Jack-O’-Lantern

jack o lanternThis plump little pumpkin is made out of a roll of toilet paper! I spotted this project in FamilyFun magazine years ago. Their version was undecorated, and they used fabric and felt for the body and leaves. I needed to use cheaper materials, so my version is made with a piece of plastic tablecloth and construction paper. I also went a step further and decorated the front with a grinning jack-o’-lantern face!

You’ll need:

  • 1 roll of toilet paper
  • A piece of orange plastic table cloth (approximately 20″ x 22″)
  • Brown and green construction paper
  • 1 green pipe cleaner
  • 4 pieces of black self-adhesive foam
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Green marker (optional)

Place the toilet paper roll in the center of the plastic tablecloth, and tuck the tablecloth into the hole in the top of the roll. Next, curl a 5″ x 9″ piece of brown construction paper into a tube and tape it. This is your pumpkin’s stem. Stick the stem in the hole in the top of the roll.

Cut a leaf shape out of a piece of green construction paper. Make sure to leave a 2″ stem at the bottom of the leaf (because the stem needs to firmly anchor the leaf in the toilet paper roll). You can use a green marker to draw a little line on the leaf if you’d like.

pumpkin leafTuck the stem of the leaf into the hole. Curl a green pipe cleaner around a pencil, pen, or marker to make a corkscrew, then tuck it into the hole as well.

Finally, cut your jack-o’-lantern’s eyes, nose, and mouth out of black self-adhesive foam and stick them on your pumpkin (or use black construction paper pieces and tape). You can cut the foam pieces in advance, or the kids can “carve” the pieces on their own. I found a little friend in the gallery who was more than happy to demonstrate her carving skills! Awesome.

decorated jackThe nice thing about this project is that when you are done with it, you can remove the plastic and re-purpose the roll of toilet paper. Now that’s a very useful pumpkin!

Imagine That

long-haired rainbow yakI’d like to introduce you to my imaginary friend Roy, the long-haired rainbow yak. Perhaps you have an imaginary friend too? No? Well, we can certainly help you find one!

We read The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (Little, Brown, 2014). On a far away island where imaginary friends are created, a creature with no name is born. He waits, along with the other imaginary friends, for a child to pick him and give him a special name. But it never happens. So our unnamed hero sets off to find a child on his own. He arrives at a big city and is disappointed at what he finds (no kids eating cake, people in a hurry, and everyone appears in need of a nap). Climbing to the top of a tree, he searches for his friend. No one arrives. He is sad. Suddenly there is a shout! A little girl needs help retrieving her drawing from the branches of the tree. A friendship is born. Alice names her new friend…Beekle. I love this sweet, touching, and beautifully drawn book.

Depending on the type of friend you make, you’ll need:

  • 1 small oatmeal container – OR – 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6”)
  • 1 – 4 toilet paper tubes
  • Construction paper
  • A variety of art supplies (more on this below)
  • Markers for decorating
  • Scissors, tape, glue sticks for construction
  • Hot glue

Katie and I made 4 example friends to demonstrate the variations on oatmeal containers, boxes, and toilet paper tube legs (even though we did have one request for paper towel tube legs, which we happily granted).

yak sidepurplecrocpinkie birdOnce the kids decided on their friend’s body shape and legs, we steered them towards 2 tables (and 2 windowsills) piled with art supplies, warmed up our two hot glue stations (staffed by Katie and myself) and invited them to let their imaginations soar!

You can use any art supplies you’d like of course. Or even go with the simplicity of white construction paper and markers. But just in case you’re interested, here is the list of all the art supplies we provided, pulled from the depths of our storage closet and drawers…

The resulting friends were imaginative and utterly delightful. We managed to capture the majority of them in our temporary photo studio. You can click on any of the thumbnails below to open a larger image. The toilet paper tube legs were very popular, but check out “Cowmoo” and “Rose” rocking some alternative leg styles!

The Dirt on LEGO

the dirt on legosOver the years, people have learned to contact me before they discard things like surplus archive boxes, old folders, and giant tubes. I always find a way to work them into a story time project (even if it means cramming them in a storage closet for months, praying they don’t topple on me while I’m trying to wrestle a stubborn pack of sparkle stems from a bin).

But our most recent acquisition was a little was unusual. It wasn’t office supplies or packing material. It was a LEGO set. An ancient Civil War LEGO set unearthed from the History Department’s graduate study room.

box of legosThe set had collected a considerable amount of dust over the years, and as I pondered its fate, Katie said “You know, I saw some great LEGO cleaning tips on Pinterest. One woman even threw hers in a washing machine!” Really?

I know that many libraries, classrooms, children’s museums, and homes have LEGO and DUPLO sets in them, and that keeping them clean is a concern and a frustration. So we thought it would be helpful to test 3 different cleaning methods on 1 dirty LEGO set and report the results. Katie gamely volunteered. Here is the report, based on her excellent field notes.

TEST #1: WASHING MACHINE

washing machineFor this method, you’ll need a mesh laundry bag (also knows as a lingerie bag). First, Katie removed all the small bricks and tiny pieces (basically, anything that could fall through the holes of the mesh). Then she pulled the rest of the bricks apart, dropped them in the bag, and wrapped a rubber band around the top for extra security. After reading a number of comments and suggestions on the original Pinterest post, Katie decided to wash the bricks using the delicate cycle, in warm water, on low spin.

Katie’s washing machine is a front-loader. The LEGO set was loud. Super loud. 35 minutes of loud. I asked her if she thought a top-loader would have been quieter, and she said that some of the Pinterest commentators used top-loaders and…it was still super loud.

When the machine stopped, Katie discovered that a small handful of LEGOs had escaped the bag. Not so good. The low spin cycle did dry the bricks a little but they definitely needed air drying.

TEST #2: DISHWASHER

dishwasher Katie prepped another set of bricks and put them in a mesh laundry bag on the top rack of her dishwasher. After consulting her machine’s operating manual, she decided to use her “china” setting (warm water, no heat dry). She didn’t want the LEGOs to melt on a hot water/high heat cycle. The dishwasher was much, much quieter. However, the no heat dry meant that the LEGOs were super wet and needed considerable air drying time.

TEST #3: HAND WASH

sinkA final set of LEGOs were prepped and placed in a small mixing bowl with warm water and dish soap. IMPORTANT! When washing LEGOs in your sink, make sure you put in the drain plug in place. LEGOs in garbage disposal = bad news. Wash and rinse the LEGOs thoroughly, then drain.

drying legosToting piles of wet LEGOs, Katie headed outside with some towels and spread the pieces out on her back porch. But the humidity was so high, she had to bring them back inside and spread them out on her kitchen floor overnight, which worked great.

AND…THE RESULTS!

There weren’t any discernible difference between the 3 washing methods. Strangely, the white and yellow bricks still held on to a little dirt (and it’s not just because dirt shows up more on light colors, we examined all the bricks very closely). The blue bricks were the champions of cleanliness. Not a speck of dirt to be seen!

clean legosCleaning LEGOs in a washing machine is not recommended. It’s just too loud and some bricks escaped, which could potentially scratch the interior of your machine. The dishwasher is quiet, quick, and does the job. But if you use anything other than warm water, you risk warping or melting your LEGOs. So if you’re going for the full-out disinfecting, a good old fashioned hand wash is the way to go. Especially since you can use hotter water (and disinfect with vinegar or diluted bleach if you choose).

The sparkling clean LEGOs were immediately put to good use by Katie’s son, who spent a busy afternoon enthusiastically building an impressive football/castle/Civil War reenactment/futuristic battlefield.

legoscapeWant to see what we’ve done with some of our other recyclables? Check out this post!