You’re So Dull (I bet you think this post is about you)

you're so dull

Today, we’re going to be boring. That’s right. The whole point of this project is to make your house look exactly the same as everyone else’s. No variations please. Will we be using bright, bold colors? No way. We’re using grey, brown, white, and black. Feel the dullness lulling you into a stupor…lull…lull…lulllllll. Until, of course, you turn the house around and look at the other side. Wow! It’s a wild, crazy plethora of patterns. A virtual riot of color! Dullness begone!

really exciting houseWe read Meet The Dullards, written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri (HarperCollins, 2015). The Dullard kids (Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud) are causing trouble. For starters, they’re – gasp – reading circus books instead of staring at blank pieces of paper! And last week, their parents caught them trying to play outside! Things are getting so chaotic, the Dullards decide to move to a less exciting neighborhood. But while Mr. and Mrs. Dullard are (literally) watching the paint dry on their news walls, the kids sneak outside to play circus. This is just too much! The Dullards move back to their old neighborhood. As Mr. and Mrs. Dullard fall asleep, they feel assured that their lives are finally back to being perfectly boring. The kids, however, have other plans. They’ve joined the circus.

You’ll need:

  • 2 rectangles of tagboard or poster board (approximately 7″ x 11.75″)
  • 1 house facade template printed on 8.5″ x 14″ paper
  • Rectangular white office file stickers (optional)
  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • A selection of eye stickers (optional)
  • Construction paper (including multicultural construction paperr)
  • Decorating supplies (more on that below!)
  • 1 large tissue box
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

Begin by tracing the house facade template onto 2 rectangles of tagboard or brown poster board. Cut, and set one of the house facades aside. On the other facade, use office file stickers to make plain windows and doors. At our story time, each kid got the exact same pre-marked windows and a door (if you don’t have office file stickers, just use markers). I strongly (yet comically) encouraged the kids to make their houses look exactly like my example.

dull houseNext, we made a dull toilet paper tube person. Here, I used the book’s illustrations as a guide. Grey clothes, black hair, etc. I only offered one kind of eye sticker too! We don’t want any overstimulating variations on eyes now, do we?

dull personYour dull house and person are finished. Set them aside. Pick up the second house facade…and go CRAZY! We brought out the Bling Bin, a bunch of additional supplies, and encouraged the kids to decorate like mad. They also received more door and window stickers. Here’s Marissa’s super shiny house.

exciting houseOur decorating supplies included mylar, patterned paper, feathers, pom-poms, construction paper, large gemstones, craft sticks, foam beads, patterned tape, self-adhesive foam shapes, , and embossed foil paper.

While the kids were decorating their houses, they were also decorating a second, non-dull toilet paper tube person. Check out the yellow cellophane cape on this little lady!

exciting personWhen the exciting house facades are finished, hot glue them to one side of a large tissue box. Hot glue the dull facade to the other side of the box. Twirl the box around to view the dull and exciting sides. And speaking of exciting sides, check out these masterpieces…

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That’s not to say that dull houses that look exactly the same are necessarily bad. I mean, I hear that Camazotz is quite lovely this time of year. Especially if you’re looking to score a delicious turkey dinner. Leave your little brother at home though.

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!