You’ve Got Mail

you've got mailWaiting for that special letter from a special pal? Wait no more! We made hats and mailbags, and then headed to the post office to collect and deliver. When the job was finished, there was a lovely letter (and Seuss stamps) at the counter, just for you!

letter and stampsWe read A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion Books, 2014). Leo the mailman (or technically speaking, the mailanimal) is always busy delivering boxes, letters and packages to the friendly citizens of his town. Sadly, however, Leo has never received a letter himself! One day, he rescues a lost baby bird named Cheep. As time passes, the two friends become a little family. But when spring arrives, Cheep needs to rejoin to his flock. They bid each other a tearful farewell, and Cheep flies away. Leo returns to his regular rounds, but life doesn’t feel the same anymore. Then, one day, Leo receives a letter from…guess who? A little birdie with a big heart! This is a warm and beautiful book, and, if you really want to choke up, check out the final illustration!

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of blue poster board (approximately 3.25″ x 22″)
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board for hat brim (approximately 4.5″ x 7″)
  • 1 hat brim template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 rectangle of blue poster board (approximately 7″ x 9″ )
  • 1 strip of red poster board (approximately 1″ x 22″)
  • 1 manila folder
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Hole punch
  • 1 piece of ribbon (approximately 41″)
  • 1 small envelope (mine was 4.75″ x 6.5″)
  • 1 letter template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white printer paper
  • 1 strip of stickers to use as “stamps” (optional)
  • 1 post office and post office game (more on that later!)
  • Pencil, scissors, stapler, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished mail hatBegin with the hat! Circle a 3″ x 22″ strip of blue poster board around your head, and staple it closed. Print and cut the hat brim template, then trace the template onto a square of blue poster board. You’ll notice that there are three dotted lines on the template. Keeping the template on top of the poster board, cut along the dotted lines. You now have 4 tabs in the hat brim like so:

hat brim step 1Set the hat circle on top of the brim. The edge of the hat circle should just cover the bottom of the hat brim tabs. Soft-fold fold the tabs upwards, creating a soft crease on each tab.

hat brim step 2Remove the brim from the hat circle, and hard-fold the tabs along the creases.

hat brim step 3Return the brim to the underside of the hat circle, and fold and tape the tabs inside the hat.This will bend the hat circle into more of an oval, but that’s totally OK! I found that it was easier to tape the brim with the hat flipped upside down like this:

hat brim step 4Now place the top of the hat circle on a rectangle of blue poster board. Use a pencil to trace its perimeter onto the poster board.

top of hatCut out the oval, and tape it to the top of the hat. Finish by taping a red poster board strip around the hat as a hat band!

finished mail hatTo make the mailbag, cut a manila folder until it is approximately 8.5″ x 10.5″ Staple the sides together (but not the top of course) and used colored masking tape to cover the staples. Decorate with markers if desired. Punch a set of holes at the top, and knot a ribbon through each hole to create the strap. You’re ready for your rounds!

mailbagWe had a huge cardboard box just begging to be made into a post office. Katie took the lead on this one and I must say, she totally surpassed herself. Look at that sturdy counter! The fancy tiled roof! The red border!

post officeWe also made 5 mailboxes with 5 matching letters or packages. Mainly, we used wrapping paper tubes, oatmeal containers, craft boxes, patterned paper, construction paper, and some items from the Bling Bin.

green mailboxyellow mailboxorange mailboxred mailboxblue mailboxThen we whipped up some mail route cards. Each card was labeled “Deliver” or “Collect”  and color-coded to a particular mailbox and piece of mail. The game began with a Deliver card. A kid came to the post office, picked up a Deliver card, and put the 5 pieces of mail in his/her mailbag. Then, following the color-coding on the card, he/she delivered the mail to the correct mailboxes.

delivery card and mailboxWhen the job was done, he/she returned to the post office to find that a letter had arrived for him/her, as well as a set of “stamps” (i.e. spare stickers I had in the art cabinet)! The letter replicates the sweet message Cheep wrote to Leo (such a wonderful book). Ten bonus points if you noticed that I put the letters in purple envelopes, completing the rainbow created by the 5 mailboxes. Heh heh.

letter and stampsAnd thus, the mail was delivered. Next, another kid came to the post office and received a Collect card. He/She had to travel to all the boxes, collect the mail in his/her bag, and return it to the post office. Then the whole process started again with another kid and a Deliver card.

Color matching? Logic? Sequential thinking? It sounds awesome doesn’t it?

Well, I’ve promised to report the good, the bad, and the ugly on this blog, and therefore I must report that we had a complete activity fail. There were 2 dozen kids at story time that day. They loved the activity, but it…took…way…too…long. In the beginning, blazing with optimism, I positioned the 5 mailboxes around the gallery so kids could walk to them.

trip to red mailboxWell, walking took some time. So did figuring out the color coding. So did opening the little mailbox doors and adding or removing the mail. So did stuffing the mail in the mailbag. So did removing the mail from the mailbag.

As the clock ticked waaaay past the end of story time, I had to make some on-the-fly adjustments. I squished all the mailboxes together. I asked the kids to leave their mail bags at the post office and carry the mail in their hands. I opened the doors of the mailboxes to allow for quicker stuffing and removal. It still took ages.

lined up boxesIf I was to do this over again, I would still have 5 mailboxes and 5 matching pieces of mail. But I would have each kid deliver or collect just 1 piece of matching mail, not all 5. That way, you could have 5 kids out on route at a time, which would move things right along. Ah well. The good news is that everyone (finally) got a turn, everyone got some stamps, and everyone received a lovely letter.

cute mail bagBy the way, you don’t have to make a fancy post office or mailboxes to play the mail game. A tabletop will do just as nicely as a post office. A couple of shoe boxes wrapped in colored paper make great mailboxes. You can even skip the mail boxes and deliver the mail directly to your favorite stuffed animal friends!

Hit the Beach

sandcastleThe end of the summer might be in sight, but there’s still time to hit the beach! We made sand castles and then played a shell grabbing game on the “beach.” Just be prepared…some of those waves can get a little big!

shell game 2

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 6″)
  • A box cutter
  • Yellow construction paper
  • 2 paper towel tubes
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (I used a 12″ cake circle)
  • 4 baking cups
  • Sandcastle decorating supplies (more on these later!)
  • 2 bedsheets (1 brown, 1 blue)
  • An assortment of seashells
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Hot glue

We all build the same basic sandcastle, and then the kids customized them with art supplies! To begin, cut the top/lid off of a box (cut the tabs too, if there are any). Then, use a box cutter to cut a drawbridge out of the front of the box. A square door is easier to cut than a curved door:

drawbridgeWrap the sides of the box with yellow construction paper. Hot glue the wrapped box to the center of your corrugated cardboard base. Next, cut 2 paper towel tubes into four, 5.25″ tall towers. Wrap the tubes in yellow construction paper, and hot glue them to the sides of the box (not to the corrugated cardboard base – they’ll just pop off). For the perfect finish, hot glue a baking cup on the top of each tower.

finished basic castleNow it’s time to decorate! We scattered art supplies all over the gallery floor, announced that the tide was out, and had the kids “beach comb” for castle decoration materials.

Supplies included (and these were all some variation of yellow or gold): paper crinkle, self-adhesive foam shapes, mesh tubing, sparkle stems, pipe cleaners, dot stickers, embossed foil paper, patterned paper, cotton balls, mylar, foam beads, craft ties, pieces of bubble tea straw, large plastic buttons, tulle, fabric squares, star stickers, fish stickers, embossed foil seals.

When the castles were finished, we went back to the “beach” to play a shell grabbing game. First, we laid a brown bed sheet on the floor as “sand.” We placed a number of enticing seashells on it. Then, Katie and I grabbed either end of a blue bed sheet and moved it back and forth over the sand to create “waves.” We had a CD of ocean wave sounds playing too.

One by one, the kids came forward and tried to grab two shells before the waves covered them. Some kids took their time walking up and down the beach, scouting the perfect shell before they made a move. Others just dove right in and grabbed as fast as they could. We adjusted the waves to the timidity of the kids of course. And best of all, no one left with sand in their shoes!

shell game 1shell game 2shell game 3

Dragons & Catapults

dragons and catapultsEnter the realm of mythical beasts, sieige engines, and truly stunning Medieval headdresses…it’s time for more kid-tested product reviews! Today, Hope is taking on the Aquarellum Junior paint kit by SentoSphere (ages 7+, retails for approximately $20) and the Tabletop Catapult kit by Sterling Innovation (ages 8+, retails for approximately $25). Have at thee Hope!


Hi everyone! I’m back… and this time, with a Medieval twist! First, I’m going to review the Aquarellum kit.

aquarelleum kitOpening the box, I found four pieces of light, thin, cardboardy canvas, referred to in the instructions as “Aquarellum Board.” The face of each board had a rendering of a dragon outlined faintly on the surface. One of them looked like a Chinese dragon, and the other three were a jumble of Viking and Medieval. There was also a plastic paint palette, six watercolor paints in bottles, a paintbrush, a plastic eyedropper, and a set of instructions. Dr. Dana thought the instructions were beautiful, and their bright colors captured my attention too.

french instructionsThe instructions were a 3 page, double-sided foldout. I started reading them hoping to glean a bit of information on using the product. But the instructions were written completely in French! Scouring them, I finally found a miniscule paragraph written in English. Sadly, it offered me only a vague idea of the procedures of the project. It described the board and how to paint on it, how to mix and dilute your paints, gave a few application tips for the paints, and then… nothing. But I got the “picture” (hahaha). However, I was sad that I couldn’t read the rest of the lovely illustrated instructions. Ah well. C’est la vie!

Basically, each Aquarellum “canvas” had a picture of a dragon outlined in wax. Since the paint was water-based, any messups would be deflected by the wax. What an epically cool concept! It was almost impossible to mess up!  Choosing one of the canvases, I assembled the extra materials recommended for the project.  And I quote…

  • a blank sheet to test mixed colors on
  • absorbent paper
  • A glass of water in which to rinse your brush, dilute inks, and clean the dropper used to dose the inks
  • Direct light (sunlight or a desk lamp), allowing you to clearly see the designs, since the varnish is very pale.

Setting up the materials, I readied the brush and paints.

prepping the paintI used the plastic dropper to place the paint in the cavities of the palette, tested the mixed colors on a piece of paper, and washed the dropper and the brush off in a cup of water.

paint testsThen I started to paint. Oh! What fun!!! The colors were vibrant, the paint easy to use, and it was nearly impossible to mess up!

wax outlines I finished one dragon, and moved onto the next. I found that the paint dried super quick, which made it easy to layer more colors onto the canvas, creating new shades. It was awesome! The only downside was that the paint dried so quickly, it sometimes dried on the wax, creating smudges. Here’s a finished canvas:

finished red dragonOverall, I really enjoyed this project! It was super fun, and my results turned out beautifully, even though I am not an expert at painting. The only downsides of the product were that if you went outside the main outline of the dragon, the smudges dried so fast that they could permanently mar your art.

Also, the bulk of the instructions were in French! This was especially frustrating because the French instructions were beautifully illustrated and clearly had more detail than the paragraph written in English. Also, Dr. Dana and I could not figure out the correct way to pronounce the product name! Aquarellum? What a tongue twister!

And the Scores Are In!

AQUARELLUM

PROS: Fun to use, vibrant colors, easy, entertaining, beautiful results.
CONS: Directions mostly in French, smudges dried too quickly.

SCORE: 5 OUT OF 5!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Setting aside the dragons, I turned to the weaponry….BEHOLD!  A catapult!

catapult kitOpening the box, I found a book titled The Art of the Catapult, wood pieces, wooden pegs, directions, a chunk of brown clay in a plastic baggie, metal washers, white twine, a wire, and some glue. Unfolding the directions, I discovered that they were mostly illustrated. While I liked that they were so precisely illustrated, the text directions were vague, which confused me. The directions also called for a “Healthy Snack,” which was funny, because we only had marshmallows handy (more on those later)!

I used the inventory sheet on the first page to make sure I wasn’t missing any pieces, and started building the catapult. It was pretty straightforward. Use the wooden pegs to connect the wood pieces together to construct the base of the catapult.

base of catapultHowever, some of the pegs were loose. I used some glue, which (thankfully) seemed to help. Other pegs were too tight and had to be hammered in with a piece of stone that Dr. Dana had in her office!?! It was ludicrous, but equally hilarious, to see me pounding pegs into the wood with a huge chunk of stone. Rock dust flew everywhere, and the noise… let’s just say it was painful.

hammer timeAfter I had finished building the base and support structure, I had to construct the torsion string. When I saw the word torsion I thought, “WHAAAAAAAAT?!?!” (Torsion means “to be twisted” or “the act of being twisted”).

In a nutshell, to make the torsion string, I had to coil the string several times and use a wire to thread it through two washers and two holes in the catapult base. Then I wound the ends of the string loops around two pegs (called the “tensioners”). The catapult’s swing arm was inserted in the center of the torsion string and I used the tensioners to tighten it. Dr.Dana assisted, using her knightly muscle.

torsion stringThe directions for this part definitely could’ve used more clarification. The picture/word combination was just too weak for the complexity of the task. I couldn’t figure it out, so I called in Dr. Dana, who also had to carefully inspect the directions and fiddle with the catapult. But figure it out we did!

finished catapultWe made a ball out of the clay…but there was another problem. The wooden peg on the “trigger” was too weak to hold the catapult arm back – the peg just kept popping out. So Dr. Dana reinforced it somewhat with masking tape.

taped trigger pegBut there was another problem. Now the entire trigger would flop over, releasing the catapult arm. It just wasn’t strong enough to hold the arm down. So we ignored the trigger and used our fingers to hold down catapult arm while we loaded it.

But it was fun to use! It was just so utterly entertaining to watch stuff fly through the air! First, we launched the clay ball. Later, we launched a marshmallow and a ping pong ball. The clay ball had the lowest altitude when launched, the marshmallow went the farthest distance, and the ping pong ball went the highest.

Then we decided (of course) to try to launch a marshmallow into curatorial staffer Ellen’s mouth. First, we made sure she was wearing proper head and eye gear:

ellen's awsome headgearEllen sat in a chair approximately 65” away from the catapult. We tried again and again, moving the chair all over, but missed every time! Finally, Ellen took matters into her own hands:

Needless to say, we had fun!

The kit also came with a book called The Art of the Catapult, by William Gurstelle (Sterling Innovation, 2004). The book was broken up into nine chapters. Each chapter contained at least one or two additional catapult-like projects you could build. However, they were far more complex and difficult than the catapult that came with the kit.

The rest of the book was information about the evolution and variation of catapults around the world. To me… well, some of it was cool. Alexander the Great, Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. But the rest of the projects and history of the catapult…. frankly, it felt like too much dry detail.

In addition, the writing style seemed to change throughout the book. Sometimes it felt like an adventure novel, sometimes a history textbook, and other times, translations of ancient writings, like the Torah, Bible, or Koran. It was odd, because the book was by one author. But maybe the author’s interests were also varied, and his writing simply reflected that. It just didn’t flow very well.

The catapult kit was kind of fun, but overall it was more confusing than excellent. The directions were annoying with their briefly captioned illustrations. The project was recommended for ages 8+. Yet I had to use a rock to hammer pegs into the catapult. To me, it suggests that something is wrong. And so…

The Scores Are In!

TABLETOP CATAPULT

PROS: Fun to use (because of laugh factor. It was so fun to launch marshmallows at Ellen), good excuse to eat marshmallows, sturdy materials, came with a book (yay!), built a catapult!

CONS: Confusing directions with not enough written description, aiming was hard, trigger not effective, clay projectile a bit disappointing, book was a little dry.

SCORE: 3 OUT OF 5!


Postscript: Dr. Dana here! Last night, I took the catapult home to my 2 children (ages 4 and 6). For 3 straight hours, they launched ping pong balls around the house. The little catapult held up beautifully, even though the trigger never worked. We ended up removing the trigger and just using our fingers. For extra fun, use a Sharpie to draw silly faces on the ping pong balls.