Recycle Robot League Takes Over Local Kindergarten Class

1-2014 April and March 232

The Collector-Bot reports to class.

After a winter in hibernation, the Recycle Robots have returned, just in time for Earth Day.

When Eileen Kelly, a kindergarten teacher at nearby Archway Trivium Academy, called to ask if I’d help her students make recycle robots, I happily agreed. I built a Collector-Bot, which the children spent the next week feeding with recyclables they brought daily from home–cardboard tubes, yogurt containers, lids, cracker boxes, water bottles, vinegar bottles–anything that could fit in its mouth.

I watched while Mrs. Kelly demonstrated what happened when she dropped a bottle cap in its mouth (the bottle cap dropped into the see-through “stomach”, whose latched door we then opened to retrieve it). The “oohs” and “aahs” would have made you think she’d made the Statue of Liberty vanish and reappear right there in the classroom. She did the same thing with a yogurt cup, and got the same reaction. She did the same thing with a paper towel tube, and got the same reaction. I knew we had a hit on our hands.

This week, I returned to the classroom to help the kids build their own robots fr1-2014 April and March 217om the loot they’d fed the Collector-Bot. And what a pile it was. Thirty-odd five- and six-year-olds sat in a big circle, taking turns picking out robot parts: bodies, heads, legs, and extra bits and pieces that caught their eye. It looked to me like they were just reveling in the opportunity to play with trash. But each one chose main body parts with great thought, and it was fabulous to see their imaginations at work as they visualized the bot they would create.

Then Mrs. Kelly and I armed ourselves with hot glue guns, and construction began. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the kids at work, which is a shame, because the enthusiasm was inspiring. But I did have a chance to scribble a quote midway through. Watching me tear a scrap of tin foil from the lip of a yogurt drink container she’d chosen as her robot’s legs, one student thoughtfully said, “I have a story about that gray stuff. One time my dad left some of that gray stuff on some butter that he heated up in the microwave. It caught on fire. It was AWESOME.”

Fortunately, none of the robots caught on fire, but every single one was awesome, from the six-legged robo-deer to the Mountain Dew Monster with munching jaws; from the red-headed milk-jug robo-dog to the graceful, long-necked Minute-Maid with a turning head; from the Q-tip Crusader to the Capri-Sun Creature with the smiling mouth that opens and closes.

The kids will take them home–along with, maybe, a new way of looking at what most of us consider trash, a feeling of power that they can create fun in unexpected ways, and a realization that they can help shape their world.

My favorite moment of the afternoon came near the end when a shy, quiet boy considered his finished creation of toilet paper tubes and Chobani containers, and said to me, in a tone of deep surprise, “I didn’t think mine could turn out so cool.”

Recycle Robot League: Mission accomplished.

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Meet the Recycle Robots!

Meet Omega-3, Heinz, and Joebot. (copyright Betsy Andrews Etchart)

The pioneers: Omega-3, Heinz, and Joebot. (copyright Betsy Andrews Etchart)

Once upon a time, sometime in August, I made three friends.

It was not long after Mbot’s fifth birthday. It seemed all the toys he’d received at his party were breaking because they had outlived their unwritten life-expectancy of three weeks, or collecting dust, because they’d entered the boring zone.

The idea of robots originated with Mbot’s very first show-and-tell, over two years ago.

Heinz door open

On the eve of his first show-and-tell, we (I use the term very loosely) made a recycle robot for his first preschool show-and-tell–not because we were trying to be clever, but because we were panicky and desperate (again, the term “we” used loosely). I documented that event in my post, Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus. Ever since, I secretly wanted to make more.

So I’d been piling recyclables in the garage–not all of them of course, but the choice items with interesting shapes or moving parts (cardboard tubes, ketchup bottles, wipies lids), in preparation for a recycle party that we hadn’t had. I envisioned inviting over some of the bots’ friends and making cool stuff out of all the cool stuff that other people thought were trash.

We have yet to have our recycle party, but I started partying with recyclables by myself. While During the seven weeks that I was going through radiation, I promised myself that I wouldn’t push myself too hard. I wouldn’t try to make headway on any of my writing projects. I would be kind to myself. I would have fun. I decided it was time to get out the pile o’ trash. I made these three dudes as toys for the weebots. They’re all about twenty inches tall (antennae not included) and have swiveling heads, moving arms, grasping hands, and secret compartments. I avoided using brads or any metal parts, for safety reasons.

What I didn’t know before I made the recycle robots is that they would turn out to be the perfect toys. Why?

1. They are cheap. They are made out of garbage!

2. When they break, I can fix them myself, because I made them in the first place!

3. When the bots get bored with them, I can change them! They will seem new again!

4. They can serve as friends, targets for Tae Kwon Do kicks, storage containers for other toys, or piggy banks. And it’s always nice to have a friend who’s also a piggy bank.

6. They can double as décor by adding a test tube filled with water and a flower.

Heinz 2

Wouldn’t you love to have him holding out a flower to you all day? (No test tube in this picture; I added it later.)

7. They have turned my own weebots into lean, green, recycle machines; their favorite craft now is collecting junk, gluing it together, and adding eyes. They can, literally, make their own friends.

Fresh off his shift as a sparring partner, Joebot becomes a handy Lego container.

Fresh off his shift as a sparring partner, Joebot becomes a handy Lego container. (At far left, Mbot’s speedboat, complete with a hatch that opens into a raisin box filled with ninjas that look a lot like wine corks.)

My friend Solveig, who’s been around since the failed Scotch sewing machine days, dubbed the robots–and we who make them–the Recycle Robot League.

Thanks to St. Peter’s Montessori Fall Festival–where, after three weeks of collecting recyclables, the children built their own recycle robots–there are now nearly fifty members!

It is very cool to have a hungry robot bigger than yourself greet you at school!

It is very cool to have a hungry robot bigger than yourself greet you at school!

Next week, I’ll post pictures of the kids’ robonderful creations. Toilet paper tubes have never had such a shiny future.

RRL Montessori Fall Fest 11When a friend asked for step-by-step instructions so she could make them with her eight-year-old homeschooled twins, I sat down to write them, and at her prompting, made them downloadable on Etsy.com  for $.99. The process that actually made the robots better, because I wanted to make sure to include tips on how to reinforce their bods to make them as durable as possible. Because while it’s great to be able to whip out a glue gun for a quick fix, it’s even better not to have to!

This Cat Will Never Go to San Diego,

I should not have been surprised, as this is what happened when we painted pony statuettes.

I should not have been surprised, as this is what happened when we painted pony statuettes. Fortunately, the antique cat was out of range that day.

and not because he’s dead. The antique cat is alive and not long ago,smelled like a coconut. Along with the smell was the visual effect: he looked like he’d lost a sun lotion squirting fight. Of course he lost. He doesn’t have thumbs. It’s the price he paid for my sleeping in (6:30).

Gbot did not sleep in.

Gbot, although he insists loudly that he’s fourteen, is three.

And I’d left the Hawaiian Tropic SPF 30 sunblock in the swimming bag, and I’d left the swimming bag within fifty inches of the floor.

I did not take a picture, to preserve the dignity of the victimized party. Also to preserve the upholstery, pillows, and antique quilts. Because the antique cat was getting ready to curl up on all three, threatening to transfer the great white globs that were slathered from withers to hips onto anything that moves slower than he does.

A few minutes in the shower with the baby shampoo did the trick and the antique cat emerged clean, albeit nonplussed, and smelling like babies instead of beaches.

The sound of the shower awoke Mbot. “Mom, why’s Tesserpiglet so wet?” he asked.

I explained that Gbot had smeared sun lotion on him, and that we do not do that to animals. “Why?” asked Mbot. “Why did he do it?”

“I think to be funny,” I said. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t really know WHY Gbot had done it. “Gbot, why did you smear Tesserwell with sun lotion?” I asked.

“Because!” he replied guilelessly. “I wanted him to be cool in the sun!”

“Oh,” I said. I explained why kitty cats don’t need sun lotion. I explained that when it gets too hot for them, they go inside or lie in the shade.

“Then I will NEVER take Tesserpiglet to San Diego,” announced Mbot. “Because that’s the HOTTEST place on earth.”

I was grateful that my children are (at least attempting to be) kind to animals. I was grateful to be reminded not to prematurely assign nefarious motivations to others. I was grateful that I’d stored the Rainbow Animal Painting Kits more than fifty inches above the floor.

Mbot actually started it; the animals in his Rainbow Animals Painting Kit became a Skele-Pig and a Skele-Pony before he turned to bigger and better things. I have cropped this photo for privacy purposes, but let's just say that Mbot became Skel-Mbot, from brows to bare booty.

I’m still slightly dumbfounded that Mbot’s Rainbow Animals Painting Kit mini-statues became a Skele-Pig and a Skele-Pony before he turned to bigger and better things. I have cropped this photo for privacy purposes, but let’s just say that Mbot became Skel-Mbot, from brows to bare booty.

2 Inventions You Didn’t Know You Needed

Another great reason to buy new shoes (like we need one....)

Another great reason to buy new shoes.

Introducing the Lunchbot. We’ve been making Recycle Robots, in our house, out of household recyclables and so I didn’t make a fuss when I discovered this morning that Husbot had left Gbot’s lunchbox in the Rolling Black Hole (aka Husbot’s truck. When an object goes into his truck, it may not be seen again, and if it does reappear, it will do so only–in the case of an item of clothing–after it has been grown out of).

I made a lunchbot. Van’s box, 4 pipecleaners, and the hacked-off end of a Cling Wrap tube, sliced at the top. And a few squirts of hot glue to attach one of the pipecleaner loops to the tube.

Gbot loved it. Mbot did too. It’s a good thing I put in another Zappos order yesterday.

Mbot models the latest in lunch carriers.

Mbot models the latest in lunch carriers.

And, as if that’s not enough for one morning, here’s our second world-changer:

Why build, if you don't build something useful?

And the conversation that went along with it:

Gbot: “Mom, I have something special in my underpants.”

Me, not turning around to look: “Yes, honey, I know.”

Me, turning around to look: “WOW! What is that EXTRA special thing in your underpants?”

Gbot: “It’s my Mortal Shield! I need it when I battle Mbot because my pito is very sensitive.”

Step aside, codpiece. We've got the Mortal Shield.

Step aside, codpiece. We’ve got the Mortal Shield.

WARNING: The second invention does not generally fit into a pair of jeans.

Teacher Appreciation Week: Mums and Conundrums

Imagine yourself putting on this outfit and bicycling through a splashpark. Now you are in the right frame of mind to choose a flower to give the teacher...

Imagine yourself putting on this outfit and bicycling through a splashpark. Now you are in the right frame of mind to choose a flower to give the teacher…

It is Teacher Appreciation Week again.

I love our teachers. Mrs. Pursell and Mrs. Gonzales rock. They are firm, understanding, insightful, patient, and smart. But I do not like Teacher Appreciation Week.

Part of my dislike for it is founded in my own inability to sit the bots down to make cards for their teachers a week in advance. And yesteday, on the way to the varicose vein doctor, I forgot to ask the babysitter to oversee a card-making event.

And so this morning, while sipping strawberry-secret-spinach smoothies festooned with tropical umbrellas, we had a card-making extravaganza. For three-year-old Gbot, this meant going wild with the Elmer’s glue. For four-year-old Mbot, this meant attempting to cut out snowflakes and hearts from flowery paper. He is neither strong enough or well-coordinated enough to cut through four layers of paper at once with dull child-proof scissors, and got frustrated, but at last we ended up with four cards that were only slightly goopy still upon delivery.

Yesterday was “bring your teacher a flower” day. Last year I think we brought them each a sunflower from Safeway. This year, however, we have dwarfish mums growing on the patio, and Husbot helped the bots cut one apiece for their teachers. All the other kids brought in gorgeous tulips, luscious roses, sunflowers the size of dessert plates, frilly carnations, lilting lilies. Our raggedy offerings were on six-inch stems. Last time I checked, they had not made it into the glass vases overflowing with long-stemmed gorgeousness.

But Mbot and Gbot don’t know the difference. They clutched each measly mum as though it was a rare orchid for a prom date. (although I caught Gbot squeezing one blossom in the back seat). Among the preschool set, there is definitely a disconnect between aesthetics and intension.

And it begs the question: is Teacher Appreciation Week for the students to show their appreciation? Or for parents to show their appreciation? Maybe both, but it’s tought to balance the two. One thing it isn’t is a contest. But I have to consciously stop myself from comparing–from thinking with a sigh, “Wow, our flowers are totally lame.”  These talented women who are the bots’ teachers wouldn’t be preschool teachers if they didn’t see the beauty in a dwarfish, tightly-clutched mum that’s slightly worse for being fondled on the ten-minute trip to school.

We appreciate them.

 

The Mouse-Rat-Strawberry-Creamcheese-Cupcake Ship

img046Yesterday, Mbot made a pirate ship (pictured above, upper left). We had been reading library book about pirate treasure. “Only Tesserwell and Mbot allowed,” he pronounced, while assembling his vessel, which he named, in honor of the favorite foods of the captain and first mate, “The Mouse-Rat-Strawberry-Cream-Cheese-Cupcake Ship.” Later, he said to Gbot, who also decided to build a pirate ship on the same patio, “I get Tesserwell. He’s a great pirate cat.”

I am not sure where the antique cat earned his swashbuckling reputation. It could possibly be because Mbot believes Tbug to be capable of Great Things. Earlier that morning, I’d found the ancient fellow sitting in the bath tub, a place he has always enjoyed. He looked up at me and plaintively meowed. His favorite drink besides apricot juice, preferably from someone else’s glass, is running water, preferably from the bathtub tap; preferably trickling very lightly so as not to splash his fur, so he can sip delicately from around the drain without getting his feet wet. Not to deprive him of one of his great joys in life, I turned the tap on just a smidge, brushed my teeth, and got on with my morning.

Twenty minutes later, when Mbot got out of bed and ventured into the bathroom, I heard him exclaim, “This is SO EXCITING!” He repeated it: “This is SO EXCITING! Mom, did YOU turn on the water?”

“No,” I called, lying.

“Did Dad turn on the water?”

“No.”

“Gbot, did you turn on the water?”

“No!”

Like any good detective, Mbot was eliminating all other possiblities before reaching the conclusion he suspected and desired. “It’s AMAZING! Tesserwell turned on the water!” he called, using his best deductive reasoning.

Such an impressive cat would certainly be good company on the high seas.

Gbot, who couldn’t find a ship as good as the emptied patio toy bucket, decided he’d join Mbot and Tbug in theirs. The first thing he brought on board was his toy cash register (complete with its key, which I’d lost track of long ago). He explained it was for his gold doubloons. You will see, in the picture of Captain Fishypants, above, that he made sure I drew him holding a bag of doubloons in addition to a sword. (Mbot drew the picture of himself, upper right.)

This is in keeping with Gbot’s interest in finance. Five weeks ago, he produced his first two representational drawings ever, shown below:

Abraham was notoriously not  handsome man.

Abraham was notoriously not a handsome man.

The second work in Gbot's series, "Abraham Lincoln," which represents a new direction for the artist. (Image courtesy of Gbot)

The second work in Gbot’s series, “Abraham Lincoln,” which represents a new direction for the artist. (Image courtesy of Gbot)

For those of you not schooled in the iconography of preschool stick figure drawings, it is an image of Abraham Lincoln. Behind and above him is the Lincoln Memorial. Gbot was not inspired by the great man’s accomplishments, but rather by what appears on either side of a penny.

Mbot was not pleased about letting Gbot join his crew. But if I put chocolate chip-oatmeal-walnut-coconut cookies in the cash register drawer, I think Cannonball Mbot will reevaluate whether or not his ship has room for Captain Fishypants and his booty, and the Mouse-Rat-Strawberry-Cream-Cheese-Cupcake Ship will sail.

Attack of the Eggliens

2013 March 30 hike & eggliens 021

The first egglien spaceship arrived in the docking bay. Close behind it was a second, this one with a more elaborate antenna, and an eye :

2013 March 30 hike & eggliens 024

The hatch opened.

The eggliens had arrived,

2013 March 30 hike & eggliens 023

bringing with them a unique and unforeseen dilemma:

How do you convince your kids to eat an egg that is looking at them? An egg upon which they painstakingly placed the eyes and hair themselves?

And am *I* going to have to eat twenty-two hardboiled eggliens in secret, all by myself?

Friday Flashback: Fingerless Arm Found

2013 Feb 8 009My apologies to those of you who already read yesterday’s post, but I was informed by one of my followers that none of my followers were informed of my post. This is due to my server doing me a disservice as I was publishing the post.

So this is a Notice of Posting: Tune in to yesterday’s, which features photos of the completed Ironman pinata. Some of you will be pleased to hear that I found an arm in the back of my car today, under a box of papers To Be Shredded. I guess it’s true: he just can’t die. And you know what? I’m actually glad.

Pinata de Ironman: Back From the Dead

ironman 1 fullbody with m

For many of you, my Ironman pinata of ridiciulous dimensions is old news. But last June, just as I was finishing building the largest and best behaved guest at Mbot’s fourth birthday party, my camera died at the hands of said birthday boy, and so the final images that appeared on the blog were teeny-tiny stills captured from my video camera, and I didn’t know how to make them any bigger. Well, seven months later, I have figured out how, and due to the overwhelming number of Google searches for Ironman pinatas, many of them in Spanish, I’ve decided to post them here, just in case anyone wants to repeat my folly and create in their dining room a 5’8″ hollow Superhero sculpture made of newspaper, water, flour, and balloons.

I do not recommend it.

ironman complete thighs up

The entire premise of building a pinata in your dining room–especially when you live in Arizona, within a thirty-minute drive of an ENORMOUS pinata store, and your assistants are two hyperactive midgets with too little appreciation for long-term goals and too much appreciation for flour paste, is ludicrous. But there is nothing like laundering many small socks, wiping many small booties, and preparing many small meals every day, many of which are greeted with “Blech!” before being pushed half way across the table, to inspire one to create something big and lasting that will be greeted with “Ooohs!” and “Ahhhs!”, even if it’s eventually whacked to bits and survives only in photos. It was that sort of housewifishness, mother-of-weebots, frustrated artist mentality that drove me to purchase the thirty-inch high “It’s a boy!” bottle-shaped balloon that would become Ironman’s torso, setting the scale for Ironman’s body, and coming to represent the first circle of Pinata Hell.

ironman complete legs down

ironman torso legs

Here we have Ironman at about the midway point. The coat hanger that we hung him from is visible sticking out his neck and arm holes. The hanger eventually required reinforcement in the form of Gorilla glue, when the metal hook pulled out of the wood.

I suppose I should report on what has finally happened to Ironman. For a long time–many months–I kept his limbs in a pile in the garage. The bots got a kick out of trying on the legs from the knee down, and chasing each other wearing the giant red arms. My plan was that perhaps I would reassemble him and hang him in their room, slanting from the ceiling like he was flying.

But a few weeks ago, in a claustrophobic cleaning frenzy of the sort that grips me every ten years or so, I stacked the body parts in the recycle bin and breathed a sigh of relief that it was gone. After seven months, in my mind, he had finally turned into an it. I forgot one arm, and the bots spent an afternoon chasing each other with it, at which point I think it, too, went into the recycle bin. This morning when I brought the empty bin back into the garage, I saw a single red finger laying on the concrete. I thought of evil little Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter books, who cut off his own finger before turning into a rat, to “prove” to everyone he was really dead.

Hmmm. Is Ironman not really dead? Does he live on? If I ever start building a giant rat pinata, will somebody please stop me?

ironman behind complete hanging

For those of you who missed the original posts, just click on these and you, too, will be able to witness the whole sordid affair:

If I Build an Ironman Pinata, Will Robert Downey, Jr. Jump Out of It?

Ironman, The Killer Pinata, Part 2: Taking Up Arms

T – 19 Days: Ironman the Killer Pinata, Part 3

T – 8 Days: Ironman the Needy Pinata Boyfriend

T – 4 Days: Ironic Man

T – 2 Days: You Say Pinata, I Say Peanuta

T – 0: Blast Off: (From Both Ends)