Anubis, Algonquin Longhouse, Lake Pepin and Other Crazy School Projects
As my middle son enters middle school, I have been reflecting on some of the crazy elementary school projects that they (and I) have completed over the last few years. These would be pretty run-of-the-mill school assignments until you throw in a crazy dad who happens to be an Architect and is perhaps a bit ambitious when it comes to projects that require building things - like models.
There have been many of these projects and to be honest, most have been small and of short construction duration. Some of these are not very memorable and some draw a complete blank but then there are the ones that I cannot forget. Besides the model building type of project, there has also been some costume design thrown in for good measure. Those were actually kind of fun and challenging (even for dad) because you don't often design and make a costume.
As I reminisce about all of this, three of the larger projects, in particular, come to mind. These are: (1) the Anubis costume for Egypt days, which was actually a middle school project; (2) the Algonquin Longhouse, a museum quality third grade project (do you see a problem with that statement); (3) the model of Pepin, the town from Little House in the Big Woods.
The Algonquin Longhouse, a museum quality third grade project . . . DO YOU SEE A PROBLEM WITH THAT STATEMENT? Yikes!
When these projects come around, I tend to go a bit crazy . . . OK, maybe over-the-top is a more appropriate metaphor. Let's face it, I cannot help myself. I will say, in my own defense, that the kids do participate and contribute significantly to the effort (right . . . that justification sounds totally lame). The reality is, if I was not involved, it is certain that the result would be completely different. Another factor to consider is the boys always request my help and want to build the best - coolest - project (me too). Later, as the process wears on and progress is slow and meticulous, they have been known to express regret at their decisions to enlist my expertise (me too). Did I mention that they helped?
Anubis Rules 6th Grade
Anubis, an Egyptian God-like creature also know as the Jackal was a truly great project. For one thing, my son was really getting into social studies because of the intrigue that comes with myths and legends, such as Egyptian Gods. He was even reading (Percy Jackson) and so I thought we had to keep this "miracle" of interest in school going.
The final mask was made of plaster cloth over a strips of cardboard and then painted. The project, however, was not without its challenges. In our first attempt, we uses a balloon as a base and plastered over that. The result was a great looking head but there was one problem. It looked a lot like Porky Pig and had no resemblance to a fierce Egyptian Jackal. Some attempts were made to modify the pig but those all failed. So Porky went in the trash and we started over. The second attempt, with a cardboard cage, worked much better. As the skeleton of the mask was being made, adjustments and corrections were easy.
Cloth, rope, string, foam, glittery foam, paper, a bamboo stick and little fake jewels made up the rest of the ensemble. The robe was simply pinned together with safety pins and some Velcro as it was only expected to last one day. Flip-flops substituted for sandals (socks were worn because it was getting cold out and a cold fall Chicago day is no place for any mythical Egyptian creature).
The end result was a truly great costume that he was proud to wear around during the school day's themed activities. You can read more about the costume and its construction at the link below. That article also shows other costumes completed that year, including: The Greek God Hades, a great Viking costume (for Halloween) and the Medieval Mason plying his craft.
If this is not enough for you, read more about Anubis at A year of Great Costumes.
3rd Grade Longhouse Project
Of all the projects, large and small, the Longhouse project was the one that went to the extreme. No third grader could ever hope to build a model like we built without the help of someone who has experience in design and model building. That would be me, the Architect and I have acknowledged that this project was over planned, over executed and just plain overdone. Still, you have to admit, it is a great model. My son also agrees. When the longhouse came home, after a two year stay at school, he would not hear any discussion of disposing of it. What will its fate be? The jury is still out on that.
I have acknowledged that this project was over planned, over executed and just plain overdone!
The longhouse was constructed out of bass and balsa wood. The base is foam core with modeling materials for the grass, soil and rocks. Most all of the wood elements (logs, sticks and firewood) are from sticks gathered in our yard. The dried plants that were used to simulate food and grains where gathered at a nearby park. The pots, containers, pumpkins, fabric and other pre-made details were bought at Hobby Lobby.
My son enjoyed many aspects of the construction of this project. He especially liked creating the ground-scape and furnishing all of the details . . . shopping for the details was also fun. But this project was very time consuming. His patience ran thin and keeping him focused was a constant challenge. If I was to do this one all over again, I would think long and hard for a simpler way to construct the longhouse while still trying to make a realistic looking model. There is more about the longhouse at the link below.
If you want to read more tall tails and see more pictures about the Longhouse, they can be found at Longhouse Comes Home.
Frontier Town in the Big Woods
The last of the three big elementary school projects being showcased in this hub (but probably not the last to be built . . . I still have a second grader coming up) is the model of (Lake) Pepin, Wisconsin. This was a fourth grade project completed after the class read the Laura Ingalls book "Little House in the Big Woods."
My son could have made some buttermilk pancakes or picked some other much easier "pioneering" project but, no, he wanted to build a town! In the end, the model would turn out to be less ambitious then the Longhouse. Still, it was a major undertaking.
Yes, this project was a little more abstract and not "museum quality."
The buildings were all built out of boxes (small gift boxes and shipping boxes we purchased at the Container Store). These were modified, added to, and drawn on. The main modification was adding a roof. That seemed to work out pretty well and although they were not that realistic, they did seem to convey the general ideal of town. The base of the model was built in much the same way as the one for the longhouse but with two sheets of foam core so there was a step for the lake. The water was a piece of blue construction paper. The main piece of foam-core was painted brown and then topped with various modeling materials, rocks, sticks and dried plants (for trees). As required by the project instructions, the store and one house were cut open to reveal the inside. These were kept pretty simple but were surprisingly affective.
The Pepin model was not as over done as the longhouse but it was still a big hit with #1 son and at school. I would say he contributed more time-per-capta on this project than #2 son did on the Longhouse. The project was not meant to last, however. Not long after its showing at school, it headed for the trash bin but not before we took a few photos. If you want to see more pics of the town, there is a post at the BRBlog site (see links above - I am not providing a link for this one, in keeping with the 2-link Hub rule).
He Must be Stopped
Will there be more projects in the future . . . the answer is, unfortunately, YES!
Will dad learn his lesson and tone it down a bit (or maybe even walk away) . . . the answer is, probably, NO!
He just can't help himself and reform is unlikely. Any advice on this matter would be much appreciated but bear in mind, it will probably go in one ear and out the other. As I mentioned above, my second grader (and #3 son - the last one) will be moving into the "school project zone" soon enough. Send help, please!