Get It Together

get it togetherYou are gazing at the most recent addition to my crafting toolbox. Plastic envelopes! Or, to get technical, poly string envelopes from OfficeMax (the ones pictured above are the “check” size at 5.5″ x 10″). A pack of 5 costs $10.

I love these things. Why?

Our projects often involve little bits and pieces we prep in advance. During story time, as we progress through the project, we have to continually pause to hand out the little pieces. This can take precious time away from crafting (especially when you have large crowds to navigate through). So I started putting all the little pieces together in envelopes and handing an envelope to each kid at the start of the project. Here’s an envelope in action a taxi cab story time:

taxi envelopeI’ve used the envelope system on a number of projects (this mouse clock, this beekeeping set, this bottle airplane, this paint set, this bed tray, and this wooly mammoth, for example). Since the envelopes are plastic, it’s very easy to wipe off stray marker and/or glue. If you don’t have paper or plastic envelopes handy, you can always drop the small pieces into cheap plastic cups (like I did at this candy factory story time).

And while we’re on the topic of organization, I definitely recommend art caddies for keeping your tabletop supplies in check! I bought mine from Discount School Supply. A set of 4 colors cost $25. They are “classroom grade” and practically indestructible.

art caddyHowever, when it came time to put together a home art studio for my kids, I went with a cheaper $4 version from Michals craft store. The plastic is thinner and the carrying handle isn’t quite as comfortable, but all in all, they’ve held up pretty well!

As you can probably guess, I like to be organized. Way organized. In fact, I’ve turned organization into a super power. The way I see it, I don’t want to spend time hunting for my scissors. I want to spend as much time as possible being creative. If I know exactly where my scissors are, I don’t have to give it another thought. Apply this principal on a larger scale and you get my library’s art supply cabinet:

art cabinetHere, supplies are sorted into plastic bins, dish tubs, copy paper boxes, salvaged paper trays…you name it! For oddly sized or bulky objects (like pom-poms), I use plain old plastic storage bags with zipper closures. I also have a neat-o scissor rack I wrote about in this post.

You would think I would be tidy while crafting, but no. During the process of creating a project or piece of art, I make a total mess. I spread out everywhere, tossing things right and left, gently shedding curls of paper and sticking bits of tape to my pants. Just look at the crafting carnage that was generated during the building of this haunted house.

tremendous messBut when the job is done, everything goes back in its proper place. I cannot leave my office a mess at the end of the day. And I can’t start a project with a messy office either. It’s weird, but somehow I make this organization/creation contradiction work for me.

One final tip! Since I don’t have any counters or spare table space in my program area, I work off an old book truck. All the supplies are prepped and ready to go, and I just roll it right into the workshop area during the program. It also doubles as a portable hot glue station.

book truckSometimes, however, even this humble book truck has its moments of glory…

horse and riders

Nifty Neon

nifty neonTime for another post from our kid tester, Hope! Today she will be reviewing the Neon Light Writer by Thames & Kosmos. It’s intended for kids ages 8 and up, and retails for about $20.

Hello, Readers!! Upon opening the box for the Neon Light Writer, I was surprised to discover that what looked like a chic pegboard on the front of the box was really just black, 20” x 8” piece of cardboard with holes punched in it! I fished for the other items in the box and found a coil of wire, a plastic battery holder attached to the wire that had a little switch on it, a collection of 25 black plastic pegs, and a manual. I opened up the manual and saw the “Kit Contents” list. Double checking to make sure I had everything I needed, I turned the page.

kit contentsAfter reading the handy dandy instructions, I learned that the concept of the project was to insert the plastic pegs in the pegboard in a certain pattern, then thread the wire through the pegs to spell out a word. Cool! was my immediate thought.

I decided to follow the instructions and try my hand at writing the word “GEEK” as a first attempt. As I put the pegs into the cardboard, I noticed that the peg holes were a little small for the pegs. The manual said that the sign is supposed to hang from nails, though there was no kind of hanging device mounted on the back, or any nails included within the rest of the kit.

Maybe because the nails were supposed to be inside the peg holes the holes were small? It’s also a possibility that the holes were small so the pegs didn’t fall out while the sign was hanging up. It was annoying because small holes meant that the pegs had to be forced into the board. Since the pegboard was flimsy cardboard, I was afraid I would rip it.

When I was finally through painstakingly pressing in pegs, I unwound the little bundle of wire and started threading it through the pegs, which had little notches in them.

notched pegs close upIf I thought putting the pegs in was bad, then this was a pain in the tush! The wire was flexible, but moderately thick compared to the size of the peg notches. In some places, it was necessary to double the wire over because of the shape of the letters. This made it even harder to thread through the peg notches.  Another challenge was that the wire would bunch up between each peg if I didn’t keep it pulled taut as I threaded it through. If I tried to straighten it after I had put it through a peg, the peg would come out of the board. This was frustrating, as pegs popped out of the board quite a few times!

working with wireWhen it was finally finished, I turned on the little battery holder box button. The light was faint inside the bright room, so I moved to a darker room to test the magic. There we were, Katie, Dr. Dana, and I, cramped in the gallery’s storage closet, better known as “The Black Hole.” As I clicked the button the wire became illuminated with neon blue light. I said, “EPIC!! It actually works!!!” In the dark, we noticed that the blue light was sort of flecked, in a way that made it look like the wire was malfunctioning or something (more on the fleckiness later).

flecksNext, I decided to make a word of my own (“Zap!”). Instead of using paper, tape, and marker as suggested, I used the letter chart in the manual. The chart was super helpful. The letter chart showed the pegboard as a diagram, and showed you where to place pegs for each letter in the alphabet. Here’s the finished word:

zap set upWe went back into “The Black Hole,” and there were still flecks in the wire. We checked the manual (and the box) and discovered that the wire was real EL wire (Electroluminescent wire)! The manual listed the different components of EL wire (copper core, phosphor, copper wire, PVC plastic sleeve, colored outer PVC plastic sleeve, AC power source) and how it works. I thought it was very considerate to include all of the cool bonus information! That was definitely one of the best parts about the product.

Though I was excited to know I was using real EL wire, the manual didn’t “shed any light” on the whole fleckiness issue.

So, a few days later, I decided to call the company, Thames & Kosmos, and find out what was up. I talked to a very kind man, named John. He asked me to describe my issue. I informed him about the flecks in the wire. He told me that that was NOT natural! He even offered to send me a replacement wire! Great customer service! Hats off to John! He asked for my email, name, and address so he could inform me of any problems with shipping.

He told me it should arrive in 2-3 days, so I started waiting for the wire. I waited. And waited, and waited. And it wasn’t there a week and a half later! So I called John’s personal extension. I was told that the wire wasn’t in stock when they went to ship it, so they had to wait for a new order to come in. They were evidently shipping it that day. They should have emailed me! I thought.

Finally(!), the wire arrived three days later! I set up the new wire and clicked it on. Voila! A wire with no flecks, a stream of fluorescent (haha, phosphorescent!) blue! The new wire was beautiful. It was a feast for the eyes compared to the old flecky wire!

wire 1 vs wire 2All in all, this product was pretty fun, but it has its faults.

First, the directions called for extra items I didn’t actually use. Two sheets of white paper, markers, and tape. Those items were to help you write your word and place the pegs in their proper places on the board for the wire, but they were not necessary. Unless you wanted to write in cursive, or some other kind of script, you could use one of the handy letter guides inside the manual.

Also, the instructions called for black tape to cover the part of the wire between the letters. I don’t know about you, but I don’t own any black tape. Thankfully, Dr. Dana had some black masking tape handy.

The company’s customer service was excellent! However, I felt that I should have received an email about the delay of my replacement wire. That left me a bit frustrated.

Additionally, the cardboard was pretty flimsy. I mean, who wants to pay $20 for a piece of cardboard that’s supposed to be a pegboard!? The box calls the cardboard a “pegboard,” so I was expecting a sturdier base for the project. And why would you want to buy a product, not knowing how many extra materials you would need? (I checked the outside of the box for the product, but it mentions only two of the six other things you need!)

Oh, and this brings me to another pet peeve about products and books: the recommended age.

neon light writer age 8 plusThe recommended age for this product is 8+. Considering the frustration I had at age 12 signals to me that maybe the product should either A) note that adult assistance is needed, or B) it should be recommended for ages 10+.

This product was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed how it actually lit up! I was really skeptical about that! I loved how you could use the switch on the battery box to change the light mode to “Fast Blinking” or “Slow Blinking.” It was definitely a project I would recommend for science lovers or engineers-to-be!


Pros: Fun, cool that it actually lit up, educational information in manual, great customer service/friendly and helpful staff, lovely new replacement wire.

Cons: Frustrating at times, wire hard to use, pegboard a bit low quality, no email about shipping delay.


Though this product had some faults, most products do. Overall, it was a super fun little project that could double as a science lesson!

Hair Chalk Challenge

hair chalk reviewOur kid tester Hope is back once again! In this exciting installment, she’ll be reviewing and comparing two types of hair chalk: Alex metallic hair chalk pens (for ages 8+, a five color package retails for approximately $10 ) and Kiss Naturals hair chalk (for ages 6+, a two color box retails for approximately $13). Take it away Hope!

Hi everyone! The Kiss Naturals hair chalk is described on the box as an “All natural DIY craft making kit.” I would have to agree with this statement! You mix together the ingredients and let it set inside molds to make a chalky material. The Alex version took a different twist – glittery chalky “pens” (the pens were really just chalk holders). Definitely less DIY than the Kiss Naturals. Just pop off the little plastic covering.

The box for the Kiss Naturals chalk was a little misleading. The front of the box showed two sticks of chalk in a bold red and blue. However, the package had a small sticker that said the box contained supplies for orange and purple chalk, and the actual molds for the hair chalk were heart shaped, not rectangular.

kiss naturals hair chalkThe Alex chalk pens were in a clear package, so you could see each product. This clear packaging is helpful, especially on a cosmetic product [Dr. Dana notes: the larger boxes of Kiss Naturals hair chalk, which contain 6 colors, do have a clear window on the front that displays the contents].

alex hair chalk pensThe Alex pens had some directions inside the package, and the directions only had two steps in English! There were three total pictures with directional captions. Each one had a foreign language caption, but only two had English captions. Two of the pictures were almost (but not quite!) identical, but only one of those pictures had an English caption! Talk about confusing!

alex directionsThe Alex pens also included a tiny comb to use in your hair. The comb was so small, it seemed more suitable to use on an American Girl Mini Doll’s hair than human hair, but as we didn’t want to ruin a hairbrush, we decided to try our luck with the tiny comb.

The instructions said to separate a section of hair and rub the chalk on it. As my helper assistant, Em, held out a section of my hair and ground some yellow Alex hair chalk into it, I tried not to yelp! The hair chalk, despite Em’s heroic effort, barely left a trace of color, and to make matters worse, it smelled like vinegar! We tried several different colors of the Alex pens, but they ALL smelled like vinegar! The only solution was to keep it away from my face while grinding it in my hair so I couldn’t smell it!

tiny combEm then ran the little comb through my hair. It got caught in the slightest knots in my hair. SUPER UNCOMBFORTABLE!!! In the end, the Alex pens left an okay amount of color, but it most noticeably left what looked like colorful dandruff in my hair!

yellowThe Kiss Naturals chalk was not much improved. As I mentioned above, it’s a DIY project. When you open the package, it comes with two little baggies of pigment, a tiny spoon, a little measuring cup/beaker, a bottle of purified water and what appear to be rubber ice cube molds (those are the hair chalk molds).

Okay everybody! It’s time for the most interesting part of the review: the witch hazel CONFUSION!

The front of the Kiss Naturals box has a cartoon picture of the items in the box. Nice feature! I noticed that the little bottle on the front of the box was labeled “Witch Hazel.” I got excited! I’d read about witch hazel in books, and was interested to see how it would work in a cosmetic product. Interestingly enough, however, the little bottle inside the box was labeled “Purified Water,” and the directions also said to use water. Why did the directions say water, and the box say witch hazel?

mistake on boxAfter opening the bottle and smelling it, the Pop Goes the Page team determined that it was not witch hazel. Why wasn’t it? Was there a typo on the box? Or did the company send the wrong bottle and directions? Definitely something a consumer should know!

In the end it didn’t matter, because as Em and I whipped up the lavender chalk, I completely missed the bottle of water and used tap water. By the time I saw the bottle of purified water in the bottom of the package it was too late! After mixing the pigment with the (tap) water, we poured it in the mold. Taking a glance at the directions, we realized that the chalk had to sit for FOUR hours!! FOUR!! Two hours in the mold, and two out of the mold. After two hours inside the mold it was completely hardened, and we decided to use it. Whether or not it set quickly because of the tap water I am not completely sure.

hair chalk heart However, much the same events followed with the Kiss Naturals chalk as with the Alex pens. Em ground the chalk into my scalp. OW!!!!! After going through this cosmetic torture, Dr. Dana pointed out that Kiss Naturals suggests applying the chalk to wet hair (Dr. Dana also noticed that the Alex pens definitely say dry hair). I don’t know if this would have made a difference but, in the end, despite Em’s efforts, the chalk left my hair a pale white-lavender color. NOT PLEASANT! Especially not after Em had ground it into my hair! I wonder if the chalk would have been more easily applied to wet hair?

Then it was the moment of truth: The washing of the hair!

That night, I turned on the warm water and started scrubbing my hair. And scrubbing. And…well you get the picture. The Alex product definitely took more scrubbing to get out. Without a doubt!  That’s when Kiss Naturals came through for me. Their product washed out easily, without any trouble at all!

Now it’s time for the SCORES!

All in all, the Alex pens score was…
Comfort :  3/10
Style/Color: 5/10
Smell: 1/10

Pros: Colorful. I loved how there were more color choices!
Cons: TERRIBLE smell, not easily applied, took a bit of scrubbing to get out of my hair.

All in all, the Kiss Naturals chalk score was…
Comfort: 3/10
Style/Color:  4/10
Smell:  10/10 (no odor)

Pros: NO SMELL!!!!!!!! DIY project. I really enjoyed being able to mix up a purple concoction! It was like being in Macbeth, but no gory stuff! WASHED OUT QUICKLY AND PAINLESSLY!
Cons: Not easily applied, faded color

So as far as style goes, the Alex pens took the cake. But it was a very stale cake. Neither of the two hair chalks tested are hair chalks I would recommend, because of the discomfort they caused. It didn’t help that the Alex pens had pictures of supermodel-gorgeous kids on the front! Talk about saying you’ll get glam hair, and getting glitter dandruff!

hair streaksSo out of the two hair chalk products tested, neither was a completely satisfactory product! If I had to pick one of these products to recommend, I would actually recommend the Kiss Naturals chalk over the Alex pens, only because the Kiss Naturals chalk was dry and odorless, whereas the Alex pens left me with a soggy, sore, dandruffy-appearing head.

Though a little uncomfortable, this hair chalk might be a fun rainy day project for someone, even if hair chalk isn’t really my thing. Just look out…you may see me whistling this song down the road someday…

“I’m gonna wash that chalk right outta my hair, I’m gonna wash that chalk right outta my hair, and send it on its way!”

Many thanks to Hope for providing photos, and to Em for her invaluable assistance!