O Frabjous Day

go ask aliceThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, and we decided to honor the occasion at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day! Our event table was stocked with some super, yet simple-to-assemble, thaumatropes. There was also some breakdancing. Well, sort of. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see our mashup of Alice and the 1980s.

A thaumatrope is a Victorian optical toy. It consists of two images printed on opposite sides of a paper disc or card. When you twirl the thaumatrope, its two pictures appear to blend into one. Most thaumatropes are twirled using string. We decided to mount ours on pencils.

thaumatrope demoYou’ll need:

  • 1 Alice thaumatope template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 pencil (I ordered terrific ones from Oriental Trading Company)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Colored pencils (or crayons) for decorating

We offered 4 Alice-themed templates, drawn by our amazing student artist, Aliisa Lee.

thaumatropesFirst, select a template, and use colored pencils or crayons to color it. Then, fold the template in half (along its faint grey line).

folded thaumatropeFlip the thaumatrope over, and tape a pencil to the back of one of the panels like so:

thaumatrope step 2Fold the thaumatrope closed, then secure the panels together with a piece of tape. You’ll also want to tape both sides of the thaumatrope to the pencil, to make it extra sturdy.

thaumatrope step 3Hold the pencil between your palms and roll it briskly back and forth. Your thaumatrope will turn, and the two images will appear as one!

twirlingHere’s what our craft table looked like (and, if you’d like to explain a bit of the science behind how the device works, here’s a pdf of our thaumatrope table sign):

thaumatrope work tableWe also had some pens and blank thaumatrope cards on hand, just in case kids wanted to try their hands at making one from scratch.

blank thaumatropeOn the other side of our event tent, we loaded a table with optical illusions cards, tops, Photicular bookmarks, flip books, replicas of vintage thaumatropes, kaleidoscopes, and mini chess boards.

optical illusion tableWhile color print-outs of optical illusions work just fine, I highly recommend this pack of Usborne optical illusion cards. There are 50 illusions in the pack. They’re colorful, sturdy, and the science behind the illusions is explained on the back of the cards. The deck retails for $10.

optical illusion cardsNo event is complete without a little costuming, and Marissa and I raided both our closets and the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for our garb. This was completely unintentional when we snapped the shot, but…don’t Marissa and I look like we’re going to bust out some 80s breakdancing moves?

break danceMaybe it’s the shoes? The jaunty pose? Hmmmm. What if we adjust the backdrop a little…

welcome to the 80sOh yeah. I dare you to pin it.

Many thanks to the Costume Shop at the Lewis Center for the Arts for the costume loans, and to Aliisa Lee for triggering some totally radical 80s flashbacks.

A Little Batty

a little battyThis terrific poster board bat can hang just about anywhere, thanks to its paper clip foot. The bat is a little science lesson too – open its wings and discover a mini exhibition of bat information!

bat wings openYou’ll need:

  • 1 rectangle of brown poster board (approximately 6″ x 13.25″)
  • 1 bat template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 jumbo paperclip (mine was 2″ long)
  • 1 bug template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • Bat facts templates (more on those below)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue stick  for construction
  • Black marker

Fold a rectangle of brown poster board in half (we used brown because brown (and red) bats are the most common bats in NJ). Use the template to trace 1/2 of a bat onto the folded poster board. Use a black marker to draw eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Next, fold each wing inward, across the bat’s body.

bat stepsUnfold the wings and glue bat facts and bugs to the bat’s body. Two important things to remember: 1) Since the bat hangs upside down, you’ll want to attach the facts and bugs upside down as well; and 2) Keep the things you are gluing out of the creases in the wings. Otherwise, your bat’s wings will not fold as nicely.

We offered 4 different types of bugs (here’s the bug template again) and 6 different bat facts. Kids could pick and choose which bugs and facts they wanted to add to their bats. The facts are listed below, along with their templates.

I’m not blind, but I don’t use my eyes,
to navigate through the dark night skies. ECHO! Echo! echo!
bat fact 1 template

If life is fair and food is plenty,
I’ll live to the ripe old age of 20!
bat fact 2 template

Nature’s #1 bug zapper!
bat fact 3 template

“Flying mice?” That’s not very nice.
What’s more true?
Bats are more like YOU!
bat fact 4 template

I’m a bug muncher all right,
I eat half my weight every night!
bat fact 5 template

See me swoop and spin and fetch?
I grab some bugs with a one-arm catch!
bat fact 6 template

Once your facts and bugs are glued, grab a jumbo paperclip. Bend the inner part upwards until the paperclip forms a 90 degree angle.

paper clip footTape 1/2 of the paper clip to the back of your bat, right at the very bottom:

taped paper clipOK, your bat is ready to hang! Place the free end of the paperclip onto a shelf or tabletop. If you’d like to hang the bat on your shirt, on a nail, or on a garland with other bats, adjust the paperclip accordingly.

I designed this project for a “Bats in Your Backyard” table at a library event in 2013. The table was hosted by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. The foundation put together an amazing table packed with information about bats. And check out the bat houses on display!

conserve wildlife foundation of nj That’s MacKenzie Hall in the above photo. She’s a researcher, conservationist, wildlife educator, and author of the fabulous rhyming bat facts. This month, along with two other women, she won the Conserve Wildlife’s Foundation’s “Women and Wildlife” Inspiration Award. You go MacKenzie!

Lipogram Fortunes

lipogram fortuneNo one can predict what wisdom a fortune cookie will reveal. Except in this case. We can say with absolute, 100% certainty that this fortune will not contain the letter O. Because hidden inside this cookie is a carefully crafted lipogram fortune.

The lipogram fortune cookie activity is always a crowd-pleaser at Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group for ages 9-12. First, we introduce the lipogram – a type of writing in which the author leaves out a letter (or letters) when crafting a sentence, paragraph, or story. Then we write fortune cookie fortunes that cannot include the letter O. Here are a few pearls of wisdom, future predictions, and unusual directives, all with nary an O in sight!

Making beds creates happy parents everywhere.

Beauty is great, but brains are better.

Never give up.

Rain will fall where it never falls.

Life is filled with crazy bananas!

Washed feet are always appreciated.

Beware the lizards. They bite.

Quick! Buy all the chunky peanut butter in Alabama!

Surprise hug the dude sitting nearest the exit.

There will be an alien kidnapping.

Marble will crack and the universe will be put in small terms…beep…beep…beep…shwee, shew, whee!

The future that lies ahead isn’t paved yet.

Saturday night is finally live.

Rip up this paper immediately.

Read this!

Be clear and direct – a Giant Space Laser can be disabled with the right steps.

Buy bad cheese.

Ye with withstand danger.

Child, eat the asparagus in the plate because it is amazing!

Never try being smart in class.

Leave this Chinese restaurant.

Be safe in life, but carefulness is an inadequate skill.

Have a nice day.

Beware jumping chipmunks.

Falling is a bad idea.

The difference between happiness and sadness is this: the happy man has a warm puppy.

We do the lipogram activity early in the program. Later, it makes a triumphant comeback during our QUEST, which occurs at the very end of the program. The QUEST is super elaborate cross-campus race that involves teams solving riddles, encountering student actors, following maps, and unearthing clues. One such clue is hidden inside a bunch of lipogram fortune cookies.

You may already be aware that you can order fortune cookies with special messages. They say things like “It’s a Boy!” or “Will you marry me?” or “Happy Anniversary!” But you can order custom messages too.

We ordered cookies with 4 custom messages. Each message was missing a particular letter (or two). In the QUEST box, next to the 4 cookies, was a letter wheel and a golf pencil (here’s the letter wheel template if you’re interested).

letter wheelFirst, the QUEST kids had to recall the lipogram activity. Then, they had to figure out that the missing letters spelled out a QUEST clue (the letter wheel and the golf pencil helped them keep track). Here’s a solved wheel, pointing the kids to their next destination:

letter wheel solutionI buy my cookies online from Fortune Cookie Planet. They are peanut free, tree-nut free, vegan, and preservative free. 50 cookies with 4 custom messages costs $20 (plus shipping). Another option is to obtain fortune cookies locally, use tweezers to pull out the fortunes, and carefully inset your own message inside. Just make sure you have a few extra cookies on hand. Sometimes they crack apart during the fortune-swapping process!

Illustration of fortune cookie used on letter wheel template is by Coffee Addict on wikiHow.