Alexandra likes "the sound of the rain." Rachel likes "coming to class to do lots of creative stuff." And Shannon likes "just having fun." Along with nine other Oakville, Ont., kids, they are happily spending some of their March break mornings making musical instruments. After three sessions, each child will have enough equipment for a one-man band. During the first two days, they've made ankle bells, maracas, drums and a bottle xylophone. Today they're making rainsticks -- which is a little bit like making magic.
Teacher Catherine Heard shows her students how an ordinary, everyday cardboard tube filled with crumpled wire and some uncooked rice, beans and lentils creates an exotic rain-beating-softly-on-a-tin-roof sound. As they work with the wire, some kids hum; others are quietly intent. When the "raindrops" are poured into the tubes and the open ends are sealed off, the classroom gets a little noisier. The children tip over their sticks and listen to the music. Several twirl their sticks like batons, some shake them slowly, and one child beats yesterday's drum -- close your eyes and you're not in Canada any more, you're in a rainy jungle somewhere faraway.
After this short musical interlude, the kids get back down to work, decorating their sticks with colourful paper stripes and cutouts. And just like the children who are creating them, no two rainsticks are alike. Everyone looks pleased with the end results. As Jordan says, "I think I'll come back next year."
Many children do return again and again to the Gairloch Gallery's craft classes, so Catherine comes up with new ideas for each set of work shops. A multimedia artist who lives and works in Toronto, she, too, likes the break. "After the solitude of my studio, I really enjoy the teaching, especially the excitement and enthusiasm of the kids," she says. "It gives me a nice balance." Through the Ontario Arts Council's Artists in Education Program, she teaches students at elementary schools and high schools as well, and has contributed to a series of craft books published by Somerville House. All the activity feeds her with fresh ideas -- a recent collaboration with a musician inspired this collection of musical crafts.
• Sturdy cardboard tube, 46 to 120 cm (18-1/8 to 47-1/4 in) long, such as mailing or drafting tube (available at stationery stores) or tube from fabric bolt (ask at fabric stores)
• 22-gauge hobby wire (approx half a roll for short stick, 1 roll for long stick), cut in 30 cm (11-7/8-in) lengths
• Dry rice, beans and lentils (approx 125 mL/1/2 cup for short stick, 375 mL/1-1/2 cups for long stick)
• Clear packing tape, 48 mm x 66 m (approx 1 roll for 20 sticks)
• Construction paper
• Gift wrap
• Permanent nontoxic coloured markers
• Coloured feathers
• White craft glue and brushes for glue
• Scissors and ruler
1. Crisscross lengths of tape across 1 end of tube, sticking ends to tube sides. Build up 3 or 4 layers of tape to completely close opening.
2. Coil, then crumple, each length of wire into loose "ball." With ruler, push balls into tube until it's full. Pour dry rice, beans and lentils into tube. Seal open end in same manner as given for Step 1.
3. Brush glue onto 1 side of a paper strip; wrap strip around tube, aligning edge with 1 end. Continue gluing strips in place to make series of stripes down length of tube.
4. Decorate tube as desired with shapes cut from paper or gift wrap, markers, feathers, stickers and/or sequins.
Come to Class at the Gallery
Since 1979 Oakville Galleries has offered after-school, Saturday, summer and March-break craft and art classes at its Gairloch Gallery site. While many of the classes are for children or adults only, some are designed for a parent and child to take together. All are taught by currently practicing artists. These classes are just one of the ways the gallery draws people inside -- to appreciate the art on display and to create some art of their own.
Ask your local public gallery about art and craft classes (often advertised in newspapers or Parks and Recreation guides) and check out the Canadian Heritage Information Network at www.chin.gc.ca for information on public galleries and museums across Canada. In the meantime, plan a rainstick workshop for your elementary school group or your child's next birthday party. Along with her instructions, Catherine shares tips on how to organize your class.
Tips for Teachers
• Tape brown paper over tabletops for easy cleanup.
• Using wire cutters or old scissors, precut wire lengths.
• Using guillotine, precut coloured construction paper into vertical strips, 5 to 18 cm (2 to 7 inches) wide.
• Fill paper plates or Styrofoam trays with markers, stickers, sequins or feathers (allow 1 plate per 4 children).
• For each child, pour dried rice, beans and lentils into large paper cup; half-fill small paper cup with glue and set brush in it.
• Recycle men's shirts as messproof smocks.
• Lay out newsprint and trays of markers on the tables to occupy any early birds. Keep the remaining supplies on a seperate table until they're needed.
• Start each class by having the children sit cross-legged on the floor while you read them a short picture-book. This draws them together as a group that's focused on you.
• In one or two corners of the classroom have paper towels and a pail of warm soapy water ready for on-the-spot washing of sticky hands.
• Have children return their unused supplies to the supply table after each step has been completed.
• Designate a quiet corner where storybooks are available for kids who finish first.
• If several items will be made over several days, lay out sheets of newsprint on the floor along one wall. Have each child sign a sheet and stack his or her signed creations on it.