20 DIY Crafts Not Plastic

A Case For Exposing Your Children to Traditional Arts Using Natural Materials. Photo © Liesl Clark

When my children reached elementary school age and we enrolled them in programs that had art classes, we were amazed at how few natural materials were used for art supplies and just how much of it was plastic: glitter glue, colorful plastics for mosaics, acrylic-coated feathers, various items to be “recycled” through art like yogurt cups and plastic straws. The myriad cut-and-paste-style art projects they did were primarily made of art supply store plastics. All too often schools and art classes are cutting corners and can only afford cheaper plastic materials for art supplies.

Hand-crafted tiles or buttons, made by a young Nepali stone-carver. Photo © Liesl Clark

I would’ve preferred sticks, stones, leaves, sea glass, natural feathers and wood over the pre-fabricated plastic materials my son and daughter were exposed to. These plastics were simply mimicking what’s found readily in nature. I also believe the color palette children are exposed to in those early years, through day-glo style plastics, can affect their color choices later in life. Gone might be an appreciation for natural greens, browns, blues and purples found regularly in the environment. We started to opt out of the popular kinder art projects in preference to doing our own art, making an effort to learn from traditional artists who work with stone, wood, glass, wool, and ceramics. These experiences, for our children, were enriching as they learned quickly that they could create things of beauty from resources found in the natural world, as people have done for millennia.

A Young Nepali Artist Carving Prayers Onto a Mani Stone. Photo © Liesl Clark

A coupling of leaves, feathers, and flowers could become a miniature nest or fairy’s bed from a 7-year-old’s imagination.

A Fairy Bed, Made From Leaves, a Pod, Feathers and a Flower. Photo © Liesl Clark

Or a piece of wood might be whittled into a boat, a stone carved into a work of art. Exposing children to traditional folk art from around the world is a great way to teach them how natural materials that are readily available can be turned into works of beauty.

Azurite Is One of The Pigments Used in Traditional Himalayan Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

On a recent trip through South Korea while we were in transit, we took part in a program at the airport in Seoul that teaches traditional art forms. Every time we pass through this airport our children learn a new form of art made from a surprising material. They’ve worked with rice paper to make stone carving prints onto them, they’ve made paper lanterns, they’ve hand painted fans, and they made a tapestry necklace. This time, they learned the Na-Jeon art form, working with mother of pearl-colored shells and shellac from the lac tree.

Learning the Na-Jeon Art Form in Korea. Photo © Liesl Clark

This highly sophisticated ancient Korean craft utilizes iridescent abalone and conch shells in contrast to a lacquered black wood background, creating a sense of balance and harmony in this mariage of opposites.

A Hand Mirror Made in the Korean Na-Jeon Style © Liesl Clark

The children were given hand mirrors to decorate in the Na (which means “pearl”) Jeon (which means “decorate”) style. The focus and concentration the craft required was mesmerizing for us to watch. And the mirrors will be treasured for years to come in our family.

IMG_5929 © Liesl Clark

If you’re looking for some ideas for arts and crafts less plastic, we came up with a list of 20 traditional crafts from natural materials found in and around your home that are easy to try. Copy this list or share the link with your art teacher at school. No need for spending money on cheap plastic art supplies when there are supplies we can contribute from our own homes and backyards: scrap fabric, acorns, sticks, scrap paper, wool sweaters, leaves and sea shells are just a few. Incorporate information about the cultures that started the folk art form you’ll practice so your children appreciate the history behind their craft and how interconnected we all are through our art forms:

1) Doll-Making: Fabric Scrap Dolls have been made for the children of many cultures for centuries.

DIY Tiny Dolls Wear Fabric Scraps in Style

2) Vegetable Stamps: My favorite veggie to use for stamps is okra. But you can also carve stamps from a potato with excellent results. And the celery rose stamp is absolutely beautiful.

3) Fabric Scrap Mosaic: Reusing fabrics is an art unto itself and certainly has been passed down for generations. Try making a pretty mosaic from your leftover scraps.

4) Embroidery: Try your hand at embroidery. You can even embellish a tired old lampshade to create color in a room.

5) Twig Basket: Collect some long green twigs and make a freeform basket out of them.

6) Origami Tea Bag Folding: Learn the traditional art of origami paper folding using the paper the covers tea bags! If families saved up their tea bag covers, a school art program would have plenty of paper to work with and couldn’t complain about budget constraints.

7) Scrap Paper Flowers: Art classes should save all scrap paper to make these beautiful flowers. Or toilet paper rolls are all you need to make these flowers.

 

Toilet Paper Roll Flowers. Photo © Kelly Munson

8) Fallen Leaf Art: There are many beautiful artistic creations you can craft from leaves.

9) Scrap Paper Tree: This pretty craft utilizes tiny pieces of your favorite scrap paper as well as sticks collected from outdoors.

10) Seashell Arts: We’ve made mobiles from sea shells and endless mosaics. These seashell koalas would make any child happy.

11) Tin Topiary: Use pie tins to make these beautiful tin flowers.

12) Knitting: With some saved-up chopsticks, you can teach anyone how to knit.

Knit with Old Chopsticks photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

13) Felting: Learn how to felt your wool sweaters.

14) Rubbings: Make rubbings for things natural or extraordinary.

15) Weaving: DIY weaving is easy and a great craft to do with scrap yarn and fabric strips. You can even make your own loom.

16) Phone Book Paper Painting Meditation: Teach the kids meditation by doing phone book paper art.

17) Sock Crafting: If you’re in need of a stuffed animal, try making one from a sock.

Sock + Rubber Bands + Bits & Bobs = Sock Hippo. Photo © Liesl Clark

18) Hand-Made Valentines: Valentines are an original folk art scrap hack.

Handmade Paper Valentines, An Original Folk Art. Photo © Liesl Clark

19) Stencils: You can make stencils from food boxes and use beets as your ink dye.

20) Driftwood Sculptures: If you collect enough of a variety, driftwood lends itself to creative art from their smooth appealing shapes.

What crafts from materials readily-available can you add? We love to make things from what’s abundant around us!

Secrets of the Sky Tombs

Years ago, my husband, Pete, and I made a promise to ourselves: We’d try to give our children the best real-world alternatives to video games and virtual reality we could find because reality itself is so much more fulfilling. To that end, our children have grown up on the trail. Daily lessons are often as blunt as the hard-won objective of simply reaching the next village without incident.

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Pete with 3-year-old Finn, on the trail up the Kali Ghandaki River to Jomsom. © Liesl Clark

Ancient castles, fortresses, and real-world kings are normal for kids who’ve played amongst crumbling fortress walls that intermingle with cold clouds, echoes of the past tickling us in the driving wind.

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The winter palace in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, crowned by the Annapurnas. © Liesl Clark

If our children stayed at home, those castles and forts would be grand designs crafted from code in video games they play on their devices. Yet today they can work and play amidst the real thing: Tombs of the ancient dead, haul bags filled with faunal and human bones to sort and clean, artifacts hewn from leather, silk, iron, copper, silver, and bronze, some dating as far back as 2800 years.

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10-year-old Cleo bagging two femurs, with Marion Poux overseeing her work. © Liesl Clark

Nothing in those video games can compare. As parents, we make our choices, whether we allow our children glimpses into our professional lives and our special passions. They, in turn, feel empowered to follow their own dreams, ask their own questions, and seek the truth.

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Finn, now 13, connects easily with his friends in Samdzong. He also flies all of our drone aerials. © Liesl Clark

This drive is what makes us human, what pushed the early pioneers to find shelter amongst the world’s most hostile and glorious mountains. These early settlers brought their children with them, because the alternative was unbearable.

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Leaving the kids at home, so we can do our work in the Himalayas, is unthinkable to us. © Pete Athans

On January 4th, 2017, our film, “Secrets of the Sky Tombs,” about our quest to find the first peoples of the Himalaya will air 9pm ET/8 Central on PBS’s NOVA. The film will also be broadcast in the upcoming months on France 5 in France and National Geographic Channel worldwide. It’s been a decade-long endeavor, and we’ll likely continue for another, as unknown caves, more ancient human DNA, and new questions need to be explored.

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Finn & Pete below Tsaile, headed back to Jomson, dreaming up the next filming expedition. © Liesl Clark

But if there are “secrets,” (as the film’s title suggests) to be uncovered, they’re the clues to success of a people who foraged for what they could off the land, who found meaning in the struggle, and who relied on their clan and their fellow villagers for the bare essentials to survive. Community and one’s lineage is the secret to strength in times of hardship, in the face of the extremes.

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Looking down on the village of Samar, Upper Mustang. © Liesl Clark

This lesson is not lost on us today.

Create An Inventor’s Kit For Your Curious Child

Our alarm clock went on the fritz. It just didn’t keep good time anymore and when we put new batteries in, the whole thing decided to stop ticking. Rather than throwing the clock out, our 9-year-old took the opportunity to try to fix it. He looked deep inside and saw the inner workings of the mysterious time-keeper, its simple gears and all the parts that added up to the whole: A simple machine. The adventure in taking-it-apart-land proved fruitful and now any broken gadgets in our household are fertile ground for young inventors searching for new parts to connect together, creating new-fangled machines.

Motherboards are a universe of fascinating connections for the curiosity-seeker. Keep your youngsters’ minds exploring, even if it’s inside the things you thought would never tick again.

The secondary benefit is not throwing perfectly reusable items away. Rather than putting it all into the metal recycling bin or e-waste, these items will have a prolonged life. Our children’s relationship with “things” is changing rapidly, as they see how items may have a new use in a different iteration.

The fun part of finding an old case to use for the kit. We cleaned out some boxes in our storage room and found these to create new kits to give to neighbors.

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Spark creativity in the kiddos around you. You’ll be surprised by what they build, and do send us your suggestions for what you’d add to your child’s inventor’s kit!

Clementine Box Doll Bed

By Cleo Clark-Athans

This one is a simple trash hack by a 7 year old.

1) Take clementines out of wooden clementine box.

Clementine Boxes Have Huge Potential, Photo © Liesl Clark

2) Place small towels, rags, hand-knit blankets, anything soft inside the clementine box to make a “mattress.”

Inserting the "Mattress" Photo © Liesl Clark

3) Find a cute fabric scrap, a doll’s blanket, or a pretty place mat to use as your bedspread.

4) Add a small pillow (mine was hand sewn at sewing class).

Outer Bed Layers Need to Be Appealing. Pink Seems To Work for My Small Animals. Photo © Liesl Clark

5) Put your favorite little animals or dolls to bed!

No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, Photo © Liesl Clark

Family Holiday Activity Calendar

Each December, we have a family tradition of creating an advent-style “advent-ure” calendar filled with special activities we can do each day in the run-up to the holidays. No matter what your faith, this idea is centered on togetherness and creating traditions of giving, gratitude, receiving, hope, and help. We intersperse giving with days of gratitude and creative outlets for each of us, whether we like to take pictures, draw, cook, or be outdoors.

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I found a little pagan-like Santa humanoid figure being thrown away by a neighbor one year and rescued him, his pockets perfect for our family holiday adventure calendar. Before I found him, I had made a calendar with pockets that we hung each year on the back of a closet door. Every morning in December, the kids still run downstairs to see what’s in the pocket with the day’s date on it.

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I’ve included a sample list of activities below, as a guide, if you’re interested in creating an advent-ure calendar for your family. Each year, we tailor our activities to special interests the kids might have. Enjoy your time together, and remember, you can do this any time of year!

  1. String popcorn for the birds and place outside on trees.
  2. Pick someone to be a secret Santa or secret gift-giver for, and give them a gift anonymously.
  3. Make a Holiday Wish List, with at least 2 things on it that don’t benefit you directly, and put it inside your stocking or on the mantle or kitchen counter.
  4. Search for a Christmas Tree in the National Forest as part of their fire-prevention Christmas tree cutting program. Oh, and get a permit for taking 3 trees so you can cut down 2 more to give to local families. Or, do something similar, like forcing an amaryllis bulb for later enjoyment in the spring.
  5. Trim the tree, and sip eggnog, or decorate your home with any natural holiday decor collected outside.
  6. Make holiday cards and mail them, today.
  7. Make Candles for your teachers, to light their new year.
  8. Make presents like bath salts, vinegars, hot chocolate mixes.
  9. Holiday party with friends and neighbors!
  10. Drive to nearest ski area, have a yummy dinner out, and snuggle down at a B&B.
  11. Ski, or sled, or make a snow man.
  12. Make ornaments, make hand-made gifts, have a Red and Green Dinner tonight, share holiday stories.
  13. Make a Wreath.
  14. Do a shoe drive and pack the shoes into duffel bags to take to Nepal.
  15. Choose a dish, or a dinner, that you will make for everyone over the holidays.
  16. Walk around the neighborhood together tonight with hot cocoa and see the lights.
  17. Sleep by the fire under the tree, or sit outside for an hour and watch the stars together.
  18. Write out 10 things you’re grateful for and tuck your list into the tree or on the mantle.
  19. Give $20 of allowance money to a charity of your choice.
  20. Deliver homemade gifts to the neighbors.
  21. Family Movie Night!
  22. Post something hand-made as a gift on your local Buy Nothing group.
  23. Make Gingerbread Houses and be sure to give them to the chickens, or a Buy Nothing neighbor who has chickens when you’re done with them.
  24. Bake Gingerbread cookies to put out for Santa, or place them on a neighbor’s doorstep.
  25. It’s Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, whatever the holiday, so go for a family hike and be sure to hold hands and do a race, skipping.bt0c3749What would you add to this list for your family and community to enjoy? I’d love to compile more ideas for a bigger list for all families to enjoy!

33 Eggshell Reuses

33 Eggselent uses for your eggshells. Photo © Liesl Clark

In the heart of the summer, our chickens lay a dozen eggs for us a day. For a family of 4 with 14 hens, we go through a lot of eggs. Here are a few reuses for those hardy shells.

1) Garden Fertilizer/Compost: Throw your shells in your compost or yard waste bin if your municipal recyclers allow kitchen scraps in there. Try to crumble them as they’ll decompose more easily if you do. They add calcium and other minerals to your garden soil. I use a stone mortar and pestle by the composter to crush them. Some people even put them in the blender.

2) Worm Food: Our worm bin worms love egg shells. Truly. I find their eggs inside eggshell clusters.

3) Garden Pest Deterrent: Crush and spread them around your favorite plants. Some slugs, snails and cutworms just don’t like them so they won’t “cross the line.”

4) Pot Drainage: Crumble them up and add them to the bottom of potted plants that need drainage. Tomatoes and eggplants will love the added calcium to deter end rot.

5) Chicken Egg Hardener: If your chickens are laying eggs with soft shells feed them some…..eggshells. I know that sounds gross, but it helps give them a dose of calcium and the girls love it. Be sure to crush the shells. Chickens go on the shape of things for foraging so if they get used to eating egg-shaped goodies they’ll start eating their (gasp) own eggs.

6) Eggshell Candles: Yes! They’re beautiful and easy to make.

7) Homemade Space Geodes: These are really cool to make with the kids and they even glow in the dark.

8) Spring Flower Vase: These look quite beautiful with hyacinths held in an egg cup. I only have one chicken that lays white eggs, but seeing these makes me want to save all those white shells.

9) Organic Seedling Starter Pots: Just plant your seeds inside the shell (with potting soil too, of course you dummy), put the shell inside your cardboard egg carton, fill all the other egg carton cups up and you can plant the whole thing in your garden.

10) Egg Shell Succulent Planters: Make a lovely mini succulent garden using your egg shells and the carton, too.

11) Sidewalk Chalk: Big sticks of sidewalk chalk are easy to make and you can use a toilet paper tube roll as your mold and just peel it off.

12) Science Eggsperiments: Here are 10 cool science-y experiments for your child to try with eggs. Fun!

13) Calcium Supplement: Skip the pills and simply bake your shells at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Let them cool and grind them to a fine powder. Add your supplement (a teaspoon or less) to your favorite smoothie or juice once a day.

14) Pet Calcium Supplement: Do the same as above but just add the powder to their food.

15) Egg Shell Mosaics: You can make beautiful mosaics with Easter egg shells or from ones you dye just for this project.

16) Drain Cleaner: Occasionally send a few crushed-up egg shells down the drain. They can help keep it unclogged by their abrasive action.

17) Egg Shell Decor: Getting in the Easter spirit? Try this idea of hanging your egg shells from a tree as a pretty accent.

18) Instant Bandaid: This one’s my favorite. Technically, you’re using the inner membrane of the shell. Tear a bandaid-size piece of it from your egg shell and place it over your ow-ie. By overlapping the 2 ends together, they stick and will stop the bleeding, too. Love it.

19) Vanilla Custard Pots: Serve up your vanilla custard in natural egg shells.

20) Egg Shell Frame: Make a cool modpodge picture frame with egg shells.

21) Christmas Ornaments: If you blow your eggs out you can turn the shells into pretty ornaments.

22) Abrasive Cleaner: Crush them to a coarse texture and use them to scrub down your pots.

23) De-Bitter Your Coffee: If your coffee is too bitter, add finely crushed egg shell powder to your coffee filter and your joe will taste smoother and sweeter.

24) Bird Food: Add some crushed shells to your bird seed mix. The birds need calcium, too.

25) Garbage Disposal Drain Cleaner: Feed some to your garbage disposal. They are an eggsellent cleaner and sharpener for it.

26) Soup Stock Booster: Add egg shells to your soup stock when boiling it. The nutrients can’t hurt.

27) Garden Walkway Addition: I add crushed shells to a garden path made of white gravel and sea shells. The egg shells just blend right in and hopefully deter the slugs, feed the birds, amend the soil, etc, etc. I guess I like walking on egg shells.

28) Stain Remover: According to Apartment Therapy crushed egg shells can help remove stains in your sink, on your tea pot and from other kitchen or household items.

29) Laundry Whitener: Some say that if you toss some shells in a mesh bag in your laundry, the gray tint to your whites will disappear.

30) Sensory Play: Egg shells make great sensory play items for your toddler.

31) Eggshell Toothpaste: That just about says it all — follow the directions in the link. My daughter and I are going to make some this weekend.

32) Cute Halloween Ghost Decoration: They hang like wind chimes but look like little ghosts on the breeze.

33) Try the Walking on Eggs Experiment: Want to make eggs into eggshells fast? Try this! No, seriously, this experiment conducted by a 6-year-old is a pictorial essay worth checking out.

Now that you’ve reused your egg shells so nicely, what to do with those egg cartons?!

Easy DIY Snack Boxes

By Finn Clark

Aunt Kelly's Cool Carton Snack Boxes. Photo © Finn Clark

My Aunt Kelly gave me the idea to make snack box containers because she made us one as a gift for Christmas. Since we get local organic milk delivered in cartons, I started saving some so I could try to make my own, using Kelly’s as a template.

Aunt Kelly's Cool Snack Box, Opened Up. Photo © Finn Clark

Here’s how it’s done:

1) You’ll want your box to be square. Each carton is about 3.5 inches wide. Measure 3.5 inches up from the bottom of each corner and put a dot there with a Sharpie. This will be the point where you will cut down to from the top.

2) Then measure another 3.5 inches above that and put another dot there. This is the high point of your arch.

Drawing the high point of your arch. Photo © Finn Clark

3) We used Kelly’s as a template so just traced the arches, but I’ve given you the measurements above, so you can now draw your arch like we did.

Put a dot 3.5 inches up from the bottom. This is the point where you cut down to from the top. Photo © Finn Clark

4) Now that you have an arch drawn for each side of your carton, start cutting them out with scissors. Be sure to cut on the corners all the way down to your 3.5 inch mark (up from the bottom.)

Cutting down the corners from the top of the carton all the way down to the 3.5 inch mark. Photo © Finn Clark

5) Now cut out your arches.

Cutting the arches. Photo © Finn Clark

6) Fold your sides down at the 3.5 inch marks.

Folding the sides down.

7) Sew on a nice large button. Just sew it on like you would normally sew a button. We chose our favorite side to sew the button onto, centered it, and measured about 1.5 inches down from the top.

Sew on a button. Photo © Finn Clark

8) Wrap a rubber band around the button once tightly and use it to cinch down your little snack box.

The right size rubber band adds the finishing touch. Photo © Finn Clark

You’re done! Enjoy your snack box. I use mine to hold apple slices, or home made crackers, nuts, whatever I can find in our pantry for a school snack. And it’s really easy to wash out!

Me and my DIY snack box.

Oh, and you can save the left-over cut carton and use it as a crown.