If You Build It…

house 3 glass roomThis winter, we had a couple of intense snow storms. Whenever it snows, my program attendance drops dramatically. And yet, there are always a couple of hard core patrons who don their snow pants and brave the drifts to come to story time. This causes a bit of a conundrum. You see, some of my projects involve quite a bit of prep work (a-hem! I’m looking at you candy factory and you haunted house). So the program is prepped and ready for over 20 kids. If I do it with just 3 kids, that’s a lot of prep work going by the wayside…so…

A few years ago, I decided that if fewer than 5 kids came to a snowy story time, the previously-prepped project would be bumped to the following week, and I would offer an unplanned, off-the-cuff creative project instead.

The project I’d like to share today is inspired by the fantastic If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen (Dial Books, 2012). The story is about Jack, a boy with big ideas for building his dream house. There’s a robotic machine that whips up meals, a bedroom at the top of a 200 foot tower, a anti-gravity room, a race track room, an aquarium room…the sky is the limit!

First, the kids and I made “blueprints.” I replicated the look with blue construction paper and silver metallic markers.

blueprintAs the kids drew their houses, I rummaged through the office for boxes, tubes, cardboard, items left over from other projects, and interesting odds and ends (including, of course, the Bling Bin). Then, out came the tape, glue, scissors, markers, and hot glue and off went the little architects, putting together 3D models of their blueprints.

house 1This house’s base is a box with a clear lid (leftover from this light box project). The architect turned it into a subterranean pond with fish! Perhaps this is our next Frank Lloyd Wright?

house 1 pond floorThe next architect went for wide and stacked, with multiple boxes for multiple rooms. I like the ladder to the second floor!

house 2She also forayed into interior design. That polka-dot couch is made out of patterned paper, pink and yellow cottons balls, and an Altoid tin!

house 2 interiorThe final house’s blueprint appeared to have a tree, a squiggle of water, and antenna. I was curious to see how the model would develop, and I was not disappointed.

house 3LOVE the fountain! And I’m not sure if you noticed that the “glass” room at the top has multi-color portholes made out of tape rolls with cellophane panes?

house 3 glass roomIf you don’t have an art cabinet to quickly rummage through, or you want to do this with a large group of kids, you could always go with Option #2. Collect a bunch of recyclables and stick them on a table. Then ask the kids to draw their blueprints from the items they see on the table (just make sure you have multiples of each item for each kid to use).

Or, you could do Option #3. Give each kid the same basic “set” of object (ex: a cake pad for a base, a tissue box, a paper towel tube, a cone water cup, and 3 squares of poster board) to build the basic structure, then have other art supplies handy to fancy it up. I promise, the results will be unique!

Sneak Peek: Giant Floor Maze

giant floor mazeYou’ve been getting little hints on our Instagram, but here’s an exclusive first look at something big on our horizon. This month, my library is hosting a major math event. It’s called A Day at Digitopolis (named, of course, after the famed city in The Phantom Tollbooth). Today, you’re going to get a sneak peek at one of the activities – a giant 16′ x 16′ floor maze. But this is no ordinary maze! You have to get from start to finish without taking a single right-hand turn. Want to build one of your own? Read on!

I first encountered this puzzle at the Manhattan Museum of Math (home of the famous square-wheeled trike!). Their version, however, is a no left-hand turn maze that’s digitally projected on a big section of their exhibit floor. A floor projection wasn’t an option for us, nor was a vinyl mat, nor cardboard. The answer? $30 worth of green contact paper and a maze design by Robert Abott.

robot abott's maze

©2009 by Robert Abbott

I did have to make a couple tweaks to Robert’s original maze. In his version, there are a couple of sections where the path goes right to the edge of the maze (specifically, on the left, right, and top sides). I added a border of green boxes to keep the pathway entirely enclosed.

added boundriesOnce I finalized the maze design and decided that it was going to be 16′ x 16′, I had to calculate how much contact paper we needed. The rolls I found on Amazon were a standard width of 18″, so I just had to determine the length. I work best with models, so I crafted a little maze, in which 1″ = 1 foot.

dr. dana's modelOnce I added up the lengths of all the pink pieces, I had a rough estimate of how much contact paper we would need (112.25′). I ordered two, 75′ rolls, which left plenty of extra paper for mistakes. The task of actually building the maze fell on Marissa and Casandra Monroe. Casandra is a Princeton University student and super math whiz!

casandraCasandra sketched the maze on graph paper, in which 1 square = 1 square foot. Then she drew a 16 x 16 square and sketched the various pieces inside it. To make the calculations nice and simple, she made path through the maze 1′ wide.

casandra's diagramThen, Marissa and Casandra headed to the library’s cavernous main lobby and started building. They laid down the outer walls of the maze first:

arranging the exteriorAnd then cut and placed the internal pieces of the maze.

arranging the interiorWhile they were filling in the pieces, they used a measuring tape to keep the path as close to 1′ as possible (even though there were some areas where the path was wider).

measuring the pathwayMarissa and Casandra kept the backing on the contact paper. But to keep the pieces from curling up, they used masking tape loops to temporarily adhere it to the floor.

tape loop expertThey also used permanent marker to label the backs of all the pieces and match them to a diagram of the maze.

writing the lettersThe morning of the event, we’ll be able to glance at the diagram, check the backs of the pieces, and peel and stick the maze quickly (we’ll have a measuring tape on hand to remeasure the pathways too).

set-up diagramAll in all, the maze took about 3 hours to put together. Cue “Eye of the Tiger!”

eye of the tigerThree important things: 1) Don’t forget to mark the start and finish of your maze (we’re using extra pieces of contact paper with “start” and “finish” written on them in permanent marker); 2) At the event, make sure to have the solution posted somewhere nearby (or available as a handheld map); and 3) Test the maze!

Ian, our faithful maze tester, went through the maze and soon discovered that one of the green blocks was, if fact, making a necessary turn impossible. So Marissa and Casandra adjusted it, and sent Ian through again. No problems after that!

ian tests it outThe real test, of course, will be at the event. There might be some last minute tweaks or unforeseen problems when crowds of kids are introduced into the equation. I’ll dutifully update this post if there are!

This isn’t the first time I’ve used contact paper to make large-scale event activities. Check out our most popular toddler activity ever, right here.

Everyone’s an Engineer

everyones an engineerGet ready to create, build, and innovate. Today, everyone’s an engineer and the sky’s the limit!

We read Rosie Revere, Engineer written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (Harry N. Abrams, 2013). At night, young Rosie Revere designs gadgets, gizmos, and fabulous machines…and then hides them. She’s an engineer, but due to an unfortunate incident with her Uncle Fred (a zookeeper who mistakenly laughs at a cheddar cheese spray hat designed to keep pythons away), she’s keeping her light under a bushel.

However, when Great-Great-Aunt Rose comes to visit and expresses her life-long wish to fly, Rosie puts aside her fears and builds her a flying machine. The machine flies…and then promptly crashes. Rosie gives up. But wait! Great-Great-Aunt Rose has something to say. Failures are part of engineering, but the true failure is if you give up and stop trying. Don’t forget to check the last page for a sweet illustration of Rosie’s ultimate success!

This story time cost zero dollars because I used materials that were already in my art cabinet and storage closet. You could do something similar by sending out a call for recyclables at your library, school, workplace, or neighborhood (more about that here). Another option is to announce the story time theme in advance and invite families to bring recyclables and surplus art supplies from home to contribute.

Here’s a list of the materials I offered:

  • White matte boxes in various shapes and sizes
  • Pastry boxes (you can see the exact ones I used on this project)
  • Tissue boxes, assorted sizes and colors
  • Oatmeal containers
  • Toilet paper tubes
  • Paper towel tubes
  • Wrapping paper tubes
  • Corrugated cardboard bases (leftover from this project)
  • Bulk CD cases (the kind that look like big plastic tubs)
  • Paper plates
  • Plastic cups
  • Paper cups
  • Different lengths of PVC pipe
  • Some cone water cups
  • Pieces of tagboard
  • Assorted beverage caps
  • Film canisters
  • A variety of tea tins
  • Black plastic top hats
  • A selection of sparkle stems
  • A selection of pipe cleaners
  • A selection of craft ties
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • Aluminum foil
  • Construction paper
  • Poster board strips (regular and metallic)
  • Metallic paper
  • Clothespins
  • A variety of craft sticks
  • A selection of twisteez wire
  • A selection of large plastic buttons
  • A few spools of metallic tie cord
  • Plastic drinking straws
  • A few spools of britelace
  • Some marabou boas
  • A selection of dot stickers and star stickers
  • The Bling Bin
  • Scissors, tape, hole punch, and glue stick for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • A box cutter
  • Hot glue

One building supply I didn’t list above are these…the round plastic guides at the ends of large rolls of paper. Pop them out and you have some excellent tires:

tube tiresTo prep for story time, I piled everything onto side tables, plugged in the hot glue gun, and invited everyone to make a machine. No additional prompting was needed!

Here are a few fabulous creations, beginning with…”The Dollycopter”

dollycopterWhen you pull the craft sticks on top of this computer, they jiggle the strings of buttons inside the monitor.

cone computerAn “alien” computer with with furry frame and space scene!

furry computerThere were plenty of robots, widgets, rockets, and flying mechanisms…

table robot robot 1robot 2 Remember the enthusiastic young fellow who started this post off? He designed a “Police Train” and believe it or not, the thing actually rolled when you pulled it!

train walksGuess we’ll be seeing him at MIT in a few years…