So there I was, feeling inadequate as a meal planner, home decorator, and human being. You know: Pinterest. Just before I succumbed to the particular form of despair that overtakes those who know only two ways to tie a scarf, I stumbled upon an adorable–and seemingly doable–felt Christmas tree activity. It’s too early in the year for me to bring Christmas into our home, but my enthusiasm for that idea got me thinking about felt as a medium. I’m sure it’s a lot like what Michelangelo went through when he contemplated fresco.
I came up with the idea of a Thanksgiving turkey counting puzzle that I thought my three-year old would enjoy. I’m excited to tell you about what I did and encourage you to make your own version.
I decided to make the puzzle as a gift to my daughter’s pre-school classroom, to be used year after year. For that reason, I knew I had to make it pretty durable, and I was willing to invest in more time-consuming techniques. I’ll tell you what I did and suggest ways to streamline the process for readers who don’t want a capital-P Project. You will notice that I do not give you a list of materials or step-by-step instructions. The goal is not for you to re-create my puzzle, but to use this information to create something all your own.
You can make your turkey any size you want. I backed into a size by taking into account the width of the felt sheets I bought to make feathers (to maximize the number of feathers I could get from a minimal number of sheets) and the size of a large mixing bowl I used as a template for the body shape. There’s really no magic to it. You can make this project easier and less expensive by using construction paper rather than felt. If you do, the size of your bird will probably depend on how big a circle you can cut from a sheet of construction paper.
I free-hand drew a spoon shape on scratch paper and cut it out to make sure the size and shape looked right for the head and neck of my bird. Once I was happy with it, I traced it onto tan-colored felt and cut out the shape. I did the same thing for the legs, perfecting the shape with a paper template. I had google eyes lying around from a previous project, so I used those. You could easily draw eyes or make them out of paper, beads, or anything else you have on hand. I free-hand cut a wattle and beak out of the scraps left over from my feather-making.
My child is three. I was more concerned about getting the project complete before she woke up from her nap than about anatomical precision.
People who know about such things probably have an opinion as to what type of bonding agent should be used to attach the features, head, and legs to the turkey body. I had only a half stick of glue-gun glue, which I knew I had to ration for the buttons, so that was out. Plus, I had a vague notion that glue-gun glue would create lumps under the thin felt. Lucky for me, my mother had a can of spray adhesive lying around. I
stole borrowed it from her and was very happy with the results. I suspect that white glue, super glue, or your own preferred adhesive would work just fine.
Make the long feathers whatever length looks good given the size of your turkey’s body. I deliberately embedded a pattern, orange-red-yellow, into the feather series. I wanted the finished tail to create an opportunity for the students to work on pattern recognition, and I wanted the pattern to offer an assist to the child who found the counting and number recognition at the outer limits of his abilities. Random colors–or more colors–in the feathers would work fine as well.
I made ten long feathers, but you could do more or fewer. After I was done, self-doubt set in. I lied awake worried that I should have made a “0” feather to illustrate the concept of zero. I consoled myself that with my three-colors pattern, ten feathers make the tail look “finished,” because the two end feathers are the same color. If I made a “0”, I’d have eleven feathers, the end colors would not match, and the whole thing would be RUINED.
It’s your rodeo, though. Ride it your way.
Hint for cutting uniform curves on your feathers: cut rectangles out of felt. Use a small bowl as a template to trace a curve at the top of each feather. Cut around the curve.
Here’s where I spent a lot of time. I hand-stitched the numbers 1-10 on individual felt circles I cut out. I did the stitching free-hand, so mine look
a little wonky handmade. I attached the circles to the feathers using my spray adhesive. This method hid the stitching on the back sides of the circles and gave me another opportunity to work my color pattern. You can make this project easier for yourself by sewing the numbers directly onto your feathers, using purchased adhesive numbers, or just writing them using a marker. You can make the puzzle more challenging for your child(ren) by making the numbers separate colored pieces and having the child deduce the color order in which the feathers must be placed to be in-pattern with the colored numbers. That level of problem-solving would be a little too varsity for my little one.
I cut the small feathers using the same technique I used for the big ones. There’s no real logic to the length. I just eyeballed a size that I thought would be large enough to hold up to ten buttons and that looked proportionate to rest of the turkey. I purchased a pack of 75 faux wood buttons for, like, a dollar and used my limited supply of glue-gun glue to attach them. You can make the project easier by using self-adhesive add-ons or by drawing circles or other “countables” with a marker.
I deliberately put my buttons in pairs, to lay the ground for the students to learn about “even” and “odd” numbers. You could make the puzzle more challenging by arranging your buttons or other “countables” randomly and by using “countables” of varied sizes.
To build the puzzle, the child first must arrange the large feathers in number order.
The child then must count the “countables” on each small feather and lay each small feather over the corresponding large feather.
I’m not going to lie. All in, I probably spent 5-10 hours (over a few days) making the puzzle, not including a trip to the craft/fabric store to figure out the type and quantity of materials I needed. I would have saved a lot of time–and my end result would have looked cleaner–if I had a really good sharp pair of scissors. You can minimize the time you spend on this project by using less time-consuming techniques. For a really quick version, just hand draw a turkey with two rows of tail feathers and have your child fill in the written numbers and “countables.”
I enjoyed working on this project in the evenings, with the television on in the background. I’m pleased enough with the results that I plan to make a letter-recognition puzzle with a Christmas theme…after I learn six thousand ways to tie a scarf, that is.