helped me with editing their work–if, for example, I noticed a dearth of description in their poems, I could point them back to their visual brainstorming.

Many kids took the visual brainstorming to heart and did it for other stories and projects in the camp, too:

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The camp was a lot of work for Stacey, Dan, myself, and our team of counselors, but it was a giant success. No one melted in the heat (even when we made the kids go outside for certain activities) and we’ll soon be publishing our anthology.

Here’s a photo of Stacey, Dan, and I and our students at the end of the camp.

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There was no rest to be had though; immediately after the camp, Stacey, Dan, and I embarked on a tour of libraries in Korea. But more on that in a future post . . .

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

A new addition to the dragon’s nest

I have been building dragon eggs for a couple of years now, but I recently took on the challenge of crafting a giant one. I originally wanted to build an egg so that I could use it as reference in a book I’m working on (not the MAIN book I’m working on, but a side project).

I realized that my eggs were all too small—I wanted a model that would be the exact same size as the one my characters would have to deal with in the book.

So, I hunkered down over spring break and set to work . . . Here’s all the stages, starting with the raw materials: a giant plastic Easter egg shell, acrylic jewels, and plaster.

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I started by plastering. This is the same type of material that doctors use for casts, but you can buy it at most art stores. I cut the plaster sheets into manageable strips then begin forming designs on the shell.

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The plaster dries quickly, but can snap off if you’re not careful. A coat of mod-podge does wonders to keep it intact.

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Once I was done with the plastering, I began the bejeweling phase, using a variety of different sizes and colors—the color variation doesn’t actually matter, because everything gets painted over at the end.

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I like to start with a black coat of paint, then build up color afterwards.

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I chose metallic greens for the final color, so started dry-brushing over the black undercoat.

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Here’s the final product, sitting in my studio and shown next to an average hen’s egg, to show scale!

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And here’s four of my dragon eggs, showing the different sizes, colors, and patterns.

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The nightmare escapes: a writing prompt at our creativity camp

The nightmare escapes: a writing prompt at our creativity camp

My wife and I our currently in Korea, teaching a creativity camp for tweens and teens. We’re combing writing, art, prop building, and acting to provide the students with a week of intensive creativity!

One of our opening activities was based around the idea of bottling dreams. Students brainstormed characters, focusing on their fears and nightmares. The students then “built” the nightmares by imagining that they had been bottled.

Students could be as literal or symbolic as they wished. I brought a lot of general supplies such as black sand, hair, cotton, and feathers, all of which could be trimmed or stretched to represent the negative qualities of nightmares. There were also some more “on-the-nose” objects, such as plastic bugs and snakes!

For story purposes, those bottles get accidentally opened, unleashing story inspiration!

Here are some photos of the students’ bottles and brainstorming . . .

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