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

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.

Quill Pens

quill pensNeed a simple project for a big event? Perhaps these quill pens will do the trick!

Last Saturday, Cotsen hosted a table at Princeton University’s Community & Staff Day event. Because of the big crowds, we needed something simple, fun, fast, and literary. Last year, we made flying books. This year, we decided to make Harry Potter-esque quill pens.

We were, of course, dressed in hats and robes. Even though it was 85 degrees out. Because comfort never comes before costuming, am I right?

wizard robes   You’ll need:

First, twist a sparkle stem into the desired shape. We offered 3 different shapes to choose from (even though some kids made their own shapes of course):

stemsPlace the sparkle stem on top of the feather. Then use masking tape to attach the feather and the sparkle stem to the the top of the pen. You can continue covering the pen with tape if you’d like (just make sure you don’t accidentally tape the cap on). Done!

pen from sideBelow you can see the layout of our event table, including a display pen floating in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. It’s always a good idea to have an example of the project displayed somewhere. That way, kids can see what to expect and grown ups can get a jump on gathering the appropriate supplies.

table side 1On the opposite side of our event tent was a mirror activity. Here, kids could use their newly-created quill pens to do some inverted writing and try their skills at mirror mazes.

table side 2The mirror activity is very simple to put together. We duct-taped 6 bookends to the back of an inexpensive door mirror and stood it up on the table.

mirrorSince we weren’t able to staff the mirror activities during the event, we printed up some display instructions (here are my mirror writing instructions). I put the instructions in a double-sided plastic display stand.

instructionsWe stacked practice paper and 4 types of mazes (which we found using Google images) on either side of the mirror. The mazes were really popular, even with older kids!

boys writingAt neighboring table, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab brought all sorts of science toys for the crowds to play with. Including this Van de Graaff generator…

wizard hairAnd yes, it is twice the fun when you’re wearing wizard robes.

Looking for a few more simple Harry Potter crafts? Try these PVC pipe wands, or this wrist owl (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the owl example). Defense Against the Dark Arts enthusiasts might enjoy this boggart!