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From couch potato to sweet potato

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Carving sweet potatoes is a fun way to let kids be creative.

My son Alex tends to be a couch potato. Although he does spend a considerable amount of time outside, knocking around in the woods or throwing ball, he spends way too much time in front of the television. I found Jim Calder's technique of teaching kids to carve using sweet potatoes (WCI Fall 2008, Issue #44) very inspiring. As soon as I read the article, I knew I wanted to introduce sweet potato carving to Alex.

Alex and I have carved soap and tried our hand at chip carving. Being a nine-year-old boy, he loses interest quickly. I was hoping we could finish the potatoes without him getting too bored.

I bought Alex his first pocket knife for Cub Scouts last year. The leaders taught the boys about safety and sharpening, and they carved a bear from paraffin wax.

Armed with two sweet potatoes, we sat down at the kitchen table. I pulled out the last issue and Alex and I read over the article. "What are we going to carve?" Alex asked.

"I thought we would carve the face, like in the article," was my response. In typical Alex fashion, he had another idea.

"You always carve faces. Let's do something else," Alex said. Well, I don't think I've ever carved a face in my life, but if he didn't want to carve a face I wasn’t going to force him. He decided his potato would become a wolf.

Using an actual knife to carve something you would be holding in your hand was a bit intimidating. I don’t do well around blood. I reminded him to always carve away from his body and keep his fingers out of the way. He actually did very well! I carved a face, following Jim's instructions, and Alex carved a howling wolf. It was a great way to pass two hours, just Alex and mom, sitting at the table with slivers of sweet potatoes falling on the floor. Best of all, there was no blood.

When we finished, Alex took the sweet potato wolf up to his room. He is eager to see if the wolf will actually resemble wood when it dries. I'm not sure how long you can keep a sweet potato in your bedroom without attracting bugs, but I'm willing to find out. Seeing that smile on his face is worth a few bugs any day.

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Shannon Flowers

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Comments (2 posted):

Soccer Mom on 04/13/2010 11:18:35
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I don't think you will have any bugs. I have carved sweet potatoes and let them dry, never had any bugs. They dry really hard and then you can paint them. I put mine on a stick in an old bottle so it was aired well. I don't know what would happen if it sits on a flat surface. Your son's wolf will change his shape quite a bit as it dries, should be interesting. Good luck, Ines
LizArtTeacher on 05/29/2013 13:30:13
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I've carved apple heads for witches with kids, soaking them in brutal amounts of lemon juice and salt before mounting on sticks. But fruit flies were still attracted to the heads. While pondering this problem in the supermarket, my eye fell upon canned spray for athletes' foot, because it said, "Kills Fungus!" And it works! Please warn your kids not to be tempted to 'taste' their heads, okay? Or let little sisters or brothers, either. I warned the parents, too, who took this cheerfully. If concerned about mold or insects, I bet spraying carved sweet potatoes with something similarly anti-fungal would do the trick. I've been looking for softer, kid-friendly carving media for some time, and I'll be carving sweet potatoes with my young teen sculpture class, this summer. Thanks!
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