Yes, They Do Float

coconut experimentI’m talking about coconuts of course. If you’re ever stranded on a tropical island and need to make an escape raft…yes, coconuts do indeed float. This experiment was part of To Be Continued, our reading program for 6 to 8 year-olds. You can read about some of our other activities here and here.

We read Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr (Yearling, 1999). Nim is a little girl who lives on a beautiful, yet isolated, tropical island with her scientist father, Jack. When Jack leaves for a three day research trip at sea, Nim is left alone on the island with her friends Fred the marine iguana, Selkie the sea lion, and Chica the sea turtle. The family hut is equipped with a laptop computer, and Nim is delighted to learn that Alex Rover, world-famous adventure novelist, has written Jack to inquire if it is possible to build a coconut raft. So far, so good…but…Jack doesn’t return as expected, days pass, and Nim finds her surivival skills put to the test. Her correspondence with Alex (i.e. Alexandra!) Rover continues, and another story begins to unfold. A story about facing fears, courage, and love.

The kids asked many questions during the reading of this book (more on that below), but the one that intrigued me the most was – do coconuts really float? I decided that we needed to find out.

coconut Finding coconuts wasn’t difficult. Whole Foods Market carries them in their produce section, as did Wegman’s, a local grocery chain here. I never realized how cute coconuts were – in a hairy sort of way.

I put the coconuts in one dish tub, and filled another dish tub with water. The experiment was ready!

coconut experiment set upBut before we embarked on some coconut science, I set a tropical mood by handing out colorful leis and putting on an Echoes of Nature: Ocean Waves CD (Delta Music, 1993).

leisI let everyone pick up the coconuts and examine them. Then we took a vote. Who thought the coconuts were going to float? Why? Who thought they were going to sink? Why? Coconuts are very hard and rather heavy. So they’re going to sink, right? I rolled them into the water. They floated!

they float

Then we moved to a different table to try yet another coconut experiment – a taste test!

coconut waterCoconut water is all the rage these days. It’s the actual liquid that comes from inside a coconut (as opposed to coconut milk, which is made from the grated meat of the coconut). This is the stuff Nim drinks in the book, so we tasted it! The reactions to the flavor, as you can see, were a bit mixed…

taste testBut everyone gave it a good try (one little girl even asked her mom if she could get some for home!). Typically, I don’t do food in my programs (you can read more about this in my food allergy post). And, in fact, one of the kids participating in this program did have a food allergy to dairy. But the connection to the book was so fabulous, I decided to put in some legwork to make it possible.

First, I checked Vita Coco labels to see if there was any potential contamination with dairy products (there’s not, it’s actually a vegan product). I doubled checked with the company. Then, the week before the activity, I approached the mother of the child with the food allergy and explained what I wanted to do and what I had learned from the company. I brought the Vita Coco packaging with me so she could check the label herself. After Mom gave the OK, we were good to go!

Having floated coconuts and tasted coconut water, we had one more connection to make. In the books, Nim plays coconut soccer with Fred, Selkie, and Chica. Unfortunately, it was raining outside so we couldn’t try our version of it, but we did try coconut bowling!

coconut bowling 2Basically, I set up two sets of 6 toilet paper tube “pins” and let ‘em rip! And there you have it. Three fabulous Nim’s Island activities, all inspired by the humble, yet surprisingly versatile, coconut!

A few of the other questions that came up during this book were:

  1. What’s a machete?
    A quick trip to Google images solved this one.
  2. What does a marine iguana, sea lion, and sea turtle look like?
    Google images again!
  3. What’s the difference between an ocean and a sea?
    A sea is part of the ocean partially enclosed by land (from National Ocean Service)
  4. Are coconut pearls real?
    Apparently, they’re a myth. Boo.

Incredible Illusions

illustrious illusionsBehold the mystery…the wonder…the spectacle…of your very own mini magic show!

magic tricksThis project was the culminating event at To Be Continued, our weekly story time for 6 to 8-year-olds. Every week, we read from a chapter book and celebrate the the end of the entire book with a project and/or activity.

We read Horton’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans (the sequel to Horton’s Mechanical Mechanisms (Sterling Children’s Books, 2012)). Young Stuart Horton moves to the town of Beeton and expects to be thoroughly bored. However, he soon discovers that he is part of a magical legacy left by his Great Uncle Tony, who was a stage magician and illusionist. In the first book, Stuart and his friend April solve a series of complicated clues and find Uncle Tony’s secret workshop. In the sequel, the friends again embark on a journey. This time, they’re searching for Great Uncle Tony’s will, which bequeths the contents of his workshop to whoever finds the document first. Clues are hidden in each of his magical stage illusions, but…the magical worlds inside the illusions are real and in some cases, dangerous. And Stuart and April aren’t the only one interested in getting their hands on those tricks.

We definitely needed some incredible illusions to celebrate the conclusion of these awesome books. I designed these individual mini magic shows to be easy enough for 6-year-olds to do, but intriguing enough for 8-year-olds. After consulting a number of children’s magic books, I found Amazing Magic Tricks: Beginner Level by Norm Barnhart (Edge Books, 2008) to be the most useful. The 4 tricks described in this post are from this book.

You’ll need:

  • 1 memory box (more about this below)
  • A 10.5″ piece of PVC pipe (05.” in diameter)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 1 paper cup
  • 1 paper (or fabric) flower
  • 1 empty seed packet (or small envelope simply marked “Magic Seeds”)
  • A 9″ x 12″ piece of felt (I used the glitter variety)
  • hat rabbit carrot template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 Styrofoam coffee cup
  • A selection of foil star stickers
  • 2 playing cards
  • A 1″ foam paintbrush (or regular paintbrush)
  • Scissors and tape for construction

You’ll need a box with a lid to store your tricks and shield your hands from the audience as you prepare your tricks. A memory box is perfect for this. I purchased mine at Michaels Craft store. I went with black, but they come in all sorts of colors and patterns.

memory boxDecorate the lid of your box however you like (I found some self-adhesive glitter foam stars in the clearance section at the craft store) then slide the lid onto the box like so. This creates a “screen” and a “backstage” area to prep your tricks.

magic boxNext, wrap colored masking tape around the PVC pipe. Your magic wand is ready!

wand

TRICK #1: HIDDEN FLOWER

The most important thing about this trick is making sure the flower is small enough to hide in your fist. I purchased 1.25″ paper flowers for the kids (scored on discount from the scrap booking section of the craft store).

flowerBehind your box’s screen, grab the flower in your fist. Then use the same hand to hold the paper cup with your fingers.

flower trick 1To perform the trick, show the audience that your cup is empty. Then say “Oh no! It’s empty. Well, good thing I have some stupendous magic seeds!” Pick up the empty seed packet and pretend to pour seeds into the cup.

flower trick 2Wave the wand around muttering magical incantations. While the audience is distracted by the wand, open your fingers and drop the flower into the cup. Shout “Ta da!” and show them that a flower has magically appeared!

flower trick 3TRICK #2: FIND THE RABBIT

Print the hat, rabbit, carrot template. Fold and tear the strip in 2 places, like your see below. It’s really important that your TEAR the strip. Don’t cut it with scissors!

rabbit trickTo perform the trick, hold up the 3 image cards and say “You see a hat, a rabbit, and some carrots, but with my amazing magical skills, I will pull the rabbit from under this cloth every time!” Turn your back and have an audience member arrange the 3 image cards on the table and cover them with felt.

rabbit trick 2Reach underneath the felt and feel the edges of the image cards with your fingers.

rabbit trick 3The rabbit will be the only image card with two torn edges. Remove it from under the cloth with a flourish! Repeat with a difference audience member. Astounding!

rabbit trick 4TRICK #3: BALANCING CUP

First, decorate a Styrofoam cup with foil star stickers. Next, cut a playing card in half, lengthwise. Tape one half of the cut playing card to the back of another card. The half of the playing card should “hinge” outward like so

cup trick 1To perform the trick, flatten the hinge to the card and hold it up to your audience, keeping the taped side facing your body. Invite an audience member to come forward and try to balance the Styrofoam cup on top of the card. Then say “You see it is impossible. But I will now use magic to make the impossible, possible!”

While you’re talking, sneak a finger up the card and open the hinge on the back, forming an area for the cup to balance. From the side, it looks like this:

cup trick 2But from the front, it looks like the cup is now balancing on the card!

cup trick 3TRICK #4: MAGIC GLUE

To perform this trick, tell the audience that you have magic glue. Hold up a paintbrush and Invite an audience member to come up and “paint” your hand with the magical glue. For my version of the trick, we used 1″ foam paintbrushes I had left over from another program.

wand trick 1Now hold the wand in your “glued” hand. Say “Observe my stupendous magical glue!” Extend your arm across your body and out to your side, still grasping the wand. Next, wrap your free hand around the wrist of your wand hand. Slowly and dramatically, lift each finger from the wand until you no longer appear to be holding it.

wand trick 2But you are holding it of course. Because when you grasp your wrist, you sneak a finger behind your wand hand and hold the wand like this:

wand trick 3Now have the audience clap once to have the wand “detach” from the magic glue. Carefully lift your finger to release the wand, and let it fall dramatically to the floor. Take a big bow.

The kids absolutely loved this project. I performed the whole show first, and then I deconstructed all the tricks and each kid made his/her own set. If, by the way, you’d like to see the awesome mechanisms we made after reading Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms (the first book in this set), click here.

Our Most Popular Event Sign, Ever

best event sign everNo, it’s not a sign that says “Free Cupcakes.”

Our most popular event sign, the sign that people were lining up to take pictures of, the sign that a middle school teacher took home, the sign that another teacher asked me to send her the copy for, was…wait for it…the “Jobs You Don’t Want” sign at a large-scale Robin Hood event my library hosted in 2012. Yes, the medieval equivalent of Dirty Jobs nearly stole the show.

The sign was displayed at the “Jobs You Don’t Want” table, which was hosted by the Princeton Tour Company. The folks at the Princeton Tour Company are always up for fun ways to connect kids to history, so when I pitched my idea about medieval occupational grossness, they barely flinched.

So, ready to read some truly awful job descriptions? Click here: Jobs You Don’t Want

At the event table, kids could try their hand at another classic medieval job – rat catching. To create the rat catching game, I scoured thrift stores for “garbage.” Among other things, I scored a couple old baskets, a tarnished metal tray, two dirty wooden bucket thingees, an extremely ancient leather slipper, wooden bowls, a metal tankard, a stained bolster, some gourds, and an old horseshoe. I also provided some paper crinkle to accentuate that “trash heap feeling.” Then we placed small plastic rats in various locations in the trash heap.

garbageKids attempted to “catch” a rat by using rat catching cages (i.e. plastic baskets strung on curtain rods). If you successfully lowered the cage over a rat, you got to keep it! You could play multiple times too, and therefore assemble quite a collection.

rat catchingAlso included at this event – professional stage fighters, archery, knights in armor, live period music, medieval fashions, a castle play area, siege engines, alchemy, illuminated letters, forest survival, stained glass, a kid-friendly alehouse, dragons, unicorns, live hawks, venison chili, a tax game (featured here in our sneaky math post), a pair of court jesters, and a food drive to benefit a local food bank. Check out the 2-page event map!