22 December, 2013

Carving Peg People: Part II

So a while ago, a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away ...

I got a bee in my bonnet and started carving peg people.  You can read my original post about that here.  I love peg people and I have used them for a variety of activities (including, according to my mother, at age 2, hammering them down the bathtub drain!  I hear my father was not amused as this necessitated his removing most of the upstairs plumbing.  Ooops.) But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, peg people.

So I got this bee in my bonnet this summer.  I liked peg people, but it seemed no matter how I dressed or painted them or what embellishments I added, they always looked somehow too, well "peg-ish."  I wanted them to look more like the felted people I had created.  So I took up the old trusty dremel and set to work.  

** I can only imagine what real wood carvers thought if they read my original post or what they will think if they read this one.  To those carvers among any readers, please understand I am a "trial and error" kind of crafter.  I do not pretend to be in any way any sort of an expert.  I don't know any wood carvers from whom to solicit advice and we do not have any real wood carving tools in the house.  Plus when I started, I didn't know how the whole "carving" thing would go so I was happy to just mess around a bit and see what happened.  

And so I did - and it was fun! And my friends seemed super enthusiastic about my results! So I kept working, altering simple designs in small ways and adding different embellishments.

And so, to answer a few people's questions, here is how I work.  (NOT as an expert, but simply as someone who loves creating natural toys and loves children.)  I know it is surely not an official "wood carver" way to work, but it has worked for me pretty well so far.  I am interested in learning new ways to carve as well and I will continue to try out new tools including hand tools, when and if I get the opportunity. And yes, I will be happy to report my findings.  : )

First, I use a dremel tool with this extender thingy.

And a few different tips: the sander (fine and medium grit), the drill bit, and the tiny, small, and larger round engraver attachments.

The large engraver works very well to remove the first bits of unneeded wood. I start with the face, carving it back from around the center of the peg head.  I carve the ears, the neck, and then move to the hair.  Next I do the shoulders, the arms, and the lower body.  Generally.  The medium and tiny engraver tips work well for the more detailed parts of the carving.  

So what have I tried since I first embarked in this carving extravaganza?

Adding twine hair


Using only polish to finish figures

Using wood stain rather than watercolors and adding crystal embellished (or other kinds) of wands

Adding carved pony tails and braids, and felted capes 

Using a tiny drill bit to drill holes directly through the figure's hands, perfect for interchangeable wands

And this one is hard to see, but it was an experiment in creating lit stars on the figure's dress.  My husband drilled a hole through the bottom of the peg before I began carving it.  A small battery operated light fit inside the holes, making the moon and stars glow. Fun, right?

And a few more of my creations.  : )

I hope that is helpful, and good luck with any carving projects!  Feel free to share pictures of your work.  I love seeing how clever people can be.  : )  Thanks!

05 September, 2013


Dear Readers,

 Please note that the views stated in this post are entirely my own.  They do not necessarily reflect the views of my colleagues, administrators, or board members of our school.

So here is what happened . . .

One day last winter we heard an announcement over the school PA system.  I had hoped and prayed I would never hear this announcement, but here it was.  Our school was officially on lockdown.  This was not a drill.  The other teachers and I did as we had practiced in our drills, and hustled our children into our "safe location." We waited anxiously for news.  We heard sirens, LOTS of sirens.  We continued to wait, keeping the children as quiet and calm as we could without frightening them.  Soon after we heard the sirens, we received a text from the head of the lower school.  She said someone in the front office had received a phone threat.  There was, the caller reported, someone with a gun in one of the school bathrooms.  The police were on site and were checking the bathrooms and every classroom, office, and room in the school.  We were to wait and continue to keep the children quiet until we had been given an "all clear" signal.  Our administrator texted us again just before the SWAT team entered our room so no one would be alarmed or surprised to see them.  Luckily the children's view of the officers was blocked and they did not see the men, heavily armed, enter the classroom.  About 40 minutes later, the police had checked every room in the school as well as the entire campus.  They cleared our building and we were allowed to return to the classroom.

A very kind police officer came to our classroom to debrief the children.  He told them someone had reported there might be a "bad guy" at our school and that's why the police had come.  "We're the good guys," he said.  "We will not let any bad guys hurt anyone.  He continued, "The person who told us that said something that was not true.  There was no bad guy.  We checked everywhere, and there was no one."  He finished by telling the children what a good job they had done by listening quietly and following the teachers' directions.  Shortly thereafter parents arrived, teary, overwhelmed, and terrified.  They picked up their slightly bewildered children and brought them home.

Here's what happened that we didn't know.  Teachers and students all over the building had prepared for the worst.  They barricaded classroom doors with tables, desks, and bookcases.  Some teachers grabbed knives from school kitchens and others armed themselves and high school students with metal table legs, metal frying pans, fire extinguishers, or whatever they could find.  Other teachers hid students under desks and in closets.  They stood at the doors, ready to fight back and protect their students.

Less than five minutes after the 911 call was made, there were over 50 squad cars at our school. (The officer who debriefed the teachers later told us every available officer in the city responded to our school's 911 call.  He said off-duty officers, game wardens, sheriffs, EMTs, and fire fighters raced to the school.)  Heavily armed officers sprinted into the building.  SWAT teams met our school principal and immediately began to search the building and school grounds.  Snipers were sent to the school roof.

The whole event, while taking place in under an hour, was life changing.  All the teachers in our school watched along with the world, horrified at the events that unfolded in Newtown, CT, in December.  We wept for the lives lost and prayed such a horrific thing would never happen again.  And yet here we were, a mere few months later, facing what we knew might be a similar situation.

My personal feelings about all these events are still even now, months after the events I have just recalled, quite mixed.  I waiver between feelings of anger, confusion, guilt, despair, and acceptance.  When we first heard the announcement, I didn't think.  I just acted, working with other teachers and getting the children to where we knew they would be most safe.  It was fully five or ten minutes before I stopped enough to remember that my own child was a student in the school.  She was way at the other end of the building, much too far for me to get to her, even if I wanted to do so.  Which I didn't.  I trusted that her teachers would protect her with their lives if need be, as I would do for my students.  Except that made me feel terrible, especially after the fact!  How could I not even think of her for those first few minutes?!  I am her mother and I would stand in front of a train for her, but I didn't even think of her at a time when she might have been in extreme danger. It is all well and good that I can act as a professional in almost all situations, but shouldn't I want to get to my child no matter what?  Shouldn't I be willing to do (or at least want to do) whatever it takes to get to my own child?  I am still struggling with these feelings of extreme guilt.  The logical part of me knows I did (and wanted to do) the right thing in the situation, but I am her mother and in my heart I feel like I failed her in the worst possible way.

The next day and for a few days following these events, a police officer met with teachers to discuss the events and specific teachers actions.  He said, "We can't tell you exactly what to do in a situation such as this.  You just have to assess and do what you think is right.  If there is shooter (and yes, he used that word because he said that is currently the reality of life in schools) at one end of the building and you can get your children out and safely away, do that.  If the shooter is outside the building, bring the children inside to their safe location."  They could not tell us definitively if we should close the classroom blinds or use some sort of system to alert police if children in the classroom were accounted for (as this would let someone know children were in fact in the classroom.)  I understand why they can't give us definite rules we should follow.  Many events in life don't have rules as to how people should act and react, but I sure wish there were some definite do and don'ts for situations such as this.

As the days following the lockdown progressed, teachers had other chances to speak with police officers.  One day after school a group of teachers and an officer were talking, and a colleague and friend of mine said to the officer, "I can tell you one thing.  We all wished we were packing."  I spoke up and said, "I didn't." My colleagues and the officer looked surprised.  I explained my feelings as respectfully and as best I could, and then I left.  I had to put some distance, at least for that afternoon, between myself and the strong emotions the lockdown and subsequent events brought out in me.  I have thought and analyzed my feelings so often since then.  They tear at my heart and make me question . . . well, everything.

New billboard showing numbers of children killed by guns, since 2010.
It reads 6248, a staggering and horrifying number.
I do not like guns.  Period.  They scare me.  It is as simple as that.  I wish we lived in a Utopia where they were not necessary, but of course I understand that is not and sadly, probably never will be, the way of the world.  Violence seems to be everywhere and each time I look at the newspaper or the news, I hear of more and more people killing and being killed.  I am incredibly grateful to law enforcement members and military personnel who are willing to use guns and other weapons to protect everyone, to protect me.  I am grateful to them for their willingness to, if necessary, give their lives for others.  And here's one of the hard things to admit, to you and to myself.  When I really stop and think about it, I am grateful they are willing to handle guns and deal with dangerous people because it means I don't have to.  If I had to do what military personnel and law enforcement officers do each day, I would fall apart.  I would not be able to handle it.  At all.  I would not be able to have the life that I do, care for my family, read to my children at night, connect with my husband, and nurture and challenge young children, if I had to get up each day knowing today might be the day I shoot someone or someone shoots me.  I also know some of the statistics of children who are accidentally killed with guns each year.  They are horrific.  When I was a child there was a billboard downtown which was updated each year, telling how many children had been killed by people with guns.  It made a great impact on me.  I cannot imagine teaching in a classroom I knew contained a firearm, even one that was locked in a safe.

That's what I told myself.  I couldn't carry a gun.  I work for peace each and every day in my classroom and in my life.  I want to carry that message with me everywhere I go and perhaps most of all in my classroom.

One of the police officers said they were looking into a new program which would train at least one teacher in every school, in the proper use of firearms.  My partner said she would be interested in joining a program like that.  She is an excellent teacher, a good friend, and someone whom I greatly respect.  So when she said she would be interested in hearing more, I found myself once again full of doubt and confusion.  I do not want to carry a gun or have one in the classroom.  I like to think (and I suppose you never really know what you would do until you are faced with the situation) I would be willing to give my life if necessary for my students, standing between them and a shooter.  But then I think if I am dead, who stands between them and the shooter then?  Is it the most selfish thing I could ever do - to not want to carry a gun to school if it could mean saved lives?  Should the possibility of perhaps saving lives outweigh my values and beliefs?  I would like to say no, but  . . .

When I chose to become a teacher, an early childhood teacher, the issue of guns or shooters at schools never entered my mind.  I chose to become a teacher because I love children.  I believe I can be a positive influence on them, nurturing them and challenging them to expand their ideas while creating environments in which they can explore.  Demands on teachers have been ever increasing since I started my career.   Some of these demands include:

  • Planning and offering stimulating and challenging lessons for every subject matter, each day, providing opportunities for children of differing levels and abilities.
  • Observing and documenting each child's learning, as often as possible 
  • Having knowledge about special needs of children, and being able to adapt lessons and plans with their needs in mind.  
  • Having knowledge, skills, and training regarding allergies (especially peanut allergies which have increased tenfold in the last decade.)
  • Having first aid and CPR training as well as knowledge of how to handle tornados, earthquakes, and fire emergencies.
  • Communicating and partnering with parents, answering emails, preparing newsletters, having conferences etc.

Doing all these things can be challenging, but I don't know one teacher at my school who doesn't do all of them willingly because they love their students and they are passionate about their profession.  They are willing to do whatever it takes.  I thought that list of teachers who would do whatever it took included me, but now . . .

If to the above list we must add:

  • Completing training in firearms and being prepared at any time to use a loaded weapon
I am not so sure.  

**Please note this is a heart wrenching issue for me and for everyone I know, parents, teachers, children who are old enough to understand what has been happening, law enforcement, politicians, everyone!  It  makes me sick that this is the kind of world in which we live, in which I am raising my children and educating my students to live.  I support gun control and a national gun registry.  I believe assault weapons belong only in the hands of law enforcement and military personnel.  If you are a hunter, I agree you have the right to own and use a gun, but please do it safely and when you are not using it, please keep it safely put away and out of the reach of children.  I do not want to carry a gun, ever.  I am grappling with whether that is a personal choice I and other teachers should be able to make - if it comes to that.  I wonder if I should give up teaching altogether.  Maybe I am a dinosaur and I do not belong in this brave new world.  I just don't know.

I have not disabled the comments section of this post.  I know school violence and guns are a hot issue, and one that many people are extremely concerned about.  Please understand I wrote this posting to share my thoughts and feelings and reach out to others.  Perhaps you feel the same confusion or perhaps you may not have understood why some teachers feel the way they do.  If you wish to comment, please do so in a respectful way.

Thank you.


31 August, 2013

Magic Spray

We all know that quite often the simplest solution is the best.  Simple recipes are often the tastiest, simple gifts are the most appreciated, and simple lessons and activities are the best for children.  Because of course, the children take them in directions that interest them!  : )

But I digress, back to simple.  In our classroom, we use something simple that smells lovely, cools us down, and calms us down, all at the same time.  It is heavenly and the children LOVE it!  I promise I do not exaggerate here, they truly LOVE this.

Yup, there it is.  Magic Spray.  Ready for the recipe?

tap water, 1 bottle full
lavender oil, as many drops as you like (until it smells lovely but not overpowering)

We use a good spray bottle with a nozzle that provides a good amount of mist with each spray.  We have it labeled "Magic Spray" so we and the children will not confuse it with any other spray bottles in the classroom.  We keep it on the windowsill, next to our large carpeted area.  When we come in from outside, or back from a busy or extremely loud school assembly or the like, the children sit on the rug and I go about the room, misting everyone with the magic spray.  We tell the children who wish to be sprayed to close their eyes before we mist them, and of course, anyone who does not wish to be sprayed does not have to be.  I had a few campers this summer who preferred to be sprayed on their hands rather than their heads, but most of the children are delighted to be sprayed.  Sometimes I have to make a few rounds around the circle, and mist everyone two or three times!  

Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh.  It makes the classroom smell so good and makes every smile.

Oh, and my partner suggested we keep the magic spray in the refrigerator!  Good idea - as it supposed to be 100+ degrees this week!  

I wonder what other essential oils we could use, in our Magic Spray collection.  Perhaps lemongrass or peppermint?  Maybe something cinnamon-ish for use in the Fall?  What do you think?  

01 August, 2013

Tutorial on Carving Peg People: Mother Earth and her Root Children (Felted Playscape: Part II)

Carved wooden peg people
Created Summer, 2013

Once I finished the playscape, I began to work on the characters who live, learn, and play there.  I decided to create some of the characters from one of my favorite stories, The Story of the Root Children.

There are a few different versions of this story you might know. I like them all, but I find Ned Bittinger's paintings (in the Audrey Wood version) particularly enchanting.  

from When the Root Children Wake Up by Audrey Wood

I could not hope to make anything 1/100 as beautiful as his works, but looking at them inspired me to try something I have not attempted before, carving wooden peg people.  

I am not a stranger to peg people.  I love using them in the classroom.  We use them for a "first day of school" project.  The children paint and decorate one to represent themselves.  They are then strung on  a string and hung on hooks outside each center area. When I was teaching at a Catholic school, I used peg people to create a classroom creche.  I also painted a few in a whimsical way, and then added them to the block area.

But to give peg people a little extra personality, a little extra zing if you will, they might need a wee bit more than paint.  Shaping peg people (as I have discovered after creating 10 of them) gives them a little more personality.  Children have marvelous imaginations and certainly do not require the level of detail I have given my creations, but I enjoy making them.  Plus in the past, our students did seem to especially enjoy playing with toys they knew I had created with our class in mind. 

When preparing to begin this project, I pulled out my trusty dremel, my sand paper, and my little metal file.  If you want to follow along with this "tutorial", you can use a dremel or any other wood carving or shaping tools you prefer.  Oh, and I also used a set of earplugs (the dremel is LOUD), a pair of safety glasses, and at times, a dust mask. I did not want any sawdust or pieces of wood in my nose, eyes, or mouth.  Yuch.  

Now . . .

1.  Before beginning, closely examine your peg person.  Look at the wood grain and choose the location of your person's face keeping the wood grain in mind.  The last thing you want is for the wood grain to mar the face of your creation once you add your polish or wood oil.  

**Note:  Keep an open mind about the character you are creating.  I have had a specific character in mind when I began and then decided the wood "wanted to be" someone else, half way through my shaping process!  

2.  Check out some websites with "how to draw/sculpt a human head."  I am certainly FAR from an expert on this, but experimenting and trying new techniques has been fun.  I like:


The pictures are much more detailed than you will need for this shaping project, but it really helped me to see how far a human's forehead, nose, and chin might stick out, the shapes of the back of a person's head etc.

3.  Draw basic features on the face with a pencil even if you want your final product to be more open ended and without a face.  It helps with the shaping of the head.  Draw on the hairstyle you think you will want as well.

4.  Draw on the location of your characters' arms or whatever else you think you want to add.  I added a tiny baby to this mother's arms.  (Photo above)

5.  Begin shaping your character's head keeping in mind who you think you are creating.  Remember . . .
  • Leave room for your character's hair - sometimes hair may be bigger than your character's face
  • Keep in mind that men usually have wider jaws and thicker necks than women do - so sand slowly.  Once wood is removed, you can't put it back on!  
  • Begin using your dremel with the sanding tool, at medium speed.  I found that if the speed was too slow the sanding bit slipped about on the wood too easily, and if the speed was too fast, I sanded the wood away much too quickly.  Once you get the hang of shaping, you can always turn up the speed.  

6.  Shape the sides of your character's face along the cheeks and forehead, leaving the hairline intact.  You can come back to "style" the hair, later. 

7.  Move downwards and shape the chin.  Shape the neck as much as you can - or wish. (You will need a different tip for the dremel, to shape the neck later so if you don't want to deal with the neck right now, it is not a big deal.)

8.  Shape the shoulders.  Peg people have shoulders like linebackers so if you are not creating a football player, you may have to sand off quite a bit of wood in this step.  

9.  Move down your peg person and begin to shape the chest, arms, and lower body (which is covered with a dress in both of the above examples.)

** Note:  I have created 9 females and 1 male so far.  As I do when I am needle felting, I have a much easier time creating women in long full skirts.  Men wear pants (or trousers), and carving 2 legs (and making the peg person balance in them) is pretty tricky.  

**Also Note:  See how the blonde girl looks a bit as if she is leaning in to hear what the dark haired girl is saying?  If you want your character to stands bolt upright, watch your character's waistline.  If the front is lower than the back or vice versa . . .

10.  Now that the general shaping is complete, change the tip on your dremel to this one:
Our dremel is pretty ancient and honestly, I haven't a clue where the directions are so I just sort of tried out a few tips and this one seemed to work the best.  

  and begin work on your character's neck, chin (if it needs more work), hair, arms and hands etc.  This is the tip for more detailed work.  This is also the time for you to bring out your inner hair stylist.  Finish up and/or add details to your character's hair style including ridges for parts, hair tucked behind ears, or wisps of hair escaping from ponytails.  You can also add extra details with other materials.  I used one more tip for the dremel when I created this little girl, the small drill bit.  I drilled 2 small holes in the bottom sides of her head and glued in two leather braids.  I love how the braids add to this character, and I am delighted with the way she turned out.  

11.  Use your hand file to add final details and smooth out lines that are too defined.  Make sure the neck is the same thickness on both sides and that your character's head and arms are as symmetrical as possible.  Once that is complete, use a fine grit sand paper to smooth over your whole peg.  Don't worry if it smooths over some of your tiniest details.  You can put them back in with a woodburner later, if you wish.  

12.  Optional:  Use a wood burning tool to add other details.  You might want to show the neckline of your character's shirt or dress, sleeve cuffs, fabric creases, or buttons.  You might want to add in pieces of hair or define the location of a hair part.  

13.  Optional:  Use non-toxic watercolor or acrylic paint (watercolors are softer, but allow the woodgrain to show) to add color to your character.  

14.  After the paint is dry, use steel wool to smooth out any wood grain that may have been raised in the painting.

15.  Seal with non-toxic natural wood polish or mineral oil.  

16.  Add extra pieces to give your character extra extra zip!  How about a felted hat or a dried chinese lantern lantern?  

(By the way, this lantern was dried and sent to me by my dear friend, Sandra.  Check out her gorgeous items on Etsy, here. ) 

Okay, so that is generally how to carve a peg person - to give it that little extra je ne sais quoi.  If you have really been paying attention here you have probably noticed the figures I have shown you so far in this post have NOT been the root children.  That is because they were made from the very smallest peg people.  I love how tiny they are and how they fit perfectly in my felted playscape.  But they were a little too small for my tutorial because the details cannot easily be seen. So now you have seen the larger version of carved peg people in this post (and hopefully the details are slightly more visible than they would have been otherwise) and once again, here are my tiny adorable root children.  Tah dah!  Hi there, guys!

And in case you missed them in their felted playscape . . .

I hope you find that helpful and one day, if you find yourself in need of a little project, 
take painting and decorating a peg person a step further, carve it! And let me know how it goes!