Messing With Monet

messing with monetAh, Monet. The play of light, of shadow, a moment of time captured, suspended, like a ripe fruit for the viewer to feast upon. What must it be like to create such artwork? Well, now you can find out!

master kitzThis is a snazzy little art kit by a company called Master Kitz. Using the provided materials (templates, paint, roller brushes, stencils, pastels, etc.) kids can recreate works by Van Gogh, Klimt, Hokusai, Matisse, and others. When I spotted their “Water Lilies by Claude Monet” kit discounted on Amazon for less than $20, I couldn’t resist. Now all I needed was a kid to test the kit.

kid testerEnter Hope, Pop Goes the Page’s official kid-tester! Last year, Hope was a member of Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group. She’s a smart and savvy writer with a great sense of humor. In other words, the perfect person to test a product and write about it. So, what did Hope think of this kit? Below is her complete report!


This kit had really cool packaging! The kit includes includes soft pastels (blue, green, violet, light blue, white, pink, red, yellow, and aqua), two pieces of artist’s paper, stencils (a green lily pad stencil and a yellow flower stencil), two “shadow makers” (i.e. plastic yellow lily pads), instructions (the instructions were two sided and were a beautiful fold out poster that included valuable information about Monet), and a “shammy”(i.e. a piece of cloth). The stencils and paper were rolled up inside the box, so they were understandably bent. However, all of the other materials were in great condition.

suppliesThe directions recommend taping a piece of newspaper to the table you are working on and doing the project over the newspaper. LISTEN TO THE DIRECTIONS!!! This project is incredibly messy, and you should wear an artists’ smock or an old t-shirt to protect your clothes! To get started on the project, you tape a piece of the provided artists’ paper on the table (masking tape works best because it won’t rip the paper as easily as regular scotch tape, but you should test it on an inconspicuous place first). However, doing this leaves the places the tape covered uncolored, so at the end of the project, you should smudge the pastels to cover the blank spots.

cornerIt’s not made clear in the directions, but to follow “artsy etiquette,” make sure you have the rough side of the paper facing down (it doesn’t make a significant amount of difference whether or not you use the rough side or the smooth side of the paper, but it’s proper to use the smooth side).

After taking these preliminary cautionary steps, it’s time to begin your masterpiece! First you slide the lily pad stencil underneath the paper. Taking a colored pastel (blue, violet, or light blue works best, because you’re coloring the water) out of the box, rub the pastel all over the paper until an impression of the lily pads is visible. You can use several colors (same pastel(s) as above) to give your art a truly “Monet” effect. Using the “shammy,” gently rub over the whole paper, blending the pastels (this step justifies how messy the kit is! POOF! Dust everywhere!).

water stepRemoving the lily pads out from underneath your “canvas,” tape it on top of the paper so it lines up with the outlines you just made. Use green, yellow, white – or anything you like to shade in the shapes. To make the job go faster, use your finger to blend the pastels (by this point my fingers were all brownish). But be careful! When I was testing this kit, the sharp parts of the stencils pricked me! OUCH!

almost doneWhen you are finished making the lily pads, you carefully (SLOWLY!) take the stencil off the paper. Be sure not to jerk! If you do, the pastel dust will spray EVERYWHERE!

Time to take out the flower stencil! Using the same method of shading in, choose a few places to put flowers. You can be creative with this step, but it’s not necessary to do at all. Now it’s time to draw some reeds! Just draw a few green wisps in the desired section. I found that drawing the reeds in the darkest area of the water made the reeds show up the best.

Shadow making time! The “shadow makers” are the two plastic lily pad shapes I mentioned. Theoretically, you place them over the identical lily pad on your sheet, and trace around the front part, then smudge it down for a shadow effect. However, since there are only two shadow makers, it’s pointless to give shadows to two lily pads. I used the two shadow makers provided, but then I improvised, carefully traced around the lily pads (without a shadow maker) and smudged the pastel down to create a shadow.

shadingThe step above is technically the last step, but I recommend this additional step (which is not mentioned in the instructions). To seal in the prodigious amount of dust caused by the project (remember, it’s not cool when dust is flying everywhere! Especially colored dust!), Dr. Dana rushed out to CVS to buy some cheap hairspray as sealant. The hairspray (Aqua Net, to be exact) was “unscented” but was still really smelly! We attempted to use it outside, but due to some wind we used the library’s restroom. The effort was successful, and the pastels stayed on!

The box of this kit recommends itself for “Ages 4-104,” but I strongly disagree. This project is better suited for ages 9-104! Although, for you 104 year-olds out there: this project may take a toll on your back!

finishedI found this kit easy to use, quick to complete (30 minutes), and fun to do! It was SUPER messy, and sometimes the instructions were unclear, but all in all, I’d rate this project 4 out of 5 stars.


Claude Monet, Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, 1899. Oil on canvas. From the Collection of William Church Osborn, Class of 1883, trustee of Princeton University (1914-1951), president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1941-1947); given by his family. Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Science Friday

the eggbot 3While I certainly do my fair share of fiction-focused programs, I consider non-fiction programs to be (dare I say it?) just as much fun. And for today’s adventure in non-fiction, we’re talking science!

We’ve offered some interesting science programs in the past. Take, for example, the Chemistry of Magic, in which we demonstrated the real science behind seemingly magical reactions. Or this Rube Goldberg engineering program. Or even this humble preschool story time that featured the life stages of a butterfly. This week, to get a healthy dose of vitamin “S,” I dropped in on my friends at scienceSeeds.

scienceSeeds team

Team scienceSeeds: John, Michal, and Lindsay

ScienceSeeds is a local science enrichment center for grades K-8 . It was founded in 2008 by Michal Melamede. While raising her children, she noticed a lack of hands-on, age-appropriate, science and engineering opportunities. So Michal decided to establish a business that would encourage curiosity, exploration, discovery, and scientific thinking.

Visiting scienceSeeds is always fun. Especially when they let me play with their toys! Here are a few of their current favorites. Perhaps one or two will inspire a little science at your next program?

JOHN’S FABULOUS CANDELABRA

lamp 2I have to start with this one because I’m such a hot glue devotee. This is an LED lamp with hot glue stick shades! It was designed by John to demonstrate circuits, fiber optics and light behavior. He used a hot glue gun to hollow out the bottom of 5 hot glue sticks, and then rigged up a series of little LED bulbs on a simple circuit. Everything was attached to a foam core base, and then the base was wrapped with decorative duct tape. I love it.

HYDRAULIC BUTTERFLY

butterflyThis is another project designed by scienceSeeds staff to teach hydraulics. Using two water-filled syringes and tubing, the butterfly lifts its wings up and down. The syringes are from a medical supply company, the tubing is from a science catalog, the base is wood, the wings are made from foam board, and the butterfly’s body is a clothespin. A little duct tape here and there and you’re ready to go. They also have versions with an owl, a bat, and a dump truck!

FOAM BOARD AUTOMATAUN

star boxOne final project from scienceSeeds’ workshop! This one demonstrates how simple machines and mechanisms work. Turn the crank and the movement of the wooden gears and rods causes the star to spin. The base is made from foam board, the sticks are bamboo skewers, and the gears are little wooden circles purchased from Michael’s craft store. A little hot glue and duct tape seals the deal.  And just look at this sweet double gear version!

bee boxMark my words…I’m GOING to find a way to work a foam board automataun into a story time project. It shall be done. Oh yes, it shall.

THE EGGBOT

the eggbot 3This is a recent acquisition at the workshop. It’s the EggBot, an art robot that can draw on round surfaces like eggs, light bulbs, ping pong balls, ornaments, etc. It hooks up to your computer and, with some lovely freeware, will take a design or image and put it right on your object! scienceSeeds is using it to teach CNC and automated design. Here are a couple test subjects…

lightbulbsAlas, an EggBot kit like the one above retails for $219, so it’s well out of my budget. The company that sells it is called Evil Mad Science LLC. Hah hah hah! Minions not included.

CONFETTI VACUUM CLEANER

vacuumThis is a modification of a cardboard kit the staff tested. They found that a 1 liter bottle and plastic propeller worked much better than a cardboard tube and propeller. The foam board base holds a simple circuit that connects to a motor. As the motor spins the propeller, it creates a wind tunnel in the bottle that sucks up pieces of confetti. It’s the perfect way to teach engineering and air flow. It’s wildly popular with the kids too.

THE 3-DOODLER

3-doodlerIt might be a little hard to see this in the photo, but this device lets you do 3-dimentional drawings! That thin green line you see isn’t drooping down from the tip of the doodler. It’s rising up from the piece of paper and standing on its own! You insert little plastic sticks of various colors into one end of the “pen.” The plastic emerges in liquid form out the other end, but quickly hardens. With some practice, you can “draw” amazing 3D creations like these:

popcafe everestrobotscienceSeeds likes to use the 3-Doodler for their 3D modeling workshops, sometimes in conjunction with their 3D printer. A 3-Doodler pen retails for about $100, and additional plastic sticks are approximately $10 for 25. I noticed that the pen makes a loud whirring noise while being operated (a little louder than an electric toothbrush). The staff also mentioned that after extended periods of use, you can smell burning plastic. The smell bothers some kids. But those things aside, it’s a cool little drawing tool.

I’ll leave you with a photo of scienceSeeds’ classroom space. Look at the cheerful red cabinets! The under-the-counter adjustable storage! The cool green chairs! Now imagine it packed full of kids creating, discovering, building, and innovating. Fantastic.

room shot

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!