Balancing & Blogging

blogging and balancingEvery spring, as the academic year winds down here at Princeton University, I take a look at my own programming year. I assess its scope, its workload, and then I balance and tweak if necessary. And that is how, after much debate, I decided that Pop Goes the Page will now post just once a week, and that day shall be Tuesday, in the morning.

That is not to say that there will not be a Friday post from time to time! Whenever a new author interview premieres on the Bibliofiles (and new one is coming up in May!) I will definitely send out an announcement. If you’re worried you might miss them, please consider adding yourself to the subscriber list.

Having published close to 175 posts, I thought it would be interesting to see which ones have been the most popular. Here are the top 5, in ranking order…

  1. Magical Miniatures
  2. Mythomagic
  3. Beware of Squirrel
  4. Fly You High
  5. Everyone’s an Engineer

Our reining pin on Pinterest? Fair Trade. It’s been added to classroom boards, Wild West boards, historical fiction boards, Ox Cart Man boards, Early America boards…wow. You go, little covered wagon!

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Tuesday!

La Cucaracha

cockroach pizza boxDon’t panic! Those are FAKE cockroaches winding their way through a pizza box maze. The roaches crawl beautifully, thanks to a hidden magnet wand positioned underneath the box. This project is from To Be Continued, our story time for 6 to 8 year-olds. It was a big hit!

We read Measle and the Wrathmonk by Ian Ogilvy (Harper Collins, 2004). Young Measle Stubbs lives in a grim house on an abandoned street. His legal guardian, Basil Tramplebone, is a very strange man. He always wears black. His skin is ghostly pale. And oddly, whenever Basil goes outside, a raincloud follows him. But up in the attic of Basil’s horrible house is the world’s most amazing train set, and Measle desperately wants to play with it. He throws together a wild plan to get into the attic – and gets caught. While Measle certainly expects Basil to be angry, he doesn’t expect Basil to shrink him down to a half an inch and put him in the train set! Measle soon discovers he’s not the only victim trapped on the set. Can Measle and his gang put together a plan to defeat Basil?

I won’t give away too much, but there are some terrific giant cockroach chase scenes on the train table. For the project, I toyed with the idea of making a miniature train set obstacle course inside a box top. But then opted for something simpler and quicker to construct – a drinking straw maze. Building off a marble maze project I spotted on Pinterest (you can see it pinned to my board here), I decided to replace the marble with a magnetic plastic cockroach.

plastic cockroachYou’ll need:

  • 1 pizza box
  • 1 plastic roach (I purchased mine on Amazon – a set of 12 was $4.58)
  • 2 button magnets
  • 1 wine cork
  • Drinking straws
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

To make your magnet “wand,” hot glue a button magnet to the top of a wine cork, then hot glue a second button magnet to the bottom of the plastic cockroach.

cockroach magnet corkAfter some trial and error, we determined that using 2 different sized button magnets (0.5″ and 0.75″) worked best for our roaches and pizza boxes.

Slice Between, a local pizza shop, gave us a deal on 2 dozen pizza boxes (a copy paper box lid would work too, but I thought pizza boxes would be a better match for the creepy cockroaches). During the story time workshop kids cut, arranged, and taped drinking straws into maze configurations. Some kids expanded the maze to both sides of the box!

double box topTo navigate your cockroach through the maze, place the cockroach on top of the box. Hold your cork magnet wand against the underside of the box, directly underneath the cockroach. The two magnets will connect through the cardboard and you can mosey your cockroach through the maze!

Two hints for this project:

  1. When attaching the straws to the box, keep the tape as flat as possible. Bumps or raised bunches of tape might hinder your roach’s movement through the maze.
  2. When guiding your roach through the maze, move the cork wand slowly. If you go too fast, the magnets tend to break their connection.

I had markers handy in case anyone wanted to decorate their boxes (or make “Start” and “Finish” lines for their mazes), but some kids used the markers to create some fan art. Here’s Basil, his stinky Wrathmonk breath, and an indication of what happens to him later in the book:

wrathmonk fan art 1And here’s yet another portrait of Basil, with a little hint about his ultimate fate:

wrathmonk fan art 2Measle and the Wrathmonk (and its sequels) are fantastic. They’re fun, scary, creative, and even though Wrathmonks are horribly evil, they’re terribly funny too. Ian Ogilvy was a well-known English actor before he became a children’s author, and it shows in his talent for dialogue, pace and characterizations. Measle and the Wrathmonk is delightful to read aloud and had the kids hooked right from the beginning. Honestly, you could hear a pin drop when I was reading certain sections of the story!

Get It Together

get it togetherYou are gazing at the most recent addition to my crafting toolbox. Plastic envelopes! Or, to get technical, poly string envelopes from OfficeMax (the ones pictured above are the “check” size at 5.5″ x 10″). A pack of 5 costs $10.

I love these things. Why?

Our projects often involve little bits and pieces we prep in advance. During story time, as we progress through the project, we have to continually pause to hand out the little pieces. This can take precious time away from crafting (especially when you have large crowds to navigate through). So I started putting all the little pieces together in envelopes and handing an envelope to each kid at the start of the project. Here’s an envelope in action a taxi cab story time:

taxi envelopeI’ve used the envelope system on a number of projects (this mouse clock, this beekeeping set, this bottle airplane, this paint set, this bed tray, and this wooly mammoth, for example). Since the envelopes are plastic, it’s very easy to wipe off stray marker and/or glue. If you don’t have paper or plastic envelopes handy, you can always drop the small pieces into cheap plastic cups (like I did at this candy factory story time).

And while we’re on the topic of organization, I definitely recommend art caddies for keeping your tabletop supplies in check! I bought mine from Discount School Supply. A set of 4 colors cost $25. They are “classroom grade” and practically indestructible.

art caddyHowever, when it came time to put together a home art studio for my kids, I went with a cheaper $4 version from Michals craft store. The plastic is thinner and the carrying handle isn’t quite as comfortable, but all in all, they’ve held up pretty well!

As you can probably guess, I like to be organized. Way organized. In fact, I’ve turned organization into a super power. The way I see it, I don’t want to spend time hunting for my scissors. I want to spend as much time as possible being creative. If I know exactly where my scissors are, I don’t have to give it another thought. Apply this principal on a larger scale and you get my library’s art supply cabinet:

art cabinetHere, supplies are sorted into plastic bins, dish tubs, copy paper boxes, salvaged paper trays…you name it! For oddly sized or bulky objects (like pom-poms), I use plain old plastic storage bags with zipper closures. I also have a neat-o scissor rack I wrote about in this post.

You would think I would be tidy while crafting, but no. During the process of creating a project or piece of art, I make a total mess. I spread out everywhere, tossing things right and left, gently shedding curls of paper and sticking bits of tape to my pants. Just look at the crafting carnage that was generated during the building of this haunted house.

tremendous messBut when the job is done, everything goes back in its proper place. I cannot leave my office a mess at the end of the day. And I can’t start a project with a messy office either. It’s weird, but somehow I make this organization/creation contradiction work for me.

One final tip! Since I don’t have any counters or spare table space in my program area, I work off an old book truck. All the supplies are prepped and ready to go, and I just roll it right into the workshop area during the program. It also doubles as a portable hot glue station.

book truckSometimes, however, even this humble book truck has its moments of glory…

horse and riders