Don’t Try This At Home Kids

don't try this at homeA monkey on a unicycle rolls down a ramp towards a snake. The bar holding the snake drops, which causes a bag of peanuts to fall into a container that sends a cart down a ramp into a tennis racket rigged to a mechanism that touches a match to a cannon fuse and fires an acrobat through a ring of fire!

Rube Goldberg’s inventive cartoons have fascinated me since I was a kid. A few years ago, our library even hosted a Rube Goldberg program, complete with a behemoth of a page turner and other activities. So imagine my delight when I spotted Wonderology’s Rube Goldberg kits on the shelves at Target.

wonderology rube goldberg kitsIntended for ages 8 and up, Wonderology offers 6 different kits that cost between $10 – $20. Each kit contains a plethora of parts and a fully illustrated set of instructions. I purchased the Acrobat Challenge, the Garden Challenge, and the Speeding Car Challenge, then invited 3 kid testers (ages 6, 8, and 10) to try them out.

kid testers at workThe kids were very excited as they unpacked the kits. The parts are fun, bright, and nice quality plastic. Here, for example, are the various pieces of the Acrobat Challenge:

acrobat challenge kit partsHere are the kit’s illustrated instructions. They’re presented in classic Rube Goldberg format (they even use his special font!):

acrobat challenge instructionsBut as soon as construction started on the kits, well…that’s when things started to go wrong. Take the Acrobat Challenge, for example. In one part of the instructions, it clearly shows the yellow “monkey release” flag facing right. In two other sections of the instructions, it’s facing to the left! Also, either way I turned the flag, I never could get the monkey to work quite right.

problem with instructionsThere was a lot more of this I’m afraid – mechanisms not working like the instructions suggested, confusion with where to place the various pieces, the whole schbang toppling over when you tried to adjust it. Soon, there were shouts of frustration, explosive sounds of exasperation, creative G-rated cursing, and a box kicked across the floor (and it wasn’t just the kids doing all that).

Between me and the 6 year-old, we never did get the Acrobat Challenge to work. So our kid tester used it like a play set instead, creating and narrating an involved story about a monkey snake circus. Cool.

Meanwhile, things were looking a bit more promising at the Speeding Car Challenge. It was, against all odds, assembled with somewhat minimal adult assistance.

speeding car challengeBut…see that chicken? It’s supposed to get a feather “plucked” from its tail, which causes it to lay an egg, which triggers the tennis racket, etc. But the egg just wouldn’t stay under the chicken. It just kept dropping and triggering the rest of the mechanism. So you had to skip the chicken all together, which is rather disappointing.

Also, the 8 year-old kid tester wants you to know that the balloon on the car is a little tricky. Once you blow it up, you have to: 1) Block the tailpipe with your finger; 2) Rapidly remove your finger; then 3) Plug in a plastic cork in juuuuuust right. The seal on the balloon starts to leak pretty quickly too. But it was, he admits, a cool-looking car.

balloon car testSo that just leaves the Garden Challenge. This kit was particularly intriguing to me because it involves real water! Our 10 year-old tester managed to assemble it just fine.

the garden challengeBut we soon discovered a fatal manufacturing flaw. See the orange gutter at the top of the mechanism? It’s supposed to tilt downward and let the 8 ball roll down and hit the watering can. But there was a little plastic piece that wouldn’t allow the gutter to tip down far enough! Katie had to saw the piece off with a box cutter in order to get it to finally work.

bad partThen it was test, adjust, retest, adjust, curse quietly under one’s breath, test, adjust, and retest. It took dozens and dozens of attempts, close to an hour of concentration, and Katie’s sheer determination to get it to work. And yes, I did say work. Katie and the kid tester got it to work! Drumroll please…


OK. So maybe the ball bounced off that final ramp, but I’ll take it and call it DONE.

I really admire Wonderology’s concept. The kits are a clever idea, they look fantastic, and the quality of the plastic is good. However, they’re simply not for kids. Especially 8 – 10 year-olds (unless said 8 – 10 year-olds have the patience of saints and the hands of neurosurgeons). Heck, some of us adults had trouble getting them to work! Our testing group found them difficult and rather vexing. While we ultimately had success with one kit, we encountered enough flaws along the way that the ultimate take-away was more exhaustion than exhilaration. Alas, not recommended.

Shop Local

shop localStock up your stand and get ready for some customers! We let grown-ups and siblings browse at a farmer’s market full bursting with fresh veggies, flowers, and artisanal cheeses (which, coincidentally, look a lot like foam beads).

farmers with their stands

We read Farmers’ Market Day, written by Shanda Trent and illustrated by Jane Dippold (Tiger Tales, 2013). It’s Saturday! It’s Market Day! A little girl eagerly searches for the perfect thing to buy with her piggy bank money. Cherries, flowers, pie, herbs, spices, hats, jars of honey, canvas bags – everything is so tempting! Finally, she spots exactly what she wants. A pink watering can, just her size.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • Some pieces of brown poster board or tagboard for your farm stand’s counters
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (we used a 9.75″ x 13.75″ cake pad)
  • 2 jumbo craft sticks (our were 8″ long)
  • A 4.5″ x 10.5″ card stock awning
  • 2 small clear plastic cups (ours were 1oz)
  • 2 foam beads (orange and yellow)
  • 2 mini pom-poms
  • 2 green pipe cleaners
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

We’ll start with the farm stand’s slanted counter. First, I’ll  show you how we did it with brown craft boxes, then I’ll show you how to replicate it with a large tissue box. With the lid of the box raised, cut slants in both sides of the box. The slants are cut downward, towards the lid.

farm stand step 1Now make 2 folds. Fold the lid over the lower edge of the counter. Then fold the lid upwards (a.k.a. a valley fold) so it rests on the higher end of the counter. Your counter will now look like this:

farm stand step 2See the part of the lid that extends past the counter? Push that back down towards the lower end of the counter, then tuck it inside the higher end of the counter. You now have slanted bins that are sunken in the counter.

farm stand step 3Make a pair of folded tagboard bin dividers, but don’t attach them just yet!

farm stand step 4

To make a tissue box version of the counter, flip a large tissue box over and use scissors to cut the bottom of the box into a lid. Then, follow the same steps above. Cut slanted sides in the box…

tissue box stand step 1Fold the lid over the lower edge, then upwards to the higher edge. But instead of tucking the end of the lid into the box, just tape it to the higher edge.

tissue box stand step 2Finish with a pair of tagboard bin dividers.

tissue box stand step 3Use markers and patterned tape to decorate the counter, then hot glue it to the cardboard base. Now for the awning! Hot glue (or tape) 2 jumbo craft sticks to both ends of the counter. Fold a 4.5″ x 10.5″ piece of card stock in half and decorate it with markers. Put generous globs of hot glue on the ends of the jumbo sticks, then gently press the card stock awning in place.

farmers market stand awningColor and cut the produce bin backdrops from the farmers market stand template and slide them into the bins. Once you’re sure everything fits, hot glue (or tape) your tagboard bin divider in place.

veggie bin backdropsYou’ll notice that there are 2 sets of produce bins on the template. One set is for the background. The other set is for you to individually cut, drop in the bins, and sell at market!

more veggies in binsTo create the cheese table, cut a toilet paper tube in half and hot glue the halves to a piece of poster board or tagboard. Place a pair of foam bead “cheeses” on the table, then cover them with a clear plastic cup. Hot glue a mini pom-pom handle to the top of each cup, and finish with a cheese sign attached to a craft stick or wooden coffee stirrer.

cheese tableTo make the flowers, cut 2 pipe cleaners into thirds, then color and cut 6 flowers from the farmers market flowers template. Tape the flowers to the pipe cleaners, and tuck the stems into half a toilet paper tube (we made a green tissue paper shrub for the other half of the toilet paper tube, but that’s optional!). I’d recommend hot gluing the cheese table and flower vases to the base – they can get a little tippy.

farm stand flowersA few more touches. Behind the flowers you’ll see a “Today’s Specials” sandwich board (it’s on the farm stand template). On the front of the stand are “Shop Local” and “Jersey Fresh” signs, courtesy of Google images. Add some cute little flower stickers, and you’re done!

shop localThe kids lined up their fantastic stands, and the Farmer’s Market was officially open!

the farmers market is openWe gave grown-ups and little siblings magic bucks and paper sandwich bags. They browsed the stands, checking out the wares. We made a rule that you had to visit at least three stands and chat with three vendors.

customer 1Customers seemed particularly enamored with the foam cheeses. And really, who wouldn’t be? Just keep an eye out to make sure the littlest shoppers don’t enthusiastically sample the wares!

customer 2

See You on the Flip Side

see you on the flip sideIt’s flip-a-riffic! This sweet little set flips over to display two landscapes that look very different, but are definitely part of the same big, beautiful world.

We read Up Above and Down Below by Paloma Valdivia (Owlkids Books, 2011). There are different kinds of people in the world, different kinds of weather, different seasons, and different ways of doing things. But everyone dreams, loves, and celebrates, regardless of where they are and what direction they’re facing. Bonus – flip this book upside down while reading, and your story time kids can enjoy a second set of illustrations!

You’ll need:

  • 8 small boxes, all the same height
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (I used a 9.75″ x 13.75″ cake pad)
  • House and landscape decorating supplies (more on those below!)
  • box cutter
  • 2 craft sticks (ours were 4.5″)
  • 4 foam beads
  • 8 pieces of green self-adhesive foam
  • 4 wine corks
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, decorate 8 small boxes like houses (we used construction paper, patterned tape, old address labels, and dot stickers, but markers work too!). The most important thing is to keep the roofs flat. Otherwise, your project will wobble. Hot glue the houses to both side of a corrugated cardboard base, then fill in your landscapes! The summer landscape had fabric blossoms, flower and butterfly stickers, and construction paper pieces.

summer landscape

The winter landscape had a frozen lake made out of a silver mirror board with a few flat glass marbles hot glued to the edges. Finish the look with fluffy drifts of cotton ball snow.

winter landscapeWant to add some trees? Use a box cutter to make a slit in the cardboard base, then insert a craft stick halfway into the slit. Push a foam bead down the craft stick to keep it steady, then press 2 triangular pieces of self-adhesive foam together to make an evergreen tree.

winter tree

Flip the project over, slide a second foam bead down the stick, and press two circular pieces of self-adhesive foam together to create a leafy summer tree.

summer tree

The final touch? People! We used wine corks, patterned tape, and some craft odds and ends to make 4 cheerful members of the general populace. Here’s the gang, so happy together:

cork people

OK…all together now…1…2…3…

IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL! IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL! IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL! IT’S A SMALL, SMALL, WOOOOOOORLD!