I’m not trying to out any Geeky moms or Geeky dads for that matter (notice I haven’t mentioned autism or Asperger’s Syndrome). But I couldn’t resist posting this – my publisher offered to send a free book to a person of my choosing – and I thought it would make a great present for winter break – lots of time to try stuff out, right?
I am not considered a Geek, yet I have always loved cool activities to do with my kids. I have always completed activities, they just never looked or turned out the way they were supposed to. Let’s face it, I’ve always been a geek wannabee. This book, Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share by Ken Denmead speaks to the inner geek in all of us. Ken is the editor of GeekDad, a blog on Wired magazine’s Web site. A professional civil engineer, he lives near San Francisco with his two sons, who are both geeks in training.
Here is a great book and I can send you a free copy. Just write a comment below (or send me a private email if you are too shy) within the next 48 hours, and I will pick one of you to get a copy from the publisher for free.
Meanwhile, here is an activity from the book – making coloring pages:
Because there are levels to artistic ability and interest, I’ll show you two different coloring pages you can make. First, the classic dot-to-dot, then coloring sheets. They are all made from images you can find online or scan into your computer from sources at home.
Dot-to-Dot Coloring Page
To start, you have to pick the image you want to turn into the coloring page. For dot-to-dots, it’s going to be a lot easier to select simple images, though if you’re patient and want more detail, you can go for the gusto with more detailed pictures. But dot-to-dots are great for younger kids who are learning about staying within the borders. And they love to be amazed by what they can create by drawing a series of lines between dots.
For this example, we’re going really simple—an image of the sigil of the Rebel Alliance.
(Advisory: If you are reasonably experienced with graphics software and know what a layer is, you can skip down a couple of paragraphs to the one that starts “Select a pen . . .”.)
Assuming you’re a geek, we are going to figure you have some manner of graphics software, probably for touching up pictures from your digital camera. Common (and pretty good) examples of such software include Photoshop Elements (the cheaper, easier-to-use version of the industry standard Photoshop) available on Mac or PC; Pixelmator for the Mac; or GIMP, which works on PC, Mac, or Linux and is FREE FREE FREE. Maybe you haven’t played around with the software that much. If that’s the case, here’s a quick lesson about the first feature you’re going to use.
A layer is a standard concept in image editing software. Conceptually, it’s very simple. Imagine if you took a printed picture and laid a piece of tracing paper over it, and then copied the features by hand on that tracing paper. Well, a layer is just like tracing paper, only it works digitally on the computer, and you can have as many of them as you want.
Step 1: For this project, you open your base image in the editing software of your choice. Then you add a layer. Most of these pieces of software have a menu actually called “Layer” from which you can “Add a Layer.” Once you’ve done that, there is a perfectly transparent layer of digital tracing paper on top of your image, upon which you can now trace, without affecting the original picture.
Step 2: Select a pen or pencil tool and a fairly small brush size to make your dots with. Draw black dots all around the edges of the image, at relatively even intervals. Straight lines need only one dot at either end. Curves need more so that, when they are connected, they will better re-create the curve.
Step 3: These programs should have a separate control window that shows all the layers in the current project. From this window, you can now “turn off” the layer with the original image on it so that you see only the dots.
Step 4: If you want to go all the way, you can also use the program’s text feature to add numbers next to each dot to give your artist a sequence to follow. Or you can just save this file and print as many of them as your kids want to color, letting them be creative and decide how to connect the dots.
Coloring Book Pages
Obviously, older kids and those with more advanced coloring skills are going to be hankering for something a bit more challenging than connect-the-dots. What’s great is that these graphics programs have filters that let you kick out coloring pages by the ream with only a couple of clicks. They require even less work than the dot-to-dots.
Pick an image. For this example, I used a snapshot I took of my classic Nauga (http://www.nauga.com/promoitems_nauga.html) in my office. I opened the image in Pixelmator and then used “Filter-Stylize-Line Overlay” to automatically find the edges in the image and drop everything else out, making a perfect coloring sheet (there are settings you can tweak to get it “just right”).
In Photoshop Elements, the process is nearly as easy. Open the image, and use “Filter-Stylize-Find Edges.” Then use “Enhance-Convert to Black-and–White” to drop out the colors, and you have much the same effect.
In GIMP, you can try “Colors-Desaturate,” then ”Filters-Edge Detect-Neon” and “Colors-Invert” to get a similar effect. You may need to play with some settings to get an optimal result (and you can save those settings for future uses). GIMP is just as powerful at the other programs in many ways, but it is not quite as user-friendly, so there’s a bit more of a learning curve.
Once you have the technique down, you can whip these out en masse and build your kids (or get your kids to build) their own coloring books, using images they find online (Google Image Search is excellent for this, though make sure you keep an eye out for inappropriate content; or try the Web sites for the cartoon shows they like—Disney or Nickelodeon) or scans from other books or sources.
One other way to do this—with slightly less creativity (and therefore less geek factor) but without the need for special software—is the Coloring Page Maker at the Crayola Crayons Web site: http://play-zone.crayola.com/.