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.

Making Music With the Dumpling

During the height of the Dumpling’s obsession with Baby Shark, I thought it would be a fun idea to teach her how to play the song on the piano. It was an idiotic move on my end because the main tune, which only consist of four notes on repeat, was even more annoying without lyrics…especially when played incorrectly, as my then three year old did regularly.

The Dumpling was only interested in replicating the melody, so I helped her identify the keys by writing the name of each note, starting with middle C and ending with high C, on painter’s tape and taping them onto the keys. Our “lessons” were unstructured, a few minutes long, and on an impromptu basis. My goal was to expose her to music, not formally train her. Repetition was essential. For the first month, I listened to her play Baby Shark on repeat until my ears bled.

Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…”

Luckily she also learned Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to give me a bit of variety.

Her enthusiasm for the piano soon stopped just as suddenly as it started, and a year would passed before we made music together again. This time around, her instruments of choice were an out-of-tune toy xylophone and a set of handbells. With a little refresher, it was not long before I found the same two songs on an infinite play loop again.

Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…”

The Dumpling claimed that she could actually play five songs because The Alphabet Song (ABCs) and Baa Baa Black Sheep share the same tune as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. While technically true, it was nevertheless a good time to add new ones to her repertoire.

Handbells: I found handbells easier to work with than the piano. First, they look more fun and can be either rung or struck with a mallet (although the sound is a bit muffled). In addition to the labels on the handle, the different colors provide an easy identifying visual. Finally, because the Dumpling must deliberately select a bell and ring it, this prompts her to be more careful. The biggest downside, however, is that we are limited to working with only eight bells.

Using the bells in practice exercises, we shuffled and arranged them in proper order. We also compared the sounds of two or three randomly selected bells to determine which was lower or higher. Our collaborative playing, where the Dumpling and I took turns being responsible for ringing different notes, was probably my favorite part. For example, she would have bells C and D while I would have E and G on Mary Had A Little Lamb, then we would switch off on the next round.

Collaborative playing keeps both of us on our toes!

Noteflight: Most of the music sheets I found were too complicated for what we were trying to do, so I re-arranged my own using Noteflight. I kept only the notes (I also included note values, but have not gone over the concept with the Dumpling yet) and the corresponding note names. Everything was enlarged and spaced out for easier reading. The premium version of the website also provides color coding, but I opted to only use the free version.

I am not sure how long this round of the Dumpling’s musical aspirations will last, but I might as well make the most of it. In the meantime, if you cannot beat them, join them! “Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo…”

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.


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.

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!)

Learning Chinese Alongside My Toddler

I did not think it would happen so soon — the Dumpling is now learning Chinese words in school that is beyond my elementary knowledge of the language. Frankly my exact reaction when I saw her second semester vocabulary list was “WTF?!”

Semester 1 vocabulary list: 大, 小, 人, 口, 月, 手, 貓, 狗, 魚, 車, 門, 山, 男, 女

Semester 2 vocabulary list: 花朵, 青草, 杯子, 新年, 米飯, 牛奶, 兔子, 樹木, 刷牙, 洗手, 雨天, 跑步, 打球, 游泳, 爸爸, 媽媽

While she is not expected to write at three years old, her current curriculum requires her to recognize characters. Feedback from the school’s initial progress report stated that she “needs more practice”.

I dislike the competitiveness, methods, and intensity of the Hong Kong school education system (her current kindergarten is actually considered lax by local standards), so I am unwilling to deploy any tiger parenting tactics that would add additional pressure. That means I do not intend to enroll her in after-school tutoring or various extra-curricular courses so she can “get ahead.” I believe that learning at her age should be done seamlessly through play; anything extra should be purely based on her interest level. For example, I will only sign the Dumpling up for additional classes because it is an activity she loves to do—not something I want her to learn.

My challenge, therefore, is integrating Mandarin into our daily routine without making the process feel like a “lesson.” Despite living in Hong Kong, English is the primary and dominant language in both our household and expat community, so Mandarin is actually a very foreign sound. In order to do that, however, I first have to learn the words myself. Google Translate has been my BFF, and I have been practicing the activities below alongside the Dumpling (and pretending like I know what I am talking about).


Flash Cards

I made flash cards and taped them on relevant or highly visible places around the house. For example, 花朵 (flower) was taped right next to my vase of flowers and 牛奶 (milk) was taped on the fridge. Sometime we would play a “scavenger hunt” for the words or we just pointed to them as we went about our day. Those few seconds of daily exposure added up — by mid-semester, the Dumpling’s progress report improved to a “well done!”

Images used in puzzle are downloaded from Freepik.
The flashcards were taped next to relevant objects around the house.

Coloring Sheets

I made coloring pages of her vocabulary words in PowerPoint, which can be done with just a few clicks!

Turn any text into outlines in PowerPoint to create coloring sheets.

Instead of using just markers and crayons, below are few ideas to keep the activity fresh by “coloring” with different materials.

  • 花朵, 青草, 樹木: Scavenge for small flowers, grass, and branches to glue onto the characters
  • 米飯: Glue rice (I dyed mine with food coloring)
  • 兔子: Glue cotton balls or white pom poms
  • 刷牙: Paint with toothpaste (preferable a colored one) on with an old toothbrush
  • 洗手: Paint with colored foam soap/shaving cream
  • 雨天: Draw raindrops with white crayon and paint over with blue watercolor (wax resist)

Below are a few other learn-through-play activities I have done with the Dumpling in the past:

Self Correcting Puzzle with Vocabulary Words

The Chinese characters used in the puzzle correlate with the vocabulary words from her Semester 1 vocabulary list.

Some images used in puzzle are downloaded from Freepik.

Chinese and Arabic Number Puzzle (Click here to download)

I created this puzzle to help the Dumpling recognize Chinese numbers and associate them with their Arabic counterparts.

Directions: Glue each printout onto a piece of cardboard. Carefully cut out the Chinese number puzzle pieces with an X-Acto knife. Lay the Chinese numbers sheet on top of the Arabic numbers sheet.

Missing Number: 1 – 10 (Click here to download)

This was another puzzle to help the Dumpling get familiarize with Chinese numbers. When we first started the activity, the Dumpling actually lacked the coordination and strength to pinch the clothing pins open, so clipping them on became an exercise in itself.

Directions: Cut the strips along the solid lines. Label clothes pin with numbers 1-10 in Chinese characters.

Memory Game with Colors (Click here to download)

To play, lay the pieces with their backsides facing up. Flip over two pieces on each turn with the goal of finding two matching colors in as few moves as possible. Again, I do not expect the Dumpling to read just yet; I just say the colors aloud as we play. We initially started with only two colors and have currently built up to six.

Directions: Make two copies of the printable and cut out each color circle.

Mini Easter Activities Book Printable

For the Dumpling’s school Easter party, I made a mini activities book that I am sharing as a free printable. I love using this template because the book is printed single-sided on a regular piece of copy paper and is assembled without any gluing or binding — just fold and cut.

Materials


Download the template.


The content is appropriate for pre-schoolers and kindergartners with adult guidance.

Print. Under the print options, select “Fit” under the Page Sizing section. This ensures that no matter what size paper you’re using (whether A4 or Letter), the entire image would be scaled appropriately to fit within the print area.

(Confession: I actually forgot this step and my books came out slightly cut off on the edges.)


Fold and cut. Cut along the solid lines and fold along the dotted lines according to the guide below. Remember to trim the rectangular border on the perimeter of the sheet as well.


Inspired by one of my favorite crafters, Hello Wonderful, I also attached mini chocolate eggs to the bunny on the front page using double sided tape. Check on their version of an Easter bunny egg holder!

Easy DIY Birthday Coloring Book With Printable

The Dumpling’s kindergarten is throwing a birthday party for all November babies at the end of the month. Since she’s one of the birthday kids, I wanted to do something extra. So along with treats, I also made her classmates a coloring activity book as a party favor that I’m sharing as a customizable printable!*

The book is super easy to make because it’s printed single-sided on a regular piece of copy paper without any gluing or binding. While the customizable version provides the option to include a short message, I have also made a generic version with a simple “Happy Birthday” on the cover. The content is suitable for pre-schoolers and kindgardeners.

Materials

Customize the cover text in Adobe Reader (skip if using the generic template )

Open up the PDF file in Adobe Reader and click on the form fields (highlighted in blue) to edit the text.

Print. Prior to hitting the print button, select “Fit” under the Page Sizing section. This ensures that no matter what size paper you’re using (whether A4 or Letter), the entire image would be scaled appropriately to fit within the print area.

Print Setting

Trim the page border. Although this step might look extraneous, it ensures that all your pages will be of equal size.

Fold and Cut.

I managed to whip out 20 of these within the hour…mom-life is hard work!

 Please note that the two graphic elements in the template are different than the version featured in the video—the font used on the cover and the balloon design on the letter tracing spread.

Halloween Activities: Crafting with Fabric Paint

I recently scored a free bag of puffy fabric paints from a crafter giving them away on Facebook, so the Dumpling and I have been experimenting with this new material (it’s new to us!) all week. After a quick search online, it’s quite a versatile medium for crafting!

Puffy Fabric Paint Window Cling

Window clings are like stickers, but puffy and not as so annoying to peel off (I hope). The Dumpling had fun sticking and re-arranging these not-so-spooky decorations all over. We discovered that they actually clinged not only to glass, but to any flat non-porous surface!

Materials:

Draw an image onto the ziplock bag with puffy fabric paint—that’s it! You can either free draw or trace the image by placing the design printout under the bag. I tested this step on several types of plastic (ziplock bag, polypropylene plastic bag, and clear plastic presentation cover) but the ziplock bag was the obvious winner in terms of ease of use.

Let the paint dry completely (about 24 hours) before peeling the images off. Waiting was probably the hardest part. Due to my impatience, I actually ruined a few—don’t be like me.

Puffy Fabric Paint Stamps

This was a fun way to make custom stamps, but I found that they didn’t produce the cleanest impressions. They were sufficient for the Dumpling, however, since she didn’t really care about smudges and was just amused by the whole stamping process.

Materials

  • Puffy fabric paint
  • Cardboard or styrofoam (I preferred styrofoam because I got a few uses out of the stamps by rinsing the paint/ink off afterwards)
  • Bottle cap
  • Glue
  • Stamp ink or paint

Draw your design onto the cardboard or styrofoam to create the stamp. After I drew the initial image, I traced over it again with additional paint to create a deeper emboss.

Once the paint dried, cut a square or rectangle around the image to form the stamp base.

Glue a bottle cap onto the back side of the stamp. Creating the knobs is completely optional, but we found that the stamps were easier to handle with them.

Use a stamp ink or apply paint directly onto the stamp with a brush. I found that the latter method created cleaner outlines.

Puffy Fabric Paint Masquerade Mask

The Dumpling has an upcoming masquerade at school, so I wanted to make her a mask for the party. While using fabric paint was a good way to create custom designs, the material ended up being too delicate for toddler hands since she would be pulling the mask off and putting it back on every two minutes.

Materials:

  • Puffy fabric paint
  • Ziplock bag
  • Tulle or mesh fabric
  • Tape
  • Printout of mask design
  • Scissors
  • Elastic long enough to snuggly fit around your head.

Draw or print the mask template you would like to use. Alternatively click here to download my design, but please be aware the mask dimensions measures approximately 10″ by 5.25″ so it might not fit you! I actually scaled the image in several different sizes on screen (one is wider, another is shorter, etc.) and chose the version with the best fit from the printout.

Tape the mask printout onto your work area, then tape the ziplock bag onto the printout, and finally tape the tulle or mesh fabric onto the bag. You really really really don’t want anything to move.

Trace the image with puffy fabric paint.

Let the paint dry (about 24 hours) before peeling the mask off the ziplock bag.

Carefully cut the tulle or mesh fabric following the outline of the mask. Leave a piece of fabric uncut around both ends of the mask that are closest to your ears. The fabric needs to be large enough to make a small slit to string the elastic through.