Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Magnet # 217:  Chinese Girl with Kite

Material:  Clay

Purchased By:  Mom & Dad

With Spring finally making its way across most of the nation, I thought this would be a nice opportunity to remind everyone that this is prime kite flying time. I decided not to actually post this on Kite Flying Day, which occurs on February 8. Oddly enough, I didn't think anyone would take me seriously if I told them to bundle up in hat, coat, and mittens, trudge out into the snow, and fly a kite. Seriously, who puts a kite flying day in the dead of winter? At least they got National Kite Month right - it's in April. So now is the perfect time to take advantage of this fun family activity.

Kite flying dates all the way back to at least 200 B.C. China, where records tell of a general who flew a kite over the walls of an enemy city. By doing so, he was able to measure just how far his troops should dig a hole under the city. This creative innovation and the information it provided allowed his army to surprise their enemy and take control of the city. No one is quite certain who in the country actually invented the kite - stories range from a pair of philosophers to a farmer who tied a string to his hat to keep it from flying away in strong winds. But, in the country, which was filled with silk and bamboo, two supplies perfect for making kites, the activity really took off (no pun intended). Soon, it was being exported to nearby nations such as Korea and Japan, where it was believed to keep away evil spirits and bring good harvests. In Polynesia, they created their own myth for the creation of the kite - that two gods who were brothers introduced them to the mortal world when they had a contest over whose kite could go the highest. It was Marco Polo who finally introduced kite flying to the West. There, it continued to assist in wars, as it had for centuries, but it also began to be used in scientific experiments. Everyone knows the story of how Benjamin Franklin used a kite and a key to prove the lightning is indeed electricity, but Alexander Graham Bell also worked on creating kites that were capable of carrying humans. And the kite was very helpful to the Wright Brothers when they created the first working airplane. In fact, there was a golden age of kiting from about 1860-1910, when the devices were used to further such fields as aeronautics, meteorology, communications, and even photography. By the time World War I came around, kite technology had advanced so much that they were used to spy on enemies and signal allies. Of course, when the airplane came into widespread use, much of kite technology became obsolete, but it was still used to some degree in World War II. Nowadays, there are still some practical uses for kites, but most often, they are used for recreation.

Well, there really is one best way to celebrate National Kite Month - get out and start flying! You can make one yourself or buy it from the store. With the use of materials such as nylon and fibreglass, modern kites are even better than their predecessors. I haven't flown a kite in years, but I used to enjoy it when I was growing up. I remember flying a kite with my Dad at the park - I think it was one I'd made from a plastic garbage bag. It got really high and snapped, of course, ending up tangled in a very high tree across the street. I never saw it again. I'd also fly kites with my grandparents when they came to visit. It was nice to spend time with them. So if you've got any family nearby, taking them out for an afternoon of kite flying might be a fun idea. And if you're near the beach, you've got a great place to fly your kite.  Not only are the winds less likely to have up and down draughts, which can cause the kite to fly erratically, there are also not likely to be any trees to tangle up your kite.  And, no matter where you live, you can also see if there are any local kite flying festivals nearby.  Of course, if you want to go all out, there are now extreme activities that involve kites such as kite surfing, kite landboarding, kite buggying, and snow kiting. Personally, I think I'll leave those to the pros. I'm pretty sure I'd end up with broken bones if I tried any of those out.  But for some good old - or even ancient - fashioned fun, grab your kite, head outside, and watch it go up in the atmosphere.

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