Duration: 20-90 minutes
Recommended Ages: 5-12 with supervision, 13 and older with minimal or no supervision
Description: Make a kite and play like children in the 18th century.
When George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, he probably wasn’t thinking about kite flying. We do know he was thinking about happiness. In the very first article of the Declaration Mason claims the right of happiness for all men. In the 18th century “happiness” meant both the opportunity for prosperity (having shelter and enough food, clothing, and other necessities to be comfortable) and the feeling of pleasure and contentment.
Just as today, pleasure and happiness in the colonial period took many forms. Kite flying was one the ways many members of the gentry relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Many depictions of young people in the 18th century show them flying kites. Most of the letters, diaries, and paintings of the Mason family no longer exist; and without that primary source evidence, we don’t know if they participated in this popular hobby.
During George Mason’s lifetime, kites were most often made from silk or paper. Kites from that time were often very large, sometimes larger than the person flying them! Plus they had lots of decorations. Making a kite look fancy could take more time than building the kite itself.
Follow instructions below to make a relatively small kite. This one is pretty plain and should only take 5-10 minutes to make. If you’d like to practice your 18th-century kite decorating skills, try this activity:
Gunston Hall staff like the kite style below, because we find it flies very well, even in a mild breeze.
Paper: light-colored construction paper or copy paper, 8.5×11 inches works best.
Wooden skewers: Look for a kabob skewer. If you don’t have one of those at home, find a small straight-ish twig, about 10 inches long. The kind of chopstick that accompanies carry-out Chinese food would work, too.
Ribbon: If you don’t have ribbon, you can follow the additional instruction below to make a fancy tail.
Writing materials: such as a pencil, colored pencils, crayons, markers, pens (optional but recommended for decoration)
- Fold your paper in half, horizontally (Hamburger style). Put the paper in front of you with the fold on the left.
- Make a dot about an inch away from the fold on the top left corner. Then do the same to the bottom right corner an inch from the open side. Then connect the dots in a straight line.
- Then fold the paper on the line, flip it over and match the previous fold.
- Put your original fold on the left again, open the top flap to the left, the two flaps should create a diamond. Lay your skewer across the diamond, and tape it down. You may have to cut the skewer to fit. Place a piece of tape over the skewer in the middle, and to secure the bottom of the diamond shape.
- Flip the kite over horizontally and make a dot roughly 2 inches down from the top of the spine (the very first fold you made in the project), and 1 inch in from the fold.
- Put tape over the dot around the dot you just made. Once taped, use the hole puncher to make a hole on the dot.
- Tie your string through the hole you made, tie it 3 times to make sure it’s secure.
- Finally, flip it back over so you can see the skewer and tape a ribbon or crepe streamer that is 3 feet long and tape it to the bottom of your kite for your tail.
- If you don’t have ribbon or if you would like to make a fancier tail, cut a piece of string that is 4 feet long.
- Cut 10 strips of paper that are 1 inch tall and three inches long.
- Tie the string around the center of each strip, at approximately even intervals. you should end up with strips of paper spread out along your string.
- Decorate with markers and then find a gust of wind and have fun!