Updated: Oct 13, 2019
We're always on the lookout for inspiration for Wildlings Singapore and luckily it is in abundance in the UK. We recently went to an event called 'Wild Wood' at Wakehurst PLace in Sussex and one of the nature education activities on offer was how to make your own dragonfly. We've replicated the activity here so that you can make your own too to use to decorate your outside space and remind your children of the existence of wonderful dragon flies!
This activity is suitable for children to do in partnership with an adult from 3 years old and to do with supervision from 5 years old. Why is this a good activity to try?
1. Develop motor skills with weaving.
2. Develop confidence through using tools.
3. Develop logic skills through the positioning of the weaves.
4. Develop an appreciation of the different qualities of wood and their uses.
5. Displaying the dragonfly gives it value and supports reflection on the activity every time this dragonfly, or a real one, is spotted.
6. Gain knowledge about dragonflies such as numbers of wings (4) and legs (6) and other body parts such as their thorax (body) and antennae.
Things you may need:
Don't be put off by all these things you might need, there is always another way! Look around you and try and use what you have. You'll need::
1. A saw or loppers to cut through a fresh, straight branch about 2.5cm wide. This will be your dragonfly's body.
2. A bilhook, wood splitting knife, hatchet or other blade which can be used to partially split the top of the wood and something to hit it with, like a wooden mallet (which wont damage the blade).
3. Soaked Willow withies or soaked rattan or any other soaked bendy branches 3-5mm thick which can be woven through the main stick body of the dragonfly to create the wings and the thorax.
4. Some wire or cable tie.
5. Something to cut loose ends.
6. A wood carving knife or other wood carving tools such as a strong potato peeler (which are optional).
Safety talk before you begin
When working with tools, and especially those with sharp edges such as the saw and wood splitting knife, it's important to work one on one with your child and cover the safety issues first. With this activity the main issues are:
Using a saw with the risk of cuts to the fingers and hand.
The wood splitting knife which could chop off a finger
A peeler or carving knife which could cut the skin, or even stab somebody
Ensure that your work space is orderly and uncluttered and no other children are around. Next, point out the risks to your child and help them to figure out what safety steps to take. These could be:
Wear a safety glove on the helping hand (left hand for a right handed person for example). You can buy gloves from Daiso and homefix.
Only use the saw when you are supervising your child and put the saw away as soon as you are finished sawing your piece of wood to size. An adult could find a big thick stick and prepare it for their child in advance.
Use a peeler rather than a carving knife, always use a safety glove on the helping hand or skip this step altogether.
Safety is the number one priority, but don't let it stop you being adventurous and teaching tool use to your children, once a favourite past-time of grandfathers the world over. When we were at school we used stanley knives, bunsen burners, soldering irons, saws, drills and so on, and every kitchen has its array of hazards. The key is helping your child learn how to manage risks for themselves rather than sheltering them, helping them to learn how to make the right choices to remain safe throughout life.
Now on to the fun stuff!
Firstly split the wood. I have a vice which held the wood securely and then I gently hammered on the wood splitting knife until the wood was split almost to half way. You can also put a cable tie in the middle of the stick to stop it splitting too much.
Next make some loops and weave in your dragonfly wings using your bendy branches (which you should soak for a day at least before using). Be careful not to over bend the branches and cause them to snap.
Secure the split with wire or a cable tie to hold in the wings.
Wind, weave, loop your bendy branches around your dragonfly wings to make the body. Use this as an opportunity to get the wings to sit where you want them to. Always be careful not to over bend the branches and cause snapping. Willow withies and rattan are great because once soaked a tight bend can be achieved or a fold without breakage, Tuck ends into the body. You can cut off loose ends to make it look neat and tidy.
Slot two sticks into the split at the top for the antennae. Wind some more branches around the top to hide the wire and create a head for your dragonfly.
Finally, bend three sticks around the body of your dragonfly to create 6 legs and you can carve the tail for more definition and character. In a couple of months the whole dragonfly will have settled and turned brown and can be hung in your garden or balcony for decoration. As a final step, you could use coloured string to wind around the body and wings, to give your dragonfly the colours which they naturally have in real life.
Claire is an environmental scientist by training and an environmental sustainability consultant and educator by trade (aside from being a busy mum to two young (and sometimes wild) children). Claire enjoyed a very outdoorsy childhood collecting acorns, making daisy chains and sifting dirt to get the perfect pile. Once upon a time Claire was an enthusiastic ultimate frisbee player and recently taught pre-school sports classes. Claire is on a mission to help City kids experience a wilder childhood through the Forest School approach to learning and founded Wildlings offering Forest School and environmental education in Singapore to do this.