Journey Into Our Solar System: A Tunnel Book

As part of our homeschooling curriculum, the Dumpling and I have been learning about space the last few weeks. When I say homeschool, I really mean watching YouTube videos on the subject…the same ones over and over and over again. Repetition is key, folks! Even better if the information is in a song.

For the art and craft portion for our theme, we made a tunnel book of the solar system. I was inspired after seeing one on Pinterest, but it had no tutorials so I’m sharing mine.

According to Wonderpolis.org:

“Tunnel books are made up of a series of pages that are held together by folded strips of paper on each side. In fact, the sides of a tunnel book might make you think of an accordion. The overall effect of a tunnel book is to create the illusion of depth and perspective.

Tunnel books are “read” through a hole in the cover. Each page features openings that allow the reader to see through the entire book to the back cover. The images on each page work together to form a three-dimensional scene inside the book that helps to tell the story.

https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-a-tunnel-book
The 3D format made us feel like we were traveling into our solar system as we flipped through the pages.

Making one is actually easier than it looks. My version, however, differs from the traditional form because it is only bounded on one side. I left the right side open so that we could flip though it like a book.


Materials

  • Cardstock (8.5″x 11″):
    • Blue cardstock (10x): we used a mixture of different shades
    • White (1x)
  • Scoring tool (alternatively, an old credit card, ruler and towel would work as well)
  • Glue
  • Ruler
  • Coloring materials (we used craft paint)
  • Scissors and/or X-Acto knife (recommended)

Print out the templates — “solar system” template on white cardstock and “orbit” template on blue cardstock.

* Please note that while the templates include a page for the sun, I decided to exclude it from my book (I used my phone’s flashlight to represent our star instead), so you will not see it in my pictures.


Color and cut. We used craft paint and also splattered/smeared some white on the blue cardstock to represent faraway stars. Only cut the shaded circles from the middle of each page on the “orbits” template (an X-Acto knife is recommended). Mark the page number, which are in brackets, for each cut item with a pencil for future reference.

DO NOT CUT OUT THE CIRCLE FOR THE SUN on page 9 of the “orbit” template.

We explored textures while painting the planets by using sponges, plastic wrap, and brushes.

Glue the planets onto the orbit circles by matching the page numbers. Play around with placement — spread them around so that they are not bunched together and have at least 50% of each planet “stick out” of the circle cutouts. The goal is to have all eight planets visible from the front page.

Glue the sun cutout in place as indicated on page 9 of the “orbit” template.


Create the spine. Using the last blue cardstock placed in portrait orientation, draw vertical lines that are 0.5″ apart and score along the lines. Scoring is extremely important when working with heavier paper because it helps create clean, crisp folds. If you do not have a scoring bone, place the cardstock on top of a towel, align a ruler along the lines, and run an old credit card along the ruler to create a score.

Make accordion folds along the scored lines.


Glue each page onto the spine. Start with Neptune on the first page and work your way back. Imagine each accordion fold as a hill, and glue the pages onto the downward slope.

Since I omitted the page for the sun, I have an empty slot on my spine.

No Waste, Biodegradable Easter Eggs

I always bear a tinge of guilt whenever we use food for play because it feels so wasteful. My mind goes through an internal debate, taking into consideration such things as how much food is used, what the alternatives options are, and whether there is replay value, before I either move forward or pass up such activities.

Decorating real Easter eggs has never made my “move forward” list because the eggs normally go straight to the bin after the egg hunt — I personally would not eat them since not all dyes are edible and the eggs may not be safe for consumption after sitting in room temperature for so long. As alternatives, we have used plastic and styrofoam eggs in the past, but they are not the most environmentally friendly options either.

This year, we moved onto no-waste, biodegradable Easter eggs by decorating just the egg shells. We poked a small hole into raw eggs with a pointy scissor, emptied the contents with a few shakes (which we kept for cooking later), and rinsed the insides of the shells.

Due to their fragility, we opted for a gentler decorating method that did not require too much handling. I did not want to just soak the eggs in food coloring so we dyed them with bleeding tissue paper instead. Bleeding tissue paper is colored tissue paper that “bleeds” its color when wet. This is not some fancy art material as many regular tissue papers do this.

Tip: Stand the eggs on bottle caps to keep them from rolling around.

The Dumpling cut up strips of tissue paper and layered them onto the shells.

We occasionally coated the shells with a light spray of water so the tissue papers stuck on better and continued wrapping until the eggs were completely covered with several layers.

We waited overnight for everything to dry and unwrapped the tissue paper to find beautifully dyed eggs!

The shells endured under the hands of my four year old better than expected because only one broke after several rounds of egg hunting.

Two-Ingredient Faux Stained Glass Paint

The Dumpling and I have experimented with several methods of making faux glass paint, and this simple two-ingredient recipe has consistently been my go-to. It is easy to make with materials readily found and is washable, which is always a plus when working with young children.

The mixture tints clear plastic or glass a with translucent layer of paint that glows with gorgeous colors under direct light. Originally used in a project to make sea glass bottles, the Dumpling and I have applied this “glass paint” to create lanterns and sun catchers as well.

Our “stained glass” mermaid tails and their colorful projections from our window.

So what are these two magical ingredients? Elmer’s glue and food coloring!

Materials

The “stained glass” glue consist of only two ingredients: Elmer’s glue and food coloring.

Trace image onto the plastic sheet with black fabric paint or sharpie. Print out the mermaid tail or draw something of your own. If the latter, start with an image without fine details because the viscous consistency of the paint mixture makes painting small areas difficult. It is like painting with Elmer’s glue…because we are painting with Elmer’s glue!

Either fabric paint or sharpie could be used to trace the outline. I prefer fabric paint because the raised outline helps contain the paint. (Hint: Draw thicker lines for younger children to help them “color within the lines”.)


Mix glue with food coloring. I used one drop of gel food coloring for about a tablespoon of glue. The more food coloring used, the more intense the color. You want the paint to dry opaque so do not go overboard.


Paint the image with colored glue mixture and let dry. The color will lighten/fade — this is normal.

Mermaid tails when the colored glue was wet. The Dumpling’s mermaid tail (right) had so much paint, the colors bled into each other and covered the outline — this fixed itself once everything dried.
Once the glue dried, the colors faded and became opaque. Even if the paint covered the outline, just flip the plastic sheet over.

Place the images in direct sunlight or under a flashlight in the dark.

The “stained glass” under direct sunlight.
The “stained glass” under a flashlight in the dark.

The Dumpling Turns Four: A Not-So-Scary Halloween Birthday Bash

I was able to get away with not throwing the Dumpling a birthday party last year, but not anymore. Having attended countless birthday celebrations of her friends, the Dumpling had specific requests of how she wanted to celebrate her fourth birthday.

Between a My Little Pony or Halloween themed bash, the Dumpling surprising chose the latter — probably because she wanted to wear her princess costumes. So this year, we threw another not-so-scary Halloween birthday party.


Invitation

I sent out an electronic mummy-themed invitation to set the tone of the party. As much as I love physical invitations, digital ones are just so much easier to send and track…not to mention more environmentally friendly!

Mummy invitation created in PowerPoint.

Party Favors

Goody bags are necessary evils because the kids get so excited about them…for about 15 minutes. I tried to keep the items practical and within the budget of $2-3 per bag. My strategy was to buy items in sets and then separated each into individual gifts. Below are a few ideas I considered:

I stuffed each bag with candy, a sheet of temporary tattoo, and tied everything together with either a headband (for girls) or bow ties (for boys).


Decorations

I always make my own bunting because it’s inexpensive to create custom text and colors to match my decor.

Personalized bunting created in PowerPoint.

I also purchased a few small pumpkins and simple decorations from Amazon that I put up a few hours before the party.

Thank you to C-cakes for these bite size cupcakes!

Games & Activities

Along with a trampoline and bouncy castle that came with the venue rental, we played games to keep the kids entertained. I had prizes prepared for the winners, and theoretically every child had a chance to win something. Unfortunately there were still a few tears because everyone wanted to be winners at the same time…lesson learned for the next party!

Wrap a Mummy: We divided the kids into groups and provided them with two rolls of toilet paper. The team who finished wrapping an adult with the toilet paper (covering head, hands, body, and legs) won.

Pumpkin Relay Race: Each kid must race while balancing a pumpkin on his/her head.

Hot Pumpkin: Similar to hot potato, each kid must pass the pumpkins around. Whoever was holding a pumpkin when the music stopped, was out.

Craft Station: I set up a small table with crayons, coloring sheets, and craft supplies. This little corner surprisingly became a huge hit!

A station to make Halloween masks and cards.

A big thank you to everyone who came to celebrate. Happiest birthday to my little Dumpling, who really isn’t so little anymore!

My little Dumpling turns four!

Salt Dough Eye Balls

Salt dough is one of my favorite DIY play materials because they’re so easy and quick to make. The classic recipe of 2:1:1 parts plain four, table salt, and water has never failed me.

We recently made a batch for a project and had bits of leftover dough. Not wanting to waste it, we rolled it up into little balls. Once dried, we turned them into eyeballs with markers.

These things actually gross me out a lot but were a big hit with the Dumpling.

The Cat Is Watching You: Moving Eyes Optical Illusion

This kitty is watching you…its eyes always following you no matter which angle you look at it.

Relax! It’s not really creepy witchcraft, but an optical illusion created by adding a 3D element to a 2D picture with eyes.

According to instructables.com:

It works by receding the eyes below the surface of the picture. The depth of the eyes allows the edges of the eye sockets (which are not receded) to hide the whites on the side it is being viewed from, just as would happen if an actual person was turning their eyes toward you.

To replicate a similar effect in our cat, we “puffed” up its head to create depth with a simple technique.


Materials


Print the template.


Color the cat. Please note that the color applied on the cat’s head on Page 2 will be the color of the cat’s eyes.

We colored the cat’s head yellow on Page 2 to give our furry creature yellow eyes.

Cut out the cat’s head, eyes, and the slits on the side of each cheek.


Overlap the slits to puff up the cat’s head. Add glue where indicated and gently glue together the slits to create the “puff”.


Glue the head onto the body. Dab glue on the tip of each ear and chin as indicated on Page 2 of the template, align the head cutout onto the dotted lines, and gently press only where glue is applied. Do not flatten the head; it should remain raised.

That little “puff” we made on the kitty’s head was enough to create the depth needed for the optical illusion. Now no matter which way you look, the cat is always looking at you!

Agamograph of Trees Changing Color

Even though fall is here, it still feels like summer in Hong Kong. The temperature swelters around the 90s and there are no hallmarks of a typical New England autumn — gradient colored leaves, apple picking trips, Halloween decorations, or pumpkin spiced anything!

Despite living in a foreign land, it is important that the Dumpling is still exposed to American traditions and celebrations, so I took it upon myself to make the leaves change color…with an agamograph!

Agamographs are pictures that show a different image depending on the angle that they are viewed. They make versatile projects because the process can be adapted for different age groups — from coloring for the littlest ones, to cutting and gluing for pre-schoolers, to applying math for school-aged kids.


Materials

  • Agamograph tree template (with guidelines or without guidelines)
  • Paint
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Tape
  • Scoring tool (optional, suggested if using cardstock)
  • Paper 2x (if using template without guidelines)

Print the template. The version with the guidelines is a straightforward color, cut, and glue activity while the version without guidelines will require additional math and ruler work later.

Download template with guides
Download template without guidelines.

When printing, select “actual size” under the ‘Page Sizing & Handling” section.


Color the trees — the first page with the hues of summer (ex: shades of green) and the second with those of fall (ex: shades of yellow, orange, red, or brown).

We used a combination of our fingers, brushes, and sponges to color in the leaves.

Cut the trees into strips. Cut along the solid lines in the version with the guidelines (pages 1 and 2). Cut and discard the excess strips located on the left and right margins of each page.

If using the version without the guidelines, divvy and mark the pages into equal parts (I used “0.75”) with a ruler before cutting. Label the back of each strip chronologically, using the alphabet letters for one page and numbers for the other. See the guideline template version for reference.


Create the base backing. In the guideline version, place the base pages (pages 3 and 4) in landscape orientation and tape them together. In the version without guides, tape together two pieces of paper in landscape orientation.

If using heavier paper stock, score along the dotted lines or the same width as the strips. This would make folding the paper easier later.


Arrange the strips in alternating order and glue them onto the base.


Fold the base like an accordion. In the guideline version, fold along the dotted lines. On the version without guides, use the strips as reference for the fold.


Create Custom Postcards From Your Artwork

Here is a little secret: I upcycle the Dumpling’s old artwork all the time — either using them as raw material in new projects or digitally giving them second lives.

Remember the geometric tape resist animals from last summer? I framed the originals in her room and turned the digital copies into postcards using PowerPoint and printing on heavy card stock.

I shared my PowerPoint template and instructions of how I created the postcards below:


Take a picture of the artwork with your phone

Take pictures of the pieces (it can be anything, not just paintings) you would like to use with your phone, email, and save them to your desktop. Alternatively, scan the images and save them as high resolution (300 dpi) JPGs. I prefer the first method because I can make basic touch-ups (adjust brightness, color saturation, etc.) on my phone’s photo app if necessary.

Example of the digitized copy (picture taken with my iPhone) of our artwork.

Insert the images into the PowerPoint template

Download and open postcard template in PowerPoint. Slide 1 is where you insert the custom images, and Slide 2 is for your messages, addresses, and stamps. Please note that the template yields two A6 (4.1″ x 5.8″) postcards.

Click on the left white rectangle to prompt the SHAPE FORMAT option to appear. To fill in the shape with an image, click on SHAPE FILL → PICTURES → INSERT PICTURES FROM A FILE. Select the artwork file on your desktop.


Adjust the image size

PowerPoint automatically stretches the image to “fill” the shape, which sometimes distorts the picture size disproportionately. To fix this, click on the image and select PICTURE FORMAT → CROP → FIT.

Click on one of the white circles located at the corners of the image (NOT the black lines), and expand or contract the image while holding down the SHIFT key to adjust the dimensions proportionally. To re-position (ex: centering the image), click on the image and drag it to the desired position. Click on CROP again to set the new dimensions and placement.

From here, you can get fancy by adding custom text on top of the image, but that is entirely optional.

Repeat filling in the image and adjusting its position on the right rectangle.


Print on card stock

I prefer to save my PowerPoint file as a PDF (FILE → SAVE AS → PDF) prior to printing so that it can be universally opened by outside printers since I do not have a printer at home.

Print the PDF in actual size, double-sided on card stock and cut along the borders.


In this day and age, handwritten letters is becoming a lost art — something I intend to change with my kids. The Dumpling and I made an activity out of visiting the post office, sticking on stamps, and dropping our postcards in the mail box. We hope our friends and family would appreciate receiving these in the mail!

Experiments With Homemade Faux Alcohol Ink

Alcohol ink is one of the most fascinating art media I have ever seen. It seems to have a mind of its own, blending and repelling itself into mesmerizing abstract patterns.

I have been wanting to get my hands on a set, but decided to make my own by following a simple recipe using markers and rubbing alcohol. The idea of using rubbing alcohol has never occurred to me, so I further experiment with mixing it with other household dyes to see what happens — some yielded interesting results…some not.


Materials:

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Gel food coloring
  • Washable markers, both dried-up and usable ones
  • Glossy photo paper or yupo paper
  • Dropper/pipette

Experiment #1: Marker ink mixed with rubbing alcohol

My first attempt was following the recipe I found online where I clipped off the caps from a set of dried up markers (perfect upcycling project!) and soaked the ink pads in rubbing alcohol overnight.

Upcycle dried up markers by turning them into alcohol ink.

We used a dropper to apply the inks onto the photo paper and watched the colors mixed and repelled each other — just like real alcohol inks. The recipe worked!

The layers of color mix and repel each other at the same time.

We experimented with adding ink on top of an almost dried layer and un-dyed rubbing alcohol, which diluted the colors of existing layers.


Experiment #2: Food coloring mixed with rubbing alcohol

In my next experiment, I replaced marker dye with liquid water color. Unfortunately, the solution clumped up so I added gel food coloring instead.

This still ended up being a failure in my opinion because the inks had both watercolor and alcohol ink properties — but were neither here nor there. Eventually everything started turning brown after several rounds of layering.

The Dumpling did not want to create abstract art, so I pre-printed rainbows and unicorns on photo paper for her to color instead. Unicorn image downloaded from Freepik.

Despite the inks not turning out properly, we added the remainder onto a piece of photo paper and tilted it to let the colors run downwards. The results reminded me of corals so I digitally overlaid a doodle of underwater botanicals on top. Pretty cool right?


Experiment #3: Dropping rubbing alcohol on marker ink

For our final experiment, we colored on photo paper with regular markers and added un-dyed rubbing alcohol on top. Even though the Dumpling’s coloring were rough, uneven scribbles, this method seamlessly blended everything together.

(Click here to download crystal image (4″ x 6″))

Images colored in with regular washable markers.
After adding a few drops of rubbing alcohol, the ink on the markers started blending together.

Out of the three methods, the first one replicated the basic properties of alcohol ink the best. Although the homemade recipe was inferior to the real thing, it worked well enough for me to make the faux version again if I have any old markers around.