Flannel of the Future

flannel board 2015Some of you may recall this post, in which I visited my friends at scienceSeeds and reported on all the cool science toys they are currently playing with. There was one toy, however, that I didn’t include because I wanted to do a special post on it later.

The time has come for that post.

Get ready to usher your story time flannel board into 2015…may I introduce…the brilliant…the amazing…the mesmerizing…conductive thread! Yes, this thread conducts electricity, which means that your flannel can be rigged with lights!

You’ll need:

  • 1-2 pieces of felt (i.e. flannel)
  • 1 sewing needle
  • A length of conductive thread
  • 1 coin cell battery holder
  • LEDs (3mm or 5mm size are recommended)
  • 1 coin cell battery
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue (optional)

The good news is that all the electrical components listed above will cost you less than $10. A 30 foot bobbin of the thread is $2.95, and the LEDs are between 20¢-50¢ each. A battery holder is about $1.95, and the coin cell batteries, which can be purchased just about any retail store, are between $1-3 dollars (the one you see in the image below is size CR 2032). scienceSeeds buys most of their supplies from SparkFun Electronics, an online company.

electrical suppliesSince we were using lots of LEDs, Lindsay, our scienceSeeds flannel artist, decided to do 2 layers of flannel. The black “background” layer held the thread and the batteries, and a colorful top layer hid the stitching. The results were colorful, tidy, and sturdy. Here’s what the back of our flannel numbers looks like:

rigged upFirst, use the conductive thread to sew a coin cell battery holder to a piece of felt. It’s important that the battery holder is tightly connected to the felt. Lindsay recommends hot gluing the battery holder to the felt first, and then stitching the holder’s connections to the felt with the thread.

Next, push the legs of an LED through the felt. Curl the legs into circles using a small pair of scissors, jewelry pliers, or needle nose pliers.Then stitch the legs to the felt with the thread.

curled leg and threadBecause you’re making a circuit, it’s essential to connect negative to negative and positive to positive. Therefore, the same thread that is connected to the negative post of the battery holder needs to be connected to the negative LED leg. Likewise, the same thread that is connected to the positive post of the battery holder needs to be connected to the positive LED leg.

Worried you won’t be able to rig things up correctly? Worry no more. The battery holder’s negative post is clearly marked, and the negative leg of an LED is always the shorter of the two.

led leg and holderYou can just connect one LED, or you connect a train of them. One important thing to note: if you’re using just one LED, the battery tends to heat up (as opposed to multiple LEDs in a strand, which share the power load). If you’re using just one LED, you might consider adding a resistor (i.e. an electrical component that limits the flow of a current through a circuit). Many LEDs already come with resistors.

When everything is connected, slip a coin cell battery into the battery holder. Your LEDs will activate, and your flannel board will glow! We discovered that the weight of our LEDs, battery holders, and coin batteries made our flannel numbers drop off the flannel board (Viva Las Vegas!). But the problem was quickly solved with a bit of Velcro.

velcroYou could also move beyond flannel boards! Here are a few projects from the scienceSeeds workshop. A handsome owl puppet with glowing eyes…

owlA Halloween treat bag with color-changing LEDs! Oooo!

bagA truly marvelous super hero mask.

maskIn addition to conducting electricity, the thread can also be used decoratively. You can see it here, adding some silver highlights to the mask.

thread on maskOK…you have the tools and the know-how. Cue up Pachelbel’s Canon in D, go forth, and illuminate!

Many thanks to scienceSeeds for rigging up the fantastic 2015 flannel!

Messing With Monet

messing with monetAh, Monet. The play of light, of shadow, a moment of time captured, suspended, like a ripe fruit for the viewer to feast upon. What must it be like to create such artwork? Well, now you can find out!

master kitzThis is a snazzy little art kit by a company called Master Kitz. Using the provided materials (templates, paint, roller brushes, stencils, pastels, etc.) kids can recreate works by Van Gogh, Klimt, Hokusai, Matisse, and others. When I spotted their “Water Lilies by Claude Monet” kit discounted on Amazon for less than $20, I couldn’t resist. Now all I needed was a kid to test the kit.

kid testerEnter Hope, Pop Goes the Page’s official kid-tester! Last year, Hope was a member of Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group. She’s a smart and savvy writer with a great sense of humor. In other words, the perfect person to test a product and write about it. So, what did Hope think of this kit? Below is her complete report!

This kit had really cool packaging! The kit includes includes soft pastels (blue, green, violet, light blue, white, pink, red, yellow, and aqua), two pieces of artist’s paper, stencils (a green lily pad stencil and a yellow flower stencil), two “shadow makers” (i.e. plastic yellow lily pads), instructions (the instructions were two sided and were a beautiful fold out poster that included valuable information about Monet), and a “shammy”(i.e. a piece of cloth). The stencils and paper were rolled up inside the box, so they were understandably bent. However, all of the other materials were in great condition.

suppliesThe directions recommend taping a piece of newspaper to the table you are working on and doing the project over the newspaper. LISTEN TO THE DIRECTIONS!!! This project is incredibly messy, and you should wear an artists’ smock or an old t-shirt to protect your clothes! To get started on the project, you tape a piece of the provided artists’ paper on the table (masking tape works best because it won’t rip the paper as easily as regular scotch tape, but you should test it on an inconspicuous place first). However, doing this leaves the places the tape covered uncolored, so at the end of the project, you should smudge the pastels to cover the blank spots.

cornerIt’s not made clear in the directions, but to follow “artsy etiquette,” make sure you have the rough side of the paper facing down (it doesn’t make a significant amount of difference whether or not you use the rough side or the smooth side of the paper, but it’s proper to use the smooth side).

After taking these preliminary cautionary steps, it’s time to begin your masterpiece! First you slide the lily pad stencil underneath the paper. Taking a colored pastel (blue, violet, or light blue works best, because you’re coloring the water) out of the box, rub the pastel all over the paper until an impression of the lily pads is visible. You can use several colors (same pastel(s) as above) to give your art a truly “Monet” effect. Using the “shammy,” gently rub over the whole paper, blending the pastels (this step justifies how messy the kit is! POOF! Dust everywhere!).

water stepRemoving the lily pads out from underneath your “canvas,” tape it on top of the paper so it lines up with the outlines you just made. Use green, yellow, white – or anything you like to shade in the shapes. To make the job go faster, use your finger to blend the pastels (by this point my fingers were all brownish). But be careful! When I was testing this kit, the sharp parts of the stencils pricked me! OUCH!

almost doneWhen you are finished making the lily pads, you carefully (SLOWLY!) take the stencil off the paper. Be sure not to jerk! If you do, the pastel dust will spray EVERYWHERE!

Time to take out the flower stencil! Using the same method of shading in, choose a few places to put flowers. You can be creative with this step, but it’s not necessary to do at all. Now it’s time to draw some reeds! Just draw a few green wisps in the desired section. I found that drawing the reeds in the darkest area of the water made the reeds show up the best.

Shadow making time! The “shadow makers” are the two plastic lily pad shapes I mentioned. Theoretically, you place them over the identical lily pad on your sheet, and trace around the front part, then smudge it down for a shadow effect. However, since there are only two shadow makers, it’s pointless to give shadows to two lily pads. I used the two shadow makers provided, but then I improvised, carefully traced around the lily pads (without a shadow maker) and smudged the pastel down to create a shadow.

shadingThe step above is technically the last step, but I recommend this additional step (which is not mentioned in the instructions). To seal in the prodigious amount of dust caused by the project (remember, it’s not cool when dust is flying everywhere! Especially colored dust!), Dr. Dana rushed out to CVS to buy some cheap hairspray as sealant. The hairspray (Aqua Net, to be exact) was “unscented” but was still really smelly! We attempted to use it outside, but due to some wind we used the library’s restroom. The effort was successful, and the pastels stayed on!

The box of this kit recommends itself for “Ages 4-104,” but I strongly disagree. This project is better suited for ages 9-104! Although, for you 104 year-olds out there: this project may take a toll on your back!

finishedI found this kit easy to use, quick to complete (30 minutes), and fun to do! It was SUPER messy, and sometimes the instructions were unclear, but all in all, I’d rate this project 4 out of 5 stars.

Claude Monet, Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge, 1899. Oil on canvas. From the Collection of William Church Osborn, Class of 1883, trustee of Princeton University (1914-1951), president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1941-1947); given by his family. Courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.

Science Friday

the eggbotWhile I certainly do my fair share of fiction-focused programs, I consider non-fiction programs to be (dare I say it?) just as much fun. And for today’s adventure in non-fiction, we’re talking science!

We’ve offered some interesting science programs in the past. Take, for example, the Chemistry of Magic, in which we demonstrated the real science behind seemingly magical reactions. Or this Rube Goldberg engineering program. Or even this humble preschool story time that featured the life stages of a butterfly. This week, to get a healthy dose of vitamin “S,” I dropped in on my friends at scienceSeeds.

scienceSeeds team

Team scienceSeeds: John, Michal, and Lindsay

ScienceSeeds is a local science enrichment center for grades K-8 . It was founded in 2008 by Michal Melamede. While raising her children, she noticed a lack of hands-on, age-appropriate, science and engineering opportunities. So Michal decided to establish a business that would encourage curiosity, exploration, discovery, and scientific thinking.

Visiting scienceSeeds is always fun. Especially when they let me play with their toys! Here are a few of their current favorites. Perhaps one or two will inspire a little science at your next program?


lamp 2I have to start with this one because I’m such a hot glue devotee. This is an LED lamp with hot glue stick shades! It was designed by John to demonstrate circuits, fiber optics and light behavior. He used a hot glue gun to hollow out the bottom of 5 hot glue sticks, and then rigged up a series of little LED bulbs on a simple circuit. Everything was attached to a foam core base, and then the base was wrapped with decorative duct tape. I love it.


butterflyThis is another project designed by scienceSeeds staff to teach hydraulics. Using two water-filled syringes and tubing, the butterfly lifts its wings up and down. The syringes are from a medical supply company, the tubing is from a science catalog, the base is wood, the wings are made from foam board, and the butterfly’s body is a clothespin. A little duct tape here and there and you’re ready to go. They also have versions with an owl, a bat, and a dump truck!


star boxOne final project from scienceSeeds’ workshop! This one demonstrates how simple machines and mechanisms work. Turn the crank and the movement of the wooden gears and rods causes the star to spin. The base is made from foam board, the sticks are bamboo skewers, and the gears are little wooden circles purchased from Michael’s craft store. A little hot glue and duct tape seals the deal.  And just look at this sweet double gear version!

bee boxMark my words…I’m GOING to find a way to work a foam board automataun into a story time project. It shall be done. Oh yes, it shall.


the eggbotThis is a recent acquisition at the workshop. It’s the EggBot, an art robot that can draw on round surfaces like eggs, light bulbs, ping pong balls, ornaments, etc. It hooks up to your computer and, with some lovely freeware, will take a design or image and put it right on your object! scienceSeeds is using it to teach CNC and automated design. Here are a couple test subjects…

lightbulbsAlas, an EggBot kit like the one above retails for $219, so it’s well out of my budget. The company that sells it is called Evil Mad Science LLC. Hah hah hah! Minions not included.


vacuumThis is a modification of a cardboard kit the staff tested. They found that a 1 liter bottle and plastic propeller worked much better than a cardboard tube and propeller. The foam board base holds a simple circuit that connects to a motor. As the motor spins the propeller, it creates a wind tunnel in the bottle that sucks up pieces of confetti. It’s the perfect way to teach engineering and air flow. It’s wildly popular with the kids too.


3-doodlerIt might be a little hard to see this in the photo, but this device lets you do 3-dimentional drawings! That thin green line you see isn’t drooping down from the tip of the doodler. It’s rising up from the piece of paper and standing on its own! You insert little plastic sticks of various colors into one end of the “pen.” The plastic emerges in liquid form out the other end, but quickly hardens. With some practice, you can “draw” amazing 3D creations like these:

popcafe everestrobotscienceSeeds likes to use the 3-Doodler for their 3D modeling workshops, sometimes in conjunction with their 3D printer. A 3-Doodler pen retails for about $100, and additional plastic sticks are approximately $10 for 25. I noticed that the pen makes a loud whirring noise while being operated (a little louder than an electric toothbrush). The staff also mentioned that after extended periods of use, you can smell burning plastic. The smell bothers some kids. But those things aside, it’s a cool little drawing tool.

I’ll leave you with a photo of scienceSeeds’ classroom space. Look at the cheerful red cabinets! The under-the-counter adjustable storage! The cool green chairs! Now imagine it packed full of kids creating, discovering, building, and innovating. Fantastic.

room shot