So Very Verdant

so very verdantSpell something special with tissue paper topiary letters! Bedeck your initials, festoon your name, or spruce up your favorite word. Your personal topiary is guaranteed to stay green all year round, and no watering is required!

We read Grandpa Green by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook Press, 2011). A boy walks through a beautiful garden. As he walks, he narrates the life of his great-grandfather, which is in turn illustrated by the garden’s delightful topiary. And even though the boy admits that great-grandad tends to forget things these days – he is reassured to know the garden will always remember for him.

You’ll need:

  • 3-4 cups or tape cores for your topiary bases
  • 3-4 craft sticks (mine were 4.5″ long)
  • tagboard or thick poster board
  • Green tissue paper
  • Topiary base decorating supplies (full list later in the post!)
  • Masking tape, if needed
  • Scissors, glue, and tape for construction
  • Hot glue

Our topiary bases were packing tape cores. We had 90 suddenly arrive through our recycling program! If you don’t have packing tape cores handy, there are a couple alternatives you can go with (I’ll show you those in a minute).

If you are using a tape core, cut a circle of tagboard to cover the top of the core. Use a box cutter to make a small slit in the center of the tag board circle, then hot glue it to the top of the core. Insert a craft stick into the slit.

basic topiary baseIf you don’t have packing tape cores, use paper cups or paper soup containers. Simply flip them over, cut a slit in the bottom, and inset a craft stick into the slit.

alternative topiary basesSince these bases are lighter than the tape cores, they run the risk of tipping over after you attach your topiary letters. If this happens, simply hot glue some pennies or flat glass marbles to the insides of the cups.

The next step is to decorate your bases. We offered construction paper, embossed foil paper, craft ties, patterned paper in botanical prints, dot stickers, paper crinkle, flower stickers, butterfly stickers, ribbon, patterned tape, mesh tubing, sparkle stems, pipe cleaners, and crepe paper streamers. We tried to keep everything in soft botanical colors – greens, yellows, and whites.

completed topiary baseWhen the bases are finished, it’s time for your topiary letters! We asked the kids to limit themselves to 4 letters or less (and we announced this at the very beginning of the project, so they would know how many bases to decorate). After some experimentation, we determined that 6″ letters looked best. We whipped up some topiary letter templates for kids to trace onto tagboard (or poster board). To decorate the letter, ball up 4″ x 4″ squares of green tissue paper, and glue them to one side of the letter.

topiary CWhen the letter is done, hot glue it to the craft stick. Repeat until you have all your letters mounted on their bases:

DCSYou might wonder why we went with topiary letters instead of animals or objects. We did try a few animals and objects, but they became quite unrecognizable after the tissue paper was glued on. The letters held their shapes extremely well, and it never hurts to get an early start on letter recognition! Some topiary letters did go floppy from the glue, however. If this happens to you, simply use extra craft sticks to reinforce the back of the letter.

reinforced MAnother thing you can do to reduce floppiness? Use masking tape to secure the craft stick to the base. Here’s a shot of some tape stuck inside the base:

taped stick in baseUsually, our craft area is loud and boisterous during the projects. But for this particular project, the room was filled with quiet concentration as kids put their gardens together. Perhaps it was the soothing botanical colors?

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We did this project the Friday before Mother’s Day, and 3 kids decided to turn their projects into a gift for Mom. Fantastic!

Baked Goods for Bovines

baked goods for bovinesDo cows and cookies go together? You bet. Especially in this matching and sequencing game we created, complete with a grinning, cookie-eating cow!

We read The Cow Loves Cookies, written by Karma Wilson, and illustrated by Marcellus Hall (Simon & Schuster, 2010). All the animals on the farm enjoy their daily fare. Horses eat hay, the chickens enjoy chicken feed, and the hogs dig enthusiastically into slop. But the cow gets (and LOVES) cookies! Why? Everyday, the farmer and the cow share a picnic, and finish the meal with cookies (which he provides) and milk (which she provides). The clever rhymes make this a super fun read-aloud. By the end, the kids were all joining me in the refrain, “But the cow LOVES cookies!”

You’ll need:

  • 1 small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″)
  • A box cutter
  • 2 strips of white card stock (mine were 1.25″ x 10.5″)
  • 1 large box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9”)
  • 4 toilet paper tubes
  • White, brown, black, and pink construction paper
  • 2 medium pom-poms (approximately 0.75″ in diameter)
  • 2 black dot stickers
  • 1 cookie game template, printed on 2 sheets of 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

First, the cow’s head. Use a box cutter to slice 3 sides of a small box. The uncut 4th side of the box is the hinge of your cow’s mouth. Use a black marker to draw “tooth lines” on 2 strips of white card stock, then attach the strips to the upper and lower parts of the mouth.

cow teeth stepsStick a brown oval nose on the front of the box (we used self-adhesive foam, but construction paper works too). Hot glue a pair of pom-pom eyes to the top of the box, and use black dot stickers (or circles of black construction paper) to create pupils. Use white construction paper to add ears and a fringed forelock.

cow's faceWrap 4 toilet paper tubes with white construction paper, then hot glue them to the bottom of a large box. Hot glue the cow’s head to the edge of the box as well. Add an udder, a tail, and 4 brown construction paper hooves.

cow from the sideThe final step is to cover your cow with spots. We used sheets of self-adhesive foam that the kids cut into customized spots, but construction paper is also an option. I definitely recommend offering a rainbow of spot colors – the results are fantastic. Check out this pink and white cow with the heart spot on her flank!

pink and white cowThe cow is finished, now for the cookie matching and sequencing game! Here’s how it works. Cut 4 white circles from the template, then use markers to decorate each circle like a cookie. All the cookies needs to be different.

circles to cookiesCut the rest of the template into 5 strips, making sure that each strip contains 4 cookie circles. Decorate the strips with different cookie sequences. All the strips should be different (and it’s totally OK if you don’t decorate all 5 strips).

various cookie patternsTo play the game, randomly select a cookie strip. Match your cookie circles to the sequence on the strip, and then feed the cookies to the cow in that order. When done, remove the cookies from your cow’s mouth, select a different strip, and play again! You can play the game at your own pace, or have a countdown from 10 to make it more challenging. Another option – place the cow on the other side of the room, so you have to run back and forth from the cookies to the cow!

I Am Kitten, Hear Me Snore

i am kitten, hear me snoreGet ready for bed with a cozy nightcap and flickering lantern. You might, however, want to bring some earplugs…someone out there is snoring to beat the band, and it’s going to take some searching to find out who (hint: think furry and very, very cute)!

We read Roar of a Snore, written by Marsha Diane Arnold, and illustrated by Pierre Pratt (Dial Books, 2006). It’s night, and the household slumbers peacefully. Except Jack. He’s wide awake, being treated to a roof-lifting, floor-rumbling, full-on ROAR of a snore. Who is disturbing the peace? Jack systematically awakens the residents of the house, who join the investigation. Eventually, the entire family find themselves in the barn’s hay loft, where the culprit is revealed. Who knew a tiny little kitten could make so much noise?

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 22″)
  • 1 sheet of tissue paper (mine was 20.5″ x 30″)
  • A selection of self-adhesive foam shapes
  • 1 rectangle of yellow construction paper(approximately 2.75″ x 8″)
  • 1 piece of ribbon (approximately 4.75″ long)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 1 9oz plastic cocktail glass
  • 1 square of circle of white poster board or mirror board (mine was 4″ x 4″)
  • 2 mini tin foil pie plates (mine were 2.75″ in diameter)
  • 1 sparkle stem (or regular pipe cleaner)
  • 1 LED votive
  • A selection of foil star stickers (optional)
  • 1 snoring kitten (more on this below)
  • Stapler, scissors, and tape for construction

We’ll begin with the nightcap! Lay a sheet of tissue paper (in landscape orientation) on a table. Place a 1.75″ x 22″ strip of poster board at the bottom of the tissue paper.

nightcap step 1Fold the bottom edge of the tissue paper halfway up the poster board strip. Secure in place with multiple pieces of tape.

nightcap step 2Now roll the poster board strip upward, once. This is the “hatband” for your nightcap.

nightcap step 3Trim the excess panels of tissue paper off. The excess panels are the sections that are not attached to the hatband (the cuts are demonstrated below with dotted lines).

nightcap step 4Circle the hatband around your head, and secure the ends together with staples.

nightcap step 5Decide how tall you’d like your nightcap to be, then bunch the tissue paper together at the top. Secure with colored masking tape (I used purple tape). Regular tape works as well!

nightcap step 6Trim the excess tissue paper off the top of the hat.

nightcap step 7Set the hat aside for just a moment…it’s time for the tassel! Fringe a 2.75″ x 8″ rectangle of yellow construction paper, then tape a 4.75″ piece of ribbon to one end. Roll the paper around the ribbon, and secure the paper roll with tape. Tape the tassel to the top of the hat (I used purple masking tape once again – regular works too). The final step is to decorate the hatband with self-adhesive foam shapes!

finished nightcapThe hat is done, now for the lantern! My lantern consists of a plastic cup, 2 mini tin foil pie pans, a circle of mirror board, a sparkle stem, and an LED votive. However, if you don’t have these supplies (or if you’d like to construct a simpler lantern) I recommend this super easy one. Otherwise, read on…

Begin by tracing the mouth of a 9oz plastic cocktail cup onto a square of poster board (or silver mirror board). Tape the circle to the top of a mini pie pan. This forms the base of your lantern.

bottom of snore lanternTo make the lantern’s handle, punch both ends of a sparkle stem through a second mini pie pan. Twist the loose ends together. Tape the pie pan handle to the bottom of the plastic cup like so:

top of snore lanternPlace an LED votive in the center of the lantern’s base, then put the plastic cup handle on top of the base. Since you want to be able to open the lantern to get to the LED votive, use tape to create a “hinge” on one side of the cup, and masking tape to make a “latch” on the other side (you can see my latch below, in purple). Finish by adding some (optional) foil star stickers to the plastic cup.

finished snore lanternWhen your nightcap and lantern are finished, it’s time to play the “Find the Snore” game, starring THIS fantastic snoring kitten!

snoring kittenI drew the kitten on a small poster board facade, then taped it to a hand-held tape recorder. I bought it back in 2003 when I needed something inexpensive to record and transcribe my dissertation interviews. A quick Google search led me to a snoring sound track, which I recorded right out of my computer’s desktop speakers.

snoring tape recorderWhen it came time to play “Find the Snore,” we darkened the gallery, and asked the kids to cover their eyes while I hid the kitten and pressed “play” on the recorder. Wearing their nightcaps and carrying their lanterns, the kids had to follow the snore to find the kitten!

searching for snoresThe first few times, I kept the kitten fairly low to the ground, or just above eye level.

kitten on the hearth

But the final time, I stuck it waaaay up high, and watched them dash around for quite a while. They heard it, but couldn’t find it! Eventually, however, they spotted the kitten, snoring away overhead.

kitten up high

If you don’t have a tape recorder, a smartphone would work too. Or get a staff member to brush up on his/her comic snoring and hide (bonus points if he/she wears cat ears).