I've been experimenting a bit with playdough playmats, and they have proven pretty popular at home and at Happymess. You can download playdough playmats from the internet to print and laminate, which would be good if you were just using these at home, but I like to make my own for using at Happymess. First off I made some monster playmats by cutting out coloured tissue and laminating the shapes on top of a sheet of A4 (printed with some suggestions for use). Second time round I designed some very simple face shapes on the computer and then printed and laminated them. I think they are great because they provide a focus for playdough play without being too prescriptive. My four year old picked the monster shape that she wanted (I made quite a few different shapes), and filled the whole shape in with dough - a bit like colouring in with playdough. She then added some eyes and decorated it with buttons. You could use this to practice counting, we didn't because I was slightly preoccupied trying to stop her little brother eating his playdough. She enjoyed picking the buttons off carefully to show the pattern of indents left in the dough.
I think the face templates worked better at Happymess than the monster mats, maybe because there were more three and four year old children there that day, or maybe because it's more obvious what to do with a face than a monster shaped blob! I used the face-shaped mats for Father's Day - to make funny Dad faces - but they could be any kind of face, so they will be back soon!
If you haven't been already, I would recommend a visit to the lovely Leigh Woods to see Luke Jerram's Withdrawn, a flotilla of five boats marooned in the middle of the woods. Designed to raise questions about how they got there; climate change, extreme weather, or over-fishing, they create an interesting focal point in the woods, and a space to consider the nature of the work. We went on a sunny Saturday, the first weekend after it was installed, and even then it seemed pretty peaceful.
It's not often that you get to view a contemporary artwork in such a family friendly environment. Most of the paths around the woods are suitable for buggies and there is also a nice natural play area. The woods themselves are great for pottering around. My only complaint would be that children aren't allowed to play on the boats, which makes them a bit less interactive than some of Luke Jerram's previous works, but it states on the website that he intends to give the boats away after the project finishes (in September), and they could be used for children's play, which would make up for that! In fact my daughter's nursery have put in a request for one of them, so fingers crossed that might happen.
One consequence of the work is that it has opened up Leigh Woods to a new audience as many of the visitors to see the boats had not visited the woods previously. Hopefully they will all be back after seeing how beautiful this easily accessible woodland is.
Shaun in the City Happymess workshop at Mrs Brown's Café, Victoria Park - Wednesday 29 July 10am-12pm
Shaun In the City Happymess Workshop
(making paper plate/cotton wool Shaun the Sheep and playing with a mud farm)
Wednesday 29 July 10am-12pm
Mrs Brown's Café, Victoria Park
£1 per child plus £1 donation per family to Wallace and Gromit's Grand Appeal
Drop-in, no need to book
Suitable for all ages over 12 months
I think everyone in Bristol is getting pretty excited about the arrival of the Shaun the Sheep sculptures on the 6 July. We certainly are at Happymess - I'm especially looking forward to seeing our local one at Mrs Brown's Café in Victoria Park. Come along an join us there on Wednesday 29 July, to make some paper plate and cotton wool Shauns, and play with a mud farm. Please check the Happymess Facebook page on the day for confirmation this is going ahead (weather permitting) - we will go ahead in light drizzle but may postpone if there is heavy wind or rain!
I took Happymess to Make Sunday Special Bedminster last weekend and it was brilliant. I wasn't sure how it would go because I hadn't done anything of that scale before but it was fab. We had 200+ visitors plus parents at the Happymess stall, and everyone seemed to have a great time. I took two paddling pool sandpits - one with blue sand (the sea) and another with plain sand (the beach) and six cardboard beach huts. These were really busy for the whole day (10am-4pm) and saving a couple of minor repairs to the beach huts, they basically didn't require much attention. The children who came by also made stone creatures - by painting stones and adding decorations such as pompoms, tissue shreds and goggly eyes. They looked fantastic! Passers-by were taking photos of them drying, they looked really fun and colourful all together. At the end of the day there were a few that weren't collected - I'm planning on displaying these as part of Art on the Hill in October. Thank you to everyone that organised the overall event, and to everyone who took part!
This is a great, hassle free, only slightly messy art activity for the summer. When we did it, it was my four year old who 'invented' it herself. After a recent water play session she came along to, she became hooked on playing with spray water bottles in the garden. She spent ages spraying plants, the paving slabs and whatever was around. She also asked for some cloths and cleaned the lid of the sandpit, without any intervention or suggestion from me. Brilliant. She did a pretty good job too! At some point she started to play with the chalk alongside the spray bottles, and realised that the chalk went nice and mushy if she ground it up and sprayed it with water. She created big, round, chalky puddles. These stayed where they were for quite a few days, as it didn't rain much and the chalk residue was quite thick. She then went back over them and drew and then squirted faces on them. I love how happy they look, and that she thought it up herself.
This could be a good way to make some temporary street art too!
This stuff looks amazing! At least until the ice melts - then it goes a bit beige! But it's still gloop so still lots of fun to play with. We tried this out last week in half term (our time for research as my normal Happymess classes only run in term time). We love cornflour gloop (cornflour and water mixed together). It's extremely tactile. It's partly solid and partly liquid and it feels silky as it dribbles and oozes through your fingers. The ice adds some colour and an extra textural element to the activity. My four year old was really interested in the ice to start off with but quite quickly forgot about it and reverted to her normal gloop play - pouring and prodding it, putting it in containers and making me pretend to eat it. My one year old woke up from his nap after most of the ice had melted, but he still had a nice play with the by then beige gloop, letting it drip off his fingers and trying to dislodge the toys from the gloop (quite hard work once they sink in).
If you'd like to do this at home:
We used two boxes of cornflour in an underbed storage box - outside on a table and then on the ground because it seemed easier, especially for my one year old. We mixed in water gradually until it was the right gloopy consistency and then added some coloured ice. I made the ice in a silicon mini muffin tray so they were a bit bigger than standard ice cubes but the normal ones would be fine. I used the brilliant Wilton food colouring gels - unsurpassed in the quality of colour they create!
Clearing up tips!
Once you are finished playing, let the gloop settle for about half an hour, and then pour off the water from the top, without pouring away the cornflour, which sinks to the bottom. Then let it dry out for a day or two. It turns solid, smooth and cracked (see photo below); you can just lift it away from the box and pop in the bin. You could almost turn this bit into another activity, it's pretty fun considering it's actually clearing up! Also - with any spills around where you have been playing, wait till it dries and then just sweep/brush it up. Try not to wipe it at all if you can, that just spreads a thin layer of cornflour over everything.
Jenny Clarke. I run Happymess (art, craft and messy play classes for young children). I have two small children who love to get messy and make things. I also like to see as much art as I can. This blog is about art, craft and messy play activities you can try out at home, art to see with your children, and the occasional Happymess event you can come along to!