Lightning Bug Lantern

lightning bug lanternsTwinkle twinkle little bug! Light up the night with these glowing lightning bug lanterns. Or at the very least, discover a new way to use those leftover plastic Easter eggs! For those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for the answer to our first Instagram post mystery…the time has come.

We read The Little Squeegy Bug, written by Bill Martin Jr., Michael Sampson, and illustrated by Patrick Corrigan (Winslow Press, 2001). Once there was a little squeegee bug who admired the power and strength of Buzzer the Bumblebee. Hoping to gain his own wings and stinger, the little bug embarks on a quest. His travels lead him to the door of Hauncy the Spider, who weaves a pair of silver wings for him, but refuses the scary stinger. Instead, the wise Spider plucks the brightest star from the sky and hangs it on the squeegee bug’s tail to shine like a beacon for everyone. A firefly is born!

finished lanternsYou’ll need:

  • 1 clear plastic favor box (more on this below!)
  • A box cutter
  • 2 craft ties
  • A selection of metallic dot stickers
  • A selection of foil star stickers
  • 1 balloon stick or wooden dowel
  • 2 sparkle stems (optional)
  • 1 star template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 2 squares of mirror board or poster board (approximately 5.25″ x 5.25″)
  • 1 plastic egg
  • A thumbtack, large screw, and screwdriver for making holes in the egg
  • A 4.75″ piece of twisteez wire
  • 3 pieces pipe cleaner (each approximately 6″ in length)
  • A rectangle of silver wrapping paper (approximately 2.25″ x 2.5″)
  • A selection of eye stickers (optional)
  • A permanent black marker
  • 1 LED votive
  • Scissors and tape for construction

Lantern first, then lightning bug! The clear plastic box is the most important part of this project. I bought 4″ x 4″ x 4.5″ clear party favor boxes with gold cardboard bases from Nashville Wraps (a dozen cost about $10). I’ve seen similar boxes on Amazon (24 boxes for $15.00 plus $8.50 shipping) and quick check at Oriental Trading Company revealed 24 large clear favor boxes (4″ x 4″ x 4″) for $7.99. The ones from Oriental Trading Company don’t come with a base, which means you’ll have to rig one out of cardboard or poster board.

My boxes came with bases, and I actually used them as the “lid” for the lightning bug lantern. In the below image, you can see the regular box on the right, and the box with the modified base “lid” on the left.

box and box with lidTo make the lid, remove the base from the box, flip it over, and use a box cutter make two small slits. If you don’t have a box with a base, cut one out of cardboard or poster board, then add the slits.

lid with slitsSlide the ends of a 6″ piece of craft tie upwards through the slits, then twist together them together form a “lantern ring.”

lantern ringTape the clear plastic lid of your lantern closed, then tape the lantern lid on top. Make sure both lids are taped tightly and securely. Don’t, however, tape the bottom of the box closed. You’ll need to be able to add and remove your bug from the lantern later.

box with lidNext, we decorated each box with metallic dot stickers, foil star stickers, and a 20″ piece of wired metallic star garland (in silver or gold).

decorated boxAttach a craft tie to the lantern ring, then wrap the other end around a balloon stick (or wooden dowel). You can secure the craft tie to the stick with tape, but we decided to wrap sparkle stems around either side of the craft tie. Because it never hurts to have some extra bling, amiright?

lantern attached to balloon stickFinally, cut and trace the stars from the template onto mirror board (or poster board), and tape the stars back-to-back on the craft tie. You could also skip the mirror board and poster board and simply use markers to decorate the stars on the template.

finished lanternSet the lantern aside, it’s time for the lightning bug! I did not come up with the idea for this amazing little bug. Katie spotted it on Pinterest. I immediately pinned it with a oh-so-solemn vow to make it someday. Here it it, slightly modified from the original.

lightning bugBefore we begin, a quick word about the plastic eggs. Test the LED in them first! We discovered that, with our particular set of eggs, the green ones looked best (yellow was way too light, blue was way too dark). Once you have your egg, drill 8 holes into it – 2 holes in the top of the egg for the antennae, and 6 holes on the underside for legs.

holes in eggsThe original instructions said to make the holes with a thumbtack. But we found that it was really difficult to slide pipe cleaners through thumbtack holes. So we used thumbtacks to make the initial holes, and then enlarged them using a big screw and a screwdriver.

the turn of the screwI also tried using a nail. Totally didn’t work. Use a big screw and a screwdriver. And prep all the eggs in advance of course. Once the holes are made, open the egg and thread a 4.75″ piece of Twisteez wire through the antennae holes. Curl the ends. Next, thread three, 6″ pieces of pipe cleaner through the leg holes. Curl the ends into little feet.

antennae and legsCut wings out of silver paper (we used silver holographic wrapping paper from Party City) and tape them to the top of the egg. IMPORTANT! Attach the wings below where your egg opens and closes. Otherwise, they’ll just get in the way when you are opening and closing the egg to access the LED votive.

wingsUse a black permanant marker to add eyes and a smile (or use dot stickers for the eyes like we did).

bug smileFinally, insert a LED votive into the egg (remember, the “flame” should be pointing at the bug’s rear end). Admittedly, LED votives can get a little pricey if you’re buying for a classroom or story time crowd. Sometimes you can snag them cheap  from discount retailers like Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx. More often, I use 40% off coupons from Michaels Craft store.

Your bug is illuminated. Grab your lantern, open the bottom of the box, and gently place the bug inside. Close the box and you’re good to go! I closed all the shades in the gallery and turned off the overhead lights. We went on a lantern walk around the gallery and then settled down to admire our lanterns. For a few minutes at our wild and crazy story time was calm, hushed and very, very peaceful. Ahhhhh…

glowing lanternsIf you don’t like the concept of bugs in lanterns, the lightning bug project alone makes a friendly, fantastic, and flickering friend for you.

beautiful bugsMore bug projects you say? This post is one of my all time favorites. And who can resist these sweet little honey bees?

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.

Across the Puddle

woo hooPrepare to embark on an epic journey through a variety of obstacles. Weave in and out of topsy-turvey turtles, dodge two plump pigs, avoid the chomping alligator, and face off with a vacuum cleaner elephant. It’s the world’s biggest puddle…can your little boat make it?

We read The Puddle by David McPhail (Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998). One rainy day, a little boy decides to sail his toy boat. He finds a truly enormous puddle, but unfortunately, a frog hijacks his boat. The boy can’t chase after the frog – he’s promised his mother he’ll stay out of puddles. The frog crashes the boat into a turtle just as an alligator shows up and offers assistance. The alligator retrieves the boat, but it’s a wee bit crushed. In the meantime, a pig arrives for a swim and is being quite messy about it when an elephant appears and drinks the entire puddle. This prompts all the animals to yell at her to put the water back. So she does. Quite forcefully. By this time, the sun comes out, the puddle dries up, and the boy heads home for a hot bath. What a day!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (I used a 4” x 4” x 4” box – a small tissue box works too)
  • 2 rectangles of (mine were 3″ x 12″)
  • A section of colored masking tape
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • A selection of construction paper
  • A selection of multicultural construction paper
  • A selection of patterned paper
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • 3 foam beads
  • 1 sails template, printed on white 8.5″ x 11″ paper
  • Hole punch
  • 1 piece of string or yarn (approximately 27″)
  • 1 puddle obstacle course (more on this later!)
  • Scissors, tape, and stapler for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

boat with passengersWe’ll begin with the boat! The first steps are exactly the same as this Noah’s Ark balancing game. Cut the lid and tabs off your box (if you are using a tissue box, cut the entire top off). Your box should now be about 3″ tall. Set it aside for a moment. Next, use a marker to draw horizontal lines on 2 rectangles of tag board. This creates the “boards” of your ship. For a bit of color, run a piece of colored masking along the top of each rectangle (or just use markers).

sailboat step 1Place both rectangles on top of one another, staple the short ends together, and slide them over the box. Secure them in place with tape or hot glue. This step is really important! If the sides of the boat aren’t attached to the box, the sides will pop off when you yank the boat’s pull string later.

sides of boatNext, wrap a 4″ piece of colored masking tape around the top of a wooden dowel, then snip the tape with scissors to create a triangular flag.

sailboat flag stepsPush 3 foam beads on the opposite end of the dowel, then hot glue the foam beads to the bottom of the boat. This is your ship’s mast.

hot glued mastColor and cut the sails from the template, then tape them to the front and back of the mast (we made the sails short so they wouldn’t pull the dowel over, feel free to discard the template and make your own sails if you like). Finally, punch a hole in the front of the boat and knot a piece string through it. Here’s the finished boat with the flag, the sails, and the pull string in place:

finished boatWe made 2 crew members (a person and a frog) using multicultural, construction, and patterned paper. Here’s Marissa’s self portrait, with a froggie friend:

marissa and frogNow for the obstacle course! We snagged 2 huge pieces of cardboard from the recycle bin, and painted them light blue. Interestingly, the paint warped the edges of the cardboard upward, creating “waves.” While the paint was drying, we crafted some animal obstacles. The turtles are tissue paper boxes with green poster board shells, arms, legs, tails and heads.

turtlesThe pigs are large oatmeal containers wrapped with pink construction paper.

pigsThe alligator is the lid of a copy paper box covered in green poster board, with paper cup eyes and poster board teeth.

alligatorThe elephant’s face and nose was constructed out of light blue poster board, and a vacuum hose was inserted in the trunk.

vacuum elephantAfter placing all the obstacles on the cardboard, I used blue masking tape to make directional arrows. I decided not to glue any of the obstacles down (I’d rather have kids send them flying than trip over them).

directional arrowsTo run the course, kids had to navigate their boat through the turtles, ride over some waves, and avoid the pigs (which were rolling all over the place as kids walked on the warped cardboard). Next came chomping alligator (which consisted of Marissa moving the box lid up and down and saying “Chomp! Chomp!” – we’re super high tech here.) Here’s a boat on course:

on courseRight before the finish line, the boats had to pass by the vacuum elephant. That was my job. I would make the elephant suck a toilet paper tube character right out of the boat, and then the kids had to pull it off the end of the vacuum nozzle! Fun!

captured personIMPORTANT! Some kids are afraid of vacuums. I asked vacuum-averse kids to turn their name tag stickers upside down. That was my signal to turn off the vacuum while they completed the obstacle course. It worked great!