The Eager Entomologist

the eager entomologistPolish up your binoculars! Today, we’re discovering a new species of bug…and rumor has it a local news crew is in the area, ready to chat with you about your latest contribution to science!

news crewWe read Big Bug Surprise by Julia Gran (Scholastic Press, 2007). Prunella is excited about bugs, excited to tell people about bugs, and excited to bring a special bug to show-and-tell at her school. But her enthusiasm for spouting bug facts is meet by a repeated “Not now, Prunella!” from her parents, bus driver, and teacher. However, when a swarm of bees invades the classroom, Prunella saves the day with her quick thinking and vast knowledge of insect behavior.  

For this project, we made binoculars, designed bugs, and created a habitat for said bug. Later, we hid the bugs outside the library for kids to “discover.” Then our camera crew interviewed the budding entomologists about their new find.

You’ll need:

First, the binoculars. Wrap 2 toilet paper tubes with black construction paper. Then tape the top and bottom of the tubes together.

binnoculars step 1Punch a hole in the top of each tube and knot a ribbon through each hole to create a strap. Finish by wrapping the top and bottom of the tubes with colored masked tape. Done!

binnoculars step 2Now for the bugs! We made a few inspirational bug models in advance…

bugsBug-building was very simple. First, we offered kids a choice of bug body (a toilet paper tube or an orange juice container cap). Then we turned everyone loose on the art supplies. I had a hot glue gun ready to attach wiggle eyes (and whatever else was needed).

It’s difficult to see in this picture, but I had a lot of success layer iridescent cello over white construction paper to create sparkly bug wings. Quite a few kids replicated this.

wingsWhen the bugs were finished, we handed out the boxes and got to work on habitats.

bug boxes openIn addition to fabric leaves and flowers, we prepped a few “leaves” and “sticks” using brown and green construction paper.

leaves and sticksWhen the habitats were finished, we collected the bugs and headed outside to the library plaza. While the kids waited with me, Katie placed the bugs in various locations. Then the search was on!

bug huntDiscovered bugs were gleefully discovered and tucked carefully into their habitats by eager young entomologists.

caughtI switched into my coat and “news” hat and assembled the camera crew. Mic in hand, I asked questions like “What is your bug’s name?” “What does your bug like to eat?” “Can you tell me a little more about its habitat?” “What sound does your bug make?”

news crew 2You’ll find instructions for making this lovely handheld microphone, camera, and boom microphone set here (snazzy “News” fedora not included).

Island Science

islandThis charming little island really floats! Thanks to some well-placed wine corks, the island (and 2 little sailboats) will bob away in your bathtub, pool, or water table. This project is also a good way to introduce a some science terms to the story time set – namely, prediction, testing, saturation, buoyancy, and capillary action.

floating islandWe read An Island Grows, written by Lola M. Schaefer and illustrated by Cathie Felstead (Greenwillow Books, 2006). This non-fiction rhyming book follows the growth of an island from the first tremors of an underwater volcano to a busy and colorful island community. Don’t miss the last page which is full of the scientific information behind the book’s charming rhymes. 

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4” x 4” x 4”)
  • 1 box cutter
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 3 small squares of fabric (approximately 2″-3″)
  • 3 short pieces of thin ribbon (approximately 3″)
  • 1 small seashell (optional)
  • 1 paper towel tube
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (approximately 8″ x 9″)
  • Green construction paper
  • Brown construction paper
  • White construction paper
  • Flower stickers (optional)
  • 20 wine corks
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Begin with your island home. Use the box cutter to cut a door and three windows in the sides of a box. Decorate the outside of the box with markers and add a roof of patterned paper (or construction paper). Use tape (or hot glue) to attach fabric squares to the insides of the box, right above each window. Knot a piece of ribbon around the fabric squares to create a window sash. Finish by hot gluing a small shell to the door to serve as a doorknob.

houseNow for your palm tree! Start by cutting 3″ off the top of a paper towel tube. If you’d like, you can use markers to draw rings around the tree. Next, cut 4 rectangles from the green construction paper (approximately 2″ x 5.5″ each). Cut each rectangle into a leaf shape, and make small cuts around the edges so it better resembles a palm frond.

palm leavesTape the palm fronds to the paper towel tube (I taped mine to the inside of the tube, but younger children might find it easier to tape them to the outside). To make coconuts, cut small circles out of the brown construction paper, then attach them to the tree with little loops of tape.

palm treeAt this time, I’d like to give a shout out to Anou, age 8, who came up with the coconut portion of our craft. I was in our library’s program area, trying to find a way to make three-dimensional looking coconuts that didn’t require hot glue. Anou walked up, offered the tape loop suggestion, and it looks great! Brilliant Anou, thanks!

With the house and tree complete, it’s time to make your base. Start with a 8″ x 9″ piece of corrugated cardboard (I cut ours from copy paper boxes). Use the glue stick to attach green construction paper to one side of the base. Then hot glue the house and the tree to the top of the base. It’s important to keep the house and the tree fairly close together in the center of the base. This will keep your island balanced while it’s floating on water.

fairly close togetherOnce the house and tree are attached, add a little landscaping with green construction paper fringes and flower stickers (or just draw flowers on the base with markers). We also used red file label stickers to create stepping stones leading to the front door of the house.

stepping stonesTo make your island and sailboats float, you’ll need 20 corks. Since we needed to prepare enough supplies for 24 kids, we needed lots of corks (480 to be exact). So we hit up a couple local wine shops and bars (thank you Public Wines, Cool Vines, Princeton Corkscrew, and Yankee Doodle Tap Room). But the real jackpot was a restaurant called Mediterra. They had THESE stashed in their kitchen. Woo hoo!

corks To make your island’s “cork stilts,” begin by hot gluing 4 corks together like this:

four corksRepeat this step three more times until you have 4 stilts (composed of four corks each). Hot glue the stilts to the bottom of the cardboard base like so:

cork stilts on baseWe had to do a little trial and error to determine the total number of corks needed to get this project to work. You can turn our experimentation into story time science by doing the following…

Fill a dish tub with water and set it on a table. Have three different bases prepped. The first base is cardboard with no corks.

base 1

The second base is cardboard with cork stilts. The stilts are two corks each.

base 2The third base has cork stilts too. These stilts are 4 corks each.

base 3

  1. Start by saying “Let’s take a look at these bases and predict which one will work best for our island.” After the kids make their predictions, say “Time to test them out!”
  2. Place Base 1 in the tub. It will immediately become saturated. Ask “What happened? What do we need to change to make this float and stay dry?”
  3. Place Base 2 in the water. It will float, but barely above the water. Eventually, water will begin saturating into the bottom and edges of the base. Ask “Is this any better? What’s the problem now?”
  4. Place Base 3 in the water. The base will float above the water, keeping the island dry. Say “It finally worked! Any guesses why?”

During the experiment, you can refer to the concepts of saturation, density and buoyancy. A cork floats on the water because it is less dense than the water. This gives the cork buoyancy, meaning that upward force on the cork is equal to the weight of the cork. The cardboard base, however, was just too heavy for the 2 cork stilts. As a result, Base 2 sunk down and got wet. But Base 3, the 4 cork stilts, did the trick! They gave the island enough buoyancy to lift the cardboard (and the house & tree) above the water level.

Time for sailboats! Cut a small sail (mine were about 2″ tall) out of white construction paper, and color both sides with markers. Hot glue the sail to one side of a cork (make sure the paper doesn’t extend below the cork). Then, hot glue a second cork next to the first.

cork boatWe discovered that, as the corks get wet, the water seeps up the sail, pulling the ink with it. This is capillary action…in action!

before and after boatsIf you’d like to turn the sailboat activity into a quick science lesson, create the boat you see in the “Before” photo above. For best results, make sure the marker extends all the way to the base of the paper sail. Fill a dish tub or plastic plate with water. Then:

  1. Show the kids the boat. Say: “This sailboat needs a little more decoration. Want to see a super cool way to decorate the sail – without drawing on it?”
  2. Place the sailboat in the water. It takes a few minutes to really get started, so you might have to go for a couple rounds of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while you wait.
  3. Talk briefly about capillary action (i.e. the ability of water to flow up or though something – sometimes in defiance of gravity itself) and how they just observed the water moving up the paper sail, carrying the ink with it!
  4. If you’d like, you can prep a bunch of sailboats with different color inks, and see if the different colors move up the sail at different rates.

And that’s it! Your island and sailboats are complete! Float them in a bathtub, dish tub, baby pool, water table, or, in my case, the giant fountain outside of the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs (that’s Ai Weiwei’ s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads you see in the background). The perfect place for an island getaway, yes?

fountainLooking for some more island experiments? Do you like coconuts? Check out this post!

Sneaky Math

cloud diagramWant a side of math with that story time? From simple to semi-sophisticated, here are some ways I’ve worked math into my library programs!

COUNTING SUPPLIES

There are multiple steps in my story time projects, and some of those steps involve selecting certain amounts of art supplies. So we’ll count together. For example, if the kids need 2 pipe cleaners for their project, I’ll hold out a bunch of pipe cleaners and count aloud as each kids selects them, “One…two! Great!”

NUMBERED SUPPLY CONTAINERS

During projects, I’ll often put  a line of supplies on the windowsill, and kids walk down the line and select certain amounts of supplies from each container. I used to use post it notes to mark the number needed on each container…

post it notesBut then I found these little babies!

holder with numberThese are 8″ table card holders. I purchased mine from an online restaurant supply company (The Web Restaurant Store). Don’t they look snazzy?

card holders

DIAGRAMS

Sometimes, I’ll have a project that requires a diagram to demonstrates how much of something is needed. For example, this rainbow cloud project needed to be covered in cotton balls, so I drew a diagram showing how many balls needed to be attached, and how many cotton balls you’d need in total. Numbers, beautiful numbers.

cloud diagramOK! That’s it for the simple stuff. Who’s up for something a little more…elaborate?

In 2012, my library hosted a large-scale Robin Hood event. I knew we just had to do something on taxes. But how were we going to design something that involved taxes, math, Medieval history, but was also simple enough for kids of various ages to grasp quickly?

The answer came from my brilliant event assistant Katie. We would design a tax wheel game based on Hi Ho Cherry-O.  We called it “Your Tax Dollars at Work.”

tax wheelHi Ho Cherry-O is a classic early math game involving counting and numbers. The game is driven by a spinner that dictates whether you add or remove cherries from your basket during game play. But what if the spinner for our version pointed to various Medieval taxes, the game pieces were coins? We could even throw some Robin Hood characters on the wheel. Perfect.

We knew needed to go big and durable at such a large, crowded event. So I ordered a 36″ blank roulette wheel from Spinning Designs Incorporated. The company was very tickled  at how the wheel was going to be used. They gave me a fantastic deal on a wheel that had some very minor surface imperfections (which I honestly could never find).

Then Katie and I researched the different types of taxes from Robin Hood’s day. There were a lot (honestly, who taxes you for churning your butter?). We also had to find a way to gain coins back during the game.

Ultimately, we came up with the following “Lose” and “Gain” categories.

Lose Coin

  • Travel tax
  • Churn your butter tax
  • Bake your bread tax
  • Pay your lord
  • Grind your grain tax
  • Sheriff steals
  • Prince John takes all
  • Land tax

Gain (or at least not lose) Coin

  • Harvest time
  • May Day
  • Good day at market
  • Robin Hood gives you coins

As you can see, there were more ways to lose your money than gain it. We intentionally designed the game that way. There were going to be so many people at the event (3,500 actually) we wanted the game play to average 3 minutes so lots of kids could have multiple turns. If you’re interested, here are the complete game instructions.

group of kidsIn addition to the wheel, there were game boards designed to look like Medieval money bags. You placed 5 coins in your “bag” at the start of the game, then added or removed coins as the wheel dictated. We used metal replicas of Medieval coins. Because we’re nerds like that.

game boardsWhen all your coins were gone, the game was over! As a “consolation” prize, kids got a chocolate foil-wrapped coin. Kids with food allergies or dietary restrictions got to take home one of the metal replica coins.

The “Your Tax Dollars at Work” wheel and game boards were drawn by Kemi Lin, an amazing Princeton University student artist. She did it all. By hand. With packs of Sharpies. After the event, the game was donated to the Somerset County library system. Long may it live!