Olfactory Sorcery

dragons bloodEnter the realm of mystery, magic, spells, sorcery, and…smoked paprika. That’s right. Never underestimate the POWER of roast chicory! First, we made herbal amulets at our story time for 6-8 year-olds. Then we votes with our noses. The burning question? Which spice smells most like dragon’s blood?

We read Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow Books, 1977). When Cat Chant and his older sister Gwendolen become orphans, Cat is quite happy to settle down quietly in their village. But Gwendolen is set on ruling the world, and writes a mysterious letter to a powerful enchanter named Chrestomanci. To Cat’s surprise (and Gwendolen’s glee), Chrestomanci agrees to adopt the children and raise them in his magnificent castle. However, when Chrestomanci and his constituents fail to fawn over the spoiled Gwendolen, she launches a vengeful campaign to create magical mayhem. Things get even more complicated when Gwendolen departs to a parallel world, dragging her double (a girl named Janet), into Cat’s world. It’s up to Cat and Janet to set right all the problems Gwendolen’s created. But in the process, they uncover Gwendolen’s worst plot yet – one that puts Cat in grave danger.

For the hands-on portion of our program, we made these nifty herbal amulets. You can find instructions for that project here.

amuletBut there was an additional olfactory activity! In Charmed Life (and, in fact, all the books in the Chronicles of Chrestomanci series) dragon’s blood is one of the most powerful and dangerous substances in the known worlds. It’s described as having a powerful, distinct, and horrible odor, even when it’s dried into a powder.

So while purchasing the herbs for the amulets, I also bought several strong smelling, reddish-brown spices (it was an interesting shopping day, let me tell you). In the end, I decided on chipotle, roast chicory, smoked paprika, hot cayenne, and sumac. I put each spice in a plastic glass with a label. During the program, the kids sniffed the glasses and voted on which one they thought smelled like dragon’s blood.

There was quite a lot of yelling, laughing, and carrying-on, but in the end, we had our winner…sumac!

dragons blood votingIf you haven’t read Charmed Life, or anyone of the other books in the Chronicles of Chrestomani series, I can’t recommend them enough. I love how Diana Wynne Jones writes her characters and create her magic. I love her sense of humor and her amazing descriptions. The Pinhoe Egg is a book I re-read annually, because it’s like visiting family. Conrad’s Fate comes in a close second. It’s a bit like Downton Abbey…with magic!

Crevasse Challenge

crevasse challenge jumpOne, two, three, jump! Are you ready to meet our most popular toddler activity of all time? Ladies and gentleman, may I present…the Crevasse Challenge.

The Crevasse Challenge was one of many activities offered at a large-scale Journey to the Centre of the Earth event we hosted in 2013. The YMCA was one of our event participants, and we wanted their activity to involve both geology and exercise. Rock climbing, of course, was the most obvious choice. But we already had a huge inflatable climbing wall in another area of the event.

climbing wallWe needed something else. Something less vertical. Additionally, the climbing wall had age and height restrictions, so we wanted an activity everyone could try. So it needed to be adventurous, on the ground, with no age restrictions, and still rock related.

What about the challenge of jumping over a big, dark, mysterious crevasse? Perfect!

The crevasse needed to be constructed out of something that wouldn’t rip, bubble, slide, or otherwise become a trip hazard. The solution? Black contact paper. I bought a big 18″ x 75′ roll on Amazon (it was $27 and I had lots left over). We used the contact paper to make a jagged, 18′ long crevasse. Then, we used additional pieces to make smaller cracks branching off the main crack. Here’s the shape of our crevasse:

crevasse challenge outlineIt’s important to mark where the different pieces of the crevasse fit together. That way, on the day of the event, you simply match the pieces, peel the backing off the contact paper, and stick everything in place. We used the matching lettering system below to pair the side cracks with the main crack (the letters were written on the backs of the pieces in permanent marker):

crevasse matched lettersThe crevasse is done. Are you ready to rock? I bought these “riverstones” from Discount School Supply. Not only are they colorful and sturdy, they have anti-slip bottoms. At $70 a set, they are a bit of a splurge (especially since we bought 2 sets). But I considered it an investment in quality and safety. After the event, we donated both sets to the YMCA for further fun.

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Image from Discount School Supply

If the rocks aren’t within your budget, I found some circular “poly-vinyl spot markers”  in the Discount School Supply catalog. They’re made of thick, no-rip vinyl, and I’m assuming they don’t slide around on the floor (definitely test them first). A set of 6 circles cost $15. I don’t recommend cardboard or paper rocks because they’re a potential slip hazard.

After some trial and error, we strategically placed the rocks around the crevasse. Then we took a picture of the rock placement (Katie shot the photo below with the panoramic feature on her phone). The photo allowed us to set up the Crevasse Challenge quickly and easily the morning of the event. In fact, by lettering the backs of the matching crevasse pieces and providing a photo of the rock placement, event volunteers set the whole thing up, without any oversight from us.

crevasse challenge rock placementThe rules for the Crevasse Challenge were simple. Starting on a yellow rock, you had to travel the length of the crevasse and land on the other yellow rock. If you fell off a rock, you had to start all over again (unless you were very young, and then you just climbed back up on the rock and tried again). If older kids wanted to increase the challenge, they had to complete the course only using the large rocks.

The prize for a successful run was a 1.75″ metal carabiner from Oriental Trading Company. Specifically, they are the “colorful key chain carabiner clips.” A pack of 50 costs $12.

carabinersOh my gosh. Kids went nuts. The crevasse! The rocks! The jumping! The carabiners! The Crevasse Challenge was hopping for five hours straight. The only challenge was keeping the course clear of kid collisions. But the YMCA folks were total pros, and we had no accidents.

crevasse challenge 2Big kids tried it, little kids tried it, grown-ups tried it, but the toddlers were they main players. They couldn’t get enough of it! My daughter, who was 2 at the time, spent 45 minutes hopping, jumping, running, and trying different rocks. And just look at this cute little guy!

crevasse challenge 3

If you’d like to try a variation on the Crevasse Challenge, buy blue contact paper. Voila! Instant river rock hopping adventures!

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