African Crafts

Presented by:
Annie Sirkin, Brookline Public Schools

Making Galimotos

This activity for 3rd or 4th graders is part of a series of lessons on Kenya (or another African country) with the focus being a child’s life and experiences. In this activity the children build a galimoto using wire and recycled materials.


Galimoto by Karen Williams (although this story takes place in Malawi it is an excellent introduction to the activity)

  • Wire—a variety of copper, steel, or dark galvanized easily purchased in a hardware store. Gauges should vary from 16-19 for the frame to 20-24 for the detail work of the spokes and wheels
  • Wire cutters, pliers
  • Toys—cars, trucks, pick-ups
  • Pipe cleaners, washers, bolts, misc. hardware
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Recycled materials to add as details and decoration
  • Paper for sketches
  • Adults to help with the bending and cutting of wire

*Before building galimotos with children, it is helpful to try building one of your own. This is the best way to understand the process and to be able to explain it to a group of children.


  1. Read Galimoto aloud to the group. Focus on how Kondi decides to build a galimoto and then sets to his task. Discuss with the children how Kondi concentrated on his toy and even though everyone in his village told him he couldn’t do it, he build a beautiful galimoto.
  2. Discuss with the class what a galimoto is. The word galimoto is nicely explained in the book. Ask the children what different types of vehicles the toy could be.
  3. Explain to the group that everyone will have the opportunity to build a galimoto. Ask them to think about how they would go about doing this.
  4. On paper, have each child draw a pencil sketch of the galimoto he/she wants to build. Although the actual toy they build will probably be different from the sketch, this will help to focus the ideas. It is also helpful for many children to look at the toy cars and trucks. It helps them visualize what they are going to be building.
  5. Have the children work in small groups with an adult as a helper. The heavier wire is difficult to cut and bend. The wire is also sharp, so the ends need to bent in to keep the galimoto safe. When cutting the wire, cut the pieces a little longer than you need to allow for bending and attaching to other pieces.
  6. Help the children begin the galimotos by building a base for the vehicle. The heavier wire should be used on this part of the galimoto. The popsicle sticks wrapped with wire make a good base for children who are having difficulty with just wire. (If you are familiar with building structures, it is important to mention that adding triangle shapes to the base will give it more support.)
  7. As the galimoto takes shape, the children can add other materials to give the toy detail and character. Pieces that can be used for wheels or decoration are fun to add. Be careful to watch that the galimotos are still being made with wire. The pipe cleaners are easier to use but will not hold the shape of the toy.
  8. When the galimotos are complete. the children can have the opportunity to share their toy and talk about how they made it. It is interesting to discuss the different strategies used to build the vehicles.

Teacher’s Reflection:

I did this lesson as part of a month-long study of the African continent with a focus on everyday life, children, children’s literature, geography, and commonalities with our own lives. My class really enjoyed and benefited from the galimoto-making experience. They were proud of their accomplishments and felt they have made a connection with children from another country. The galimoto lesson was one of the early lessons in the unit. It did a tremendous job of sparking interest and enthusiasm for the entire unit. After building our own galimotos, the children enjoyed searching for them in other stories that took place in an African country.

For teachers doing this lesson, it is important to have extra adults on hand to help with the cutting and bending of wire. It is difficult to give specific directions for building the toys. With the supplies and an idea of what they will be doing from reading and discussing Galimoto, the children were able to initiate construction without much direct instruction. Several children did need assistance with the implementation of their designs. I would limit the use of pipe cleaners because they distracted from the look of the wire toy. I also stressed with my class how focused and determined Kondi was in the book Galimoto. We talked about how this activity would require quiet concentration and patience.

In the end, the galimotos were better than I could have imagined. The children took off with the idea and had very creative and unique ways to construct the toy. Once the galimotos were completed, the children immediately began racing competitions with their galimotos.

Annie Sirkin. Lincoln School, Brookline, Mass., 1/95


This can be an exciting but messy endeavor in the classroom. It works best if you have 4 or 5 adults available (parent volunteers perhaps) to help with every phase of the tie-dyeing. If you have never tie-dyed before, it is a good idea to experiment before attempting this with a class.

The tie-dyed fabric squares can be used as a mounting for a poem. The poem provided is one the describes the fabric weavers in a village. You can use this poem as a jumping-off point for the children to write their own poems. They can write about a special craft or skill that they are familiar with, about some aspect of their community, or about the fabric dyeing experience.


  • Cloth—clean, dry, unbleached muslin squares approximately 10″ x 14″; at least 2 per child
  • Dye—the ratio is 2 boxes navy blue to 1 box royal blue; make the solution stronger than suggested with very hot water
  • Rubber gloves
  • Iron (one that you may never use again)
  • Floor and counter covers
  • Newspaper
  • Aluminum pans for dye mixture
  • Metal utensil for handling cloth in dye
  • Needles, thread, beans, pebbles, rubber bands, string, scissors
  • Drying area, preferably somewhere to hang the dyed fabric


The material needs to be bunched, folded, sewn, pleated, etc. (see below) in different ways to create a pattern that will take the dye in varying shades.

When the material is ready, immerse in the dye until the cloth is very dark. Squeeze slightly to remove excess dye. At this point the cloth can dry as is, or you can unbind it. To speed up the drying time in the classroom, you can have the children unbind their fabric and have an adult iron the square. This helps seal color and remove dripping water. You need a thickly newspapered and toweled surface on which to do this step. By unbinding at this point, you allow the children to see their tie-dyeing immediately. Then they can try different patterns on their second square.

Some children need assistance binding their fabric, others will be able to work independently. The children need help threading needles and need to be reminded to thoroughly bind their squares before dyeing.

An adult must be in charge of the dyeing process and the ironing. For a class of 20–25 children, you should have 2 or 3 dyeing stations. You can get by with one ironing table.

When the squares are dry, attach poems with tape or glue. The finished product is a beautiful integration of art and writing.

The dyeing techniques and information come from “African Cloth,” a pamphlet of The Children’s Museum at Museum Wharf, 300 Congress Street, Boston, MA 02210. The classroom application comes from Annie Sirkin, Lincoln School, Brookline, MA 02146.

African Cloth

African textiles are as varied as one can imagine. In different parts of the continent, people have used plant fibers, the wool of sheep and camels, and the bark of trees to weave beautiful clothes, bedding, tents and cloth for carrying goods and babies. They have invented many looms for weaving, and used many techniques for adding pattems to their cloth. Today, many African use these traditional methods, while others run machines in factories that produce the kind of cloth we use.

African clothing is adapted to the range of climates and to local customs and styles. In the desert, people prefer big loose clothes which keep out the sun and yet allow ventilation. In hot damp areas, people feel most comfortable with very little clothing. And in cool places, they bundle up to keep warm just as we do.

In West Africa today, factory-made cloth is decorated in traditional ways. Modern Africans are proud of this fine cloth, and value the hundreds of pattens that have been made over the years. In Nigeria, the techniques of tie-dyeing and paste resist dyeing are used on white cotton cloth, dyed with indigo—a plant dye which produces a deep, strong blue. The cloth is called adire in the Yoruba language. Some of the patterns are fine and so intricate that it takes many hours to prepare one piece of cloth for dyeing, and many more hours to complete all the necessary steps—including, sometimes, polishing the finished cloth until it has an almost metallic sheen.

Fabric Binding Techniques:

Fabric Binding Techniques