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

Show Jumping!

show jumpingSaddle up! Today, we’re jumping stick horses over fences at the ultimate story time horse show! When a slew of horse show ribbons were donated to my library, I knew exactly what we had to do. Design a 6-fence course and jump our little hearts out. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see this pair on course, completing a clear round!

We read Scamper and the Horse Show, written by Jessie Haas and illustrated by Margot Apple (Greenwillow Books, 2004). Sisters Anna and Molly are excited about tomorrow’s horse show. But Scamper the pony isn’t too thrilled about being caught and bathed. He arrives at the show with a few brown and green stains, but there’s no time to worry about that – the classes are starting! Unfortunately, during Costume Class, a sudden rainstorm soaks the show grounds. Scamper’s costume (an American flag) leaks all over his grey coat. He’s now a multi-colored mess. But when the judge arrives, she sees a handsome rainbow pony displaying all the colors of horse show ribbons – purple, green, pink, white, yellow, red, and…finally…a blue ribbon for first place!

We made stick horses, affixed good luck charms to our “riding helmets,” and then jumped a course. Waiting at the finish line was a real horse show ribbon to take home!

blue ribbonYou’ll need:

  • A 10″ x 22″ piece of poster board for horse head (we offered brown, white, or black)
  • 1 horse head template, printed on 11″ x 17″ paper
  • A 9″ x 12″ piece of construction paper for mane (we offered brown, white, or black)
  • 2 long strips of poster board (approximately 0.5″ x 6.75″)
  • 2 short strips of poster board (approximately 0.5″ x 4″)
  • A 32.5″ length of PVC pipe
  • Packing tape
  • 2 large wiggle eyes
  • Hole punch
  • A 29.5″ piece of ribbon
  • 1 baseball cap
  • 1 good luck token template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 horse show ribbon
  • 1 set of stadium jumps (more on these later!)
  • Scissors, stapler, glue, and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

horse headWe’ll start with your steed! Fold a large, 10″ x 22″ piece of poster board in half. Next, print and cut the horse head template. Lay the template on top of the folded poster board – the horse’s nose should be flush against the fold in the poster board. Cut the head along the template.

horse head step 1Does this horse head looks familiar to you? That’s because it’s very similar to the stick ponies from this post. These horse heads are smaller (and the sticks shorter) because I wanted to avoid trip hazards while kids were jumping fences. The construction, however, is exactly the same. So I’m going to reuse the instructional photos from the past post here.

Use scrap pieces from the folded poster board to cut a pair of ears. Color the insides with marker, then staple them at the bottom.

earsStaple or hot glue the ears on each side of the horse’s head (you can attach them to the outside of the head, as seen below, or the inside the head):

forelock 1To create the mane, cut a 9″ X 12″ piece of construction paper in half lengthwise, and fringe the 2 pieces. Cut two, 3″ pieces of fringe off the ends and set those aside (you’ll use them for the horse’s forelock later). Now use hot glue, glue, or tape to secure 1 mane piece to the right side of the horse’s head. Repeat this same step on the left side.

maneTo create a forelock, make a 1.5″ cut down the fold of the head, directly between the ears.

forelock 2Slide a 3″ piece of fridge into the cut and secure it to the interior of the horse’s head with hot glue, glue, or tape. Repeat the same step on the other side. Trim (or curl) the forelock and mane if needed.

forelock 3Punch a hole on each side of the horse’s mouth. This is where the reins will thread through later.

reinsTime to decorate! Hot glue 2 wiggle eyes to the head and draw the nostrils and mouth with markers. To make a bridle, decorate 4 poster board strips with markers. The longest strips go down the sides of the horse’s head. The short strips fold across the horse’s forehead and nose. You can attach them with tape or hot glue. Here’s what a finished head looks like:

bridle detailsNext, unfold the head. Lay a piece of PVC pipe on one side of the head, making sure that the end of the pipe is approximately 1.5″ away from the fold. Use packing tape (not regular tape) to attach the pipe to the neck. Use at least 4 pieces of packing tape to make it really secure.

attaching stickRefold the head and put a few staples into the base of the head, around the pipe.

close up of stick staplesThread a piece of ribbon through the punched holes, and tie it behind the horse’s head! You’re done!

horse headWe needed to keep the kids busy while we set up the show jumping course, so we handed out black baseball cap “riding helmets” (which I purchased from Oriental Trading Company) and good luck token templates to color. To attach the token, simply fold it along the dotted line, slide it through the back strap of the cap, and staple both sides together.

token on hatGood luck tokens securely attached. Hard hats on tightly, horses and riders gathered outside the library, where their show jumping course awaited!

stadium jumpsKatie and I constructed these out of various boxes, wrapping paper tubes, tissue paper, poster board, and colored masking tape. I’ll admit, we went a little crazy. Yup, this one definitely ranks up there with the haunted dollhouse in terms of effort and mess. But just look at that topiary water jump folks! Beautiful! At the end of the program, we had a drawing and 6 lucky kids got to take home a jump.

A few practical matters. We kept the height of the jumps very low. The tallest jump (the brick wall) was only 10″ high. The jumps were made out of light material so they would fall over easily if hit (and not stub any toes). Happily, we had no falls and everyone (even the most timid 3-year-old) made it over the jumps with no problem. I had grand plans for an intricate jumping course. But in the end, good sense (i.e. Katie) prevailed and I set the jumps up in an easy-to-follow horseshoe.

On the show grounds, the riders lined up in single file at the starting cones. At the sound of a bell, each rider took a turn jumping the course. When he/she passed the finish cones, he/she got to choose a ribbon. The kids were THRILLED.

horse show ribbons While there were plenty of ribbons to chose from, we made sure to hold one super fancy ribbon back for the last kid riding the course. And now, how about seeing a rider in action?

The black jacket the little girl is wearing is a ring-bearer’s tux. Katie’s son wore it when he was 4 and a half. The lacy stock tie is from a “Colonial Gentleman” costume I wore for a history program. Who knew these items would later become the perfect riding ensemble?