Quill Pens

quill pensNeed a simple project for a big event? Perhaps these quill pens will do the trick!

Last Saturday, Cotsen hosted a table at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day event. Because of the big crowds, we needed something simple, fun, fast, and literary. Last year, we made flying books. This year, we decided to make Harry Potter-esque quill pens.

We were, of course, dressed in hats and robes. Even though it was 85 degrees out. Because comfort never comes before costuming, am I right?

wizard robes   You’ll need:

First, twist a sparkle stem into the desired shape. We offered 3 different shapes to choose from (even though some kids made their own shapes of course):

stemsPlace the sparkle stem on top of the feather. Then use masking tape to attach the feather and the sparkle stem to the the top of the pen. You can continue covering the pen with tape if you’d like (just make sure you don’t accidentally tape the cap on). Done!

pen from sideBelow you can see the layout of our event table, including a display pen floating in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. It’s always a good idea to have an example of the project displayed somewhere. That way, kids can see what to expect and grown ups can get a jump on gathering the appropriate supplies.

table side 1On the opposite side of our event tent was a mirror activity. Here, kids could use their newly-created quill pens to do some inverted writing and try their skills at mirror mazes.

table side 2The mirror activity is very simple to put together. We duct-taped 6 bookends to the back of an inexpensive door mirror and stood it up on the table.

mirrorSince we weren’t able to staff the mirror activities during the event, we printed up some display instructions (here are my mirror writing instructions). I put the instructions in a double-sided plastic display stand.

instructionsWe stacked practice paper and 4 types of mazes (which we found using Google images) on either side of the mirror. The mazes were really popular, even with older kids!

boys writingLooking for a few more simple Harry Potter crafts? Try these PVC pipe wands, or this wrist owl (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the owl example). Defense Against the Dark Arts enthusiasts might enjoy this boggart!

Metamorphical Magic

meta magicFeed the caterpillar some leaves, place it in a chrysalis, and watch it dramatically emerge as a colorful butterfly! Thanks to the hidden elastic cord, the butterfly appears to soar on it’s very own! It’s a super simple story time project that combines science, art, and magic all in one.

We read Arabella Miller’s Tiny Caterpillar by Clare Jarrett (Candlewick, 2008). While climbing trees, Arabella Miller discovers a tiny caterpillar. She makes him a shoe box home, feeds him cabbage and parsley, observes him shedding his skin, and finally watches him spin a chrysalis. When he emerges weeks later, Arabella Miller discovers that he is something quite new! As he flies into the sky, she calls out an enthusiastic good-bye to her special butterfly.

You’ll need:

Begin with the butterfly! Wrap a toilet paper tube with brown construction paper. Attach sticker eyes (or draw them on with markers) and a smiley mouth (I used a piece of self-adhesive foam, but you can use markers too). Curl an 8″ piece of twistez wire (or pipe cleaner) and tape on the inside of the tube for antennae.

butterfly front Turn the body around, and punch a hole in the back, near the top of the head.

butterfly backCut the butterfly wings from the template (we used manilla card stock, and it looked great). Hot glue your butterfly’s body to the wings – just make sure the wings don’t cover the hole you punched in the back.

wings from backNow decorate both sides of the wings! I offered glue sticks, cellophane, embossed foil paper, tissue circles, dot stickers, and markers.

When the wings are finished, thread a 27″ piece of elastic beading cord through the hole. Knot the ends together, and wrap the knot with a piece of colored masking tape. The taped knot is an important part of the magic trick, so make sure you don’t skip this step! Your finished butterfly is now dangling on an elastic cord loop, secured with a taped knot.

butterfly on cordWe set our butterflies aside so the glue could dry. Just look at these little beauties (Katie shot this with the panorama function on her phone)…

butterflies Next is the caterpillar! Wrap a toilet paper tube with green construction paper, add some stripes with colored masking tape, and attach eye stickers (or draw some eyes on with markers). Use a 4″ piece of twistez wire (or pipe cleaner) to make antennae. Attach the antennae with tape.

caterpillarFinally, we distributed construction paper leaves (which we prepped in advance) and brown paper bags. All that’s left is the magic trick! To work some metamorphical magic, load your butterfly in the bag. Keep the taped knot near the front of the bag where you can easily see it.

taped knotNow “feed” your caterpillar some leaves (the kids LOVED this part).

feeding the caterpillarWhen it’s “full,” place the caterpillar inside the bag (a.k.a. the “chrysalis”). Keeping your hand inside the bag, locate the taped knot. Put the looped cord around your wrist.

the loop Bring your hand outside the bag and grab the top. The cord should still be looped around your wrist.

grabbing the bagSay something like “Behold the magic of nature!” Pull your hand away from the top of the bag. The cord around your wrist will pull the butterfly from the chrysalis as if by magic!

the big reveal

Getting Campy

inside the tentAre you ready for the great outdoors? Enjoy a day of hiking, roast marshmallows over an open fire, and snooze under the stars in a tent. All you need is a sturdy backpack, a few camping essentials, and a couple of awesome outdoor badges!

let's camp

We read When Daddy Took Us Camping by Julie Brillhart (Albert Whitman & Co.,1997). One fine summer day, a Dad and two kids go on a camping trip. They set up their site, go on a hike, dine in the great outdoors, and drift to sleep amid the glow of fireflies. The next morning, still in their pajamas, they hike waaaaaay across the backyard to enjoy a pancake breakfast in the kitchen of their home. A small camping trip no doubt, but still tons of fun!

We made backpacks, loaded them with supplies, and then completed 3 camp activities to earn badges. I used recycled 9.5″ x 14.75″ archive folders to make the backpacks for this project, but you could also use legal-sized manilla folders.

You’ll need:

  • 1 legal-size manilla folder (approximately 8.5″ x 14″)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • A box cutter
  • 2 poster board strips (approximately 1.5″ x 28″)
  • Hole punch
  • A 23.5″ piece of ribbon
  • 1 large button
  • 1 camping supplies template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 3-4 paper towel tubes
  • Red, yellow, and orange construction paper
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • 1 white cotton ball
  • Optional camping badges (more on these later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

You need a backpack to start everything off, so here we go! First, cut the tab off the folder. 

backpack step 1Next, open the folder and cut a rectangle off the top left side (my rectangle was approximately 8.5″ x 5.75″).

backpack step 2Set the rectangle you just cut out aside (you’ll need it later). Use the box cutter to make 4 horizontal slits on the lower right side of the folder. Each slit should be about 2″ long (sorry, they’re a little hard to see in the photo).

backpack step 3Now cut a “scoop” out of the right side of the folder,

backpack step 4Close the folder,

backpack step 5And fold the top flap down over the scoop. You can also shorten the flap if you like (I cut about 1.75″ off mine).

backpack step 6The main part of the backpack is done, now for the straps! Run a piece of patterned tape down the middle of each strip of poster board (I used white poster board, but any color will do). To conserve tape, I only decorated the outside of the strips.

strapsOpen the folder and slide the straps through the slits, just as you see in the photo below.

backpack step 7Close the folder. Staple the open side and bottom of the folder closed, then line the sides of your backpack with masking tape. It’s important to use the masking tape to cover the staples on both sides of the backpack (because no one wants a staple scratch!).

Remember the rectangle you set aside earlier? This will now become the back pocket of your backpack. Cut the rectangle down until fits on the back of the backpack (mine was 3″ x 5″). Decorate the edges with a little patterned tape and then hot glue (or tape) it to the backpack.

pocketA few kids elected to tab their backpack’s pocket, making it stick out slightly from the rest of the backpack. This made it easier for some of them to load and unload the pocket. Here’s an example of a tabbed pocket:

another pocket Finish by hot gluing a button to the flap of the backpack. So here’s what the backpack should look like now: stapled, lined with masking tape, attached back pocket, and a button on the flap.

backpack final stepIf you’d like, you can also add a masking tape loop to the underside of the flap to keep it from flying open while you’re hiking.

Now for adjusting those straps! Press the backpack against your back. Curl a strap over your shoulder and under your arm. When the strap feels comfortable, staple it and cover both sides of the staple with colored masking tape. Repeat with the other strap.

securing strapsLast but not least – the chest strap. The chest strap really helps keep the poster board straps from constantly slipping off. Punch a hole on the outside of the left strap.

punched holeThread a piece of ribbon through the hole…

ribbonThen circle the ribbon around both straps and tie a bow in the front.

chest strapThe backpack is finished, now for the supplies! Color and cut the items from the camping supplies template and load them in your backpack. You’re ready to go!

I explained to the kids that they were going to earn 3 badges: “Hiking,” “Fire Starting,” and “Overnight Camping.” I whipped up the badges using Microsoft Word clip art and Avery sticker templates. I also used markers to add dotted lines around the stickers so the badges would look like they were “sewn” on the backpacks.

badgesThe kids double-checked the supplies in their backpacks, secured their backpacks to their shoulders, and got in line. I donned a floppy hat and old fishing vest (many thanks to Katie’s grandpa) and lead the campers on a hike!

going on hikeWe went outside, circled the library plaza, walked across a grassy area, and rested on some long stone benches. When the hike was finished, I stuck a hiking badge on each backpack.

In the meantime, Katie and Miss Joani (our recently returned student assistant) were back at the library setting up the fire pit. Basically, this was a ring of rocks (made from big pieces of crumpled paper) surrounding paper towel tube “logs.” Initially, we had planned to have kids tape orange, yellow, and red construction paper “flames” around the tubes like this:

fireBut we were running short on time. So the kids simply grabbed handfuls of construction paper flames and tossed them onto the logs, thus “igniting” the fire. Then we speared cotton balls on wooden dowels and “roasted” marshmallows!

roasting marshmallowsI doled out the “Fire Starting” badges and we proceeded…to the tent.

tentKatie’s family does quite a bit of camping, so she brought in one of her tents (complete with authentic campfire odor) for the kids to try. It was a 3-man tent but I we squeezed about 14 kids (and me) in there! We zipped it up and started snoring – thus earning our third, and final, badge for “Overnight Camping.”

The campers then departed, proudly displaying their badges. They got to keep the marshmallow on a stick too. Mmmm. Roasted marshmallows…

little camper