Saturday, April 23, 2011

Our Earth Day Project 2011

For Earth Day 2011 I decided to take a break from knitting to focus my creative energy in a different direction.

My son is at the age when coloring has become something fun to do. One of our favorite activities is for me to draw an animal, ask him to identify it by name, then color it in. Although he manipulates a standard crayon pretty well, he also delights in breaking them. So I've known for some time that we needed a different type of crayon.

A casualty of toddler-led cause and effect exploration.

A few months ago, when he was just learning to use crayons, our neighbor had given him a brand name 'toddler' set. They come packaged in threes, with egg-shaped holders. In theory these crayons were a great idea. The only problem was that the refills were nearly impossible to find, and he had figured out (within minutes) how to pull the little crayon nubs from their holders. So we had to limit his access to these crayons, which was a big drawback.

As fortune would have it, while cleaning out my parents' attic recently, I came across a huge cache of old crayons. So, today I decided to set about repurposing them for more toddler-friendly use. 

Jackpot! A crayon cache in Grammy's attic.

The two of us spent the evening unwrapping crayons. I used an X-Acto knife to cut a slit down the length of each crayon, and showed him how he could unwrap them. This pseudo-destructive task was right up his alley. It was a great way to involve him in the process because it was something he could easily do. Plus, I didn't want him near the area where I was chopping up the crayons. 

All of the spent wrappers strewn about the floor.

Some people choose to use a food processor to grind up the crayons, but I'm not a fan of contaminating food-use items with craft materials. Therefore, I used a blunt-end blade and non-food cutting board to chop each crayon. It was slow, but it allowed me to control the size of each crayon bit. I made them approximately a quarter of an inch in length because I wanted the end product to show the various tones of each crayon.

The chopping area, prior to prepping the warm colors.

I used an old muffin tin that was no longer needed for baking. Some websites suggested using spray cooking oil as a mold release, but I decided against this. Instead I employed  some leftover foil muffin liners that my mom had given us. I discovered that when I do this project again, I do not need to use the liners. The melted wax will pop out of each mold once thoroughly cooled (you can place the tin in the freezer to speed this up).

Each liner received a generous amount of crayon bits. I estimate that we used six crayons per mold. My son helped me to fill the liners with all of the cool colors that we had prepped. We purposely combined various shades of blue, green, and purple in each mold. This was another great way to involve him in the process. I taught him the name of each color as he picked it up, and guided him to the appropriate mold with similar hues. If we do this when he is older, I will probably just let him pick where the crayon bits go. Once the first batch was filled I set the tray aside so that he could have dinner and a bath before bed.

After he was in bed I preheated the oven to 200 degrees. When ready, I placed the tin into the oven and watched the melt progress. It took about 15 minutes for the crayons to melt completely, with some colors melting faster than others. 

First batch in the oven. There is one cake without a liner.

When done, I set them aside to cool and began prepping the next batch, all of the warm colors. With the first batch ready to be released, I simply peeled the liners away from each wax cake. I then decided to reuse the liners (we only had nine to work with) for the second batch, just so that all of the crayons would be consistent in texture. 

Close-up of the a cooling cake, without a liner.
You can see tiny crayon bits melted all over the tray.
Although it would clean off easily, it is important to keep
food and crafting utensils separate.

I found that the second batch came out a little 'wonky'. This was due to the fact that the liners did not sit in the tray perfectly. They were a bit deformed when removing them from the cakes in the first batch. This is purely an aesthetic thing, something that will bother mama more than it would a toddler.
Second batch in the oven, with the reused liners.
Notice, they do not sit in the tray perfectly when the liners are reuse

The second batch of warm colors and value tones fresh out of the oven.

As a final finishing touch I used an old peeler to trim the top and bottom edges of each crayon cake. If you do not use the muffin liners you will probably be able to skip this part. I didn't want tiny little crayon chips (created by the ridges of the liners) flaking off during the first use. 

It's hard to see, but these cakes have been trimmed.

In under two hours I was able to bring new life to a batch of old crayons. Not only was I able to repurpose materials, I created something that my son would have fun playing with. I managed to create two cakes of each 'color', as well as one value tones cake (black, white and grey) and two metallic mixed cakes. I'll divide them into two sets so that they last longer.

He won't see the finished products when he wakes up in the morning though; we'll be tucking these brightly colored crayon cakes into his Easter basket on Sunday morning, along with a few pages of recycled paper. 

The finished toddler-friendly crayon cakes.

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