Patrick’s beautiful garden has been attracting a number of birds lately, and the little squash flowers are suffering. So Max and I decided we need to make a family of scarecrows to gently admonish those birds trying to ruin Patrick’s garden. Of course, making scarecrows is easily adapted to a flexible, fun homeschooling curriculum. For those who need an excuse, July 1st is Build A Scarecrow Day.
An Introduction to Scarecrows
The Scarecrow is one of the most familiar figures of the rural landscape in northern Alabama, as we discovered when camping at Mount Cheehaw a few years ago. Writers from William Shakespeare to Walter de la Mare have devoted words to the mysteries of the scarecrow. The earliest known written mention of a scarecrow was made in 1592, defining a scarecrow as “that which frightens or is intended to frighten without doing physical harm”. Literally, the scarecrow is that which scares away crows.Have scarecrows always looked the same? Farmers have been making scarecrows for more than 3,000 years. The first scarecrows recorded in history were made along the Nile River to protect wheat fields from flocks of quail. Egyptian farmers put wooden frames in their fields and covered them with nets. The farmers hid in the fields and scared the quails into the nets. Then they took them home and ate them for dinner.Why should we scare the crows or birds? Gardeners and farmers need to scare away crows and other birds because they feed on recently cast seed (often in the fall) and eat the flowers of certain plants who need these flowers to produce fruits. Crows tend to gather nightly, starting with groups of half a dozen which unite to form groups of 20 or more crows until the flock is quite large and noisy. Crows are creatures of habit who like to return to the same place every night.
The Scarecrow in Literature, Legends, and Culture* Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Feathertop”, is about a scarecrow who was created and brought to life in 17th century Salem, Massachussetts by a witch who made a pact with the devil. The scarecrow is intended to be used for sinister purposes and initially believes himself to be human. When he develops human feelings, he deliberately ends his own life as a result of learning about the witch and the devil’s plans for him. Mature children can read the story at the link above and think about the moral lessons Hawthorne is trying to elucidate.
* In Japanese legend, the scarecrow, known as kuebiko, is thought to know everything because he stands outdoors all day and observes the world around him. The Japanese religion, Shinto, even has a shrine called the Kuebiko Shrine honoring the scarecrow of legend.
* Pink Floyd released a song called, “The Scarecrow”. The lyrics are fun to discuss.
Some scarecrow afiacianados believe that, in order for a scarecrow to do his job, “he must have something mystical about him”. So Max and I talked about naming our scarecrows and talking to them each morning to encourage them to gently tell the birds to stop eating the squash flowers.
Max wanted to make an entire family of scarecrows (just like us, says the little man), but the hour glass never seems to be on our side when it comes to the big projects. So we settled for one. Tiny. Scarecrow. But I included directions for making a family of four below:
- Three old pairs of pants (mommy, daddy, and young boy)
- One footed baby pajama
- Two old long-sleeved shirts, one for a young man and one for a daddy
- One old housedress
- Plenty of leaves, straw, and old fabric scraps, sheets, etc.
- A few pairs of old panty-hose
- Straw hat, wig, baby hat, or other headpieces
- Rope or twine
- Sturdy, thick rubber bands
- Four old brooms or pieces of lumber in different sizes (we used small tree stems)
Now for the scarecrow making…. I realize these instructions might be a little over-the-top, but that is how we roll at the Coryell household. However, for those who are more sane and moderate, alternate scarecrow-making instructions are available in the resources list at the end of this post. Now for the fun part.
- Gather a huge pile of leaves and pinestraw by raking them together. You need a lot of leaves to fill a scarecrow.
- Take the pairs of pants and wrap a rubber band (or tie a string) around the bottom of each leg to close off the holes. Stuff the pants with leaves. Leaves tend to settle, so you will need to stuff them really good to make the legs thick. Decide if you want your scarecrow to be sitting in a chair before you start stuffing. If you do, you will need to make the knees of the jeans bendable by not putting so many leaves in that area.
- When you are finished stuffing, put the pants aside.
- Now take the shirts, make sure they are buttoned up properly, and wrap a rubber band around the bottom of each sleeve, as well as around the bottom of the shirt. Keep in mind that where you place the rubber band determines torso length.
- Begin stuffing the shirt with leaves through the collar area. You will need to decide if you want the scarecrow to have his arms bent or straight. If you want his arms to be bendable, you will need to put less stuffing at the elbow area of the arms. After stuffing, set aside.
- This part is trickier. Take the pair of nylon stockings and cut a rectangular piece from one side of a leg. How big you cut the rectangle will determine how big your scarecrow head will be. The nylon will stretch quite a bit, so a 3-inch cut will produce about a 6-inch in diameter head. Sew one end of the nylon to the inside collar of the shirt to secure the nylon to the scarecrow’s body. Once this is done, stuff the nylon with leaves, shaping it as you go to form a ball. Once the head is as big as you like it, tie a knot in the top of the head.
- Carefully remove the rubber band from the bottom of the shirt, not letting any leaves fall out, and stuff the shirt into the top of the jeans. Use needle and thread (or a stapler) to secure the shirt to the jeans on the sides. You do not need to go all around the jeans with needle and thread.
- Sit your sitting scarecrows in the positions that you want them to stay. Once they are in position, remove the rubber bands from the arms and legs. Place straw up into the arms of the scarecrows, as well as up into the bottom of the legs. Place a straw hat or wig or other headpiece on top of the scarecrow’s head.
- For the standing scarecrows, stick the requisite pieces of lumber into each scarecrows clothing to give them a posture. Leave enough room at the bottom of your lumber to be able to stick the wood in the ground.
- Decorate the faces of the scarecrow with miscellaneous items, such as sewing buttons into the nylon for eyes, a nose, and a mouth. You can be creative with what you want the scarecrow faces to look like. You can even use an old white t-shirt and just draw a face on the fabric if you prefer not to get boggled down with a needle and thread.
- Give each scarecrow a name, and explain their jobs to them.
We finished our scarecrow– Max named her Buttercup and informed her of her duties. In the meantime, I pray Buttercup survives the week every time we play outside, because the Little Dragon (Micah) loves to go and pull on Buttercup. Or push on Buttercup. Or grab Buttercup’s hat and yell at her…. Micah’s social skills with scarecrows are severely lacking, mefears.
There are so many wonderful teaching components to scarecrow-making that I couldn’t help sharing my favorites below:
- How to make a Garden Goddess, the friendlier version of a scarecrow.
- How to make a simpler scarecrow, the plain, old-fashioned, pipe-bearing kind.
- How to make a scarecrow using old tent poles.
- Make an online scarecrow (and learn a few facts) at PBS Kids. To add another part to your scarecrow, you have to answer the question correctly.
- PDF printable with instructions and ideas on how to make a scarecrow.
- The Scarecrow of Oz by Frank L. Baum, a free, downloadable e-book.
- Printable scarecrow notebook paper.
- Scarecrow poems, songs, and finger plays to keep the littlest members of the family engaged.
- Scarecrow craft patterns.
- Interesting facts and scarecrow trivia, juicy and fun.
- A Wizard of Oz Unit Study geared towards high school kids.
- Explore the Tombridge Scarecrow Trail.
- I used Mrs. Nelson’s “History of Scarecrows” created for her third grade class as a resource. It is full of fascinating historical details.