Beware of Squirrel

beware of squirrelIt might look like an innocent tree…but beware! This leafy vision of loveliness has a feisty squirrel puppet hidden inside it. Get too close and you’ll receive a serious scolding!

squirrel in tree

We read ‘Ol Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013). ‘Ol Mama Squirrel is super-protective of her babies. Any cat, owl, or dog who even shows the slightest interest in her family gets a serious scolding (“Chook! Chook! Chook!”). This treatment also applies to kites, airplanes, and an innocent man who comes to prune the tree. But when a grizzly bear shows up, ‘Ol Mama Squirrel is outmatched. But not for long. She rallies mama squirrels from fire escapes, under the tracks, in the tree tops, and all over the park. Together, they scold the bear right out of the park!

You’ll need:

  • 1 large oatmeal container
  • A box cutter
  • A 9.5″ x 17.5″ piece of brown construction paper
  • A sheet of green tissue paper (mine was 20″ x 29″)
  • A 1.75″ x 6″ rectangle of tagboard for tree branch
  • A square of green tissue paper (mine was 6″ x 6″)
  • Extra tagboard pieces for “wooden” hearts
  • 1 brown paper lunch bag
  • A 3″ x 4.5″ rectangle of tagboard for the mouth
  • A pair of 2″ x 2.25″ rectangles of brown construction paper for ears
  • A 1.25″ x 1.75″ rectangle of red construction paper for the tongue
  • A pair of wiggle eyes
  • 1 small pom-pom for the nose (mine was 1″)
  • A 1.5″ x 2″ rectangle of white card stock for the teeth
  • A 3.5″ x 7.75″ rectangle of tagboard for the tail
  • Tape, stapler, and scissors for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Begin by taking the lid off the large oatmeal container. Then use the box cutter to remove the circular cardboard bottom from the container. You now have an oatmeal container tube.

tubeUse markers to draw lines of “bark” on the brown construction paper and then wrap it around the oatmeal container. The important thing to remember is that the plastic ring around the top of the oatmeal container is also the top of your tree. The cut end of the container is too ragged and will catch your squirrel puppet as it pops in and out of the tree.

wrapped treeGently bunch one end of the sheet of green tissue paper together, then securely tape it to the tree, just underneath the plastic ring. Wrap the tissue paper repeatedly around the top of the oatmeal container, stopping every once in a while to secure it to the tree with pieces of tape.

tape treeMake sure that the tissue paper doesn’t hang over the edge of your plastic ring and droop into the oatmeal container. Otherwise, your squirrel puppet will get caught in the foliage as it pops in and out of the tree. I found some butterfly stickers in the art cabinet and we added those to the foliage for a little extra color.

Next, cut the first rectangle of tagboard into a branch shape. Use markers to add some “bark” lines, and fold on one end. Staple a crumpled green tissue paper square to the other end. Then tape (or hot glue) the folded end of the branch to the tree trunk.

branchCut two “wooden” hearts out of tagboard and write names in them. I suggested “Mama” or “Mom” and then the child’s name or a simple “Me.” Tape (or hot glue) them to the front of the tree.

treeAll this tree needs is a fiercely protective squirrel inside it! Cut your second tagboard rectangle into this shape:

mouthThen fold it lengthwise to create your squirrel’s mouth.

folded mouthHot glue the mouth inside the paper lunch bag

mouth in bagYou could skip the tagboard mouth entirely, but I found that it made the puppet easier to operate. The rest of the squirrel’s face is very simple.

front of squirrel

Make two ears out of brown construction paper and tape (or hot glue) them to the back of the bag. Use red construction paper to create the tongue, and tape (or hot glue) it into the mouth. Hot glue wiggle eyes and a pom-pom nose to the bag. Use markers to add eyebrows and eyelashes. Last come the teeth – basically, a piece of white card stock folded and cut like so:

teeth

Attach the teeth to the mouth with tape (or hot glue). The face is done – all that remains is the tail! Cut the third tagboard rectangle like this, and scribble all over it with marker.

tail

Staple to the back of the squirrel.

back of squirrel

Ready to load your squirrel puppet in the tree? Put your hand into the puppet, then gently insert it into the bottom the the tree. Guide the squirrel up the tube and push it slowly and gently out the top (you might have to squish it’s head a little when you’re doing this).

To operate the puppet, use your free hand to grab the bottom of the tube. Then pop your squirrel puppet in and out of the tree. Don’t forget to scold!

puppet in action

One Brave Birdy

pepito fliesEven the littlest bird can have a big adventure, especially if it braves our avian obstacle course and finishes by landing in a cozy treetop nest!

obstacle courseWe read Pepito the Brave by Scott Beck (Dutton Juvenile, 2001). Unlike his brothers and sisters, Pepito doesn’t want to leave the nest. He’s afraid of heights! But leave he must. So Pepito climbs down the tree and embarks on a most unbirdlike adventure that involves running, jumping a fence, swimming a river, and burrowing under a busy road. But all roads lead back to the nest, and Pepito discovers that maybe, just maybe, he’s brave after all.

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (I used a 2” x 4” x 4” box)
  • 1 small craft stick (mine was 2.5″)
  • A 25″ piece of elastic beading cord
  • Masking tape
  • 1 piece of construction paper for body (approximately 4.5″ x 12″)
  • 2 rectangles of construction paper for wings (approximately 2″ x 3.25″)
  • 1 cone water cup
  • 1 pipe cleaner for bird feet
  • 2 large wiggle eyes
  • A few pieces of paper crinkle
  • balloon stick but you can also use PVC pipe)
  • Masking tape
  • Obstacle course (more details later!)
  • Crayons for decorating
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Hot glue

First, you’ll need to prep and rig the string on your bird box. Begin by wrapping the elastic beading cord around the craft stick, then secure it with masking tape.

bird cord stepsNext, cut a slit in the box from an outside edge to the center.

box step 1Slide the craft stick with the elastic cord into the slit, and pull until the craft stick is up against the “roof” of the box and the cord is sticking out of the top.

box step 2With the cord in place, tape the slit firmly shut (the tape is little hard to see in this image).

box step 3The cord is finished, now for the bird! Wrap the box with construction paper. Make sure there is about 2″ sticking above the top of the box. Fringe it to create your bird’s crest. Just be careful not to cut the cord!

fringed crestRound one edge of your construction paper rectangles, and then fringe to create wings. Hot glue to the sides of the box.

wing instructionsFor the beak, use crayons to color just the tip (i.e. less than 1″) of the cone water cup, and then snip off the tip and hot glue it to the box, along with the wiggle eyes. To make a tail, you can use the construction paper scraps on the table, or you can twist the pieces of paper crinkle together and tape it to the back of the box.

tailNow for the feet! Cut the pipe cleaner in half and bend to create feet. You can go for the “single foot look,” or make individual birdy toes. Up to you! Attach the pipe cleaners to the bottom of the box with tape.

bird feetThe final step is to attach the bird’s cord to the rod. Wrap the free end of the cord around the end of the rod, and secure with masking tape.

fly cordYour bird is now complete! Three cheers for Pepito the Brave!

finished birdYou can fly the little birds around your story time space and end things there, you can make a paper bag nest (see instructions below), or you can tackle the full-fledged obstacle course!

obstacle courseThe simplest part of the obstacle course is the river. You’ll just need a blue bed sheet. The trees, fence, and tunnel, however, need to be constructed. So here we go…

To create a tree, you’ll need:

  • 1 sturdy tube. We used the roll off some heavy-duty butcher paper. If you don’t have a tube, you can place the nest on a chair, a shelf, or a table.
  • 1 bag of rocks, coins, or sand to weigh the tree down
  • 1 oatmeal container, lid removed
  • Extra paper to stuff in tree base
  • Green and brown construction paper
  • Green poster board
  • 1 brown paper lunch bag
  • Hot glue

Fit the bag of rocks, coins, or sand into the bottom of the tube. Then, holding the bag in place, lower the tube into the oatmeal container. Pack wads of paper in the gaps between the tube and the oatmeal container to keep the tree from wiggling. If you’d like, you can wrap the oatmeal container with brown construction paper, and add some green construction paper “grass” fringes.

Now for the tree top. We neglected to snap images of this during our story time prep, so I’m recreating it here with a paper towel tube. To make a tree top, cut a foliage shape from green poster board, then cut two slits in the center.

tree steps 1 and 2Slide the slits into the tube…

tree step 3…and hot glue the poster board to the interior of the tube.

tree step 4To make the nest, roll the mouth of the paper bag outward and downward until you have a small nest.

nest stepsThen hot glue it to the top of the tube. We added little red apples (made out of self-adhesive foam, bits of brown pipe cleaner, and fabric leaves, but this is optional).

glued nestSince we had two tubes, we made two trees (one for shorter kids, and one for taller kids). We didn’t want anyone over-stretching, falling, and completely felling a tube tree.

finished treesFor the tunnel & fence, you’ll need:

  • 1 copy paper box with lid
  • A box cutter
  • 1 piece of green poster board
  • 2 pieces of black, 12″ x 18″ construction paper
  • Yellow masking tape
  • 1 piece of green, 12″ x 18″ construction paper
  • 1 piece of white poster board
  • Extra green construction paper
  • Packing tape
  • Hot glue

Use the box cutter to make tunnel entrances in the short ends of the copy paper box.

cutting tunnel Then cover the long side of the tunnel with green poster board “grass” (alas, I was out of green, so I used pink). Secure with packing tape. Then cut a black construction paper “road” and hot glue it on top of the “grass.” We also used yellow masking tape to make lines on the road, and hot glued some green construction paper grass fringe on the bottom.

finished tunnelTo make the fence, cover the outside of the copy paper box lid with a 12″ x 18″ piece of green construction paper. Then cut pickets out of the white poster board and hot glue to the box lid. I also used a black Sharpie marker to outline the fence pieces. Add some grass at the bottom if you like.

finished fenceSet everything up and you’re ready to run the course! Birdy can run up, jump the fence, swim the river, burrow through the tunnel, and land in the nest. I recommend demonstrating the course before you turn kids loose on it (especially the tunnel – some kids kept trying to shove their birds through first instead of leading with the rod).

I wanted kids to earn a reward sticker after completing the course. So I wrote encouraging things on name tag stickers and asked the kids to decorate them. My idea was to collect the decorated stickers and randomly hand them out (so you’re providing encouragement for someone else? Get it?).

Well, it didn’t work. Some kids put the stickers on right away. Some wanted to keep theirs. Some didn’t get around to decorating their stickers. So I had to quickly bring out some different stickers as rewards. If I was to do it all over again, I would just make the stickers myself and hand them out!

reward stickersIf you like bird projects, you might also want to check out this one and this one!

Tree of Love

finished treeIt’s a tree…that when rotated, reveals a gallery of the things you dearly love!

tree picture galleryWe read We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow, illustrated by Bob Staake (Golden Books, 2010). In this poetic book, families in various parts of the world plant a tree and watch as the tree changes with the seasons, helps the earth, and grows with the families. I wanted to capture some of that love, growing, and giving with this project!

You’ll need:

  • 1 piece of tagboard for tree base
  • 1 small oatmeal container
  • 1 canned good
  • Hot glue
  • A large piece of craft paper (mine was 21.5″ x 64″) (paper grocery bags work too)
  • Green tissue paper
  • Strips of green construction paper
  • 1 oval of black self-adhesive foam (optional)
  • Red, yellow, or orange dot stickers (optional)
  • 1 tree frames template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • Tape, stapler, scissors for construction
  • Markers for decoration

Begin by cutting a tagboard base for your tree. I made mine semi-circular with irregular curves, but a plain old circle will do. The most important thing is making sure that kids don’t cut their bases SMALLER than the oatmeal container (it happens!). Hot glue the oatmeal container to the base.

oatmeal container baseSince the branches and foliage can make the tree unsteady, I dropped a canned good “anchor” inside the oatmeal container and then taped the lid shut. Now for the tree! For weeks, I had been hording brown packing paper I snagged from my department’s recycling bin:

paperThree cheers for reducing, reusing and recycling, eh? But if you don’t have packing paper handy, you can also use craft paper or paper grocery bags.

Tape one end of the piece of paper to the oatmeal container, and then wrap the paper multiple times around the container. The more paper you wrap around the container, the better (and more plentiful) the branches will be. When you’re finished wrapping, hot glue the end of the paper securely to the trunk. You’ll also want to push the paper “trunk tube” down onto the tagboard base and secure it with hot glue. Otherwise, your trunk tube might slide off later!

tree trunk step 1Cut fringes in the trunk tube, starting at the top of the paper and ending a little above the oatmeal container lid:

tree trunk step 2Then bunch and twist the paper fringes together to create branches.

tree trunk step 3I used this branch twisting technique on a larger scale for this project. With the branches complete, it’s time to add the foliage! I provided three different sizes of green tissue paper for the “foliage frenzy.”

tissue paper sizesCrumble up the tissue paper and then staple it to the various branches. One hint: for the foliage at the top of the tree, staple a single piece of tissue paper to several different branches. It keeps the top of the tree looking full and fluffy, and the floppy branches secure.

foliageYour tree is now complete! Time to decorate!

tree trunk step 4We adorned the base with fringes of green construction paper “grass,” and I used hot glue to attach small plastic snakes and lizards I found lurking in the art supply cabinet. We added flower stickers as well, but you can draw critters and flowers on with markers.

The hole in the tree was created with a black oval of self-adhesive foam, and I hot glued a small toy butterfly to the edge of it. Yellow, orange, or red dot stickers can be used to add lemons, oranges, or apples to the tree foliage.

finished tree The tree is happy and growing…now for the gallery of things you love! Use markers to color and fill in the frames of the template. Then cut them out and tape (or hot glue) each frame to the back of the tree.

tree picture galleryMy favorite thing about this project was using a canned good as the anchor. At story time, I suggested to parents that when their kids were done playing with their trees, the canned good could be removed and donated to a local food bank. They really liked that! A true giving tree!