Out of This World

flying saucerMake a flying saucer and watch it whiz down a zip line! This project is the perfect blend of simplicity, creativity, and action. We even have a saucer flight video for you!

We read Space Case, written by Edward Marshall, and illustrated by James Marshall (Puffin Books; reprint edition, 1992). When a bright yellow saucer-shaped thing arrives from outer space, it doesn’t find the natives (a cow, a chicken, and a jack-o-lantern) to be very forthcoming in conversation. But then it encounters three trick-or-treaters, who mistake him for a new kid in the neighborhood. The quartet have a wonderful time trick-or-treating until Buddy McGee realizes that the thing isn’t wearing a costume. He invites it home, and even takes it to school the next day. But when the thing learns there will be no trick-or-treating that night, it prepares to depart. It promises, however, to return for Christmas!

You’ll need:

  • 2 sturdy paper plates
  • 1 strip of poster board (approximately 1.5″ x 22″)
  • A selection of dot stickers
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 3 rectangles of grey construction paper (approximately 2″ x 6″ each)
  • 1 jumbo pom-pom (mine was 1.75″)
  • 1 large wiggle eye
  • 1 clear plastic drinking cup
  • 1 jumbo paper clip (mine was 1.75″ long)
  • Flying saucer decorating materials (more on this below)
  • 6 squares of yellow and/or red cellophane (approximately 5″ x 5″)
  • A length of 24-gauge wire
  • Scissors, stapler and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished saucerFirst, decorate a strip of poster board with dot stickers “lights” (we used silver metallic poster board and yellow dot stickers, but any color combination will do). Circle the poster board strip around the bottom of a paper plate and staple (or tape) the circle closed. In the demonstration photo below, I used purple poster board so it would stand out against the white plate. For the actual project, the poster board was silver with white backing.

circled stripHot glue the poster board circle to the paper plate. Next, squirt a ring of hot glue around the top rim of the poster board circle, then press the second paper plate on top. Your saucer will now look like this:

two plate saucerCut 2 toilet paper tubes in half. Wrap 3 of the tube pieces with grey construction paper, then hot glue them to the bottom of the saucer in a triangular fashion. These are your saucer’s “rocket boosters.”

attached tp tubesSet the saucer aside for the moment. Hot glue a single wiggle eye onto a jumbo pom-pom. This is your “alien.” We prepped a bunch in advance of story tine.

aliensPlace the alien on the top of your saucer, then tape a clear plastic cup over top of it.

undecorated saucer Next, bend the halves of a paper clip apart until it forms a right angle,

bent paper clipThen tape the bottom part of the paper clip securely to the top of the cup. This is the “hook” that connects the saucer to the zip line.

attached hookIt’s time to decorate your saucer! We offered tin foil, embossed foil paper, sparkle stems, dot stickers, and some foil confetti stars I picked up in the party section of Michaels craft store. Try to keep the art materials nice and light so they don’t weight the saucer down too much. Also, don’t let kids attach anything to the paper clip hook. Otherwise, the saucer’s flight down the wire might be hampered.

When you’re finished decorating, stack 2 squares of cellophane on top of one another (we used red and yellow). Pinch the middle of the cellophane squares together, twist them tightly, and secure with tape. Repeat the above steps twice more. You now have 3 “flames” for your saucer’s rocket boosters.

flames  Tape a flame inside each booster. Done!

attached flamesReady to flying your saucer? You’ll just need some wire! I dug this spool of 24-gauge craft wire out of the supply closet. The smoother the wire, the better.

crafting wire

Katie and I stretched 25 feet of wire between the launch site and the landing pad. I handled the launches, Katie handled the landings. To help my grip on the wire, I wrapped my end of the wire around a wooden dowel. I slipped the saucer’s paper clip hook onto the wire, lifted my end of the wire to give the saucer a sliding start, and watched it fly!

Important: Katie and I tested the wire the day before the program. When we were finished, we lightly coiled it and set it on a table. Unfortunately, that was enough to cause the wire to kink. The next day, the first saucer on the wire got snagged on the kinks. We had to quickly unspool a fresh length of wire. After that, it was smooth sailing.

pink saucer

If you’re going to do this project with a crowd of kids, I suggest doing some prep ahead of time. Definitely prep the upper and lower halves of the saucers  (i.e. hot glue the poster board circle to one paper plate, and the 3 tube boosters to the other plate). While the kids were decorating the top half with markers, we used a number system (similar to the ones used in delis and bakeries – we also used it on this project) to call them to the hot glue stations to get the bottom half of their saucer’s attached. Then they wrapped the boosters with grey construction paper, attached the cup, and proceeded to decorating.

Also, in our version of this activity, the kids brought their alien-free saucers to the launching site. I loaded an alien in it, taped the cup down, and then sent the saucer zooming down the zip line. If you decide to do this, make sure the kids attach the cup with just 1 piece of tape. This will allow you to easily lift the cup and place the alien on the saucer. But don’t forget to tape the lid down tightly after that!

Katie also prepped the cellophane flames in advance so there would be plenty of time to fly the saucers. Kids could take as many flights as they wanted.

It was…wait for it…a total blast!

Love That Lute

rock outStrum a merry tune! This box lute was designed for a Robin Hood event. It needed to be quick to assemble, made from super cheap materials, and it had to be sturdy enough to handle even the most energetic Medieval power ballad!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” but a large tissue box works too)
  • Stencils (optional)
  • 10 craft sticks (mine were 4.5″ long)
  • 3-4 rubber bands
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • Hole punch
  • 2 pipe cleaners
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

The first step of the project is optional – use a stencil to decorate the front, back, and sides of your box. I found this brass stencil in the stamp and card making aisle at Michaels craft store. It was $4.99 (I used a 20% off coupon on it too).

brass stencilI used an ultra fine tip Sharpie on different areas of the stencil to create the look you see below. But you could also use markers and simply freehand your box’s decor!

stencilsNext, slide 3-4 rubber bands lengthwise over the box. I used different gauge rubber bands so, when plucked, they would each produce a different sound (Office Max sizes 33, 19, and 18 to be precise).

rubber bandsTo make your lute’s “frets,” stack 5 craft sticks on top of one another, then secure them together with tape. I used masking tape to give the lute a pop of color, but scotch tape works too! Try to stick the tape close to the ends of the sticks, where it won’t interfere with the rubber bands. Repeat the above steps with the second set of craft sticks. We prepped the frets in advance, to speed along the construction process at the event.

stacked and taped sticks Slide the frets under the rubber bands. Give the rubber bands a few experimental plucks!

fretsSet the box aside for a moment, and use scissors to cut a paper towel tube down to 8″. Punch four holes in the bottom of the tube like so:

punched holesThen thread two pipe cleaners through the holes.

threaded pipe cleanersNow place the threaded tube on top of the box. Bend and tape the pipe cleaners firmly to the top of the box…

taped neckThen curl the ends of the pipe cleaners upwards!

curled

You might be wondering why I didn’t use hot glue to attach the bottom of the tube to the box. The reason is this: the Robin Hood event was 5 hours long and drew big crowds (over 3,000 people). When events get that long and large, I find non-heated adhesives for projects (like the glue dots used on this pom-pom cannon). So, pipe cleaners and tape it was!

You can leave the top of the tube undecorated (which somewhat replicates the actual neck of a lute and it’s angled-back pegbox). Or, you can curl the ends of 2 pipe cleaners and tape them to the top of the tube for some extra flourish.

finished lute

Say Freeze!

say freezeWhat happens when you give a bunch of penguins a camera? In order to find out, we made oatmeal container penguins and armed them with tea tin cameras. The results? Here’s one image…scroll to the bottom of the post to see the rest!

penguin with witherspoonWe read Penguins by Liz Pichon (Orchard Books, 2008). It’s a regular day at the zoo…until a little girl accidentally drops her camera into the penguin habitat. Curious, the penguins gather round. It doesn’t take them long to figure out how the camera works, and pretty soon everyone is having a good time taking pictures! When the camera stops working, the penguins quickly put it back where they found it. The next day, the zookeeper finds the camera and returns it to the little girl. After the pictures are developed, she’s surprised to find photos of monkeys, lions, tigers, elephants, and lots and lots and lots of penguins (don’t miss the adorable fold out photos at the end of the book)!

Both parts of this project are very simple to make. Parents, caregivers, and kids were especially tickled by the tea tin cameras with a clicking shutter button.

camera frontYou’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • 2 rectangles of orange poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 3.25″)
  • 1 circle of black construction paper (approximately 5.25″ in diameter)
  • 1 rectangle of white construction paper (approximately 5.75″ x 9″)
  • Black construction paper
  • 1 triangle of yellow self-adhesive foam (approximately 1.5″ tall)
  • 2 black dot stickers for eyes (optional)
  • 1 Twinings brand tea tin
  • 1 strip of construction paper, any color (approximately 2.75″ x 12″)
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A 17″ piece of ribbon, any color
  • 1 scotch tape core (approximately 1.5″ in diameter)
  • 1 small circle of mirror board or tin foil (approximately 1″ in diameter)
  • 1
  • 1 small rhinestone
  • 1 penguin viewfinder template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 bug clicker (more on this below)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished penguinPenguin first, then camera! First, tape (or hot glue) a black construction paper circle to the top of a large oatmeal container. Then, cut 2 rectangles of orange poster board into penguin feet. Hot glue them to the bottom of the container.

penguin feetWrap a rectangle of white construction paper around the front of the oatmeal container (right above the feet) and secure with tape. Next, wrap a piece of black construction paper around the back of the oatmeal container and secure it with tape (or hot glue). The black construction paper will overlap the white construction paper, creating your penguin’s white tummy and black “jacket.”penguin tummy and jacketCut a pair of rounded penguin flippers out of black construction paper, then tape (or hot glue) them to the sides of the container. Add a self-adhesive foam triangle beak and two dot sticker eyes (or skip the stickers and draw the eyes with markers). Use markers to add a pair of eyebrows and you’re done!

Now for the camera! Wrap a tea tin with construction paper (I went with classic black). Add strips of patterned tape to the top and bottom.

camera steps 1 and 2To make a camera strap, take the lid off the tea tin and tape the ends of a ribbon inside it. Close the lid, and your strap is extra secure!

interior of tinNow for the camera’s focusing ring, lens, flash, shutter button, and viewfinder:

camera front labeledTo make the “focusing ring,” wrap the outside of a tape core with construction paper. Since I used cardboard tape cores, I colored the outside rim with a black marker. Here’s a before and after shot:

wrapped tape coreHot glue the core to the middle of the tin, then hot glue a small circle of mirror board inside the core. The mirror board is your camera’s “lens.” You could also use tin foil. To make your camera’s “flash,” hot glue a clear plastic rhinestone to the top of a large plastic button, then hot glue the button to the upper right corner of the tin.

flashThe “shutter button” of this camera is actually a bug clicker. Have you seen these things?

bug clickerWhen you press the little plastic tab on the back of the device, it makes a crisp clicking sound. I bought my clickers on Amazon, but I’ve also seen them in party supply stores and the dog training section of pet stores. At our story time, we covered the outside and sides of the clicker with black masking tape, then hot glued it to the lid of the tea tin. But you can skip the tape and glue them straight to the tea tin if you’d like!

clicker placementYou’ll notice the clicker is mounted off-center on the lid, and the clicker’s tab is close to the edge of the lid. That’s important! You want those little fingers to be able to reach up and click the shutter button.

Because most kids are used to digital cameras with viewfinders, I added a viewfinder to the back of the tea tin (with an image of a penguin, of course!). Print and cut a penguin from the template, and then use masking (or patterned) tape to attach it to the back of the camera.

camera back Project in hand, kids scattered to different parts of the gallery to pose their penguins and take “pictures” with their cameras.

penguin in galleryThere may have been a penguin photobomb or two…

penguin photobombThe fun continued at home! Look at this lovely photo shoot:

penguin posesMysteriously, my camera went missing for a few hours that day. Imagine my surprise when the following shots were e-mailed to me…

penguin 0penguin 1penguin 2penguin 3penguin 4penguin 5penguin 6penguin 7penguin 8penguin 10penguin 11penguin 9penguin 12


Charles Willson Peale, George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, 1783–84. Oil on canvas. Princeton University, commissioned by the Trustees. Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.