How to Screen Your Dragon

popcorn vikingVikings and Dragon Riders! Don your horned helmets, grab your shields, and get ready for the ultimate How To Train Your Dragon theater experience, complete with real reptiles!

blue-tongued skinkAfter watching How to Train Your Dragon with my kids, I was delighted to learn that the movie was based on the book series by Cressida Cowell. When the Princeton Garden Theater (our local, non-profit movie theater) gamely agreed to a book-to-film outreach collaboration, How to Train Your Dragon was the first on my list.

Our program had three parts. Viking activities in the lobby, a live reptile show, and then the film itself. We’ll start with the lobby activities first. There were tables for making helmets and shields, a replica of a Viking game, and a local artist making custom sketches of the movie’s characters.

Viking helmets were a must, and we needed something quick and easy-to-assemble. Here’s the gang, sporting some seriously awesome headgear.

the gangYou’ll need:

  • A long strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 24.5″)
  • A short strip of silver poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 14″)
  • White poster board for your Viking “horns”
  • Stapler
  • Metallic dot stickers (optional)

First, circle the long strip of silver poster board around your head (we purchased our poster board online from Blick Art Materials). Staple it. This is your hatband. Next, staple the short strip of poster board to the front and back of the hatband. Tab and staple a pair of white poster board horns to the sides of the hatband (here’s our horn template if you’d like it). Decorate the hatband with (optional) metallic dot stickers.

viking helmet stepsIt never hurts to thrown in a little history, so we included informational table signs at all the hands-on activity tables. Here’s the table sign for helmets. Next up…shields!

shields

You’ll need:

  • 1 silver poster board circle (approximately 5″ in diameter)
  • 1 circle of corrugated cardboard (approximately 14″ in diameter)
  • 2 strips of poster board (approximately 2.25″ x 11″)
  • 2 brass tacks
  • Metallic markers
  • Hole punch
  • Stapler

Since we needed a slew of shields, we used cake circles and – believe it or not – the silver foil circles that fit onto take-out containers. Both were purchased at a local restaurant supply outlet. But you can cut a shield from any corrugated cardboard box, and the silver circle from silver poster board.

Hot glue a 5″ silver circle onto the center of a 14″ brown cardboard circle. Push the prongs of 2 brass tacks through the cardboard shield (one on each side of the silver circle). Decorate the shield with metallic markers.

viking shield stepsNext, loop 2 strips of poster board loosely around your forearm. Stapled them closed. Punch a hole in each loop, then thread the prongs of a brass tack through each hole. The back of your shield will now look like this:

back of shieldDone! And here’s the shield table sign. By the way, did you know that metal knob in the center of a shield is called a “boss?” I did not know that.

girl with shieldNot far from the helmet and shield tables was the very talented Keenu Hale, a local artist who is the master of quick cartoon sketches. The kids kept him very busy drawing their favorite Dragon characters (they got to take the sketches home too)!

keenu hale

Here’s a set I posted on our Instagram. Keenu drew these in minutes. Wow.

hiccup and astridThe final activity table was a replica of a Viking game. It was WAY popular. Marissa found it in Hands On America Volume 1: Art Activities About Viking, Woodland Indians, and Early Colonists by Yvonne Y. Merrill (Kits Publishing, 2001). It’s a snap to put together.

viking game being played

You’ll need:

  • 1 white bandanna
  • Fabric or permanent markers
  • Air dry clay

Use markers to draw the game board below on a white bandanna (I bought ours at Michaels Craft Store). The runes are optional, of course. Our runes spell out the names of the different types of dragons. Can you spot “Night Fury?”

game boardThe game pieces are little birds (about 2″ long), made with air dry clay.

game piecesTo play the game, toss the clay birds onto the game board.

You get 1 point if a bird lands upright anywhere on the board
You get 2 points if a bird lands in a circle
You get 3 points if a bird lands upright in a circle

Here’s the game table sign, should you need it. We offered winners 2 prize choices. The first choice was a plastic gemstone. Each gemstone was worth 1 point. Win 6 points, and you got to select 6 gemstones! We provided 3″ x 4.5″ cotton drawstring bags to hold your riches (I bought my bags from Nashville Wraps).

bag of gemstonesThe other prize was a chance to win a cardboard Toothless standee (purchased on Amazon for $30). Kids automatically got a chance to win when they first entered the theater, but at the Viking game table, 1 point equaled 1 extra chance to win. So 3 points equaled 3 more chances to win. The kids really liked that!

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Image courtesy of the Princeton Garden Theater

In addition to the hands-on activities, there was a reptile exhibit and live show by Enzo from The Lizard Guys. Enzo brought a terrific array of critters, and shared an astounding amount of knowledge with the kids and their parents.

reptiles

Here’s Marissa bonding with a blue-tongued skink. Soon, she will be a mighty Dragon Rider of Berk!

marissa pets the skinkFinally, it was time for the film. Having only seen it on my laptop, I can say I was completely blown away watching it on the big screen. The flying! The fire! The CLOUDS!

how to screen your dragon

I’d like to express my extreme gratitude to the Princeton Garden Theater for collaborating with us on this program. They were up for anything, and didn’t bat an eye when I asked if we could take over the lobby with multiple craft projects and bring in live reptiles. In fact, their response was a very enthusiastic “YES!” Thanks so much guys!

viking enjoying popcorn

Ever-Ready

ever readyFrom sandwiches to personal flotation devices, we’re prepared for whatever picnicking perils come our way. We made a delicious paper picnic lunch for two, and then tested our emergency preparedness with a problem-solving card game. Bust out the marshmallows and the umbrella. Nothing’s going to get in the way of THIS picnic!

We read Ready for Anything! by Keiko Kasza (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009). Duck wants to go on a picnic, but Racoon is feeling a bit paranoid. What if they get attacked by killer bees? Or fall in a river? What if a terrible storm blows in, they take shelter in a cave, and find a dragon inside?!? Duck counters his friend’s dire predictions with happier ones. What if it’s butterflies instead of bees? What if the river is cool and refreshing? What if they roast marshmallows with the dragon in the cave? Finally, Raccoon agrees to go, but he fortifies himself with all sorts of emergency equipment. At the picnic site, Duck realizes that he forgot the picnic basket. Uh on! A true emergency! Luckily, Raccoon is ready for anything. He’s brought a delicious back-up lunch.

You’ll need:

picnic basket with lunchFirst, the picnic lunch! If your box has a lid, cut the lid and tabs off (if you’re using a tissue box, just cut the entire top off). Decorate the box with patterned tape and colored masking tape (or just markers).

To create movable picnic basket handles, punch 2 matching sets of holes in both sides of the box. Next, punch a hole at both ends of your tagboard strips. Curve the strips over the box, line the holes up, and use a brass tack to attach the handles.

finished picnic basketIf you don’t want moveable handles, simply staple a tagboard strip to the center of the box.

Now for the food! Use construction paper to make two sets of the following picnic items: 2 slices of bread, 1 piece of lettuce, 1 tomato slice, 1 piece of cheese, 1 banana, and 1 cookie circle. Use markers to decorate the banana and cookie. Here’s what our pieces looked like (carefully arranged in what I’ve dubbed the “happy picnic food face”).

happy picnic food faceYou can simply glue the layers of the sandwich together. Or, if you want to add a bit of bulk to it, use little squares of double-sided foam mounting tape between the fillings. Here’s a shot of a square of tape connecting the bread and cheese:

taped sandwichTo make beverages, color the juice label template, then wrap each label around a toilet paper tube. Cut a drinking straw in half, and tape each piece inside a tube.

juice bottlesTuck your lunch in the basket (and don’t forget the napkins!). Your final step is to color the picnic emergency equipment cards from the template. You’ll notice there’s a blank card on the template. That’s just in case you’d like to add another piece of equipment. Like a big bar of chocolate. I’ve definitely had chocolate emergencies.

emergency equipment cardsAfter giving the kids a few minutes to play with their new picnic sets (and there was quite a lot of picnicking going on) I asked them to gather in the story time area. Then, loudly and with lots of drama, I read each scenario from the picnic emergency scenario sheet. The kids had to listen carefully and select the equipment card they thought would solve the problem best.

gameI kept the scenarios very simple, but feel free to create more complicated ones. Or write some that require a double card solution!

One Amazing Airbrush

super sprayerA kit that turns a regular marker into an airbrush? What is this insanity!?! The moment I spotted the Crayola Marker Airbrush, I just knew that Hope, our kid tester, had to try it…


I’m back, everyone! The Crayola Marker Airbrush is a product that has always kept me wondering. It looked awesome…but would it work? So, when I learned that Dr. Dana wanted me to test it, I was ecstatic!!!!  The purpose of this product is to turn a regular Crayola marker into an airbrush, or paint sprayer. Dr. Dana, Katie and I were a little skeptical about this, and decided to work as a team to test the product. Together, we opened the box.

crayola airbrushInside, there was an 11” tall air tank with a hand pump at the top and 29” of clear plastic tubing protruding from it (to me, it looked like a detonator made of blue and green plastic). Attached to other end of the plastic tubing was the airbrush. It looked like a green glue gun with a little gray cone extending from its tip. Later, I learned this was called the “nozzle.” The nozzle was open at the top, which allows a marker to be inserted in it.

airbrush kit contentsAlso in the box: 20 blank paper sheets, two packages of markers (4 neon fabric markers and 8 washable markers), 4 stencil sheets, 20 blank paper sheets, and a small set of directions. We extracted the materials and looked at the directions.

Houston? Come in, Houston, we have a problem.

Step 1 was titled “Twist it!” and showed a marker stuck inside the airbrush nozzle. But Step 2 was titled “Inset it!” with a picture of the marker hovering above the cavity intended for the marker.  Umm…shouldn’t that happen before you twist it?

directionsConfused, we decided to put the rules of logic and practicality to good use, and “Insert it!” first, and then “Twist it!” Katie set to work doing the third direction, “Pump it!” Grabbing the air pump handle, she pulled up, pressed down, pulled up, pressed down, until the air pressure made it too hard to pump anymore. We taped a piece of white poster board to a door, I pulled the trigger, and…

Nothing.  

A spurt of air could be heard escaping, but no ink came out!!!

Thinking that maybe the paper needed to be horizontal to work, Dr. Dana and I moved the poster board face down on a table, where we sprayed at close range, trying unsuccessfully to get a speck of ink onto it. We took the marker out, and tested it by coloring on a piece of paper. It definitely wasn’t out of ink. We put the marker back in the airbrush. Nothing. We switched markers. Nothing. We switched to a fabric marker.

pink splatterFinally! A few drips of bright pink ink!!!  But that was all. Just a small splatter on the empty tundra of a poster. Confused, we tried every method we could think of, including using the troubleshooting section of the direction sheet. Nothing worked. Eventually, I said, “Hey! How about calling Crayola? Their products sometimes have quality warranties. Maybe we could get help.” So I called.

A nice lady answered the phone. She asked for the product number and name. She looked it up and then she said, “Okay, what’s your problem?” So I told her about the lack of marker spray. She said “Did you hear the two clicks when you put the marker inside the handheld sprayer?” Whaaaaat? I was confused. The directions never mentioned “two clicks!” I replied that no, I did not even know I was supposed to hear two clicks, thanked her for her help, and hung up.

Returning to the poster board and the markers, Dr. Dana and I teamed up to shove a marker into the nozzle, determined to try until we heard two clicks. After much pushing, we heard a magical CLICK click! I pulled the trigger…AND I SPRAYED INK ALL OVER THE POSTER BOARD!

spraying“AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It wasn’t a TV marketing hoax!” I thought.  We started spraying onto the poster. It was amazingly entertaining! It was, in essence, a paint sprayer! I could spray ANYTHING onto the poster board! The airbrush was easy to hold and aim. There were no limits!

canvas 3canvas 2We decided to take advantage of the stencils included in the kit. They were fun to use. Each Stencil had a “theme”.  One was space themed, one sea themed, and the other two were fantasy/random. Cool! But the ink usually “leaked” out of the stencil, giving the resulting picture a blobby look.

stencilDr. Dana suggested that we use a stencil on my arm so we could see what would happen if a kid sprayed ink on their arm. They came out blobby/blurry. But they washed off super easy! I ran my arm underwater and they practically melted away! So no worries if some WASHABLE marker gets on your kid!

airbrush tattooBy the way, when we got out the stencils, we flipped through the paper sheets too. Inside, mixed with the paper, was another set of instructions! These instructions had the marker loading directions in the right order, which was nice. However, they didn’t mention the key two clicks. Without the clicks, the product is a total wash!

There were problems with this kit. Sometimes the ink would bubble and clog the nozzle. This was fixed by pulling out the marker and swabbing the inside with a paper towel.

pooled inkAlso, the marker could unpredictably pool, clog or change consistency as it was spraying onto to the paper (getting my hand green, purple, red, or whatever color happened to clog it). The fabric markers also seemed to run out of ink way faster than the regular markers and they splattered too.  As I mentioned above, the stencils had leaky edges. On some of the stencils, it looked cool (lightning bolt), on others, it looked messy (crab).

crabAnd then there was the pump. The pump turned out to be an Aggravating Annoyance of Frustrating Proportions. I had to stop painting in order to pump every 15-20 seconds, or ask someone to constantly pump to keep the ink going. The job befell Katie. She had to hunch over a table behind me, pumping and pumping, and wheezing, and pausing, and…getting…tired. Needless to say, the pump gave us some good exercise. But when Katie wasn’t there, I had to spray, and then pump for a while, and then spray, and pump. Spray and pump, spray and pump! UUGH! It was enough to make anyone want to explode!

pumpingTo be fair, Crayola does make a similar product for ages 3+. It’s called the “Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Airbrush” The pump is battery operated, so it’s better for younger kids. So if you don’t want to worry about the pumping issue, maybe you should order the battery powered version.

So there was a lot of starting, stopping, wiping, pumping, and starting up again, heaving, wheezing, and arm fatigue. Or, as Dr. Dana wryly noted, you definitely have to “troubleshoot as you go”.

Overall, this product was super fun and satisfying, but the pump gave a bit of a workout, and the directions seemed to be out of order. Also, this product was recommended for ages 6+!!! I think that’s a bit young! Maybe 6+ with Adult Supervision or 8+ with Adult Supervision, but 6+? Come on! It took Dr. Dana, Katie, a phone call to the company, and me to get the product to work!

I think we have the ratings…

Crayola Marker Airbrush

Pros: Fun, Cool, Entertaining, satisfying, endless ways to use, fascinating.

Cons: Hard to use because of constant pumping, bulky, confusing directions, constant troubleshooting, bad recommended age.

Score: 4 stars out of 5!


By the way, if you’re wondering how we made the “spray the camera” photo that begins this post, Hope gets all the credit for that! She suggested we spray a piece of clear plastic with the airbrush, then shoot the image through it. Looks awesome, eh?