Tutorial: A doll’s bike seat

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I commute everywhere here with the girls on a bike with me, the way many moms do in Japan. The commuting bikes used here are called "mamachari" and they have child seats on the front and the back, so that you can put a baby or toddler in the front basket while your older child rides in back. There's a steep learning curve when you are commuting with two kids, as the bike is pretty heavy (I'll have to take a photo one day), but it's a lot easier to navigate the narrow streets here on that than in a car. 

Anyway, M really wanted to put a bike seat on the back of her own bike so she could pretend to do what I do, so we whipped one up pretty quickly. Here are basic instructions. We made it plain, because there just wasn't a lot of time to decorate, but you or your child can do whatever you want to spiff it up!

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All you need are two pieces of rectangular cardboard, around 11 x 14 inches or so.

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Fold one near the middle (I think I folded mine about 2/5s of the way down), and then use scissors to cut about two inches in on either side.

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Fold up the sides

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Fold it over as shown in the photo, and use staples or tape to secure. 

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To attach it to your child's bike, take the other piece of cardboard, fold it into thirds and tape it so that it's firm,  and then attach this piece to the bottom of the seat you just made. Then tape the other end to the bottom of the bike's real seat. (I had to tape around the seat a few times for it to stay on there. I also cut a little notch in it so that it would fit snugly around the pole underneath the seat, but you can do what works for you.)

You can add on a seat belt, a bar, or whatever you want. We made a crude makeshift helmet out of leftover cardboard, as you can see on the bunny.

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Let me know if you try this project! And don't forget to check out this giveaway (until Nov. 5) if you want a chance to win some Japanese stamps.

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Old doll, new hair

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This is a new/old doll. I made the body a long time ago, and it was a bit of a craft disaster, but I was recently inspired to redo the hair after coming across this great tutorial and spotting a bunch of modern takes on Waldorf dolls, like Bamboletta and Rainbow Dolls

I never realized that there was a doll revolution brewing out there! The new hairstyle transformed the doll and the tutorial was very easy to follow.  I'm not too good at making the bodies and I'll definitely have trouble finding the time (aaah – not another hobby!) but I'd like to make a few more if I can find some presewn bodies and a few simple clothing patterns  - what a great way to use up part of our yarn stash and make dolls with a personal stamp on them.

Stamping and a fall giveaway

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A few weeks ago I found myself totally riveted by Filth Wizardry's blog post on stamping, using plasticine to make amazing prints. I used to love stamping as a child. And who didn't? Ink, paper, and magic. I loved that breathless anticipation as I waited to see what would emerge when I lifted my hand. 

As far as crafts go, printing and stamping have that blend of stillness (as you press down and wait for the ink to set) and instantaneousness that just appeals to little kids. We spent a whole happy afternoon making many different kinds of stamps while little A. cooperatively napped. 

Do check out the link above, as well as this one from Floating Ink – I love her handcarved stamps! Have any of you carved your own stamps? I'd love to carve stamps like these someday.

Here are photos of our session. There was stamping with erasers and plasticine and wiki stix, using toothpicks, cutters, sharp pencils, and so forth to carve our designs. 

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In the end I think that it was beeswax, (which we collect stray bits of in a jar on our windowsill) which made for the most durable stamps. 

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My kids have also made prints with potatoes and lotus root at school. Lotus root was particularly beautiful. What else can you think of to stamp and print with? 

Now the fun part: a little giveaway to celebrate autumn, since it seems to finally be cooling down in Japan. 

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These sweet little stamps are not handcrafted, though they do look like it. There's a little autumn-themed stationery set too. Comment below and tell me one craft you'd love to learn, to enter the giveaway. For an extra entry, join Origami Mommy on Facebook, so I can start putting blog updates on there. You can also tweet about this giveaway – just be sure to let me know. I'll pick a winner at random two weeks from now, on Friday November 5th at 8 PM EST!

Picture books

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times about how publishers are scaling back on picture books. Apparently there's a trend for parents to push chapter books on their young kids, resulting in a decline in picture book sales. Wow, really?  Good quality picture books are among our favorite possessions. For a few years, when the boys were small, we built up a collection, because we had to have our own home library since English-language libraries were so hard to find, living abroad. This collection is like an old, trusted friend, always there to retreat to, to pore over by oneself or to enjoy with an older sibling or parent.

My best friend Laura, who is a children's librarian (and keeps a library blog which is chock full of resources), is like a fairy godmother: when the boys were small, she gave us picture books for birthdays and Christmas. Every book she gave us became a family treasure. Books such as:

A Story for Bear, by Dennis Haseley

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or Tree of Cranes, by Allen Say, who grew up in both Japan and the U.S. and has written many wonderful books. His spare prose and lush, gorgeous pictures depict stories that my children can really relate to. 

I myself love books by Elsa Beskow, a Swedish author writing during the early twentieth century, because her illustrations are incredible and detailed and depict the natural world so beautifully. In fact we always have her book, Around the Year, open on our kitchen bookshelf. This is October's charming watercolor:

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Picture books are moving. I remember my four year old son crying quietly into his pillow from the image of a big lonely bear carrying books one by one back to his den in A Story for Bear. Somehow the quiet prose and the lovely picture had touched his little boy heart. 

Picture books make kids feel less alone by capturing a universal childhood experience, feeling, or memory so evocatively. They are quick enough to enjoy at any time and are a great way to match – or change – the mood of the moment. Other favorites are:

A Quiet Place by Douglas Wood

The Old Woman who Named Things, by Cynthia Rylant

The Day the Babies Crawled Away, by Peggy Rathmann

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willem

and a lovely book for my children, who probably, inevitably, sometimes wonder exactly where home might be:

All the Places to Love, by Patricia MacLachlan.

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Every time I read this to my children I myself feel moved nearly to tears. (And I must also note that I love that the children in this book are born in their grandparents' farmhouse, in such an incidental way that it normalizes home birth, which I think is pretty cool).

Picture books help with transitions: a move, a new sibling, a death, a family change. Oh My Baby, Little One, by Kathi Appelt, deals with the weighty issue of separation and is still a favorite in our house. Picture books really helped my children prepare for their move to Japan five years ago, as I wrote in this guest post on The Traveler's Library.

And I'm in love with Japanese picture books. Here is an old classic, Chiri to Chiriri, about two girls exploring their town by bicycle. The pictures transport us from adventure to adventure.

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At one point they wander into a yarn and thread shop. This is one of my favorite illustrations. I wish I could go there too!

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Another favorite Japanese author is Hayashi Akiko. I've mentioned a book she wrote, in my post about free-range kids – it's about a five year old girl's first errand. She's also written many other beautifully illustrated books about small things. Here is a little collection of her illustrations.

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This is one of our favorite books now, about a little girl and her little sister.

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The slow pace of her books fits childhood exactly – things that may seem small to us loom large in the mind of a child. 

This site lists more reasons not to rush your children out of picture books. Pictures help tell your child about things he may not have experienced yet – the beach, an airplane ride, a meal with a family from a different culture. They help build a bridge between your child's comprehension and his imagination. But, in my opinion, they don't have the overpowering visual effect that a movie or tv show might. This allows imagination to fill the space. Picture books allow time and room for dreaming. And they provide a shared experience we can take with us, parent and child together, even after we lift our heads from the page. Our favorite books have become part of our common vocabulary and family lore because we have all read them together.

I'm not averse to chapter books for younger kids – I am actually one of those parents who read Stuart Little to her four year old (because he really loved the story, and looked forward to it every night). However, now I wonder if perhaps he loved it because it has the cadence and feeling of a picture book? It has a simple story, lovely prose, a few evocative illustrations. We have other favorites which I think are good for the younger set. My Father's Dragon is a wonderful and sweet adventure story which is as good in its Japanese translation as it is in English.  But to categorically look down on picture books just because a child should be "beyond" them is, I think, the wrong approach. (And, this post making the rounds, by one woman who was quoted in the Times article, makes me wonder about the story behind the story.)

According to Laura, picture books also do hone some fairly sophisticated skills. When things aren't fully spelled out for us literally and concretely, we develop the ability to comprehend and interpret and make connections. These are big skills for little ones.  As Laura says, "I try to explain it in terms of poetry: it's about quality, not quantity. Reading and understanding a short poem can be more taxing than reading a long and simple chapter book. Ditto for picture books. Some of our best living artists, in my opinion, are illustrating picture books. Too many people aren't aware of their work. Not to mention how visually sophisticated they can be – so often the text and pictures complement or contradict each other in very subtle ways!" As examples of the way that text and illustrations can play off one another, try looking for some of the humorous books she has given us, such as Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, by Mark Teague, and the Traction Man picture books, by Mini Grey. My kids like How I Spent My Summer Vacation and The Secret Shortcut, also by Mark Teague. Sometimes you don't even need words at all. We all enjoy poring over David Wiesner's books, such as Sector 7; you could just lose yourself in his rich illustrations!

If raising a book lover is important to you, you might enjoy this clever little poster Laura showed me, too. And here's another wonderfully informative post which summarizes the many reasons to keep on reading picture books.

What are your favorite children's books? Do you remember any favorites from childhood? What books do your children turn to over and over again?

Paper dolls

Part 3 of my Creative Toy Play series is actually about paper, but this hectic week – just barely started – tells me I am not going to get to a full post until later in the week. Here's a little teaser. I saw these adorable illustrations on Flickr by Second Sister, who has a delightful blog, Suaviloquy, and saw a blog post by Valorie of Chocolate Covered Polka Dots, who made her paper dolls on magnet paper. Amazingly simple! 

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Just print them out on magnet paper and then color them in. Provide a cookie sheet so the magnets will stick. Oh, such fun. After M had played with them for awhile I started doodling and made her a couple of extra dresses, just to her specifications. (The color she requested? Pink, of course). 

I've been doing a lot of sketching and having so much fun with it. We have a few Japanese illustration books, which I love and am using as a guide to help refresh my rusty doodling skills. I used to draw and sketch all the time when I was younger – I'd forgotten how meditative it is. I'm excited to make more paper dolls, as well as other things. I have a million projects I want to do now, and not enough time!

Do you have any childhood hobbies that you've rediscovered as an adult? 

Escape

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On the weekends here in Tokyo, we often have trouble thinking of something to do as a family that will appeal to all and still be doable in this urban environment. Popular activities and locales can get incredibly crowded so we mostly stay near home. But we were lucky on Saturday – we went to a park in west Tokyo called Koganei park, and by leaving late in the day, we managed to arrive just when most people were leaving. (That was by accident; traffic and such meant that our spontaneous little drive took 2 hours!).  So we got the best of the late afternoon sun, a relatively uncrowded park, and then attended a moon-viewing festival just near the Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum located in the park.Koganeianna-124 

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We wandered around the old houses and explored an old streetcar, wandered into wonderfully preserved stores from over a hundred years ago, looked at fabric, and played (or watched) plenty of ball and frisbee. Then we ate and ate at the festival – Japanese festival food is such a treat. Noodles, dumplings, bean jam cakes, cotton candy.

It was a great day. But it really can be so hard to find family activities everyone can do together, especially when all the kids are spread out this far in age AND we live in a big, crowded city. Do you have any suggestions for us? What do you like to do on the weekends?

Creative toy play, part 2: Fabric

With so much fabric in our house, it's only natural our children gravitate towards using it in their play. Here are a couple of ways they especially love to use it:

Play silks. I love play silks. 

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These are among my favorite birthday gifts for young children because they are so open-ended and versatile.  A piece of floaty, silky cloth easily becomes a cape, a picnic blanket, a canopy for a little house, a sea on which to float paper boats, or a doll blanket or sling. Our boys lived in playsilk capes nonstop when they were little and I still smile when I remember all their adventures. You can buy these online, but it would also be special to get some plain white silk and dye your own – I remember once dyeing a silk cape with onion skins, which turned it into an ethereal gold. Here's a lovely little tutorial on how to dye your own playsilks.

Aside from silk, my favorite fabric to have lying around the house is felt. Sometimes the kids cut it up and glue it on their own, but since I sew, the kids know they can come to me to help them turn the designs they dream up into a reality. 

These little sleeping bags for instance are so easy to whip up, even if you don't consider yourself a sewer. 

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This makes a good beginning handsewing project, and your child can glue on embellishments as desired. Just cut out a long rectangle, fold it over lengthwise, and sew, leaving a bit of excess room on one end for the doll's head to rest on.

Felt also makes a sweet crown for your child to wear. Have your child pick out the color of the felt and choose where to place buttons or other decorations. You don't even have to edge it in a blanket stitch if you have felt that's sturdy enough. 

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Or you can make clothing for a favorite stuffed animal. Again, I think it's nice for your child to feel part of the design process by choosing all the colors. D went through a phase where he adored Corduroy, so I made this for him while he made the sword out of a craft stick, some foil, and some tape.

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And I just love Zakka Life's tutorial on making capes for Lego figures - this is something D has requested many times. I'd tried to make capes with cotton, but felt would be much sturdier.

LEGO Capes Step 7 Photo: Zakka Life

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Fleece is another material that comes in handy because it doesn't fray – it makes a perfect sleeping bag for a stuffed animal or doll. 

Here are a few other ways to use felt, fleece, and cotton cloth.

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Plain old little pieces of fabric, simply hemmed (but they don't have to be!), have also inspired many tea parties in our house. 

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Finally, I love wool. I have a collection of wool scraps from old sweaters, and though I'm saving most of them for crafts of my own, the kids love to dig through them as well. Wool, like felt and fleece, doesn't fray, so it's very child-friendly and is used for all sorts of things – it becomes pretend food, tiny blankets, little animals (when knotted up), and so forth. I think some red wool even became fire on a pretend camping trip once. 

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I love seeing what children can do with a simple little piece of cloth. Try collecting some fabric in a basket, give it to your own kids, and see what happens.