Category Archives: Making & edtech

Craft and art

Ecology, technology and learning: education for sustainability

This blog has always felt like a strange tangled mess. I’m only starting to value how important it is to me to have all of this cringe-worthy writing collected in one place. I started writing here because I was on a precipice — an unknown learning experience.

Here I am again, 19 years later.

I’m finally about to pursue a longing that has haunted me for at least 16 years. It’s something I have said many times in writing that I wouldn’t pursue. However, it kept pursuing me. The idea of it.

I start my PhD (Society and Culture) in 2024.

My plan is to use this space to reflect on my research over the forthcoming years. At the broadest level of explanation, my research spans three great curiosities of mine, particularly in those magical spaces when they converge: ecology, technology and learning.

All I know is that everything is interconnected. I know that somehow, there are strands related to the gentle way of learning design that has been mulling; the unobservable universe of learning; and even, way back, there is quiet design. There are also connections to where I have left big gaps of silence in between posts here, where there are no words to hyperlink to.

More to come as I start this new adventure in 2024…

D.I.Y. Harry Potter accessory on a budget: make your own Monster Book of Monsters (with optional interactivity)

I love when I get a chance to mix books with coding. Particularly using free software like Scratch or low-cost technology like Makey Makey. I would love to share more of this and it’s a passion that I fit into my spare time around work and volunteering. I try to use these little maker projects in the Code Club I volunteer in so that kids can enjoy hacking them too!

This post explains how I made a DIY version of the The Monster Book of Monsters by Edwardus Lima on a budget. This furry textbook first features in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Affordable Hogwarts school study supplies

As we know, at the start of the year, students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stock up on school supplies from shops in Diagon Alley. I’m willing to speculate that the required magical textbooks costs as much as Muggle textbooks! This also doesn’t include working your way through Hermione Granger’s recommended reading list.

What is a young budget-concious student wizard to do?

Well, why not save your precious wizarding galleons to spend on sweets at Honeydukes or tankards of Butterbeer in The Three Broomsticks?

Save money on textbooks by transforming any old hardcover book into a do-it-yourself version of the essential textbook for Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures third year class, The Monster Book of Monsters.

I converted an 1800’s (already damaged) Latin book into my very own monstrosity. I used some air drying clay and a $2 blanket I bought from a charity shop.

My creation wasn’t perfect. My teeth sculpting skills are a bit naff. I took this book out to Harry Potter events, mostly embarrassed by it. To my amazement, lots of people wanted to pat, stroke and cuddle it. Many loved that it was a real book. Perhaps I do have a career in magi-orthodontics ahead!

But, something was missing. In the Harry Potter stories and films, The Monster Book of Monsters is an untamed beast of a book. It constantly attacks anyone who comes near. I soon began to imagine how wonderful it would be if my book could made a sound in response to Muggle touch.

An effective guardian for your beloved Harry Potter editions, but inanimate!

A book that bites the hand that reads it.

“Hasn’ — hasn’ anyone bin able ter open their books?” said Hagrid, looking crestfallen.
The class all shook their heads.
“Yeh’ve got ter stroke ‘em,” said Hagrid, as though this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Look —”
He took Hermione’s copy and ripped off the Spellotape that bound it. The book tried to bite, but Hagrid ran a giant forefinger down its spine, and the book shivered, and then fell open and lay quiet in his hand.
“Oh, how silly we’ve all been!” Malfoy sneered. “We should have stroked them! Why didn’t we guess!”
“I — I thought they were funny,” Hagrid said uncertainly to Hermione.
“Oh, tremendously funny!” said Malfoy. “Really witty, giving us books that try and rip our hands off!

Chapter 14 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Hooking the book up to Makey Makey and Scratch so that anyone could make their own monsterous sound effects play when the book was stroked, was the next evolution for this old book.

Adding a hidden pressure switch inside, attached to Makey Makey and a laptop or computer running Scratch will play sounds when anyone gently pats your Monster Book of Monsters.

Background about the project

Read more about the background of the project here in my AACE Review article: Of Monsters and Tech: Making an interactive book with Scratch and Makey Makey.

Video of the interactive Monster Book of Monsters

This video shares the lovely monster sounds that the kids, teachers and librarians created, when I took my Monster Book of Monsters into the Code Clubs I volunteer in. (turn sound on)

Makey Makey Labz Guide

To see the project broken down into steps, see the Makey Makey Labz guide I put together here: Interactive Monster Book: Makey Makey and Scratch.

There are so many ways that this project could be extended and bettered!

Let your imagination go wild! Oh, and a final word of warning…

The Monster Book of Monsters can behave very unpredictably….

The Wild Librarian
A distressing snapshot of The Wild Librarian
being nibbled by her wild creation.

Why you should definitely fail at craft with your kids

During these storm-laden school holidays, we managed a crafternoon or two. My favourite was one that resulted in two really messy tangles of alleged weaving.

I don’t even know my weft from my warp. I think my weaver ancestors would shun my over-tensioned noob things and attempts to lead my children into the weavers world.

Only my 8 year old daughter persevered on her frame, my five year old son escaping to sewing cards. 



Even our cat tried to intervene and steer the situation on course.

But in these abominations of weaving, curled and mishapen, there was still a hugely relevant learning moment.


Questions about weaving led to me showing the kids a video of Harris Tweed being hand-woven on the Isle of Lewis and then looking again at my Harris Tweed hat under a microscope to see incredible rainbow spectrum of all of the coloured threads that create this amazing fabric.

This led to discussions about why hand-woven items cost more to buy, the genius of turning natural fibre into textile,  the skill and time in hand-crafting textiles, the value of learning and perfecting a skill and the preservation of traditional hand skills even though machines can help. We’ll definitely follow this up by looking for weavers and woven articles at the local artisan market. 

To me this is why, even if you are not good at a particular craft, there is value in the trial.  Often too, there is a temptation to revert to ‘teach’ with making, to become instructional and to pass on technique after a self-trial. Yet, it’s actually a more holistic example of maker philosophy and design thinking to visibly struggle together, get it wrong together and celebrate the imperfection of untangling and undoing. 


How many times must Harris Tweed have turned into a slushy mess of sopping damp tangled fleece in the amazing process of perfecting this wonderful textile? 

Failing is how we learn the value and art of making.

There be dragons

I’m not religious in the formal sense of the word, perhaps because I don’t identify with the belief that humans are above other animals. However, I do love the atmosphere and beauty of churches and cathedrals. If, for a moment you brush away all of the grown up history of religion, cathedrals are the ultimate community built artifacts.  Crafted over long periods of time, by a connected community of diverse passionate makers with a common goal, to make a monument to the mystery and wonder of life. They are purposeful castles.

Wandering around Worcester Cathedral today, and finding dragons was magical. My seven year old daughter described the place as “enchanted” and this, I think, is the perfect expression of what we feel when we delight in the artifacts that other people make.  My four year old son burst into uncontrollable sobs as the organist started playing and calm music flowed warmly through such a cavernous space. “It’s sad music mummy”.

My husband sang in the choir here when he was young, and it made me wonder about the impact such a beautiful space has on belief. Is part of the enchantment of belief about being in this space? If I had heard voices raised in song here when I was young, like my son’s instinctive emotional reaction, would I feel more drawn to identify as religious, instead of spiritual?

People and animals – we are all are makers, all to different degrees, and whether we are buildings houses, nests or dens, these built shelters, are our shrines to thinking, dreaming and imagination. Buildings made for any gods tell us, people had passion and wanted to make something that would tell a story, in thousands of voices, for anyone willing to read their own way passage through its nooks and crannies.

You have to get down low and look close sometimes in ancient places to find the secret guardians.
You have to get down low and look close sometimes in ancient places to find the secret guardians.

Every corner has a beastie.
Every corner has a beastie.

Easy to miss as you gaze at epic light from stained-glass windows, but hands carved these beats with love and a craftsmanship that deserves our pause and notice.
Easy to miss as you gaze at epic light from stained-glass windows, but hands carved these beats with love and a craftsmanship that deserves our pause and notice.

Watching over empty choir seats.
Watching over empty choir seats.

Illuminating the darkness, the windows hold your eyes, telling stories in their pictures, but let your eyes be taken through the windows, or just around the windows, and to all the possibilities
Illuminating the darkness, the windows hold your eyes, telling stories in their pictures, but let your eyes be taken through the windows, or just around the windows, and to all the possibilities

The epic south window, the beautiful colour and detail is lost here but the warmth of the cathedral and ornate ceiling wrap around it with their own towering majesty.
The epic south window, the beautiful colour and detail is lost here but the warmth of the cathedral and ornate ceiling wrap around it with their own towering majesty.

How (and why) to make a D.I.Y. budget space dome from a beach tent

“Rather than pushing children to think like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them.”
Seymour Papert

When I look up into the night sky, the wonder of it hits me every time. We are seeing a memory of the universe. An echo into time that has past, and yet, it’s now in this moment.

Last week, at age 64, after losing herself to Alzheimers disease, my step-mother passed away. She looked tiny and almost childlike in death. If there is one thing that this disease teaches you  (especially when you witness it multiple times) it’s that our concept of  ageing, time and memory is just a story we tell ourselves.

I thought about my three year old, caught up in the midst of a family funeral in the school holidays, the day before his 4th birthday.  He was oblivious to what was going on, despite explanations. There was no ending for him.

Time moves in mysterious ways for a 4 years old

It struck me that right now, his capacity for enduring memories is just unfurling.  A powerful and amazing transaction is taking place in his brain, giving him a sense of past and future time, just as his nannas sense of time and space was unravelling.  He tries to express time, and it’s amusing, “last week, when I was a baby”, “I’ve been waiting for years for a drink”. At 4, the foundations of long term memory are laid, memories and making impressions which might endure for life.

So the day before his scrambled last minute small birthday gathering, yesterday’s funeral still swimming in my mind, a spark of an idea formed.   In future years I doubt he will remember his presents. All he really needed was something to remember. Something to imagine. A journey. Something to lead his mind forward into the future.
He loves space, so I simply wanted to take him there and to let him take a few friends along for the ride…so we made a last minute…

 space dome.jpg-large

How to make a space dome from a beach tent!

imageWe made a space dome in the dark of the garage, and it was for kids and grown ups.

You need:

  • a space, like a garage or room you can darken
  • a beach tent or any kind of  small dome tent (to go inside)
  • blankets and ropes to hang them from
  • a screen (laptop or ipad), wifi connection and speakers
  • cardboard and aluminium foil, fairy lights (all optional

Opening the garage door, following the dark tunnel to a disguised beach tent covered in thick blankets, you crawled into a dark tent,  to see a laptop playing a youtube clip of Hubble Space telescope images set to ambient music.

But in that moment, if you allowed it, it was ‘The Meteor’ –  a space shuttle – and you were at the helm and you were flying through the wonder of space.



Here is the journey that ‘The Meteor’ took via a beautiful collection of images set to  beautiful music by David Schombert. :



With his 7 year old sister, a hasty control panel had been made for ‘The Meteor’ with all the important buttons (hyperspace, reverse thrust etc..). My husband added the blanket tunnel which really made the whole space dome experience feel boarding a craft for an epic journey.

My daughter appeared dressed as an astronaut mid-way through the small party of kids and grown ups, distributing tickets.


My favourite thing was watching the faces of four year old and grown ups as they entered the garage. Curiosity and wonder. Illuminated only by a dim spinning disco ball and seeing kids and adults alike smiling with amused, wonderous glistening eyes as they entered the unexpected journey to the stars. Huddled in the dark together, flying through space, simple wonder is easily conjured in us all.

I wonder if the space dome would have existed if not for the sadness of death this week. What comforts me is that, is that even death, always measured voluminously by tears, we can also perhaps think to measure its capacity to grow something. To make us cherish moments, memory and childlike wonder.



A view from inside ‘The Meteor’


At the control panel

If you are inspired to make your own space dome simulator, using simple materials that you already have, I would love to see what you have done so that The Meteor 2.0 can be improved in future years!

Harvesting coriander seed

I love coriander when it goes to flower in the heat here. Not just for the beautiful flowers which attract beneficial insects into the veg beds, but because soon there follows an abundance of coriander seed. If you want to see the transition of this beautiful herb, there is a great blog post which shows the stages of coriander in photos.

This year I wanted to try harvesting it, so I tried two techniques.

Method 1: We picked a big chunk of the plant (yes this is only part of the plant – it was huge) with seeds that were still a little green, picked them off by hand, and put them on a tray on baking paper to dry for a few weeks.  Picking the seeds off was quite time laborious!

Method 1: Using the food net to catch the stray bits while we hand-picked some still-green seeds.

My daughter loved hand picking the seeds and was fastidious about making sure there were no extra bits, but if you don’t have a willing neat freak to help in this process, it could take you a very long time. A very very long time.

Method 2: I then netted up the plant to hang and dry, before removing the seeds by shaking and sort of roughing it up.

Method 2: hanging coriander. Almost expecting a giant butterfly to emerge from this cocoon!

The second method was much quicker, but messier and the seeds had lots of little leafy bits, so they needed picking through.

A very coriander Christmas!

We saved some for ourselves, but also packaged some up as a unique Christmas gift…

Christmas is all about spices – or at least – it should be!  Coriander is a beautiful ancient spice with an interesting history and mythology. Perhaps you haven’t you heard the story of the fourth wise man, who was actually a wise woman, and brought baby Jesus some coriander seeds? Ok, I made that up, but coriander is apparently mentioned in the Old Testament and far far back into the mists of time. So that means, well… it’s really very old.

We packaged our dried seeds up in an airtight container to keep them fresh.

A little spicy Christmas gift if coriander (and a bookmark)
A little spicy Christmas gift of coriander seeds(and a bookmark)

We gave one to my daughters first school teacher as a Christmas gift,  with a tag attached with three ideas for use:

  • use whole in curries, soups and broths
  • toast in a pan for a few minutes to release fragrance before adding to cooking
  • soak for 10 minutes, then grind with a mortar and pestle
  • plant in soil to grow your own coriander plant

There are plenty of other techniques for use too. Yes, I do have a jar of whole coriander seeds in my cupboard already, but these are organic, untreated and just feel better for the effort. I might have to grind up both and see which had the better aroma. Results of this experiment to follow!

A very coriander Christmas!
Wishing you a very coriander Christmas!

Hand-made party bags

Being a kid with a birthday at the end of the school holidays has disadvantages for sure. Just get that shiny new bike….and back to school!

An advantage of having a birthday right at the end of the school holidays is plenty of time to think about party bags.

My daughter loves making things, and I have a frugal Eco-soul so we put this together and behold….the elements of our hand-made party bag:

Seeded paper
made from newspaper, drawn-on office paper, wild Australian flower seeds and paper daisy seeds.  Simple to do, especially following these instructions at graciousrain. (I used a soil sieve that I already had instead of making my own paper frame).

ripping paper


the seeds we used

pressing it into the frame to get all the water out

the paper drying

front and back of the little cards we made up

We accidentally made a textured paper because of the tea-towel we used to dry it on, but it looks sort of like an intentional design? 😉

Rainbow Crayons
made from broken crayon bits (seen on Playschool). Simple.


Sewing cards
Made from waste cardboard from my secret source and this tutorial at Minieco.


Hand-stamped paper bags:


We ran out of time to include home-made chocolates and some hemp bracelets but will keep those ideas for next year!! 😉

Felt play set project: The Hobbit meets Jane and the Dragon

Oh dear, my creative yearning strikes again. Please, save me from myself.

I’ve decided to try felting, specifically to make a birthday present for my daughter turning 5 in October.

I’ve been inspired by her being attracted like a magnet to the felt fairy dolls at a recent Autumn Fair at the nearby Waldorf School. Here’s the little fairy she adopted.Felt fairy

There is far too much inspiration around for my crazy mind – felted hobbit houses, fairy houses, woodland creatures, hobbits, wizards, faeries, dragons.

I’ve started a pinterest board and already am completed carried away with ideas.

I think it will be a castle, with a few villagey houses, gardens with a vegetable and herb plot, and a forest to go around the castle that has a fairy/elven camp in it. A sort of The Hobbit/Jane and the Dragon/Narnia-esque mashup. In fact, I think I will based the character play-pieces on a few of the Jane and the Dragon characters. Also, I plan to make it all from recycled felted woolen jumpers. hah! Ambitious aren’t I considering I’ve never felted anything in my life!

I’ve also seen a lot of beautiful felting projects on Little eco footprints blog and love this little fairy house from recycled jumpers.

Along with the play set I’m going to make a compilation of ‘medieval/celtic’ music  so that I can use this when I play with it while she is at school she can use this as part of her play. All this will have to be created under the cover of darkness so that it can be a surprise.

I’ve got 6 months.  I’d better get planning and creating…and er…ahem…learning!

How to make a faery house – really quickly

Having just moved house, and after a year of upheaval – the big move from the farm,  and then renting  for around 9 months, my 3 year old expressed genuine concern about whether our garden fairies would know how to find our new house. In our rented house garden, we built many a daisy-flower fairy ring, and fairies had been with us on the farm.  Her time in the garden was pretty much about talking to them and making cups of tea for them, and occasionally they would leave a tiny chocolate treat in the fairy ring when she hid from them. No wonder she didn’t want to leave these generous little denizens behind! Friends and treat-bearers are not easily left behind!

So, to reassure her – about the fairies and the move to the new house – we built the fairies a new faery house before we’d barely unpacked. This seemed really important to her, and with a new brother on the way in a few months, moving the fairies in to our new house seemed like a good way to lay down a bit of stability and continuity between the ‘old places’ we’d come from and our new place where life was about to change again.

Anyway, it had to be quick and easy amongst working, unpacking and being 6 months pregnant, so here it is, How to make a fairy house – really quickly!

Step 1: Find a small bird house from your nearest hardware store. (If you haven’t just moved house you may have something around that you can recycle for this project.)

small bird house
Nice for birds, but needs faery renovations

Step 2: Gather wild leafy and flowery bits from around the place. This was fantastic as we got time to explore what is growing in our new garden.

Wild bits

Step 3: Engage a faery expert to decorate the house.

Faery decoration consultant

Step 4: Admire the house and wish you were little enough to step inside and sleep on the rose-petal bedding.

Fit for faery

Step 5: Find a leafy place for your house (faeries prefer leaves as no tell-tale faery footprints are left behind).

location, location, location

Step 6: If you have elusive, secretive, shy faeries (the most common type) find a dingly dell or secret glade for your house so that faeries can come and go via spider-web bridges, untroubled by mortal eyes.

shy faery abode

….and of course, the fairies did move with us as we discovered the next morning…

Gentle nature spirit

Found this drawing/painting I did when Richard and I took an art class in the UK. I can’t really draw but having a tutor who can show you how to make eyes that hold emotion helps, and I was really proud of this Froudian-esque piece. This is the probably the only drawing I’ve ever been proud of and I want to ‘learn’ to draw more.

A serene, sage wood-whispering nature spirit