I posted something like this once before, but it was the middle of winter and, the earth being brown and dry, I received several comments along the lines of "reminds of me of the Blair Witch Project." I was disheartened. But I continue to believe that his little project, so simple, so rewarding, is fun, creative and deeply healing for children AND ADULTS. Here's why.
First of all, let me explain that I am a father, not a mother, and that I hate crafts. Popsicle sticks and glitter make me throw up. These figures were all created from materials I found in the forest, or wherever, and they took me five minutes to make. So, whether you're into crafts or not - believe me, this is simple and worth it. I promise.
For the kids, it's simple. My goal is to take children to isolated and beautiful locations with nothing more than our imaginations (and maybe some food, water, etc.). Even the most media-saturated child explodes with creativity in such settings. But it can be your backyard too, or just a quiet corner of your city park. By crafting quick, whimsical figures from sticks, grass and whatever, the girls can build fairy houses, the boys can build castles, and we can generally make merry.
My kids have little in the way of attachment to certain dolls, or characters, but if yours have a special attachment (that sometimes drives you crazy) - try this. It will free the children from the storylines that sometimes dominate their play and give them a chance to engage with the real and natural world. If you have a hard time understanding this for kids, then there's nothing more I can say. But if you get it, then prepare to get down, because this is funk-nasty for realz (look at this guy below and tell me he's not funky - look at that strut!).
Now for the cool part. For adults, that is, the crafter, it is the perfect way to explore your own relationship to nature and the native materials in your own "back yard." Twigs and branches work well, but not just any tree will do. It's nice if the legs are thin, but stiff enough to withstand some dancing, flying, or dragon-slaying as the case may be. Grass works well in summer, but in any good field there are ten different kinds of grass. Some will snap instantly. Some bend and twist like rope you'd pay money for. What works best? And what if you don't have grass? What kind of natural materials are around that work like fibers? Is there a vine?
And that's just the beginning. Flowers make great heads. So do leaves. But how are you going to attach them? Some flowers are beautiful but so floppy your characters are beheaded almost instantly. Agh! Any competent forest has a whole carpet of creepy crawly plants you probably hardly looked at before, never mind their names. But forget names for a minute. That's science stuff. What are they like? How do they feel? Are there enough of them to justify taking a handful for crafts, or are there only one or two and you feel guilty now that you picked the last one, you jerk, probably the last one on earth. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Mushrooms? Probably not. Moss? Maybe. Can you weave a grass skirt? Don't smirk, you know you can. I don't care if you're a lawyer or a dentist. I'm an engineer. You can weave a grass skirt because you're a goddamn human being and your daughter is only six years old for a hot minute. Weave that shit.
(And if you're wondering, there is a very simple 4-step instruction included at the end.)
As your child ages, you can shift from manufacturing to teaching the art itself. Now your child is learning to make her own toys while simultaneously studying the materials of her native ecology. Before, s/he was just looking and feeling. Now they, like you, have to figure out how to tie grass without mashing it into a pulp. So aggravating! Good lessons.
In winter, you might think there's little to do, but if you're willing to put in the time you may discover all sorts of barks and fibers that, while a bit crude, actually make a fairly competent string. What can you do with an acorn? Isn't that vastly more interesting than the names, i.e. the facts, of plants and trees? And don't forget the husks and seeds, some of which are very hardy. The figure below was crafted from yucca fibers in January (we live in the desert), with a yucca seed pod that is, in my opinion, a pretty fabulous dress.
So, there you have it. Nature dolls. Oh, and guess what? They're 100% biodegradable because, duh, they're made out of the forest. You can take them home, but we usually leave them behind. We tell stories about them. We visit a week, a month, or a year later. We have fairies and castles all over the world, sending us magic everyday. That shit is unstoppable.