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Monday, December 12, 2016

Cheap and Easy Crafts for Kids - Cub Scout Musical Instruments

Not the prettiest instruments, but they work!
Rain stick on the left, candy cane sistrum on the right.
I've been doing Bear Cub Scouts for several months now. It's a lot of fun, even if the boys wear me out. I'm a little disappointed that the requirements don't include as many arts-n-crafts projects as they used to, but there are still some in there.

We just finished the World of Sound elective. It was easier than I expected. There are only three requirements - make three different ancient instruments. These are easy enough you could do them with kids, even really young ones. I'm planning on doing this with my grandkids over Christmas when they come visit. The materials were really cheap or even free, so no big expense.

I do suggest if you want to start doing stuff like this, you create a big craft bin. Take a large plastic tub and start collecting things like empty cardboard boxes, toilet paper tubes, scraps of colored paper, magazines, buttons, feathers, pine cones, beads, markers, glue, scissors, yarn, foil pie pans, etc. All sorts of random stuff comes in so handy for these types of projects and best of all, it's free since you're recycling junk you would have thrown out anyway.

Sistrum - these are ancient Egyptian rattles. You can find a few videos on YouTube about these, including some really creepy ones. Don't go there with the kids.

I wanted something easier to deal with than the suggested way of chopping wire coat hangers and bending them into a Y. I've got arthritis. Chopping thick wire isn't going to happen. I used candy canes and florist's wire and it worked great.


  • candy canes - get the larger size ones, miniature ones won't work for this
  • florist's wire - the thin green wire used to wrap flower stems, craft stores sell it cheap and a single package goes a long way
  • big buttons (the kind with 2 or 4 holes through the middle) or jingle bells or similar items
  • colored tape - masking tape or duct tape both work for this
  • pipe cleaners or yarn for decoration

1- DON'T UNWRAP THE CANDY CANE. Leave it in the plastic to keep everything from getting too sticky.
2- Cut a piece of florist's wire about eight to ten inches long. Wrap one end of it around the longer end of the candy cane near the top where it bends over into a crook.
3- Thread two or three buttons or jingle bells onto the wire. Don't crowd it, you want enough space they can slide back and forth and rattle against each other.
4- Wrap the other end of the wire around the short end of the crook. Pull it tight enough that it looks mostly straight and the buttons can slide easily.
5- Use small pieces of tape to secure the ends of the wires in place.
6- Decorate your sistrum however you want.
7- Play it by shaking it back and forth to make a clacking/rattling/jingling sound depending on what you used. Experiment with different sizes of buttons or different materials for different sounds.

Rain Stick - made in a lot of cultures, these make a gentle rattling sound kind of like rain. The trick here is to make the rice fall slowly enough that it doesn't just slosh from one end to the other. There are a lot of videos about this one, too, some of them just way too much work. This is a simple, easy way that even young kids can handle. My 9yo scouts had no trouble doing this themselves.


  • cardboard tube - toilet paper are too short so use paper towel or wrapping paper tubes
  • paper grocery bag
  • aluminum foil
  • scissors
  • tape - we used duct tape which worked really well
  • rice
  • stuff to decorate the tubes

1- Cut a square out of the grocery bag twice as big as the end of the tube. Fold over the tube, creasing the edges around the bottom of the tube. Tape in place. This needs to be fastened tight enough to seal the end of the tube.
2- Pull out a length of aluminum foil about 2.5 times as long as the tube. If you are using regular foil, cut it in half lengthwise with scissors to make two pieces. I had the heavy-duty stuff so I cut it into thirds lengthwise.
3- Scrunch the foil into a rope, it should be about twice the length of the tube when you finish. It should be too small, though. Keep it about 1/4 the diameter of the tube.
4- Coil the foil into a long spring using your finger or a pencil as a guide. It should be about the length of the tube when you are done. Do this loosely, the rice needs to be able to slide through the foil coil.
5- Slide the foil into the tube. Squeeze it a bit when necessary. You are trying to partially block the tube with it so the rice takes a minute or so to slide through to the bottom of the tube.
6- Add about 1/4 c. of dry rice to the tube.
7- Cut another square of paper from the bag. Seal the other end of the tube the same as you did in step one. Tape securely.
8- Decorate as desired.
9- Tip the tube upside down to hear the "rain" fall to the bottom. A gentle shake may be needed to keep the rice moving.

Mbira or Thumb Piano - these are weird but cool instruments from Africa. There are tons of videos about these, many of them way too complicated for younger kids to master. I wanted something they could do mostly on their own so I got creative. The instructions in the Cub book are still too complicated for most boys and take a while since you're waiting for glue to dry. Making these would take a couple of den meetings and a lot of materials I don't have ready access to. Maybe we'll do these with wood in January for the woodworking badge instead. I used cheap cookie tins from Walmart. They worked great.


  • small metal tins - Altoid tins, cookie tins, whatever you can find cheap, they do need a flat surface, either the lid or a side. I found square tins and they worked really well.
  • heavy-weight bobby pins - don't use the really small cheap ones or plastic ones. You need a  heavier metal pin for this to work.
  • duct tape

1- Cut a few bobby pins in half with heavy wire cutters. I had my son do this for me because arthritis. (Getting old is so much fun!)
2- Bend a piece of bobby pin in the middle to make about a 120° angle - enough so that when one end is flat against the tin the other sticks up about 1/2 inch or so. You can bend these with your fingers.
3- Tape the flat end of the pin on the tin near the edge of the flat surface with the other end pointing in to the middle.
4- To play, tightly hold down the flat end with one thumb. Flick the end sticking up with the other thumb. If the sound buzzes or is flat, try moving the holding thumb up and down on the flat part to get a better sound.

Enjoy playing your new instruments! Maybe next week I'll tackle comb kazoos and rubber band guitars.

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