Monday, April 4, 2016

Homeschool STEAM: Whole-Body Pendulum Painting in an Aerial Hammock

Why, no, I DIDN'T write lesson plans for this week--hooray for me! The kids will still have Math Mammoth, a page of cursive, a Book of the Day, their Memory Work, and a hands-on project of my choosing each day--more crystal-growing, perhaps, or more chemical reactions, or maybe some craft projects that I've had in the back of my mind for a while--but we have so many BIG things going on this week that it just didn't make sense to block out half of each day in advance.

Our homeschool group's STEM Fair is tonight. I anticipate that the kids will spend fully half a day on finishing their prep and refining their presentations for this.

Their grandparents arrive for a visit tomorrow night. I'm sure they'll want to do things with them other than watch them color in maps and make salt dough models of the spleen or whatever all week. Not to mention that we should probably tidy the house at least a little before they get here.

Oh, and the Trashion/Refashion Show is this weekend! Not only do we have to practice and figure out runway shoes and hair/makeup, but, um... yeah, I also still need to sew the belt and the petticoat that Syd wants for her garment. Oh, and hem the skirt. Nothing like waiting until the last minute to get super productive!

But that's for later, as soon as I get off my butt and outta this chair. For now, I want to tell you about the STEAM project that I did with the kids a few weeks ago, on account of it was so awesome!

You know that we have an at-home, DIY aerial silks rig, right? Several months ago, the kids asked if I would re-rig it into an aerial hammock. I did, and we all love it. I'm about to rig it back because Syd has been wanting to do some actual aerial silks on it, not just lounge around in it and read all comfy (silly girl!), so before I did, and concurrent with Will's Math Mammoth unit on geometry, I set up a whole-body pendulum painting activity on the aerial hammock.

You, yourself, don't have to have an aerial silks rig to do this, of course. You can do it from a tire swing. You can do it with your feet from a playground swing. You can take your regular hammock, double it, and hang both ends from one hook in your ceiling beam or from one carabiner latched onto a rescue rig and looped around a strong tree branch. Hell, you could do it from an actual hammock if you didn't care about having a full 360-degree range of motion. As long as your kid can comfortably reach the ground with a paintbrush while lying in the rig that you've set up, you're good.

Along with the rig, you'll also need this stuff:

  • large-format paper. Giant sheets of newsprint work well (we have this exact thing), but you could also use actual sheets of newspaper. This project is about the process more than the product, so who cares that there are already words on it? An alternative to large-format paper could be a drop cloth, tarp, or huge canvas or curtain, etc.
  • paint. Use something cheap, with a good flow. We used Biocolors for this particular project, but I can also recommend tempera. I put the paints into separate pots, each with its own brush.
  • giant paintbrushes.
  • duct tape.
1. Duct tape the large-format paper under and around the rig. You don't want the kid to feel like she has to reign herself in so as not to paint on the floor, so really cover the area.

2. Settle the kid in and make sure that she gets herself comfortable with facing down in the hammock, extending an arm. This is a pretty heavy core exercise for some kids, and they structure it for themselves in different ways. Will chose to lie prone in the hammock, while Syd chose to crouch and lean--both ways exercised their muscles in ways they weren't used to.

Since we were using our aerials silks for this, and aerial silks are quite expensive, I also emphasized at this time that no matter what, they were not to touch the silks with their paintbrushes. I'm sure I'll wash them before I re-rig them, but I just do NOT want to deal with paint stains. Fortunately, the kids both know already to be careful to not soil the silks--no shoes on the rig, no food, no filthy hands--so this wasn't hard for them to remember.

3. And off she goes! You've got to play facilitator for this entire project, as the kid can't swing herself, nor can she reach the different paint pots without you. The kids took turns in the hammock (Syd nearly beside herself in anticipation for her turn), and I sat right next to each when it was her turn, pushing her and handing her the paint colors that she requested. 

Both kids had SO much fun with this! It was interesting to see what a different approach each had to the activity, as well. Will was completely abstract from beginning to end, enthusiastic about simply swinging and letting the paintbrush move with her:

Syd, however, had a goal from the start. First, she tried to paint a face while swinging, and even managed to do so, but even when she moved on from that to painting in the abstract, she wasn't content just to swing, but really wanted to cover all of the paper, not missing any corners:






Regardless of the differing intents, and my emphasis on process over product, both kids' paintings turned out absolutely gorgeous, and they're both hanging in the kitchen right now, where they'll stay until I get around to buying the giant piece of sheet metal that I want to make the giant magnetic display board that I want to live in that giant space.

So... geometry, art, body awareness, muscle strengthening, maybe a little engineering, some of that spinning that's so good for the inner ear. Not a bad way to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon!

We played with pendulums some during Will's History of Video Games unit study a few years ago, so if you're interested in exploring more with pendulums, have I got some great resources for you!

  • Pendulums are fun for knocking things over! Build up a collection of cardboard boxes and toilet paper tubes, and your kids will probably never want you to put this set-up away again.
  • Giant pendulums paint on the driveway! If you happen to have a portable coat rack, this would be a fun way to explore pendulums outside. 
  • Pendulums are fun for painting! There are several different depictions of pendulum painting online, all with mostly the same basic set-up. I like the PVC pipe rig the best, though. A kid isn't going to knock it over the way that she will a lashed-together bamboo tripod, and yet PVC pipe is nearly as light to transport and just as easy to disassemble. Here's how to build the rig, although I'd put a hook or a carabiner at the end of the string, not a cup. Don't you want to attach a whole bunch of different kinds of pendulums, not just one?
  • Here's how Foucault's pendulum works. I know that you've always wanted to know!

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