For cheap you can buy a dozen basic water guns and have a cool (literally) activity for the gaggle of kids laying about your house this summer. Classic single shot water guns create an atmosphere that is more about strategy and activity instead of the sheer, dull power that supersoakers spew up. Classic auxiliary accessories only add to the fun by creating more avenues to be creative with while still getting wet..
The shield provides players with such an accessory. Shields are legitimate defensive weapons, but in a water gun fight they provide the illusion of defense while still allowing the child to get wet.
They are also cool. Every kids knows this. They all want one. And, unlike a supersoaker, they do not ruin the fun by making the game pointless.
It'll take you ten minutes.
Materials: Clear polycarbonate roofing panel ($15), some audio wire ($5)
Tools: Tin snips, drill, bit.
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Step 1: Cut the Shield
Five years ago I put clear polycarbonate roof panels on my shed. It began cracking last winter, so I removed them and they sat around until my son thought they'd make a good shield.
He was right! Lightweight, flexible and clear. As you cut this, think about what size is both protective (obvious) but still allows movement. One instinct in beginning design is to create a large shield, as if the point of a water gun fight is to stay dry (why play?). No, your kid will want to maneuver. If their shield is wide it will be cumbersome. If it is too long, they will be tripping over it. You can buy new polycarbonate at Home Depot for about $15. They also sell translucent colored sheets, if you want to create distinct armies (red vs. green!)
You are cutting so the ribs are vertical to provide stregnth, but it will also curve around the child when they tense their wrist. Later, feel free to experiment with shapes (a single panel offers up a lot of shields) but the material and history shows the rectangle is pretty efficient. We found that, after cut, the edges were not sharp.
The panel was already 24" wide, but I cut it down to 18" for a kid's body. Shoulder width is good.
For height, measure from the forehead to the belly. This protects the face while leaving the legs free to run. Even a few inches longer and it begins to act as a sail.
Step 2: Attach Straps
Hold the shield up to the child, the top touching the forehead. Have the child put their defensive arm (the one without the gun) horizontally out in front of them. Mark where the arm is (a Sharpie works great). This is where the straps will go.
For straps, I used some old audio wire I had. The stuff I used was wide and the rubber coating is comfortable and did not chafe when wet, unlike rope (they probably won't play long enough for it to matter). You do want wide wire--some lamp cord would do, too--so it does not cut. I cut two 12" lengths of wire.
Two straps will do the trick. One will be where the hand is, so the child can grab it. The second will be near the elbow. Combined, they should allow the child to control the shield like Captain America does his. Cool.
For each strap, drill a hole just above and below where the arm will be. Then, feed the audio wire through so the knot(s) will be on the front (knots on the arm will rub, so the front is best). The loops need to be big enough for easy in-out of the arm, but tight enough so the shield feels like an extension of the arm (feel free to watch Captain America: The First Avenger with the kids to get the idea). Audio wire can be difficult to knot, but a small wrapping of electrical tape can create a big enough ball to keep it from coming back through the hole.
Ta dah, you have a shield.
Step 3: Extras
When I was a kid I wanted a tree fort. My father build me a nice platform. Simple and clean.
But that wasn't enough for me. I tacked up walls made of scraps, an ugly mess of random boards and rusty nails. It looked horrible and I knew it and kept "improving" it until I grew old enough to appreciate the simplicity he offered me at first.
Let that be a lesson: Sometimes simple is best.
Decorations: That said, a nice rainy day activity is for the child to decorate their shield. You'll need Sharpies if you want them to be permanent (Crayola will last about five minutes in battle, but then they can redecorate for added fun). You can use the Crayolas to design the decorations (no regrets) and drawn over with the Sharpie. More colors offer more choices.
If you want, you can create a crest. Have them put those things that are important to them--who they are. It will give them direction, but it can also be corny.
Video and Strategy: You can also find some nice videos on tactics and shields. The Roman turtle tactic, for example, is interesting, and a gang of neighboring kids can try it out. In the heat of battle, local children tend not to be as disciplined as centurions, but their imagining it working is fun. Again, Captain America: The First Avenger is a fine movie with some good shield action (these shields do not throw well, though). 300 would be less appropriate.
Planning the Attack: Another rainy day activity is drawing up a battle plan. A simple sketch of the battlefield can be copied twenty times, allowing young generals scratch paper to draw up plans. Your little Ender Wiggum needs to learn to plan before battle, and not learn on the blunt end of a stick over and over. Good skill for adulthood.
Step 4: Bonus: How to Set Up a GREAT Water Gun Fight
The problem with my generation (X) is that, as adults, we created everything we imagined as kids. We had thought "Wouldn't it be great if, instead of four small Kitt Katt bars they had one giant bar?" Now we have it. We thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if this Tonka truck made its own sounds and had lights and moved on its own?" Now we have it. Ten years ago, I struggled to find a box of mixed Legos for my son--kits was all they had (thankfully, that's fixed). In making things better, though, we killed a lot of what was fun--imagination, anticipation, dreams.... I just enjoy those small Kitt Katts better because I cannot get enough.
Cue the old man music.
The supersoaker is an example of this. I grew up with those stupid plastic squirt guns that had the plug in the back that required you to plunge it under water and wait while little bubbles showed out water was (slowly) displacing air. Once full, the range and aim was lame, and it jammed and ran out of water too quickly. The supersoaker was the opposite end of the spectrum--the tanks filled with wide mouths and the range was insane. But, playing with one was an activity that lasted ten minutes--everyone would get soaked, laugh, and then not know what to do next. The neighbor was always a kid that either cried about it or would not stop when everyone else had moved on to another activity.
Nothing beats extended battle, with strategy and lot of running to wear out the kids both mentally and physically.
1. Buy Cheap, Classic Single Shot Water Guns. Lots of them, and variety. Drug and/or toy stores sells sleeves of them for nothing. Variety is key, as children think the style or color of the gun matters. It does not. But if you have five or so for each kid they can experiment. Also, when they begin to fail (they will; they're cheap) they have back-ups.
2. Water Depots in a Neutral Zone. I fill a couple of buckets with water (Home Depot Homer buckets are great) and put them on the patio. The patio is the safe, no fire zone. They can take all of their guns and fill them without worry. The zone also makes a destination, allowing for ambushes and fun tension as their "ammo" reaches critical.
3. Obstacle filled Battlefield. A yard. Our house offers corners and obstructions as they circle it looking for each other. We have a soccer goal, a play house, a picnic table, a few trees.... You get the idea.
4. Accessories. Water balloons are fun, but can be a pain to fill--and time consuming. Take them out for treats, only. Far easier are cups--give each child a hard plastic cup to fill with water and dump on someone. The shield from this instructable adds the illusion of protection, but in the heat of battle they will get wet over time. Whatever you add, make sure it adds depth to the battle, not volume of water. Once you have a superweapon the game is done; you might as well bring out the hose.
In the end, that's the point--keep it simple. By keeping kids on the edge of domination they will keep grasping for it. With these elements, the guns will require time and effort and die just before success. The shield will protect, but not over time. Just as it gets boring, a successful cup of water over the head of an unsuspecting big brother will rule memories of the day. Keep it simple.