Archive for Hands-on Projects

Make your own jigsaw puzzles for Christmas

Candy Cane Puzzle

What will you be giving your little sisters and brothers this Christmas? I have an idea. Why not make a few jigsaw puzzles for them?

In Chinese, jigsaw puzzles are called 拼图游戏 (pīn tú yóuxì).

You can ask your parents to get some blank puzzles that are 5 1/2 inches by 8 inches in size. Use a pencil to draw a picture on each blank puzzle. Maybe a Christmas tree with lots of pretty decorations? How about a Sata Claus,
圣诞老人 (Shèngdànlǎorén), saying “Ho, ho, ho!”

If you like the candy cane picture on this page, you could make one just like it. You can color it with crayon or water color then use a black marker to go over the outlines. You could write a short message on the puzzle. You could also add little stickers to some of the puzzle pieces. If you do, make sure the stickers don’t go over the jigsaw lines.

Take the puzzle apart and put the pieces in an envelope. Ask your parents to stuff the puzzles in the Christmas stockings for your brothers and sisters. They will have fun putting them back together. And they will be so happy that you made the puzzles just for them.

Candy Cane Puzzle with Stickers
Shèngdàn kuàilè﹗

Merry Christmas!

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Let’s draw a snowman

Has it started to snow in your town? It’s fun making snowballs, and, of course, a snowman!

First make a very large snow ball.
大雪球 dà xuě qiú

Put on top of it a medium sized snow ball.
zhōngxíng xuě qiú

Then add a smaller snow ball at the top.
小雪球 xiǎo xuě qiú

Make two small disks for the eyes.
眼睛 yǎnjing

Make a small red disk for the nose.
鼻子 bízi

Make a partial circle for the mouth.
嘴巴 zuǐba

Let’s put a hat on the snowman’s head.
帽子 màozǐ

How about adding a few buttons, too?
扣子 kòuzi

What else does a snowman need? Go ahead and add it to your drawing.

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Let’s draw a train of gifts

Now that you know how to draw a straight line, a square, a rectangle and a circle, you can draw a train like this one:

What will this train carry? I want it to bring me lots of toys, so I put the Chinese and English words for toys on the fist boxcar.

You can label the other boxcars as you wish. Here are a few suggestions:

玩具 wánjù Toys

饼干 bǐnggān Cookies

书本 shūběn Books

爱心 àixīn Love

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East South West North

In my childhood my mother taught me how to fold various interesting origami shapes. Here is one that could be used as an aid for learning Chinese characters.

If you use the pattern I’m providing and follow the instructions, you will get on the face of the four-leaf-clover shape the Chinese characters for east, (dōng), south, (nán), west, 西 (xī), and north, (běi). Hidden inside will be a set of adjectives that describe personal qualities. Put your thumbs and index fingers into the four compartments under the face of the four-leaf-clover shape. Keep your thumbs together and your index fingers together and pull your thumbs and index fingers apart to open the clover shape one way. Now pinch your thumb and index finger together on each hand. Pull your hands apart to open the clover the other way. A different set of characters will be revealed each way. You could make your own pattern by writing other terms or phrases in place of the adjectives I’ve chosen.

How to play the game: The operator of the shape will ask the player to choose from the characters on the leaves: east, south, west or north. The operator will sing or recite a nursery rhyme at the same time opening the shape to the beat and alternately in one of the two ways. When the song or rhyme stops, the internal characters corresponding to the chosen leaf will be revealed to the player, which may or may not be what he or she was hoping to see.

How to fold the four-leaf-clover shape:

1. Print the pattern, cut out the main square and hold it facing you. Fold it half both ways (with the characters inside) along the solid dividing lines to form creases. Then open the pattern so it is flat again.

2. Put the pattern on a table with the blank side facing you. Fold in the four corners along the dashed lines.

3. Flit the pattern over to show the side without any characters. Fold in the four corners along the dotted lines.

4. Fold it half both ways along the solid dividing lines to form creases. Then open it to show the printed adjectives.

5. Now, this is a little tricky – Bring the four corners together while pinching the sides to form a pointed well, sort of.

6. Lift up the leaves (with east, south, west and north printed on them) and put one thumb or finger into each pouch thus formed. Practice opening and closing the four-leaf-clover shape both ways.

If you would like to make an English or Chinese word card key ring for your children, there are detailed instructions posted at

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Super-easy paper lantern

To continue celebrating the Year of the Dragon, why not help your child make a couple small paper lanterns, or 小灯笼 (xiǎo dēnglong)? To do so, cut an 8″ x 11″ sheet of colored construction paper in half, so you’d get two 8″ x ” 5.5″ sheets. Then fold each sheet in the middle so it’s half as wide and the same length as before.

Use a pair of scissors to cut slits about 1″ apart, starting from the fold and ending about 1.5″ from the other side.

Open the fold then glue the narrow sides together, forming a lantern as shown in the photo.

Now you are ready to welcome the Lantern Festival, which falls on Feb. 6 this year and marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebration.

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Beautiful poinsettia napkin holders – make a bunch yourself

Beautiful Poinsettia Napkin Holder

The other day I had a memory lapse and was unable to recall the English name of the plant with red leaves that’s displayed everywhere at Christmas. Finally, I stopped trying and entered the Chinese name for this plant on the Internet. Of course, it’s called poinsettia! But I have every excuse not to blame myself for failing to remember this name. Is there anything in the word “poinsettia” to suggest the shape or color or smell of this plant? Anything to help me associate the word with this festive plant? Nada. On the other hand, in Chinese, we call this plant 圣诞红 (shèngdàn hóng). All you have to do is think of Christmas, 圣诞 (shèngdàn), and think of the vibrant red, (hóng), of the poinsettia, and bingo!

Years ago a friend gave me a pattern for making a poinsettia napkin holder out of felt. I thought you might be interested in making a few for your Christmas dinner table or to give out to your friends. This can be a fun activity for the entire family.

You can right-click on the pattern then print it out or save the file on you computer. This pattern fills an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet.

No instructions came with the pattern. I put the felt napkin holder together as follows, and the result was quite satisfactory. I might add that I enjoy making this poinsettia napkin for the very fact that the process is akin to putting together a puzzle made of pieces of felt.

1. Cut the required number of red and green strips of felt or fun felt as indicated on the pattern. Cut out the diamon-shaped holes as shown on the pattern.
2. Fold the long red strip in half and thread the green strip through the overlapped holes.
3. Thread the ends of the long red strip through one of the small red strips.
4. Adjust the orientation of this first small red strip so it does not totally overlap the petal ends of the long red strip and the green strip.
5. Pull on the ends of the long red strip to expose the green felt.
6. Lift the green felt and thread the last red strip through the hole in the green strip.
7. Pull on the ends of the green strip and widen the red loop to make a tighter center. Adjust the felt strips (except the first small red strip that’s flat and that you can rotate freely) so they curve upward near the center, making a small well. Bend the ends of the strips downward to form a nice petal.
8. Adjust the orientations of the petals as they would allow, so the assembly resembles a poinsettia.
9. Add the center piece. I use a segment of pipe cleaner and color it slightly; but this could be a fuzzy ball or any other cute accent.
10. Roll up a napkin and put it into the holder.

Please note:
Using this procedure, the last piece of small red felt actually does not need a hole cut in it. Also, you could make a small version of this felt poinsettia and pin it to your lapel during the holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

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Tangram – the seven-piece ingenious puzzle

Tangram on my frig

On a whim I purchased a few 8.5″ x 11″ colored vinyl magnetic sheets to make a few specialized magnetic note holders. Some I made by cutting out various shapes. Others I decorated by affixing stickers to them. There was plenty of the material left. Then I came across Mr. Randy Crawford’s wonderful web site dedicated to tangrams.

This brought back warm memory of that day in childhood when my mother gave me a plastic tangram set and showed me how to form interesting shapes using those colorful pieces. In Chinese, the tangram set is called 七巧板 (qīqiǎobǎn), literally, seven slabs of ingenuity. I’m not sure whether my early experience with the tangram had anything to do with my aptitude for geometry – I loved geometry in my secondary school years. I think it does explain why I’m so fond of solving puzzles. Anyway, if you wish to impress your child’s young mind with the concept of basic geometrical shapes and the spatial relationship among them, why not introduce this puzzle/game to them?

Working with the tangram puzzles helps develop problem-solving skills. If it doesn’t work one way, then you’d try arranging the pieces some other way, until all the seven pieces are used and the resulting figure matches the puzzle provided in silhouette. After you have gained experience with how the pieces fit together, you may be able to spot the solution to some of the puzzles right away. This is not unlike how one deals with one’s problems in life. And a big bonus of solving the tangram puzzles is that a solution always exists, which cannot be said of many real-life problems.

Solution to a tangram puzzle

On this page Mr. Crawford provides a pattern for making your own 4″ x 4″ tangram set. I promptly made two sets out of my magnetic sheets and arranged the pieces on my refrigerator. I know I will be visiting my frig much more often from now on.

Well, Christmas will sneak up on you before you know it. Why not make a colorful tangram for each young and not so young person on your gifting list who might enjoys solving puzzles? These will also work great as stocking stuffers or birthday take-home gifts. Be sure to include an instruction sheet with a few interesting puzzle diagrams to start with. Drop off a couple nicely packaged tangram sets at a toy collection center, and you will feel extra warm in the heart this holiday season. If you are good with woodworking, make your next project a wooden tangram set. If have older children, then ask them to make their own tangram sets out of colored construction paper or paper boards. That will be a great exercise in planning, measuring and drawing as well as cutting accurately.

Cut carefully in straight lines around the polygons so the pieces will fit well together. If you use colored vinyl magnetic sheets, take extra care as boobos will be costly. Assuming no mishaps, you can get four tangram sets by using one 8.5″ x 11″ magnetic sheet. With two different-color 8.5″ x 11″ magnetic sheets, you could make eight two-color tangram sets. With three different-color 8.5″ x 11″ magnetic sheets, you should be able to get 12 tri-color tangram sets. There will also be sufficient material remaining for you to make a few custom magnetic note holders.

As the magnetic tangram pieces only have one colored side, you will need to make two pieces of the parallelogram shape, one the mirror image of the other, because the parallelogram has no reflective symmetry. If you only provide one prallelogram shape, and the puzzle requires you to flip that piece to fit in the slot, then that piece will have the magetic side up, and it won’t stick to your frig or metal file cabinet.

If you don’t feel like making a tangram set yourself, nor wish to spend money on purchasing one, then you and your children could play this game on-line at the NCTM site.

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