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!

Flowers for Friends

flowers from marissaMake three cheerful flower pots, then share one with a friend! Not only was this a fun creative activity, it was a lovely lesson on the joy of giving and receiving. Not into flowers? No problem. We also offered a strawberry plant and a cactus!

We read Lola Plants a Garden, written by Anna McQuinn, and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Charlesbridge, 2014). Lola loves garden poems, especially Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. So Lola and her Mommy read books about gardens, buy seeds, and plant them. Even though it’s a bit of a wait for the first green shoots to appear, the flowers eventually grow and bloom in the warm sun. Lola invites her friends over to enjoy her garden and try some crunchy peas and plump strawberries Mommy grew. For Lola, one of the best things about growing a garden is sharing it with others.

You’ll need:

  • 3 paper cups (plastic works too – we offered both!)
  • A selection of patterned tape
  • 1 garden template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Green pipe cleaners & sparkle stems
  • Green craft ties
  • Green construction paper
  • Green masking tape
  • A selection of crepe paper streamers
  • A selection of tissue paper
  • 1 toilet paper tube (if you’re making a cactus)
  • 1 gift label template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • 1 wooden coffee stirrer
  • 1 corrugated cardboard base (approximately 4.5″ x 14″)
  • 1 plastic lizard (optional)
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Here’s what a finished project looks like: 3 flower pots (one of which was given to you by someone else), 2 butterflies, and 1 plastic lizard, all hot glued to a corrugated cardboard base.

finished potsBefore you start the project, it’s important to remind the kids that one of their flower pots will be given away as a gift. For some kids, it’s not easy to give away something they just made! But with plenty of warning, they can get used to the idea while they are working on the project. That said, I made the gift-giving portion of the program completely optional (and one kid did decide to keep all three of her pots).

On to the project! We offered a selection of paper or plastic cups as “flower pots” (this is a great time to dig around in the cabinets of ye olde staff lounge). Select 3 cups and decorate them with patterned tape (and/or markers). Color and cut the desired flora from the garden template, attach them to pipe cleaners (and/or sparkle stems), and tape the stems inside the cup.

purple flowersTo make a sunflower, use a large (18oz) plastic cup. They’re about 5″ tall – anything shorter is going to tip over. Roll a 4.5″ x 9″ piece of green construction paper into a tube. This is your sunflower’s “stalk.” Tape the stalk to the back of the sunflower head, then hot glue the stalk inside the cup. Tuck some green tissue paper around the stalk and tape some big green leaves to it.

sunflowerAnd speaking of leaves, we prepped a variety of leaves, shoots, and vines for kids to use, as well as green pipe cleaner, sparkle stem, and craft tie pieces.

leaves and stemsWe also provided crepe paper streamers and tissue paper for artists who wanted to craft flowers from scratch:

tissue flowersTo make the lovely blue flowers in the photo below, pinch one end of a 40″ – 42″ crepe paper streamer together, then wrap the “pinch point” repeatedly with the rest of the streamer. When you’re done, secure the pinch point with green masking tape, and attach it to a green pipe cleaner. I take no credit for this flower pot – it’s all Marissa and her mad crepe paper skills!

blue flowersTo make a strawberry plant, start with a slightly wider paper cup (the one below is actually a hot soup container). Loosely ball some green tissue paper and push it into the cup. Tape the strawberries (from the garden template) to pipe cleaner pieces, then tape the pipe cleaners into the cup. Glue a spread of green leaves to the top of the tissue ball, and add white blooms on top.

strawberry plantMoving along to an entirely different climate, Marissa came up with this awesome cactus. It’s a toilet paper tube covered in green tissue paper and dropped into a cup (depending on the height of your cup, you might need to bolster the cactus up a bit with more tissue paper). Use little dabs of glue to attach yellow tissue scrap “spines” to the cactus.

cactusYou’ll notice that many of the above flower pots have butterflies on them. The butterflies are on the garden template. Color them in, fold the wings up gently alongside the body, and hot glue them to the pots (or directly onto the flowers).

When all the flower pots were finished, I handed each kid a gift tag. The tags were colored, signed, attached to a wooden coffee stirrer, and tucked into the gift pots. Then the gift pots were gathered on a table. One by one, I called the kids forward and gave them a pot (make sure you have one extra pot in the pile so the last kid in line gets a choice). I got one too! Check out my beautiful gift from Gabrielle!

gift flowersWhen the gift-giving concluded, we hot glued the 3 pots to a corrugated cardboard base. I hot glued a little plastic lizard on there as well.

finished potsAnd there you have it. A little creativity and sharing on display!