Welcome to My World

welcome to my worldCreate your perfect paradise, complete with a picturesque bridge, comfortable hammock, airy hut with a platform room, supply bucket on a pulley, convenient clothesline, and a stupendous sun clock. Do those towering red flowers remind you of anything? If you answered “swist,” you know exactly where we’re going with this!

We read Weslandia, written by Paul Fleischman, and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick Press, 1999). Wesley, an inquisitive dreamer and inventor, is different from the other kids at school. These differences worry his parents and attract bullies. Undaunted, Wesley launches an ambitious summer project – he’s going to grow his own crop and found his own civilization. Magically, his idea is planted in the ground, where an unusual plant begins to grow. The plant (which he names “swist”) shoots skywards and quickly becomes the foundation of “Weslandia.” Wesley eats the fruit from the plants, weaves clothing from its fibers, invents a time-keeping system based on its petals, and records his civilization’s history with ink pressed from its oil. Scornful at first, the other kids quickly become intrigued. Soon, they join Wesley in enjoying and exploring Westlandia. When school resumes in the fall, Wesley no longer has to worry about friends!

You’ll need:

  • 1 courrugated cardboard base
  • 4-6 champagne corks (optional)
  • 5 wine corks
  • A permanent markers
  • At least 4 toilet paper tubes
  • A rectangle of fabric (approximately 3.5″ x 5.5″)
  • Extra fabric (or patterned paper), if desired
  • 2 pieces of string (one is 9″, the other is 30″)
  • 1 small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″ but a small tissue box works too)
  • At least 1 paper towel tube
  • 1 small wooden spool
  • 1 small wooden bead
  • 4 small paper sample cups
  • Brown, green, and red construction paper
  • A long strip of blue cellophane
  • 1 rectangle of tagboard (approximately 6.5″ x 2.5″)
  • 8 flat glass marbles
  • 1 petals and sepal template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Glue, scissors, tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

At story time, we had each kid make the same 8 elements (cork person, hammock, clothesline, hut, pulley bucket, river, bridge, and sun clock). Then we invited the kids to arrange, design, and decorate their worlds however they liked!

misslandiaThe first step is optional: hot glue legs to the bottom of your corrugated cardboard base. Champagne corks work beautifully for this purpose. Our bases were big (18″ x  24″) so we used 6 champagne corks per base. If you do use champagne corks, make sure you glue the flat part of the cork to the base (not the wider, rounded part):

cork feet

You can, of course, skip this step and keep the base flat. But we really liked the way it looked AND we still have an insane number of corks left over from this floating island project.


CORK PERSON

Use a permanant marker to draw a face on a wine cork. Then wrap the cork with paper and/or fabric. We just made one cork per kid at story time, but feel free to populate your world with as many cork characters as you like!

cork person


HAMMOCK

Hot glue the short ends of a 3.5″ x 5.5″ piece of fabric together, forming a long, shallow pocket.

hammock step 1Next, cut matching 3″ slits down the sides of 2 toilet paper tubes. Slide the ends of the fabric pocket into the slits. Close the slits with tape. Hot glue the tubes to the base.

hung hammock


CLOTHESLINE

Cut matching 0.5″ slits into the tops of 2 toilet paper tubes. Slide a 9″ (or shorter) piece of string into the slits. Tape paper clothes to the clothesline. Hot glue the tubes to the base.

clothesline


HUT

The hut is basically a box that is open on one side with a little window cut in the back. I used a 4″ x 4″ x 4″ craft box, but you could totally do this with a small tissue box. Hot glue four wine cork legs on the bottom of the box…

hut steps 1 and 2Then add some tagboard (or construction paper) stairs! We also added a patterned paper rug and a felt sleeping pad. The hut has a platform roof as well (we added green construction paper grass and a little tagboard writing desk to it). When the hut is finished, hot glue its legs to the base.

finished hut


PULLEY BUCKET

We used little paper sample cups with twisteez wire handles for “buckets.” To make the pulley, hot glue a wooden bead to the top of a paper towel tube, and a small wooden spool to the bottom of the tube. Tie a 30″ (or shorter) piece of string to the bucket handle, thread the string through the wooden bead, and then wrap the free end of the string around the wooden spool. Hot glue the tube to the base.

pulley and bucket


RIVER & BRIDGE

Our “river” was a long strip of blue cellophane taped to the base. To make the bridge, tab the ends of a piece of tagboard, then attach the tabs to the base with tape or hot glue.

finished bridge


SUN CLOCK

Cut a circle of brown paper (ours was 5″ in diameter). Use a permanent markers to draw symbols on 8 flat glass marbles. Hot glue the flat marbles to the circle, then attach the circle to the base with hot glue or tape.

sun clock


When all 8 elements were finished, kids went wild decorating. We had extra tubes, patterned paper, green tissue paper squares, and fringes of green construction paper grass. We also gave each kid a choice of 2 plastic lizards, 2 shells, and 3 paper sample cups loaded with mini pom-pom fruit.

Additionally, we cut a ton of red paper flower petals and green sepals (i.e. those little green thingees you see under flower petals). Here’s the template for both of those items. In the book, the swist plant has 8 petals. To re-create this, take 2 of the petal templates and stagger them on top of one another.

staggered petalsGlue the staggered petals together, then gently fold the petals upwards. Glue the flower on top of a sepal, then tape (or hot glue) the complete flower to the tops of the toilet paper and paper towel tubes. Marissa also used black marker to draw some details in the centers of the flowers and added some tissue paper underneath the sepals, but that’s totally optional! Here’s that overhead view again…

misslandia

And here’s Marissa again! The final piece of this project was to name your civilization and be awarded with a gold poster board crown. Thus, may we present…MISSLANDIA!

welcome to my world

Nautical Flag Necklace

nautical flag necklaceThis project is a unique blend of literacy, non-fiction, and the high seas! I designed these personalized nautical flag necklaces for a Treasure Island event we hosted in 2010. In addition to being easy and fun to make, the inexpensive supply list won’t deplete your buried treasure stash.

You’ll need:

International maritime signal flags are flags of different colors and shapes that allow crews to send messages between ships. For example, Alfa, the flag for the letter A, also means “I have a diver down; keep well clear at slow speed.” Since there is a flag for every letter of the alphabet, I thought it would be cool to have kids spell their names…in flags!

Start by selecting the letters you need to spell your name. Next, fold the white box (i.e. the box with the alphabet letter in it) backwards. Hand the folded flag over a piece of string, then tape the fold to the back of the flag. Knot the string behind your neck to wear it like a necklace, or just leave the ends loose and hang it up like a banner!

nautical flag necklace stepsIf you’re doing this project for a big event like we did, I suggest you make a letter tray to put the individual flags in. This can be as simple as paper cups, marked with post-its, hot glued to the inside of a copy paper lid.

If you’d like to have a table top display sign with the complete flag alphabet (or you want to send kids home with their own copies), here it the alphabet as a full sheet of paper, and here it is as 2 half sheets.

maritime flag alphabetYou could also use the alphabet to decode my flag message at the top of this post. Heh heh. If you need a hint, check out our Instagram!


Flag images courtesy of Wikipedia

Run Cookie, Run!

run cookie runYes, that’s me. Dressed as a giant gingerbread cookie, on the run from some extremely determined children. We made adorable (and non-edible) gingerbread houses with a surprise inside. Pull the peppermint loop on the roof, and up pops a gingerbread person! However, in order to get one of those little gingerbread persons, you have to catch the BIG one first (scroll to the bottom of the post for the video)!

pop up gingerbread demoWe read The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1999). On a cold, snowy day, Matti and his mother decide to make gingerbread. The cookbook instructs them to bake the cookie for eight minutes without peeking, but Matti can’t resist. He opens the oven and out leaps a feisty Gingerbread Baby, who promptly bolts out the door. A merry chase ensues involving Matti’s parents, the cat, the dog, the goats, two girls, a pig, a fox, a milk & cheese man, and assorted villagers. But clever Matti has his own plan. He builds an enticing gingerbread house, leaves it in the woods, and the Gingerbread Baby dashes inside. Home sweet home!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (I used a 4″ x 4″ x 4″ box, a small tissue box works too)
  • 1 rectangle of tagboard for the roof (mine was 4″ x 9.5″)
  • 1 square of tagboard for the door (mine was 3.25″ x 3.35″)
  • 2 pipe cleaners (1 white & 1 red)
  • Gingerbread house decorating supplies (full list in the post)
  • Brown wrapping paper or packing paper
  • Tape, glue, and scissors for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue
  • Optional gingerbread person costume (more on that later!)

You’ll definitely need a box with a lid for this project. I’ll demonstrate with the box we used first, and then I’ll show you how to build the project using a small tissue box. First, fold a rectangle of tagboard into thirds to create a roof. Hot glue the roof to the lid of your box. Fold a square of tagboard in half, then hot glue it to the front of the box to create your house’s front door.

basic gingerbread houseTwist a red and a white pipe cleaner together. Circle the pipe cleaners into a loop, and twist them together tightly at the bottom. Tape the peppermint loop to the lid of your box, bending any excess pipe cleaner underneath the lid.

peppermint loopIf you don’t have a box like mine, no problem! Just use a small tissue box. Flip the tissue box over (so the bottom is facing up) and use a box cutter to cut a square lid. Then follow the same steps for the roof, door, and peppermint loop. Here’s what a tissue box version of the house looks like:

tissue box gingerbread houseWhen the basic house is done, all you have to do is decorate! We offered self-adhesive foam pieces (which I used to shingle my roof), white pipe cleaners, mini craft sticks, little squares of colorful paper, large gemstones, mini pom-poms, rickrack ribbon, construction paper we had cut into icing scallops, and striped paper straws.

finished gingerbread houseMarkers can also be used, especially if you want to draw a gingerbread person peeking out of the front door! We found that metallic markers worked best on the brown tagboard.

front door of gingerbread houseFinally, the gingerbread person that pops up when you tug the peppermint loop! Marissa and I prepped the gingerbread people in advance (we cut them out of brown packing paper and colored them with metallic markers). My only tip is to make sure the cookie fits neatly inside your house. In our early attempts, the cookie’s arms were too long. They jutted out past the roof, which, when closed, looked rather torturous for the cookie.

gingerbread cookie 2Attach your gingerbread person to the underside of the lid with tape. Done!

pop up cookieYou could stop there and be finished with the project. But we decided to take it one step further. In order to get that little gingerbread cookie, you had to catch the BIG one first!

gingerbread person approachesI used brown packing paper to create this stupendous costume (the thicker the paper, the better). The paper roll wasn’t wide enough to cover my full arm span, so we taped 2 long pieces of the paper together, reinforcing the seam with extra-wide masking tape. I didn’t photograph the step with the big taped pieces of paper, but here is a shot of a tape seam on one of the finished costume pieces:

masking tape seamSince you want the masking tape seams on the inside of the costume, flip one of the taped pieces of paper over. The taped seams should now face each other. Then lay down on the paper and have someone trace your body in the shape of a cookie. A couple things to keep in mind while doing this:

  1. Leave LOTS of room around your body while tracing. Otherwise, the costume is going to be too tight and rip very quickly.
  2. The paper isn’t very flexible, so your arms will have to be stuck straight out while wearing (and running in) this costume.
  3. Your feet will need to stick out the bottom of the costume. You don’t want to trip while running around in it!
  4. You’ll need a tall, round head to complete the look.

I’m 5’6″, so my costume was 81.5″ tall, and 68″ wide. Here’s the finished shape:

finished cookie piecesTo “stitch” the pieces together, we made a double seam of hot glue and staples. The hot glue goes first, and should be about 1″ from the edge of the paper. Really goop it on! The staple seam should be about 0.5″ from the edge of the paper. Each staple should be no more than 0.75″ apart.

IMPORTANT! While gluing and stapling the seams, you DO NOT want to close the area under the feet or inside the legs (outlined in red below). You need this part open so you can put the costume on.

no seams hereOnce the seams are done, have the person who will be wearing the costume slide it over his/her head. You will definitely need help with this step! Marissa stood on a stool and gently lowered the costume while I shimmied my arms into place. Then we marked where my mouth was and trimmed the excess paper from around my feet. That’s when this photo appeared on our Instagram. It was a bit claustrophobic in there!

Then Marissa, back up on the stool, slowly pulled the costume off. Using the mark we had made by my mouth, we cut an opening for my face, and added paper plate eyes with pom-pom pupils, masking tape icing, and pom-pom buttons.

finished cookie costumeThey’re hard to see in the above photo, but there are additional paper patches hot glued along the cookie’s armpits. When I tried the costume on the first time, the armpits ripped right away, so we added the patches to reinforce those areas.

We also figured the head of the costume was going to blow off while I was running, so we stapled a poster board head band to the front of the costume (right above the mouth). It worked, but only for a little while. The main problem was that once the head band slipped off, I couldn’t put it back on (my hand was encased in a paper mitten!).

head band inside costumeWhen it was time for the cookie chase, Marissa and I ducked out of the library with the costume, a stapler, and the cookie prizes. We hid behind a building, and, using some stairs to get some height, Marissa slid the costume over my head. Then she used the stapler to quickly close the seams along the insides of my legs.

When the kids were gathered outside the library, I walked out where they could spot me…and the chase was on!


The costume starting ripping right away, but the kids did not care. All they saw was a cookie in need of pursuit. It was like Lord of the Flies meets Candy Land! When the chase was over, all the kids were award a cookie and a high five.

high fives for all

Has this post made you hungry for some real gingerbread? Check out this truly astounding Strega Nona gingerbread cottage! Mmmmm…