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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‘Birds are acceptable…’: Waves and Water opens at Noosa Regional Gallery

Anne Zahalka The Bathers 1989. Type C print. ANMM Collection 00019000. Reproduced courtesy the photographer.

Anne Zahalka The Bathers 1989. Type C print. ANMM Collection 00019000. Reproduced courtesy the photographer.

‘Grog and cigarettes are mostly out…milkshakes and tins of baby food are generally in, birds are acceptable provided they never ride a surfboard and keep always in the background, except on those special occasions…’ reported photojournalist Jeff Carter in his Surf Beaches of Australia’s East Coast in 1968.

Well it was a special occasion when the museum opened its Australian beach photography exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery recently, in the same week as International Women’s Day, and with seven times world champion Layne Beachley on the podium. She was in company with other surfing luminaries Phil Jarrett, Bob McTavish and Pete Townend, and me but the ironies and the passage of time brought pause for reflection.

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How to make…a buttercream battleship or delicious destroyer cake

There are many things that come to mind when you think of a warship. Big guns, secret missions, white uniforms, badges, officers, ranks, commands and coded ciphers. Buttercream frosting? Not so much.

This month’s craft spot is inspired by none other than our new Action Stations experience, just launched. In much the same way (and not the same way at all) as how Action Stations is all about making the experience of our navy vessels more surprising, immersive and delicious, making an edible delectable destroyer or battleship cake embraces a little something of the surprising (a sweet and squishy rendition of a mean machine), the immersive (you enjoy its appearance, eat it up and experience all the goodness it has to offer) and the delicious — of course. And perhaps it’s also a good way to celebrate and salute to all things navy and nautical, just as we are doing every Family Fun Sunday this month.

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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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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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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

Lucy’s Adventures

Lucy's Adventures iconThe museum’s first children’s app has been unleashed.  Lucy’s Adventures is a puzzle infused version of fuzzy-felts for the digital generation.   Instead of pastel coloured boards children choose form a selection of richly illustrated backgrounds and their own photos.  They can drag-and-drop imaginary characters, museum and fantasy objects on to the different backgrounds, change the weather and time of day to create a scene.

The adventure really starts when kids opt to animate and record the goings on in their fantasy world.  The best bit for me is the weather.  Snow stormLighthouse background day time on a desert island, no problem just dial it up. However, I’ve been quite intrigued to see how children in the target age range will respond.

The app is intended to be educational.  Introducing children to museum objects and fantasyLucy's Adventure lighthouse night time characters in a fun way and giving them opportunities to improve their fine motor skills and boost their confidence and creativity.  Educational milestones for children under 7 are vague, focusing on overall skill acquisition instead of defining specific skills for each age group.  This makes sense as children develop skills in different areas at different rates.

Lucy’s Adventures is aimed at children between 3 and 8 and works on different levels allowing children to be immersed in and delighted by different aspects of the app.   Children can dress the main character, Lucy, in her Viking costume or as many variants of the Viking costume as they can dream up.

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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

What it takes to be a Bollywood star…

It’s only 3 more sleeps until winter school holiday programs kick off at the museum. From saris to shipwrecks, block printing to Bollywood, this winter we have taken inspiration from our East of India exhibition as we focus not only on historical Australia- India trade but also on celebrating Indian culture and contemporary India-Australia connections. And we couldn’t have fully committed to an Indian themed program without somewhere mentioning Bollywood right?

bollywood music video promo photo

While I have had terrific fun shopping for saris to festoon the walls of Kids on Deck and reading countless Indian folktales in the search for some just-right storytelling material, I am perhaps most keenly anticipating our youth workshop program (for ages 8-14) this holidays in making a Bollywood music video.

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Make your own penguin softie

All wonky eyes, felted flippers and blanket stitched bellies, what better use for scrap fabrics than a cuddly, crafty, cute-as-a-button-eyed penguin softie?  This month’s craft spot was inspired by the Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic exhibition. What can we say – Chinstraps, Gentoos, Kings or Adelie’s – we are smitten with Antarctica’s most adorable inhabitants.

penguin softies

Make your own cute and cuddly penguin softie at home.

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How to make… a search and rescue hat

One of the best things about a visit to the Maritime Museum for many kids is making crafty and creative souvenirs in our activity spaces and exhibitions to take home. Why wait until your next visit? Join us for some papercraft capers inspired by current exhibitions and all things maritime!

Boy wearing crafty rescue hat

Make your own search and rescue hat.

This week the Rescue exhibition is our thematic with a crafty take on the search and rescue head torch. Dazzling stripes of colour and a cellophane cup torch will brighten up any dress up costume or imaginative play game inspired by our favourite everyday heroes! Continue reading

Lions and Dragons and Lanterns oh my!

Swaying, slithering, jumping, bouncing.

A brilliant yellow dragon with a fiery fluorescent belly and menacing eyes turns the corner. Silver flecks along its side catch the sun. The waiting crowds applaud and raise their camera phones to capture the action.

Dragon dance outside the museum, presented by Dong Tam Association

Dragon dance outside the museum, presented by Dong Tam Association

a dragon dance troupe outside the museum

Dragon dance outside the museum, presented by Dong Tam Association

The first day of Spring school holiday programs started with a bang, or a thumping drum and clanging cymbals to be precise, as the first of our free outdoor performances took to the stage- a spectacular of dragon dance, lion dance and extreme martial arts presented by the Dong Tam Association.

This holidays we have been inspired by our beautiful dragnet fishing boat Tu Do ( Freedom) that carried refugees to safer shores in 1971 . When it pulled into Darwin carrying 31 passengers including Than Tan Lu and his young family, whose stories are a part of our permanent exhibition Passengers, Tu Do was just one of many passenger boats from Vietnam carrying people eager to find safe-haven in Australia. Today though, it is one of only three surviving vessels from this period in Australia’s history, and the only one that is still seaworthy and displayed on the water. Tu Do has recently been beautifully restored by a team of curators, conservators and fleet staff at the museum.

It just happens to be just the perfect time of year for celebrating Vietnamese culture as our program’s timing co-incides with the Mooncake or Mid-Autumn festival- a popular lunar harvest festival celebrated in China and Vietnam.  In line with this our family activities space Kids on Deck is themed – Dragon Dreams and Dragnets. Stepping inside Kids on Deck the sound of giggles and squeals fills the room as children try on fancy dress costumes and play with the dragon shadow puppets they have created in the puppet theatre. Others clutch at paint dabbers making delicate painted lotus flowers, or furiously colour bright paper sheets to cut into beautiful lanterns- a traditional activity associated with the mid-autumn festival.

cooking workshop participants

Participants at the Pho-tastic Family Cooking Workshops

This Spring we have also returned to the kitchen for more of our popular cooking workshops, this time for families to enjoy together. The first session of Pho-tastic cooking began last Wednesday with a family friendly tour on the story behind Tu Do. Participants shared their favourite foods and their cooking disaster stories and got to meet our friendly chef Tom who escorted them to the Yots café kitchen. Here they undertook culinary challenges and learned to create a delicious Vietnamese noodle dish, all while dressed to theme and cute as a button in striped aprons and paper chef hats.

lion dancers

Lion Dancers from Sydney Indochinese Youth Sport Association

Lion Dancers from Sydney Indochinese Youth Sport Association

Today the festivities continued as more Lion Dancers, this time from Sydney Indochinese Youth Sport Association provided a captivating finale to the cultural performances. Last week these also included some enchanting and adorable young dancers from Southwest Sydney as Canley Vale, Cabramatta and Lansvale Public School’s Vietnamese, Khmer and Chinese dance troupes performed. Waving scarves, tipping conical hats , tapping coconut shells and fanning chopsticks these young dancers won over the audiences with their beautiful renditions of traditional dance forms.

Kids on Deck: Dragons, Dreams and Dragnets continues every day in holidays and every Sunday in Term 4More information on school holiday programs can be found at www.anmm.gov.au/schoolholidays