Celebrating 20 years of Kids on Deck: More than paper boat makers and glitter shakers

Printmaking fun with the Kids on Deck programs for <em>Ships, Clocks and Stars, </em>2016. Image: Annalice Creighton/ANMM. 

Printmaking fun with the Kids on Deck programs for Ships, Clocks and Stars, 2016. Image: Annalice Creighton/ANMM.

Kids on Deck, our regular Sunday and School Holiday family program for primary school aged children and their carers, celebrates its 20th birthday this year.

Over the last 20 years, close to 500,000 visitors have participated in Kids on Deck activities, creating well over one million handcrafted souvenirs of their visit to the museum in paper, clay, string, glitter, plaster, beads, fabric, paint, sewn badges, worn temporary tattoos and much, much more… They have dressed up in costumes, enacted all manner of theatre of imaginary play, climbed on replica vessels, mastered the art of puppetry and lounged in inflated igloos. They have engaged in creative play and discovery learning, inspired by hundreds of different exhibitions on history, science, art, design and popular culture.

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Crafting a sensory forest

Finished craft: A sensory jungle. Image: Annalice Creighton / ANMM.

Finished craft: A sensory jungle. Image: Annalice Creighton / ANMM.

Feathers, fur or fins,

shell or skin or scale,

if it walks on legs or flys on wings,

if it runs or crawls or slithers or swims…

I’m not sure if the timeless lyricism of Don Spencer echoes in anyone else’s mind when they behold the stunning selection of images that make up this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year but they sure do for me (possibly just a side effect of life in the kids programs lane – there is a catchy tune for almost everything!) Mischievous lizards catching tiny birds on the tip of their tongues, frenzied swarms of cuttlefish, grinning foxes, a veritable feast of tones, textures, unbelievable moments so magical and yet so vivid you feel like you could reach out and touch them.

Inspired by the Wildlife Photographer exhibition and our upcoming Sea-side Strollers sessions this month’s craft spot is devoted to wilderness themed sensory play resources, it’s a craft activity that is not necessarily done with kids but crafted for very young children.

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Golden doubloon spice cookies for peckish pirates

10 finished cookies

Yo, yo ho, a pirates life for me! A bottle of rum, a cargo of spice, eat up me hearties yo ho!

This month we’ve been inspired to cook up a little something special for the craft spot to mark the auspicious International Talk Like a Pirate Day and give a nod to historical golden age piracy as we prepare for our summer Pirates exhibition.

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How to create…lighthouse story shadow puppets

shadow play

There’s just something about lighthouses that inspires a good story. Those charming beacons, perched atop cliffs, wrapped in red and white stripes, beaming out into the wild and wonderful wide-open sea for all the ships to see.

It’s nearly International Lighthouse and Lightships weekend and to celebrate we have a day of family fun and a little bit of lighthouse inspired kids craft for you to enjoy.

Shadow puppets are a cinch to make and a whole lot of fun to use. The creative storytelling possibilities are endless. It may be a haunted lighthouse on a lonely hill, an old light keeper on a stormy night, a happy lightship on a merry adventure with his pelican friend or a timeworn tale of sandwich stealing seagulls.

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A woolie mermaid

Sailor's woolwork picture of Mermaid, 1870s

Sailor’s woolwork picture of the convict transport Mermaid, 1870s. ANMM Collection, 00004596

Last week I started exploring the fascinating intersection between needlework, craft and maritime history in the museum’s collection, examining an embroidered sampler made by young British migrant Julia Donovan in 1879. Today I will be looking at the sampler’s first cousin – the sailor’s woolwork picture or embroidered ship portrait, affectionately known as a ‘woolie’.

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A migration story in stitch

One of my favourite objects in the museum’s collection is a charming needlework sampler made by 19-year-old assisted immigrant Julia Donovan on board the Carnatic in January 1879. Immigration records show that Julia arrived in Rockhampton, Queensland, from England on 5 February 1879, and presumably went into domestic service in the growing port town.

Needlework sampler made by Julia Donovan on board Carnatic en route to Australia, 1879

Needlework sampler made by Julia Donovan on board Carnatic en route to Australia, 1879

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How to make painted polar pillows

The finished penguin pillow

Painting of South Georgia by Bernard Ollis, 2014

Painting of South Georgia by Bernard Ollis, 2014.

Down in Antarctica there are penguins, bergs and impasto blue skies; ice white shores, swirling winds and wondrous wilderness. This month we’ve been inspired by the sublime land and seascapes of the polar South in our beautiful Painting for Antarctica exhibition—works by Wendy Sharpe and Bernard Ollis—to create some painted polar pillow crafts of our very own.

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Stampin up (a whale of) a storm!

finished stamps

Whether it’s tusk-duelling narwhals, a barnacle-headed mumma whale or a declaration of love for the majestic giants of the aquatic world…there is something just plain delightful about the instant printmaking produced by the humble stamp.

This month we decided to craft up a few easy foam stamps inspired by our whale season exhibitions. Perfect for making your own stationary, hand-printed fabrics, bespoke scrapbooks and collages, stamps are just as as fun and usable for toddlers as they are for all the grown-up kids!


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5 little krill and the hungry whale: How to make a finger puppet play

5 little Krill just swimming in a swarm

Along came a hungry whale (gulp, gulp, gulp) and then there were 4……


This month’s craft blog takes inspiration from our temporary exhibition’s Beautiful Whale and Amazing Whales as we share one of our resources created for toddlers to enjoy as part of our Mini Mariners Wonderful Whales program- a finger puppet play for 5 little Krill and the hungry whale. Continue reading

Make your own narwhal softie

finished narwhal softie

I am grey and mottled and a little bit mysterious. I have the largest canines of any animal. Vikings used to trade my big tooth for gold. My tusk was also mistaken for the horn of the mythical unicorn and believed to have magical healing properties. I live in the arctic.  I am actually a medium sized whale.

I am…the narwhal.

For this month’s craft spot inspired by our new temporary exhibition- Amazing Whales, we couldn’t resist the adorable, fascinating and wackiest of all the whale species– the narwhal as the subject for our huggable, loveable, bedazzled and up-cycled fabric softie.

materials needed


  • Sharp scissors
  • Upholstery thread in grey/black/white
  • Large darning needle
  • A few dressmakers pins
  • Some grey/white/black sequins, beads or buttons
  • Pillow stuffing/ polyfill
  • Unwanted socks/ t-shirt or tights in grey tones
  • Extra felt or iron-on interfacing for lining your softie panels
  • Small scraps of white, blue, black felt or fabric for the eyes
  • Small scrap of white felt for the tusk
  • Print outs of our narwhal softie pattern  ( A3 version or page 1 A4 and page 2 A4)

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Persuasive Posters – A propaganda collage craft for the home

superhero poster

Don’t squeal, unless it’s a big deal!

Always say thankyou, don’t forget please, and always, always cover your sneeze!….

Who ever said propaganda was only useful for a war effort? It’s even better put to work on the “home front!”. This month our kids craft item is inspired by our exhibition Persuasion: US Propaganda posters from WW2. Full of vibrant colours, retro graphics and unashamed slogans it made us feel like making a very persuasive poster of our very own. And what better place to start than selling good manners, etiquette, hygiene and all such behaviours that distinguish your little “do bees” from your “don’t bees”. Here’s hoping a bit of poster magic can turn them into a food-eater, a bed-goer, a play-safe and a tooth-brusher! Continue reading

Box-board Vikings

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What’s in the box?

A warrior’s sword, a dragon’s treasure, a great castle, a fearsome sea serpent,  a beautiful crown…and a million other wonderful things…all you need is cardboard plus a little bit of imagination.

In case you also were wondering what to do with all those boxes left behind after the festive season’s gift giving, this month’s craft spot is inspired by cardboard boxes and our summer Viking Adventure!

Surely you have attempted the cardboard box car before…well here we have a how to on box-board viking armour and a wearable longship! Your little raiders and pillagers can wield their fearsome (but non-injury-causing and recyclable) armour while sailing the high seas in this swashbuckling creation. Cardboard box craft is always terrific fun and as a bonus these props will inspire hours of imaginative play- perfect for keeping them amused this school holidays.

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Raiders and Reindeers- How to make Viking gingerbread

finished gingerbread scene

We may have gone a little bit nuts on all things Vikings and all things Christmas here but we are hoping you are as a much a fan of craft that’s equal parts beautiful and edible as we are.

If you’ve ever tried to make a gingerbread 3 dimensional anything ( house, boat, tree) as an activity with small children you will remember how difficult it can be to accomplish said 3 dimensional object with little hands whose strength are not quite up to the challenge of icing cement and building with easily breakable biscuit walls.

So here we’ve crafted our very own spin on this festive and fun activity in a more kid friendly and conveniently thematic design. These stand-up gingerbread forms are great for a holiday activity or can even be wrapped up to give as a gift.

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Craft like a Viking! How to make a felted longship rug

Raiders, traders and crafty-art-makers, this month our craft spot is inspired by the exhibition Vikings- Beyond the legend. Get ready for some sudsy, sloppy, slimy fun as we give a nod to Viking age textiles with this whimsical wet-felted rug!

Felt-like material has been found in Viking age archaeological sites and was likely worn by the people we now know as the Vikings. Wet felting is fantastically messy but a really fun craft activity for with children. Best of all you can customise your felt rug with fabric scraps, cut-outs, threads or ribbon trapped between the layers to make a unique artwork or a themed play mat. Have a play and don’t be afraid to experiment with different colours and textures in your felt.

felted rug

A Viking longship felted rug in the making- learn to create your own with the instructions below


  • 1 or two heads of wool roving in different shades/ colours if you can ( available from places like Virginia Farm Woolworks)
  • Dishwashing detergent or soap flakes
  • A large bamboo sushi mat/ bamboo blind or bubble wrap or PVC grip mat
  • A few towels
  • A spray dispenser with hot water
  • Some scrap fabric/ threads or cut-outs.
  • A pair of scissors

Materials for your felted rug

Step 1

Prepare and plan your decorative scene for the rug, if you are adding cut-outs as we are, prepare these first. We chose to make 3 Viking longships with shield details from scraps of pre-made felt and fabric. Ours were cut free-hand but if you would like a guide for your shape just find a nice clear outline /silhouette image online and trace around it onto your cloth before cutting.

felt shapes

Decorative shapes to create a scene in our felted rug

Decorative shapes to create a scene in our felted rug

Decorative shapes to create a scene in our felted rug

Step 2

Lay down your mat (the bamboo mat or bubble wrap- bubble side up or PVC grip liner) first. Make sure it is big enough for the size of rug you are making.

On top of this lay your wool roving to the size you require.

Gently separate out the strands of roving with your fingers. You need to layer your roving in different directions- horizontal then vertical then horizontal etc. We started with 3 layers.

roving on mat

Laying down the first layer of roving onto our mat in a horizontal direction

All three layers of wool roving ready to be felted

All three layers of wool roving ready to be felted

Step 3

Spray the surface with hot or warm water all over and a small about of detergent or soap flakes drizzled on top. You can combine the soap flakes or detergent into the water spray for convenience if you like. Gently press down the wet surface with a spare piece of your mat fabric.

Spraying the surface of the wool with hot water

Spraying the surface of the wool with hot water

Adding some detergent or soap flakes to the wet wool

Adding some detergent or soap flakes to the wet wool

Step 4

Now the wool is hot and soapy it is ready for friction to be applied so that the open fibres will bind together. Roll up your mat on top of the felt layers and give it a good rub back and forth for a few minutes. You may even like to turn the felt over and spray and roll from the other side as well.

Pressing down the hot soapy wool with some of the mat

Pressing down the hot soapy wool with some of the mat


Rolling the mat back and forth to bind together the fibres into felted fabric

Step 5

Now it is starting to look a bit flatter and evenly wet, add your decorations to the top layer. Lay over these another layer or two of the lighter coloured roving. Remember our next layer of roving is horizontal, then vertical and so on. We have laid ours very thin so as to avoid obscuring the scene but if you are doing more of an abstract thread decoration this will not matter as much and more than one layer on top will ensure your decoration is more securely embedded.

adding the fabric cut outs to felt

Adding in our decorative elements and another layer or two of roving

Step 6

Repeat as before with some hot soapy water sprayed on, press down with your mat and then proceed to roll. TIP: The bamboo mat is not the most ideal for this stage as it can distort the surface of your design and pull at any small threads so if you can use bubble wrap or grip mat that will be helpful. Keep rolling and rubbing (this can take a while) until your wool is looking much thinner and flatter. Give the surface a pinch test to see if it is all well bound together.

Pressing down the hot and soapy wool fibres before rolling again

Pressing down the hot and soapy wool fibres before rolling again

rolling the felt

Rolling back and forth to bind the fibres into felted fabric. Be gentle on decorative surfaces. Pinch the surface to test if it is properly felted, no fibres should pull up if it is well done.

Step 7

Once you are happy with the texture of your felt rug, rinse it out with water and use the towels to squeeze out excess moisture.

washing the finished felt

Washing out our completed felted rug. It will take quite a bit of water to wash out all the suds.

Step 8

Hang your rug out to dry.

hanging rug to dry

Squeeze out excess moisture and hang to dry.

And there you have it. A felted Viking longship rug perfect for play, stories or just for decoration!

For more Viking crafts and activities pop along to our Scandinavian Sunday Family Fun Day this weekend. Full info online here

Patch-eyed pirate prints

Ahoy there landlubbers, scurvydogs and sprogs!

We be gettin excited for Pirates Ahoy family fun day this Sunday. So much so that our craft spot this ere month be dedicated to puttin a swashbucklin pirate print on everythin!

A tote, bandanna or flag as well, this ere creative caper be an excellent activity for celebratin pirates any time.

If ye be without the doubloons to get ye a scurvy silkscreen, ye can use a simple sponge roller for your pirate print instead.

final designs

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