Let’s Do The Numbers

lets-do-the-numbersWelcome to the number mines of Digitopolis, the famous kingdom from The Phantom Tollbooth! This fall, we hosted a table at Princeton University’s annual Community & Staff Day event. Big crowds meant that we needed something simple, but we wanted to be creative too. Since we had successfully offered the number mines at a massive math event last spring (you can read about it here and here), we decided to bring them back for more numerical fun.

Alas, the original number mine (which was artfully constructed by the Arts Council of Princeton) wasn’t salvaged after the math event. This meant that Katie and I had to build our number mine from scratch. The first part of this post describes how we ran the event table. The second part describes how we build the mine.

At the event, kids would reach into the number mine and pull out a plain wooden number. I bought the numbers online from Woodcrafter, where they range in size, thickness, price, and font. I got the 4″ numbers that were 1/8th of an inch thick. Each number cost 56¢.

wooden-numbersWe found that 4″ was a great size for decorating, but if 56¢ per piece is outside your budget, you can go smaller. A 1″ number of the same thickness, for example, costs 23¢. Or, if you want to go even cheaper, skip the wood and print your numbers on white card stock. We loaded the numbers into the mine, and the kids “dug” them out with their hands.

reaching-in-1Once kids found a number they liked (7 and 8 were very popular), they went over to the number decorating area, which was stocked with metallic makers, glitter markers, small gemstones, and glue. We had a relevant quote from the book on display too. Kids really got into decorating. One little girl spent 25 minutes working on her number!

decorating-the-numbersNote! If you use squeeze glue (as opposed to hot glue) make sure to have paper towels or small paper plates handy so families can safely transport their numbers home. Hand wipes are also a good idea for sticky fingers and tabletops. Katie and I dressed for the occasion in miner’s helmets and safety vests.

dr-dana-and-katie-number-minesSo, that’s our event table…now for constructing the mine! You certainly don’t have to get as elaborate as we did. You can create a mine by covering a box with grey paper. Cut a hole in the box’s lid, throw some numbers in there, and have kids reach into the box! Or you could skip the mine altogether and just do the number decorating part of the project. But if you do want to build a mine, here’s how we did it.


STEP 1

Find a big, flat box that isn’t too deep. You don’t want kids to have to reach too far down for the numbers – especially the little ones. We used a 34″ x 54″ inch box lid, and then attached 6 photo storage boxes to the bottom using hot glue and packing tape. This resulted in a mine that was 5″ deep. Here’s a shot of the underside.

number-mine-step-1Since the box lid didn’t reach all the way to the bottom of the photo storage boxes, we closed the gap by attaching big strips of corrugated cardboard to 3 sides of the mine. We left it the mine open in the back so we could restock numbers during the event.


STEP 2

Cut holes in the top of the box. We found it helpful to draw the holes before we started cutting. That way, we could be sure we weren’t cutting into any of the support boxes and we knew that the numbers would fit through the holes.

number-mine-step-2


STEP 3

Create the rocky, craggy landscape of your mine. We bunched up big pieces of black bulletin board paper and attached them to the box with masking tape (you might recognize that texture from this Instagram pic).

number-mine-step-3


STEP 4

Now for the really, really messy part. Papier-mâché. We don’t have a sink in our work space, and the nearest bathroom is far, far away. So we wanted to create the smallest mess possible. In other words, we didn’t want to cook, mix, or blend any sort of papier-mâché paste (or dilute any glue). After a little research, we settled on liquid starch.

Below are our tools – 2 enormous jugs of liquid starch, 2 plastic roller trays, and 4 paint brushes (the bristle brushes worked better than the foam ones). Oh, and we also put a plastic tarp under the mine so we wouldn’t ruin the table.

number-mine-toolsSince we had a lot of area to cover, we used big, 6″ x 16.5″ pieces of newspaper. Occasionally, we use a smaller strip for edges or crevices, but mostly we stuck with the big ones.

number-mine-step-4_1The liquid starch held up well! It did coat our hands with sticky residue that required multiple rounds of soap and scrubbing to remove, but it wasn’t too bad. Honestly, the worst thing about the liquid starch was the fact that it was scented. “Mountain Fresh” scent to be exact. Hoo boy. You could smell the mountains the minute you took the cap off. After a couple minutes, the fragrance was looming in the room like a big, ominous fog. Katie put together a little graphic to convey the overpowering Mountain Freshness.

mountain-fresh-freakoutWe left the first layer to dry overnight. For the second layer, we got a little experimental. While researching liquid starch, we learned that some people absolutely rave about using white paper towels and computer printer paper for papier-mâché projects, especially if the projects are going to be painted later. So we decided to give it a try. We papier-mâchéd the bottom of the mine with paper towels, and the top portion with computer printer paper.

number-mine-step-4_2Wow, did the paper towels suck up the liquid starch! The printer paper needed much less. But the printer paper was so stiff, it created unwanted gaps like this one:

stiff-gap-problemThe solution was to drape a liquid starch-soaked paper towel over it. Below is that same gap with the paper towel over it. As you can see, the soft paper towel completely obscures the gap. I didn’t officially test this, but I believe newspaper would obscure gaps as well, perhaps even better than the paper towels.

stiff-gap-problem-solvedI was a little worried the paper towels were too transparent. But overnight, they magically dried to solid white.

number-mine-step-4_3In the above photo, you can see there were still wet patches in crevices where the liquid starch had pooled. Katie hit those with a hair dryer, no problem. And we should add that, even now, things were still smelling quite Mountain Fresh.


STEP 5

Time to paint! We used this awesome textured-stone effects spray paint by Valspar. It’s fun, but pricey ($10 a can at Lowe’s). Our mine required 3 cans.

stone-spray-paintA cheaper option would be to use gray paint to cover the mine, then dab on darker gray  with a piece of sponge. This will get you a textured surface, without the hefty spray paint price. Once the spray paint had dried (which, we might add, finally dissipated the Mountain Fresh fragrance), we decorated some numbers and attached them to the mines with hot glue. We hot glued some large plastic gems on as well – purchased from the wedding favor aisle at Michaels Craft Store.

number-mine-step-5And this, dear readers, is when we discovered the fatal flaws in regards to paper towels:

  1. When dry and spray painted, paper towels become incredibly brittle. I poked a hole right thorough one section while merely tapping on it (we eventually covered the hole with the number 8).
  2. The texture of the paper towel absolutely comes through in the end. So if your paper towels have little hearts embossed on them, you’re going to see little hearts under the paint.
  3. The edges of the paper towels are clearly defined. Unlike the newspaper and the printer paper, you can definitely see the edges of the paper towel under the paint. So our rocky surface looked like, well, draped paper towels. You could even see the dotted perforations that separate the paper towels.

paper-towels-not-goodThe printer paper, on the other hand, was much sturdier and the edges were hidden under the paint. The lesson? DON’T use paper towels for papier-mâché projects. Use newspaper and printer paper instead. In fact, I highly recommend printer paper for the second layer of painted papier-mâché projects. Very sturdy, holds paint very well.

However, paper towels are what we used and their brittle weakness made me and Katie very, very nervous. We were positive that kids were going to put their hands right through the mine as they leaned in to select numbers.

reaching-in-2Anticipating trouble, we brought duct tape and a couple of step stools to the event. The stools elevated the kids right up to table level, allowing them to keep their weight mostly on the stools and not on their hands. So the paper towels held, but there were a couple time you could see them bending. Katie and I would brace ourselves for a tearing, crunching, breaking sound. Thankfully, it never happened. Whew!

Next Stop, Cannes

next-stop-cannesReady, and…action! This fantastic camera shoots in 3 different screen modes, so you can exercise your complete creative freedom and film a breakthrough masterpiece. Add a fabulous movie poster, a plot synopsis, and you’re totally Oscar bound!

We read Young Charlotte, Filmmaker by Frank Viva (Harry N. Abrams, 2015). Charlotte carries her camera everywhere she goes, preferring her black and white world to the world of color. One day, her parents take her to the Museum of Modern Art and Charlotte meets Scarlet, who works in the film department. They bond over their mutual love of film. Inspired, Charlotte shows Scarlet her latest creation and Scarlet insists that it be shown at a museum screening. The big day arrives and Charlotte, sitting in the theater, is worried what the audience will think. Her film ends and there is total, awful silence. Then…applause! They loved it!

You’ll need:

  • A small box (mine was 4″ x 4″ x 4″ – a small tissue box works too)
  • Black paper
  • A strip of black poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 8.5″)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 4 foam beads
  • 1 round container to act as a camera lens (more on this later!)
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 1 bendy drinking straw
  • 1 screen slides template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 3 rectangles of tagboard or black poster board (approximately 2.5″ x 3″)
  • Hole punch
  • 1 box cutter
  • 3 small rectangles of different color cellophane (approximately 1.75″ x 2″)
  • 1 movie poster template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

movie-cameraFirst, wrap a small box with black paper. Tab both ends of a strip of black poster board, then attach the tabs to the box with hot glue (or tape). Use colored masking tape to add some snazzy accents to the camera. Hot glue 3 foam beads to the top of the camera (these are your “operating” buttons) and 1 to the front (this is your “light”).  For the lens, I found these fantastic 2″ mini containers with clear lids at Oriental Trading Company:

mini-container-with-clear-lidWe hot glued a circle of silver mirror board to the bottom of the container to make it extra reflective. Then we popped the lid back on and wrapped the perimeter of the container with black masking tape. We attached it to front of the camera with hot glue. The containers cost $8.50 a dozen, which can get a little pricey. A cheaper option? A shortened toilet paper tube.

The other side of the camera has the viewfinder and the screen slides. The viewfinder is a toilet paper tube wrapped with black paper and hot glued to the side of the box. The screen slides slides cover one end of the viewfinder. Each slide has a different color cellophane taped to it. Simply rotate the slides up and down to adjust the color you’re seeing through the camera’s viewfinder.

movie-camera-with-screen-slidesTo make the screen slides, cut 3 screen slides from the template. You can either use them directly from the template, or trace them onto something sturdier, like tagboard or poster board (we used tagboard). Punch a hole in the top of the slide, then use a box cutter to cut away the rectangular window in the center. Tape a small piece of cellophane over the  window (we offered choices of orange, red, purple, blue or green).

lens-cellophaneNext, cut the top section off a bendy drinking straw (i.e. the section right above the ribbed segment). Make sure to leave the ribbed segment untouched.

cutting-the-strawsThread the 3 screen slides onto the opposite end of the straw, sliding them down towards the ribbed segment. Don’t slide thread them over the ribbed segment. The ribbed segment is what keeps the slides from falling off the straw later. You want this to remains as rigid and un-squished as possible.

lenses-on-the-strawPlace the straw on top of the toilet paper tube viewfinder and adjust the screen slides. The slides shouldn’t be packed together – they need plenty of room to rotate upwards and downwards. Once you’re satisfied with your spacing, cut the straw down and hot glue it to the viewfinder. Note! The straw should be slightly shorter than the viewfinder. Excited kids are going to be putting their eye right up to the viewfinder, and you don’t want them getting poked in the eye with a straw.

screen-slides-straw-on-cameraThe camera is done! Slide your hand through the strap, select a screen slide, place your eye against the viewfinder, and start filming! Here’s the view of the different screen slides through the viewfinder:

screen-slidesThat last screen slide might look like clear cellophane…but it’s not! It’s a plastic lens from a pair of prism glasses. You can get these paper glasses from Educational Innovations (a pack of 10 costs $9). When you look through them, they diffract light into its spectral components. In other words, you see lovely rainbows everywhere.

rainbow-lensesIn addition to making a camera, we also made movie posters with plot synopsis on the black. Print the movie poster template on white card stock. Draw your poster on the front, and write your synopsis on the back. Here’s my poster:

escape-from-monkey-island-movie-posterAnd here are a few kid posters I managed to snap…

a-funny-movie-posterghostbuster-movie-posterpurple-hair-movie-posterfairies-movie-posterthe-falling-book-movie-posterJust in case you can’t read that last poster, the movie is plot is “A book falls from the sky, hits a dinosaur, and a volcano erupts AND a sky monster comes from it, and the dinosaur swims in the water and the monster can’t swim because he has no gills. THE END.”

So, how did this project go over? Oh wow. Oh wowie wow wow. They LOVED it. The gallery was filled with kids filming everything. Siblings, parents, puppet shows, inanimate objects. I had a little band of paparazzi following me around as well.

filming-dr-danaOne filmmaker marched into our offices and captured Ian’s best angles. You’re a shoe-in for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Ian!

ians-cameo

I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost

i-aint-afraid-of-no-ghostBoldly enter a haunted house armed with your wits and your handy Haunted House Preparedness Kit! Trap a spider, catch a mouse with some cheese, deter a ghost with ghost spray, and use your skeleton key to exit through a secret door. There’s nothing you can’t handle!

We read I’m Not Afraid of this Haunted House, written by Laurie Friedman, and illustrated by Teresa Murfin (Carolrhoda Books, 2005). Simon Lester Henry Strauss is not afraid of a haunted house, no matter what it throws at him. Witches, ghosts, vampires, ghouls, werewolves, goblins, graveyards, Frankenstein (and bride), one-eyed monsters…nothing can phase our hero. Except, perhaps, a little mouse!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too)
  • 1 set of haunted house kit labels template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 strip of white poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 16″)
  • 1 haunted house kit contents template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 clear plastic cup
  • 1 circle of tagboard or poster board to fit the mouth of the cup
  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • 1 jumbo pom-pom
  • 1 small square of self-adhesive foam (approximately 0.5″ x 0.5″)
  • 1 button magnet
  • 1 wooden bead
  • 1 wiggle eye
  • 2 black pipe cleaners
  • 3 facial tissues
  • 1 long piece of string or yarn (approximately 24″ long)
  • 1 jumbo paper clip
  • 1 haunted house (more on this later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Below are the contents of the Haunted House Preparedness Kit. From left to right is a spider collection jar, a skeleton key, a piece of cheese, and a can of ghost spray.

haunted-house-kit

First, the box! Color, cut, and attach the 2 front and back labels from the template. Next, use markers to decorate a strip of white poster board. Tab both ends of the strip inwards about 1″, then tape the tabs to the underside of the box lid. If you’re using a tissue box, just cut the top off the box and attach the poster board handle to the sides of the box.

The spider collection jar is a clear plastic cup flipped upside down. We used a 9oz “cocktail” cup because it has a nice wide mouth. Using a single piece of tape like a hinge, attach a circle of tagboard to the mouth of the cup. Make sure you don’t entirely attach the circle – you’ll need to open the jar later to stick your spider inside it.

The skeleton key and the ghost spray label are on kit contents template. Color the ghost spray label, and then wrap it around a toilet paper tube. To make the aerosol top of the can, hot glue a jumbo pom-pom to the inside of the tube, then peel and stick a square of self-adhesive foam on top.

ghost-sprayThe final item in the kit is a piece of cheese, which we made out of yellow card stock.  Draw holes on the cheese with black marker and hot glue a button magnet to its tip.

magnet-cheeseThe next round of items are the things you’ll be catching inside the haunted house – a spider, a ghost, and a mouse. First, the spider. Color a wooden bead with black marker and hot glue a wiggle eye on the front. Cut 2 pipe cleaners in half, then thread the 4 pieces through the hole in the bead. Bend the pipe cleaners to create wiggly spider legs.

spider-steps-1-and-2To make the ghost, wad up a facial tissue and fold 2 facial tissues over the wad. Tie the end of a 24″ string around the wad to create the neck of the ghost. Make sure to leave plenty of string free to dangle your ghost later! Use a maker to add eyes and a mouth.

tissue-ghostFinally, color and cut the mouse from the template. Tape a jumbo paper clip to the underside of its mouth. Later, this paperclip will attach to the magnet on the cheese.

mouse-and-cheeseThat’s everything you need for your adventures in the haunted house…now you just need the house! It doesn’t have to be fancy. Drape some sheets over the shelves in your stacks, or drape a tablecloth over a table and have kids crawl under it. But if you have a giant box,  2 smaller boxes, and a black light handy, go for it! Here’s the front of out house (plus a photobomb by Marissa).

front-of-haunted-houseI love the lanterns by the door. They’re LED candles inside plastic cups, which are attached to the box with black poster board. There’s a little poster board flourish hot glued to the bottom of the cup too.

lantern-detailHere’s a shot of the house’s interior, as seen from the front door. There are LED wall sconces, a mirror, a bookcase, old-fashioned portraits, a clock, and a fireplace that leads to the black light room. And there were also 4 activities for the kids…coaxing a mouse out of the mouse hole, catching a spider, spraying a ghost with “Bye-Bye Boo” spray, and using a skeleton key to exit through a secret door.

interior-of-haunted-house

You got a peek of the black light room last week on our Instagram. This  room is Marissa’s masterpiece. She used glow-in-the-dark squeeze glue and black light Sharpie markers to highlight everything. We cut a little door in the side of the room so we could quickly slip the kids’ spiders inside.

black-light-spider-roomAt the very back of the house was a secret door, which was covered with tagboard strips made to look like wooden planks. The interior of the secret door box with lined with gray felt. To give it an underground kind of feel, I used a thick black marker to draw outlines of stones on the felt.

secret-doorHere’s a shot of the haunted house from the right side. Everything was was held together with lots of hot glue and packing tape.

right-side-of-haunted-houseThe left side of the house had the mouse hole, which we covered with black felt to keep light from leaking in. My kids did all the exterior decoration. Like the dead flower garden on the lower right?

left-side-of-haunted-houseSo! Here’s how it went! Kids lined up outside the house. When it was their turn, they handed us their spiders, mice, and ghosts. Then they entered the house with their kits.

waiting-to-get-inOnce inside, they listened for the mouse squeaking in the mouse hole (this was literally Marissa saying “Squeak squeak!” and wiggling the nose of the mouse outside the hole). Kids stuck the magnet end of the cheese into hole and “caught” the mouse. Into the kit it went!

catching-a-mouseNext, kids reached into the black light room, grabbed their spider, and put it in their collection jar. By this time, I had opened the trap door in the roof and dangled their wailing ghost in (I followed Marissa’s lead, enthusiastically saying “Wooo wooo!”). The kids doused the ghost with a ghost spray, causing it to drop to the floor of the house. Into the kit the ghost went.

dangling-ghostThe final task was for kids to shimmy into the secret room and use the skeleton key to unlock the door. We wouldn’t lift the door until we saw a key in the key hole!

skeleton-key-unlocksKids could go through the house as many times as they wanted, and we kept story time going 20 minutes past our end time to accommodate repeat explorations. It was…wait for it…a total scream! Awwww.

Did you notice the old-fashioned portraits in the kid catching mouse image? I have to give Marissa a shout out for her mad drawing skills here. She drew us! In Victorian clothing! I love my hat.

portraits-of-dana-and-marissaThe portraits are a nod to the day we spent sipping Victorian tea at this program. Fun!