Buckets of Fun

buckets of funA bucket is a very useful thing…but is it entrancing? This bucket is! Hold it up to the light and you will discover it holds an ocean ecosystem full of fun, including fish, coral, a manta ray, a shark, a starfish, and more!

inside of bucketWe read Billy’s Bucket, written by Kes Gray and illustrated by Garry Parsons (Candlewick, 2003). Billy doesn’t want a bike, sneakers, or a computer game for his birthday. He wants a bucket. Yes, a bucket. At Buckets R’ Us, Billy spots a special bucket (“19 shelves up and 78 across from the top”), fills it with water, and begins to report the most astounding things. He sees shrimp, a shark, a sting ray, sea lions, dolphins, divers, and possibly a mermaid! His parents chuckle at their son’s active imagination. Jokingly, they ask if they can use the bucket for some household chores. But Billy warns them that they must never EVER borrow his bucket. The next day, Dad doesn’t heed Billy’s warning and sets off the wash the family car. He quickly discovers that Billy was right. There is something special about the bucket! Now how are they going to get that whale back in the bucket?

You’ll need:

  • A 2.5 quart clear plastic bucket (more on this below)
  • Construction paper
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • A selection of dot stickers and/or other stickers for decoration
  • 1 circle of blue cellophane (approximately 9.5″ in diameter)
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board (approximately 5.5″ x 18″)
  • 1 sea creatures template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 3 pieces of (no more than 4″ each)
  • A selection of fabric flowers (optional)
  • 1 small seashell (optional)
  • Fish stickers (optional)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

A word about buckets. Size is not important. The most important thing is that the bucket has a clear plastic bottom to allow light through. I found this little 2.5 quart mixing bucket in the paint section of Lowe’s (for other fantastic hardware finds, click here and here). It was perfect.

bucket step 1First, wrap the outside of the bucket with construction paper. One long piece of construction paper resulted in ugly gaps at the top and bottom. So we decided to use three, 5.25″ x 7.5″ rectangles of construction paper. It worked great. You can cover your bucket with a single color, or mix it up (we offered orange, red, green, and yellow paper). Once covered, decorate the outside of the bucket with colored masking tape and stickers (or just use markers).

bucket step 3 Now for the ocean inside your bucket! Here’s what a finished interior looks like:

hanging critters Begin by cutting wave shapes on top of a rectangle of blue poster board. Set the poster board aside for a moment.

wavesSqueeze a ring of hot glue around the bottom of the bucket (right at the edge, where the bottom meets the sides). White glue or a glue stick works too – it just might take a long time to dry and not dry completely clear.  Press a circle of blue cellophane onto the glue.

water step 1Loosely curl your poster board and place it inside the bucket. Once it touches the bottom, uncurl it and push it against the sides of the bucket. You want the poster board to trap the edges of the cellophane, leaving a relatively smooth circle of cellophane at the bottom of the bucket.

water step 2Use several pieces of tape to secure the poster board to the interior perimeter of the bucket, right at the top. To add a little background texture, we prepped some coral and sea grass shapes out of construction paper. During the program, kids taped 4 pieces to the blue cellophane.

taped coralThen we hot glued 3 fabric flowers (more “coral”) and a small shell to create the “floor” of the ocean. I offered fish stickers as well (but you can skip this option, or have kids draw fish using markers. Just make sure they do it before they attach the poster board to the interior of the bucket!). I stuck a fish sticker on the cellophane as well.

ocean floorColor and cut the sea creatures from the template (I gave the kids the option of a shark or a dolphin, but you can do both if you like). Tape a piece of elastic beading cord to the back of the fish, the manta ray, and the shark (and/or dolphin). Adjust for height, then tape the other end of the cord to the “roof” of the bucket. The starfish and the crab get taped (or hot glued) to the ocean floor.

hanging crittersFor best results, hold your bucket up to a window with plenty of light. Enjoy!

Here Be Burgers

say cheeseYes, those are two very excited chefs sitting atop two very large cheeseburgers. After crafting some neat-o chef hats and aprons, we held our library’s first “build-a-giant-burger” relay race!

We read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ronald Barrett (Atheneum Books, 1978). A pancake mishap in the kitchen leads Grandpa to tell the story of a town called Chewandswallow, where meals fall from the sky. It rains juice, snows mashed potatoes, and drizzles soda pop. Life is quite peaceful…until the weather takes a turn for the worse. Unpredictable combinations of food, grown to monstrous proportions, begin to plague the town. Giant pancakes, pepper winds, tomato tornadoes, and humongous donuts threaten the very lives of Chewandswallow’s citizens. In the end, they evacuate the town, setting off in peanut butter bread boats to find a new land. A tall tale to be sure. But wouldn’t it be amazing if it were true?

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of white poster board (approximately 4.5″ x 22″)
  • 1 piece of white tissue paper (approximately 24″ x 35.5″)
  • 1 rectangle of white plastic table cloth (approximately 16″ x 40″)
  • A selection of self-adhesive foam shapes
  • A pair of giant cheeseburgers (more on this later!)
  • Scissors and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished hatBegin with the hat! Use markers to decorate a strip of white poster board. Then circle it around your head and staple it together. To make the poofy top, spread a piece of white tissue paper on a table:

hat step 2Gather the upper left and lower right corners together at the top

hat step 3Then gather the upper right and lower left corners together. You now have a hat poof.

hat step 4Pull your poof through the top of your hat brim like so:

hat step 5Once the bottom of the poof is well inside the hat band, open it up and push the tissue paper against the interior perimeter of the band. Staple the tissue to the hat band. Done!

hat step 6To make an apron, spread a rectangle of white plastic table cloth on a table.

plastic rectangle

Leaving 1-2″ inches of plastic at the top of the rectangle, cut two, 7.75″ wide pieces out of both sides. Your apron now has “strings.”

apron step 1Use self-adhesive foam shapes to decorate your apron.

apron step 2Put on your hat, tie your apron, and get ready…it’s time to race with giant cheeseburgers!

So, where exactly did I get the cheeseburgers? Funny story. Katie and I were setting up for this event when a mini truck stopped by our table. The driver had a question for the event coordinator. I looked up, and saw them.

burgers on truck“Are those giant CHEESEBURGERS?” I asked, quite excited.

As it turns out, the University’s Department of Athletics has a sponsorship from Cheeburger Cheeburger. During home halftime shows, they run relay races with the burgers. When not in use, the cheeseburgers are stored in a stadium supply closet.

“Can my library BORROW them?” I asked, getting even more excited. They said yes and about a week later, we fetched the burgers.

In the event that you don’t have a University athletics department with giant cheeseburgers, you can make some out of large pieces of felt. An even cheaper option is to use construction paper to make some slightly-larger-than-normal cheeseburgers.

And now…the relay race!

Our race consisted of 2 teams with 6 players per team. Each player had to locate a different piece of the burger in the library, race it back to the “burger building area,” and add it to the top of the burger. When the burger was complete, the race was over.

Knowing that things could get a little crazy, I designed some game cards to keep the race organized and (somewhat) calm.

Each of our cheeseburgers divided into 6 different pieces (bottom bun, cheese, burger, tomato, lettuce, and top bun). So we made 6 cards that showed an image of each burger piece (along with the word for the piece – because it’s never too early for picture / word association!). There were 2 sets of color-coded game cards. One for the Red Team, and one for the Blue Team.

game cards front

The backs of each card were numbered so each player knew when his/her turn was coming up. Only 2 kids (one from each team) raced at a time. Number 1 went first, found his/her piece, dragged it back to the burger-building area, and added it to the burger. Then Number 2 departed for his/her piece. This continued until the cheeseburger was finished.

game cards back

As I explained the game, I stressed that Red Team and Blue Team weren’t competing against one another. We were all having fun together, challenging ourselves to build giant cheeseburgers. Then Katie and I scattered the burger pieces around the library, lined up our teams, and shouted “Go!”

Alas, we didn’t get a chance to snap photos of the races. But let me assure you, there was lots of screaming, cheering, and laughter as our little chefs built giant cheeseburgers. And then pounced on them. Because who can resist pouncing on a big soft burger?

burger flipStill hankering for burgers? Check out this awesome story time burger stand, complete with milkshake faucet, fry basket, and grill!


Many thanks to Yariv Amir in Princeton University’s Department of Athletics for the cheeseburger opportunity. You are awesome.

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!