The rest of the weekend was completely and entirely devoted to helping M build the Little House on the Prairie.
This was the culminating project for a months-long unit on the book. Usually I have stepped back and largely encouraged/let M do his projects on his own. Gentle nudges and suggestions are almost always met with tears. But this time he selected a project that would have been too much for a 4th-grader to complete by himself, and part of the grad was "parental involvement." And, we managed to get through the whole thing without any crying, until right at the very end when he was trying to make Pa's fiddle (at Z's insistence) and it wasn't coming out the way he wanted. I consider that a triumph.
We pruned branches off various species of trees around our house (note: fresh alder wood smells terrible and is best avoided for this type of project!), cut them to size and stuck them together with powdered papier mache that (I believe it's dust collected from paper mills that would otherwise need to be discarded, but is instead sold as a craft material).
It was very goopy and messy to work with (M wouldn't touch the stuff--he set the logs in place while I smeared slime on them) and as the walls got taller, it got kind of shaky. It would have been ideal to build a few rows and let it dry for a few days and then add a few more. But as it was, with our schedules and the timing, we only got the first two or three rows done early last week, and then build the rest on Sunday. We had to employ all manner of bracing materials to hold it together.
I was, by turns, really annoyed with the whole thing and really excited to make all the teeny tiny things that go inside the house. I helped him probably more than I should have, but I couldn't help myself. M sewed the mattress, and I made the quilt and pillow (we stuffed them with fir needles, since all our hay is under a few feet of snow) and I made the doll Charlotte and a teeny tiny ball of yarn and knitting needles. And the china shepherdess (beeswax) and the iron spider (toilet paper roll, paper, glue and sticks, painted black). M split tiny logs and made the fire from orange wool.
He made the plates with metal washers and little circles of foil tape, the table and door from popsicle sticks, with felt hinges and latch string on the door, and he made a broom with some broom straw, a stick and string, and a twig rifle over the door. The butter churn is a spool and a piece of skewer.
We roofed it with canvas (just like Pa did at first) that can be pulled back to reveal the cozy inside.
It made it all the way to the school without collapsing, despite the pointy parts of the wall being still wet and unstable. At least three other kids had built house models too. Z can't wait for it to come home so he can play with it. Neither can I!