Vroom Vroom, Zoom Zoom

mr. frumble pickle carPickle car anyone? The world of Richard Scarry is full of fantastical vehicles, and at last Saturday’s library event, we invited kids create a wheeled wonder and give it a test drive! For a slideshow gallery of some seriously fun vehicles, scroll to the bottom of the post.

The program was called Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which is, of course, the title of one of Richard Scarry’s books (Golden Books, 1998). We were joined by our friends at scienceSeeds (who you might remember from this post). They brought all sorts of goodies. Little motors to take apart, homemade remote control cars, programmable LEGO cars, and this snazzy traffic light that demonstrated how simple circuits work. The back of the traffic light was open so kids could see how it was wired.

traffic lightBut scienceSeed’s most popular station by far was a set of 4 wooden ramps for car races. If you don’t have wooden ramps handy, cardboard ramps work too!

racing rampsMy library coordinated the car decoration portion of the program. Here’s how it worked. Kids arrived at the front of the gallery and were given two choices of vehicle. A “dragster” (which was a 7/8″ x 2″ x 8″ jewelry box), or a “truck,” (which was a 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” craft box).

Older kids could skip the box and opt to build a car from scratch using craft sticks and balsa wood. Then, they attempted to get their creation down a race ramp without “cracking” a plastic egg passenger. Here’s an intrepid trio who worked together to design the ultimate vehicle.

engineersOnce kids selected a box, we taped two, 4″ plastic straws to its bottom. Then we threaded two, 6″ wooden rod “axles” through the straws. The wooden rods were BBQ skewers cut down to the proper size with pruning shears (and don’t forget to cut off the pointy end of the skewer!). The final step was to slide 4 plastic wheels on the ends of the wooden rods (later, kids used hot glue or tape on the ends of the rods to keep the wheels from sliding off). Here’s what the completed underside of a truck looked like:

axles and wheelsI purchased the wheels from Kelvin Educational, an online science supply company. They are 1-3/8″ in diameter. The wheels can be a little difficult to locate on the website, so here are the product numbers: black wheels are 990168 (they cost $10 for 100 wheels); colored wheels are 990169 (they cost $11 for 100 wheels).

wheelsAlternatives to the plastic wheels are wooden wheels, wooden spools, round foam beads, or tagboard circles with holes punched in them. Basically, if it rolls and has a hole in the center, you can use it!

Once the boxes were fitted with axles and wheels, kids proceeded to the decorating area. There, they found three, 6′ tables loaded with art supplies. University students from Stella Art Club and the Men’s Soccer team volunteered at both the art tables and the science area. They were amazing!

art materialsI don’t have a full list of all the art supplies we provided, but some that were particularly appreciated were mini pinwheels, animal finger puppets, and metallic springs (all 3 were purchased from Oriental Trading Company). Also popular were sparkle stems, fabric flowers, foam beads, and craft ties. A call for recyclables to University library staff also yielded some interesting one-off items, like decorative buttons, plastic bead necklaces, and little figurines.

We had work tables set up all over the gallery. They were stocked with markers, scissors, colored masking tape, packing tape, and glue sticks. There were 4 staff-operated hot glue stations too. Here’s the central work area in action:

central work area The final touch to the program was Katie’s brainchild…a “Find the Goldbug” game. Katie made, and hid, 5 Goldbugs in the gallery. Each Goldbug had a word written on its base. Kids had to find all the Goldbugs, decipher the “secret sentence” (it was “Everyone wants a pickle car”) and repeat the sentence to me or Katie. The prize? A little checkered racing flag to adorn your vehicle! The flags were “race car flag picks,” ordered from Oriental Trading Company (we made sure to cut the pointy ends off).

hidden goldbugKatie and I wore mechanics coveralls at the event (thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop!). I managed to carry cough drops, my iPhone, my digital camera, the battery box for my microphone, my office keys, and lip balm in my coveralls. It was like I was wearing the most useful purse in the world. Coveralls are way comfortable too. Katie didn’t want to take hers off. I think I’ll get her a pair next holiday season. With her name stitched on the pocket.

team coverallAnd now, how about some amazing vehicles? Some kids fashioned little trailers for their vehicles. Some added pull strings. You might notice a few cellophane flames left over from this project. Love it!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Thanks once again to Princeton University’s Men’s Soccer team and Stella Art Club. Your volunteerism, enthusiasm, and creativity was very much appreciated!

Out of This World

flying saucerMake a flying saucer and watch it whiz down a zip line! This project is the perfect blend of simplicity, creativity, and action. We even have a saucer flight video for you!

We read Space Case, written by Edward Marshall, and illustrated by James Marshall (Puffin Books; reprint edition, 1992). When a bright yellow saucer-shaped thing arrives from outer space, it doesn’t find the natives (a cow, a chicken, and a jack-o-lantern) to be very forthcoming in conversation. But then it encounters three trick-or-treaters, who mistake him for a new kid in the neighborhood. The quartet have a wonderful time trick-or-treating until Buddy McGee realizes that the thing isn’t wearing a costume. He invites it home, and even takes it to school the next day. But when the thing learns there will be no trick-or-treating that night, it prepares to depart. It promises, however, to return for Christmas!

You’ll need:

  • 2 sturdy paper plates
  • 1 strip of poster board (approximately 1.5″ x 22″)
  • A selection of dot stickers
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 3 rectangles of grey construction paper (approximately 2″ x 6″ each)
  • 1 jumbo pom-pom (mine was 1.75″)
  • 1 large wiggle eye
  • 1 clear plastic drinking cup (I used a 2.75″ tall hard plastic cocktail glass)
  • 1 jumbo paper clip (mine was 1.75″ long)
  • Flying saucer decorating materials (more on this below)
  • 6 squares of yellow and/or red cellophane (approximately 5″ x 5″)
  • A length of 24-gauge wire
  • Scissors, stapler and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished saucerFirst, decorate a strip of poster board with dot stickers “lights” (we used silver metallic poster board and yellow dot stickers, but any color combination will do). Circle the poster board strip around the bottom of a paper plate and staple (or tape) the circle closed. In the demonstration photo below, I used purple poster board so it would stand out against the white plate. For the actual project, the poster board was silver with white backing.

circled stripHot glue the poster board circle to the paper plate. Next, squirt a ring of hot glue around the top rim of the poster board circle, then press the second paper plate on top. Your saucer will now look like this:

two plate saucerCut 2 toilet paper tubes in half. Wrap 3 of the tube pieces with grey construction paper, then hot glue them to the bottom of the saucer in a triangular fashion. These are your saucer’s “rocket boosters.”

attached tp tubesSet the saucer aside for the moment. Hot glue a single wiggle eye onto a jumbo pom-pom. This is your “alien.” We prepped a bunch in advance of story tine.

aliensPlace the alien on the top of your saucer, then tape a clear plastic cup over top of it.

undecorated saucer Next, bend the halves of a paper clip apart until it forms a right angle,

bent paper clipThen tape the bottom part of the paper clip securely to the top of the cup. This is the “hook” that connects the saucer to the zip line.

attached hookIt’s time to decorate your saucer! We offered tin foil, embossed foil paper, sparkle stems, dot stickers, and some foil confetti stars I picked up in the party section of Michaels craft store. Try to keep the art materials nice and light so they don’t weight the saucer down too much. Also, don’t let kids attach anything to the paper clip hook. Otherwise, the saucer’s flight down the wire might be hampered.

When you’re finished decorating, stack 2 squares of cellophane on top of one another (we used red and yellow). Pinch the middle of the cellophane squares together, twist them tightly, and secure with tape. Repeat the above steps twice more. You now have 3 “flames” for your saucer’s rocket boosters.

flames  Tape a flame inside each booster. Done!

attached flamesReady to flying your saucer? You’ll just need some wire! I dug this spool of 24-gauge craft wire out of the supply closet. The smoother the wire, the better.

crafting wire

Katie and I stretched 25 feet of wire between the launch site and the landing pad. I handled the launches, Katie handled the landings. To help my grip on the wire, I wrapped my end of the wire around a wooden dowel. I slipped the saucer’s paper clip hook onto the wire, lifted my end of the wire to give the saucer a sliding start, and watched it fly!

Important: Katie and I tested the wire the day before the program. When we were finished, we lightly coiled it and set it on a table. Unfortunately, that was enough to cause the wire to kink. The next day, the first saucer on the wire got snagged on the kinks. We had to quickly unspool a fresh length of wire. After that, it was smooth sailing.

pink saucer

If you’re going to do this project with a crowd of kids, I suggest doing some prep ahead of time. Definitely prep the upper and lower halves of the saucers  (i.e. hot glue the poster board circle to one paper plate, and the 3 tube boosters to the other plate). While the kids were decorating the top half with markers, we used a number system (similar to the ones used in delis and bakeries – we also used it on this project) to call them to the hot glue stations to get the bottom half of their saucer’s attached. Then they wrapped the boosters with grey construction paper, attached the cup, and proceeded to decorating.

Also, in our version of this activity, the kids brought their alien-free saucers to the launching site. I loaded an alien in it, taped the cup down, and then sent the saucer zooming down the zip line. If you decide to do this, make sure the kids attach the cup with just 1 piece of tape. This will allow you to easily lift the cup and place the alien on the saucer. But don’t forget to tape the lid down tightly after that!

Katie also prepped the cellophane flames in advance so there would be plenty of time to fly the saucers. Kids could take as many flights as they wanted.

It was…wait for it…a total blast!

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!