Think Spring

three flowersWhat could be better than this lovely bluebell, orchid, and dandelion? How about an entire garden full of this fantastical flowery headgear?

gardenWe read My Garden by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 2010). While a little girl is helping her mother in the garden, she daydreams about her own garden. In her garden, the flowers change color according to your thoughts, chocolate bunnies pose no threat to your lettuce, colorful jelly bean bushes bloom, the air is full of birds and butterflies, and the strawberries glow like little lanterns at night. Beautiful!

You’ll need:

  • A circle of white poster board (approximately 10″ in diameter)
  • A pencil
  • 1 long strip of poster board (approximately 2″ x 20″)
  • 1 shorter strip of poster board (approximately 2″ x 15″)
  • Pieces of poster board, assorted colors
  • Pieces of construction paper, assorted colors
  • Pieces of tissue paper, assorted colors
  • A selection of pipe cleaners, assorted colors
  • A selection of pom-poms, assorted colors
  • 2 rectangles of green poster board (approximately 5.25″ x 10″)
  • 2 pieces of green britelace
  • Green masking tape
  • Scissors, stapler, tape, white glue and/or glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decoration
  • Hot glue

Press the circle of poster board up to your face and use a pencil to trace an opening for your face in the center. The top of the face opening should be under your eyebrows, and the bottom should be just below your lips. For this particular project, it’s best if the face circle is on the small side (my face circle, for example, was 5.5″ in diameter). Once the circle is traced, cut it out.

circleNow for the straps. Tab one end of the long construction paper strip and staple it to one side of the circle. Then hold the circle up to your face and wrap the strap around the back of your head. Make sure the strap is fairly snug, then tab it and staple to the other side of the circle.

strap 1Next, lay the shorter poster board strip over top of your head. Measure for snugness and staple the short strip to the longer strip. You now have two straps – one that fits around the back of your head, and one that rests on the top of your head.

strap 2 Now it’s time to decorate! Use markers, poster board, construction paper, tissue paper, pipe cleaners and pom-poms to create your flower. I made 3 example flowers – a bluebell, a pink orchid, and a yellow dandelion.

flower examples I figured I wouldn’t have to sell girls on this project, but I thought boys might be a little hesitant to become flowers. So the dandelion was designed to be appealing to boys, as was the color / name choice for the bluebell. We had 9 boys and 3 girls at this story time. I’m delighted to report that not a single boy balked at being a flower.

With your headdress complete, it’s time for leafy wristbands! Cut fringes, leaf, or petal shapes out of your green construction paper rectangle.

wristbandsThen wrap it around your wrist and staple. Make sure you staple the wristband a little loose so you can slip it on and off easily. Next add construction paper fringes, green masking tape highlights, twisted green pipe cleaners, green britelace “vines”…whatever strikes your fancy!

finished wristbandYour project is complete, but we’re not done with this post just yet. This weekend kicked off the world-famous Philidelphia Flower Show and my assistant Joani celebrated by wearing her orchid headdress to the event! Just look at this image and tell me it isn’t the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen.

joani with butterflies

The Chemistry of Magic

chemistry of magicMove over Merlin, Gandalf, Harry, and Miss Price! It’s time for some science magic! That’s me having the time of my life igniting a hydrogen balloon soaked in aqueous barium chloride. Best. Time. Ever.

Last month, Cotsen collaborated with the Princeton Chemistry Outreach Program to create The Chemistry of Magic, a program that unveiled the science behind seemingly magical chemical reactions. The lecture and demonstrations were the brainchildren of Dr. Kathryn Wagner, who is standing to the right of the GIANT GREEN FIREBALL in the image above.

Some of my favorite demonstrations included “Elephant Toothpaste” (a hugely gloppy reaction created by mixing hydrogen peroxide, soap and potassium iodide solution), the “Ring of Fire” (igniting isopropyl rubbing alcohol within a water cooler bottle to produce a slow, licking blue flame), and the “Methane Mamba” (which basically involved holding a column of methane infused soap bubbles in our hand, placing a match in the middle, and enjoying a raging pillar of flames).

We also demonstrated a “Dry Ice Rainbow,” invisible ink, color change experiments, a Tesla coil, a blind spot optical illusion, homemade glow stick solution, liquid nitrogen fog, and a “Genie in a Bottle” (a reaction of hydrogen peroxide and manganese dioxide powder in a 2-liter soda bottle…the result being 8 feet of writhing steam).

Could you host such a program? Sure! There were a couple of high school science teachers in attendance. You might have one near your institution or library who would be willing to work some science magic. You can also talk with your local science center, university, or college to see if they might be interested a collaboration.

But don’t, however, try this at home. We were in a large chemistry lecture hall with proper ventilation, safety equipment, and under Dr. Wagner’s watchful eye. Don’t try this at home folks! Really.

So the next time a character in a book summons a fireball (Incendio!), we hope that readers will pause and reflect on the real fireball they saw at this program, and consider the awesome science that made it possible.

Miraculous Mechanism

miraculous mechanismIf you have a hankering to create an old-fashioned, coin-operated, yet somehow completely modern mechanism that dispenses a secret key, you’ve come to the right place! For this particular model, the coin goes in, hits a marble, which then rolls down the various tubes, dings two bells, and nudges a mini Altoid container out the bottom.

mechanism markedMost of the projects you see on this blog are from Tiger Tales, our weekly story time for 3-5 year-olds. But we do have another weekly story time for 6 – 8 year-olds called To Be Continued. Basically, I read from a chapter book over a series of weeks, and then we do a project (or activity, or field trip) when we finish the book. This project is from that program.

We read Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery & A Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans. Ten year-old Stuart Horton, recently relocated to the town of Beeton, is steeling himself for a long, boring summer of nothing (topped off by a set of annoying triplets next door). But everything changes when he discovers a hidden message and a cache of old coins from his Great-Uncle Tony Horton. Great-Uncle Tony, a renowned magician, stage illusionist, and creator of fabulous contraptions, mysteriously disappeared in 1940, leaving behind a secret workshop. If Stuart can follow the clues and solve the puzzles, he’ll find the workshop!

You’ll need:

  • A box (or box top) that can stand up on its own and has some depth – my box was 16.5″ tall, 12″ wide, and 6″ deep.
  • A box cutter
  • Toilet paper tubes
  • Paper towel tubes
  • A selection of sparkle stems
  • A few sheets of tagboard (or other super stiff paper)
  • 1 coin
  • 1 mini Altoid tin (about 2.5″ long)
  • 1 marble
  • 2 jingle bells
  • A couple pieces of mirror board (optional)
  • 1 mechanism template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Markers for decorating (I used metallic markers, but regular work too)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Hot glue

During this project, I stressed – repeatedly – that testing and failing is part of designing and engineering. We tested, and tested, and then tested some more. There were a lot of escaped marbles rolling on the floor, but there were no lost tempers! Also, some kids opted to use just the marble for the mechanism (as opposed to putting the coin in juuuuust right).

The only prep I did for this project was to use a box cutter to cut the coin slot and the dispenser slot. I also helped with the very first step – setting up the initial platform for the marble. The platform had to hold the marble steady, but also allow it to roll free when it was nudged by a coin or finger. With that in place, I turned them loose with the supplies and circulated around the tables, assisting when needed, hot glue gun ready.

If you can get it, I highly recommend mirror board to add some flash and fullness to your mechanism. I buy mine online at Discount School Supply.

mirror mirrorI found a little textured gold paper in the Bling Bin, so I added it to the top of my key box. And don’t forget to enclose the key from the template!

key boxThe template artwork was created by Princeton student artist Aliisa Lee. Originally, it was used for a Steampunk hat decorating activity that was part of a larger Journey to the Centre of the Earth event. I mostly used Aliisa’s gears for the mechanism template, but if you’d like to see more of her artwork in action, take a look at this dapper gent!

steampunk hatIf you’re mad for mechanisms, you might want to check out this. The “Page-Turner” was the centerpiece of a Rube Goldberg program at our library.