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.

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.


Blinking-Winking Owl Craft

My latest project with the Dumpling is to make trendy animals (ex: llamas, flamingos, narwhals, etc.) from the past and present. Owls, of course, made the list because they were everywhere back in the early 2010s due to Harry Potter mania. The birds were inescapable, being featured in clothes, home decor, and toys and even becoming popular household pets.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about owls are their eyes, so the Dumpling and I made ones that blinks and winks…among other expressions.

Materials

  • Owl template (click here to download)
  • Card stock
  • Thin wire
  • Tape
  • Hole punch (1/8″)
  • Scissors
  • X-Acto knife (optional)

1. Print the owl template on card stock and cut.

Tip: It is easier to cut out the eyes from the owl with an X-Acto knife!
We colored our owls by stamping them with bubble wrap.

2. Glue two pairs of eyes together. Select two pairs of eyes from the template (or draw your own) and hole punch where indicated. Position one pair in front of you, then vertically flip (very important!) the eyes over to glue the second pair onto the backside.

3. String a thin wire through the eyes and tape the wire in place on the back of the owl. (I only had floral wire…that’s why it is green!)

Bind Photos Into a Book

The photos on my phone are an un-curated mess, filled with blurred, unflattering, or accidental shots that should have been deleted long ago. As a result, the Dumpling and I would often get distracted by the 10,000+ images other than the ones I want to show her.

After our recent family vacation, I printed a few photos that highlighted our trip and bound them into a miniature book. Sharing real, physical pictures was such a refreshing experience in this digital age. The format helped the Dumpling better recount the events in chronological order and served as a keepsake of our holiday.

The book served as a personal keepsake or can be given away as a personalized gift!

The photo book, which measures 3″ w x 4″ h, was made from folding a standard 6″ x 4″ photo in half. The below tutorial shows how to print two images per spread. To create one image per spread, just print directly from your phone.


1. Adjust slide size to standard 6″ w x 4″ h photo dimensions in a blank PowerPoint presentation.


2. Delete any text boxes on the slide. PowerPoint inserts the title and subtitle text boxes on the first slide by default, so select both and delete.


3. Insert 3″ w x 4″ h rectangle on the left half of the slide. PowerPoint uses a blue rectangle and black outline by default. While it does not matter what the fill color is, remove the shape outline. This is where the picture on the left spread will be.


4. Duplicate the rectangle and place it on the right half of the slide. This is where the picture on the right spread will be.


5. Fill the rectangles with photos. Instead of filling the shape with a color, select the option to fill it with an image. Repeat steps 3-5 on additional slides until reaching the number of desired pages (my recommendation is approximately 10-20).

(Pro-tip: Add text on top of the photos to tell a story!)


6. Convert the slides in JPGs. My local print shop only prints photos from JPGs or PNGs, so I had to convert my PowerPoint file into the acceptable format. I could not figure out how to export the images without compromising on the resolution (even though I checked all the settings!), so my workaround was to first save the slides as a PDF.

Then I converted the PDF into JPGs in Adobe Acrobat. If you do not have Acrobat, there are free conversion apps online.


7. Print on regular 6″ x 4″ photo paper.


8. Score and fold each printed photograph in half. Scoring creates a cleaner fold, especially on thicker paper stocks. If you do not have a scoring board, layer a folded towel under the photo, place a ruler on where the score line should be, and run the edge of an old credit card along the ruler to create the score line.


9. With the edges aligned, tape the back of the photos together using double-sided tape. I applied tape on the top, bottom, and outer margins of the photo, but not the inner margin located along the fold.

Once the photos are taped together, they form the inside pages of the book and the folds make up the spine.


10. Press the photos together under something heavy (i.e. textbooks) for about 24 hours. This limits the pages from puffing open on their own.


11. Tape the spine tightly together and then measure its width. This width varies depending on the number of pages, weight of the photo paper, and how well the pages were compressed together. For example, the width of my spine was approximately 0.5″. If unsure, add no more than 0.125″ to the measurement.


12. Create the book cover in PowerPoint. The process is similar to creating the inside pages of the book as demonstrated above, so I did not splice the demo video up into individual steps. In summary, adjust the slide size to US Letter dimensions (11″ x 8.5″) and insert a rectangle with the following dimensions: (6″ + width of spine spine) x 4″. For my example, it would be 6.5″ w x 4″ h. The rectangle should be placed at least 0.25″ away from the edges of the slide to prevent the image from being cut off during printing.

I have also added lines (at the 3″ and 3.5″ mark) to help indicate where I needed to score the book spine.

When “filling” the the rectangle with an image, PowerPoint automatically stretches the picture, so manually change this setting by switching to “Fit” under the “Crop” drop-down. To enlarge or shrink the image proportionally, click and drag the white circles on the corners AND hold down the SHIFT key simultaneously.

Cover image is downloaded from Freepik.

13. Print. I used standard 8.5″ x 11″ card stock. When printing, select “Actual Size” in the setting to prevent the printer from changing the image size.

14. Score and fold where spine ought to be, then cut out the cover.


15. Tape the cover onto the first and last page of the book. Again I only taped the top, bottom, and outer margins. Do not tape the spine of the book onto the cover because there needs to be wiggle room for the book to open and close.


Aluminum Foil Embossing

DIY metallic embossing — with embossing powder, special ink, and heat gun, has always sounded complicated and messy to me, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that a kid-friendly version can be created with aluminum foil. This project allows lots of room for error, so it is great for toddlers still working on their fine motor skills.

Materials

  • Aluminum foil
  • Thick string or twine
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Black cardstock (optional)

Draw or print a design on a piece paper. Simple images without much detail work the best. Click here to download my leaf design.

Trace design with glue. Smudges are okay since everything will be covered up by the foil anyways.

Glue string/twine onto the design. For my leaf design, I cut the string into varying lengths beforehand and let the Dumpling chose which ones to use. I was not picky about placement. If you are, however, the strings can easily be re-arranged since the glue took a while to dry.

Apply more glue surrounding the image and on top of the string, cover with a sheet of foil with shiny side up, and gently rub on the raised image.

Let dry, cut along the outlines, and glue the leaves onto the black cardstock. Any color paper can be used, but I preferred black since it brought out the metallic silver.

Bonus: Turn the leftover foil into abstract art. Crumples, rips, and wrinkles are interesting textures, so fold the leftover foil into strips of varying lengths and widths. Then ask your toddler for their expert arrangement to create a piece of abstract art.