This year we found inspiration for our Michaelmas Nature Table at school in the Waldorf kindergarten next door to our own. (For a view of the aforementioned inspiration click here.) When I first presented the idea to Ryan he thought I was a little crazy. A Michaelmas sandcastle in our living room? All kinds of crises unwanted are sure to arise from such an endeavor. (Sand everywhere, cats... child horrified at the imminent crumbling, cats... child throwing sand in the house, cats... you get the idea.)
Well, I decided to do it anyway. So entranced by the idea I was.
After a week or so of looking up methodology on Google, I finally had the brilliant thought to ask the actual creator of my inspiration how such a thing were possible in a room full of young children. "Cornstarch", she told me. It's the magic that makes it all possible. Cornstarch keeps the whole thing from just crumbling into a heap when the children bump the table or prod at the final glory.
And so I began...
All I used was:
-old plastic cups and yogurt containers
-a palette knife (any kind of knife or even a popsicle stick would have worked)
I filled a bucket with play sand that I harvested from our summer sand box. (I understand that fine beach sand is always better for making castles but I don't have a beach handy and after I sifted out the larger gravelly bits from the sand with a sieve, the play sand seemed to work just fine.)
To the half bucket of sand I added the whole box of corn starch and really stirred this together before the next step.
I then added enough water and really stirred it in to make the mixture very wet but not overly soupy. (About a gallon?)
Now, what does a castle look like? The first one I started looked like a sheet cake with a strange disease and I swept it all back into the bucket and started over. I'd suggest looking up castle images online or in children's books. Have a plan and then proceed... Your castle certainly doesn't have to look like mine!
I happened to have a piece of plywood laying around that just fit my Nature Table so I used that for my base. (I did this messy work outside and then carried the completed castle in once it was finished.)
I started the actual castle sculpting by making turrets. I squeezed the sand in my hands to draw out as much water as possible before dropping tennis ball sized globs into my forms.
I then patted them down hard with the palms of my hands.
A lot of water oozed out the bottom of the forms as I did this and that was soaked up with an old towel.
It's important to really compact the sand and dry it as much as possible so that the sand holds when the form is removed.
To make taller turrets, several cup forms were stacked, filled and patted. (The lower cups should still be in place when the upper cups are put on top.)
After the proper height was reached, the forms were gently pulled away.
(If things start to go awry and fall apart, don't worry. It's sand! Just throw any disasters back in the bucket and start again.)
When all my turrets were in place, the walls were built by again dropping tennis ball sized clumps of sand in a line. I patted them down, formed them a bit with my hands and then did more precise cutting with my palette knife. It was kind of like slicing cake. (Of course, not all castles will even have these kind of stark edges and lines. The castle that inspired this all, for example, was much more organic and natural looking.)
To make that classic castle wall edge (there's a name for this but I have no idea what it is), I again used my palette knife and sliced and lifted out the little rectangular pieces.
For windows, I simply carved into the turret walls with my trusty knife.
(One could get really detailed and carve "bricks" or more elaborate windows into all the walls but I didn't really have it in me... with all the possible cat and child destruction on the horizon... know what I mean?)
I added a little stairway between the lower and upper levels and then had to give a fair amount of thought to how to top the whole thing off.
I remembered when I was a kid how at the beach we used to make these cool drip castles using very sloshy, wet water. I thought that would make a neat pointy roof for the turrets, so I added more water to my remaining sand mixture
I transferred some of that into a smaller cup that I could hold closer to my project and scooped up and dripped the wet, slushy water from my hand onto the tops of the towers.
I thought it gave the classic castle a more whimsical, natural look which fits into my daughter's gentler, fanciful style of play.
More on Michaelmas in the days to come...