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!

When Life Gives You Lemons…

lemonade standIs there anything better than a refreshing glass of lemonade on a hot day? Served from your very own lemonade stand? Besides being a retail operation, this lemonade stand also involves counting, sorting, and sequential thinking exercises for the young shopkeeper. Yes, it’s a perfect blend of math and…wait a minute! Is that a RED lemon I see on the tree?!?

We read The Red Lemon by Bob Staake (Random House, 2006). Farmer McPhee is enthusiastic about his beautiful lemons and the delightful things they can produce (sherbet! pie! cookies! cakes!). However, while gallivanting through his grove, he discovers a RED lemon. Needless to say, he is outraged and huffily hurls the offending lemon far away, where it lands on a little island. Two hundred years pass, and the McPhee lemon grove is gone. But on that faraway island, a bustling metropolis has risen. Their world famous product? Red lemons, of course.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9”) – a tissue box works too!
  • craft sticks (mine were 4.5″ long)
  • 3 rectangles of tagboard (mine were approximately 2″ x 4.5″)
  • 1 circle of green poster board (approximately 7″ in diameter)
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • 1-2 rectangles of green poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 4″) for bushes
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (approximately 9.75″ x 13.75″)
  • 3 paper cups
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 3 small plastic cups (mine were 1.25 ounce clear cups, purchased at Party City)
  • 3 yellow cotton balls
  • 1 drinking straw
  • 1 lemonade stand template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Flower stickers (optional)
  • Scissors, tape, and white glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, use white glue (or hot glue or tape) to attach 4 craft sticks and 3 rectangles of tagboard to the front of the box. I used this part of the activity to introduce (or revisit) the concept of a pattern.

stand base Color the small lemons on the template (be sure to make a red one!) and glue them onto a 7″  circle of green poster board. Then hot glue the circle to a paper towel tube. As you can see in the image below, I left about 3″ of space between the top of the circle and the top of the tube.

back of treeTo make a bush for your stand, cut a bush shape out of a rectangle of green poster board, and then tab it at the bottom.

bushNow to put the set together! First, hot glue the box to a corrugated cardboard base (I used a cake pad, but you can also make one out of a copy paper box lid). Then glue 3 paper cups behind the box (i.e. the side that isn’t decorated with craft sticks & tagboard). Glue the bush to the right of the stand, and the tree to the left. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of the stand with everything glued in place.

bird's-eye viewA word about the tree. As you can see, it’s hot glued to the base AND to the side of the box. The double attachment makes the tree extra sturdy (which is especially important if the project has to survive a car trip home).

attaching treeNow for your lemonade stand’s sign! Wrap 2 pieces of colored masking tape around the top of a wooden dowel, then trim the ends into triangles to create 2 flags. Tape the dowel on the right side of the box.

flagsDecorate the rest of the items on the template and add them to the stand. The large lemon sign gets taped to the wooden dowel and the “Fresh” garland gets taped on the front of the stand. We added some flower stickers too (you could also opt to draw flowers on using markers). We had some extra bushes., so I offered kids a second bush to double the landscaping fun.

lemonade stand All that remains is the cash register and your merchandise! You can see the register in the above photo. It does require a little assembly. I’ll demonstrate the steps below with an undecorated register, straight from the template.

First, fold the bottom tab of your register inwards like so:

cash register step 1Then, fold both sides downwards from the base like this

cash register step 2Curl the tab around to meet the opposite side of the register

cash register step 3Then secure the tab with tape. Hot glue (or tape) the register to the top of the stand!

cash register step 4Finally, the lemonade. You might recall that the lemonade stand has 3 paper cups glued behind it. These paper cups are to help kids practice sorting their small plastic lemonade glasses, yellow cotton balls, and mini straws.

cup setupFirst, I showed the kids the sequence in which you need to make a glass of lemonade. Cup first, lemonade second, and straw third (to make the mini straws, simple cut a drinking straw into thirds – my mini straws ended up being about 2.5″ long).

glass of lemonadeWhen your customer is finished, you take apart your lemonade in reverse order, making sure to sort everything back into its proper paper cup. I used yellow cotton balls for lemonade (purchased from Discount School Supply), but you could also use crumpled yellow construction paper. Or red paper – I hear those red lemons are all the rage!

As we stocked the lemonade stand with supplies, we had the kids count out loud with us: 1-2-3 cups, 1-2-3 cotton balls, and 1-2-3 straws. I suggested to parents that they use the stand and some fake (or real) money to give kids a taste of monetary math at home. But for now, let’s simply raise a glass to our lemonade-loving friends!

cheersInterested in other retail opportunities? Check out our ice cream truck and produce stand. Or get historical with our covered wagon & trading post story time! If you’re looking for ways to add a little math to your literacy programs, there are some hints on our Sneaky Math post.

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!