Dots from Down Under

Today was arts and crafts day at Camp Nellie Bly. And since we’re “in” Australia this week, I decided we could learn about aboriginal dot painting, which is extremely cool, fun, and kid-friendly. We invited some friends over to join us, which – I cannot tell a lie – can occasionally stress me out a little. Not the kids themselves, but my ability to keep them entertained. But this turned out to be really fun and not stressful, which is why I’m sharing it. Could be my meds working like they’re supposed to, could be that I’m getting the hang of this. Don’t know, don’t care.

Aboriginal Art DemoFirst, I blew my own mind by making paint. MAKING IT, y’all. It was like being God. Well, if God is broke and has no childcare, which is the situation I found myself in last night after the girls were in bed, and I realized that I had zero paint in the house and 5 children with whom to do a painting project the next morning. Chad is in Nashville on a business trip, so I couldn’t just run out to the craft store and grab some tempera paints. (Also because they make you pay money for those things, unless you steal them, but I haven’t stolen anything since that time when I was six, and I shoplifted a lipgloss from the drug store, and my sister ratted me out [THANKS, ELLEN] and my mom made me GO TO A PRIEST and confess my sin. Which is kind of hilarious if you know how not like that my mom usually is.) But then I remembered Pinterest!! Pinterest will save me! And sure enough, there were, like, twelvety-thousillion different recipes for making paint on Pinterest. Finger paints, face paints, interior wall paints (!), textured paints, you name it. I settled on this one, since it was simple (flour, salt and water) and chemical (cooked until it thickens) and sounded like it would work. It made about 2.5 cups of paint base, which I could then put in a squeeze bottle and squirt into the egg carton cups I’d cut out for each kid. Stop rolling your eyes.

Of course, once I’d made it I had to try it out. At midnight. Because I’m dumb like that. It worked pretty slick, using food coloring for the different shades I wanted. The handprint painting in the picture above was my finished project. 

Next morning, after we were all fed and dressed, I set up stations for each kid:

Art StationsEgg carton section for holding the paint; napkin/blotter with cotton swabs, cheap paintbrush, toothpicks, and an unsharpened pencil (the “tools”); and crumpled up paper bag to serve as our faux tree bark and/or cave wall. I also had my project, a picture of actual aboriginal art, and a picture of some traditional symbols from aboriginal painting set up at one end of the table for reference. The kids got to pick and mix their own paint colors (that was a hit). Then I had them trace their hands on the brown paper with markers, color the handprints in, and add any of the aboriginal symbols (or their own symbols) to the paper. Then it was time to paint!

Maya and Soren Dot Painting Berit Dot PaintingThe kids were surprisingly focused (usually when we get together for play dates it’s mass chaos because they’re So. Excited. To see each other). We talked about Aborigines a little, and how this form of painting has been around for thousands of years, and how Aborigines are kind of analogous to our Native Americans, none of which they will retain, I’m sure. And then we talked about some of the other art projects we’ve done for other countries, and somehow ninjas got into the conversation (they’re sneaky, those ninjas) and at one point Ellie got up and played us an original composition on the piano, titled “Summer Song.” So it was … active. I had been concerned that the project would take so long that the kids would get bored, but no worries, mate. They were into it. Paint colors were mixed, symbols were invented. While the dot paintings dried, we did some Australian coloring pages.

Maya coloring an echidna Echidnas might be my favorite. Or wombats. I love me some wombats. I mean, look: Australia has the coolest animals. We just have to get next to that.

The flour paint takes a while to dry, especially if you’re 4-7 years old and load up your brush with a pound of paint at a time, so we had some time to pass before we could be well and truly done. I had printed out a poem for the girls to learn earlier in the week, which they had expressed less than no interest in, I thought because of its old-fashioned language … or just pure cussedness on their part, which is probably more likely. But even old-fashioned poems are fun when you and your friends can act them out together. I narrated this one aloud and the kids took turns being bandicoots, dogs, and settlers:

Benjamin Bandicoot

by Banjo Paterson

If you walk in the bush at night,
In the wonderful silence deep,
By the flickering lantern light
When the birds are all asleep
You may catch a sight of old Skinny-go-root,
Otherwise Benjamin Bandicoot.

With a snout that can delve and dig,
With claws that are strong as steel,
He roots like a pigmy pig
To get his evening meal,
For creeping creatures and worms and roots
Are highly relished by bandicoots.

Under the grass and the fern
He fashions his beaten track
With many a twist and turn
That wanders and doubles back,
And dogs that think they are most astute
Are baffled by Benjamin Bandicoot.

In the depth of the darkest night,
Without a star in the sky,
He’ll come to look at a light,
And scientists wonder why:
If the bush is burning it’s time to scoot
Is the notion of Benjamin Bandicoot.

They made me read it about ten times so they could all practice the different roles, and then we performed it for our friends’ mom when she came to pick them up. We also taught our friends “Kookaburra” (yes, even the bloody part) and “Waltzing Matilda” (which Ellie requested by asking if we could watch “that one video where that man drowns“). By then the paintings were mostly dry, so of course we took a picture:

photo 2 (1)

(They’re all saying “Bandicoot,” which is why Sylvia’s face looks weird. Also because it is a law of the universe that in any given picture of more than one child,   there must always be at least one child with a weird expression or closed eyes. And usually that child is mine.)

So, to sum up: Art! History! Music! Poetry! Culture! It was one of those rare mornings where I felt like maybe I was doing it right. Of course it didn’t last – Sylvia just got done with a major meltdown and Ellie had a fit of the sulks when her friends left, but hey: I will take what I can get. Cheers!

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