Can You Dig It?

can you dig itWhile archaeology can’t always be fedoras, bullwhips, and jaunty theme music, it is a fascinating field of study. Plus, you get to dig really, really big holes! In 2013, my library had a large-scale Journey to the Centre of the Earth event, and archeology seemed just the thing to include. But we needed to be realistic about what we could do. I mean, we couldn’t set up a dig site on the event floor…or could we?

Today, I’m going to share how Katie and I built a portable archeological dig site. It has it all – grids, brushes, artifacts, scientific sketches, field notes, and a clipboard activity that got kids thinking about how all the artifacts were connected. The dig was hosted by the Historical Society of Princeton, who put their own fantastic twist on things (I’ll share what that is at the end of the post!).

Katie and I created the dig in the pre-blog days, so you’ll have to excuse me if there aren’t as many detailed process photos!

Our dig consisted of 4 different “sites.” Each site was a group of 6 corrugated cardboard boxes and a clipboard. I ordered the boxes from Uline (model S-16746). They are 15″ x 15″ x 3″. Originally, the boxes had attached lids, but we cut those off. We connected the boxes with tons of hot glue, then ran brown packing tape around the outside as well.

site boxesArcheologists use string to divide their sites into grids. We replicated this by hot gluing yarn along the tops of the boxes. We color-coordinated the sites as well. Site 4, for example, had yellow yarn, yellow stripes on the markers, and a yellow cover sheet on the clipboard. The other site colors were green, orange and red.

Since the artifacts would later be matched to a site map, we hot glued wooden craft sticks markers around the grid as well. Here’s how each site was marked:

The next step was to find artifacts to put in the boxes. We had a lot of fun with this! Among other things, we used old metal jewelry, non-plastic beads, and owl pellet bones. We used air dry clay to make cups, plates, bowls, and spoons (a couple of which we intentionally shattered and used as shards). A library contractor donated some small deer antlers, and I snagged a “stone knife” from a broken piece of paving tile.

not quite a stone knifeEach of the 4 sites had its own theme: 1) Fire Pit; 2) Pantry; 3) Treasury; and 4) Armory. We sorted the artifacts under the different themes, and then arranged them in the appropriate boxes. Because we needed the artifacts to match the site map, we hot glued them inside the boxes. And we really, really hot glued them. We even had an emergency hot glue gun at the event in case an over-eager archeologist yanked an artifact out of the box.

Next came the dirt! Except, for sanitation reasons, we used playground sand purchased from Lowe’s. Specifically, we mixed white and yellow playground sand together to give it more texture.

original image source nassau literary review

Original image source, the Nassau Literary Review

To keep the mess at a minimum, we added 1″ of sand to the boxes. It was just enough to cover most of the objects, but still left a few sticking out in a tantalizing way. Each individual box got 4 cups of sand, which meant each site used 24 cups of sand. In the end, we used 50lbs of sand for the whole dig site. For obvious reasons, we transported the prepped boxes to the event and THEN filled them with sand.

At the event, young archeologists used paintbrushes to uncover the artifacts. They were natural bristle brushes with wooden handles in assorted sizes (the widest being 2″). There were at least 4 brushes per site so multiple kids could work at once.

multiple archeologistsRemember the clip boards by each site? The clipboards contained a site map of where all the objects were buried. But before kids looked at the map, we asked them to think about what they had just uncovered. So the cover sheets for the clipboards looked like this:

clipboard cover sheet

Kids would talk about what the artifacts looked like (“That looks like a spoon!”), how some artifacts were located close together (“I saw a plate and a spoon together…”), and then make guesses as to what dwelling the artifacts were used for (“I think someone was eating here. A kitchen maybe?”).

Flip up the cover sheet, and there was the site map with the artifacts. If kids hadn’t found an artifact, they could use the grid markers to locate it. The map also had the title of the site, so kids could confirm their hunches as to how the artifacts were connected. If they excavated all the sites, they would also see how those were related (the Pantry was located next to the Fire Pit, the Armory was located next to the Treasury).

clipboard site mapBordering each site map were cool “field sketches” identifying some of the objects on the site. These were drawn by the awesome Aliisa Lee.

earring artifactAliisa even added cool little notes to some of the sketches…

clay artifactYou might have noticed that we didn’t label everything on the site map. That was intentional. Many of the objects were obvious (beads, spoons, a bracelet), but we left a few mysteries to show that, sometimes, you don’t get all the answers right away. It might take a little more research and consultation with your colleagues.

I mentioned that the Historical Society of Princeton added their own special twist to the archeology activity. YES! They displayed, and in some cases let kids handle, a multitude of artifacts that had been discovered and excavated from actual dig sites in Princeton! Some of the artifacts included broken dishware, glass piece, the base of a flowerpot, arrowheads, and a stone ax.

historical society of princetonThe two Princeton excavation sites were the Houdibras Tavern and the Updike Farmstead (where the Historical Society now houses its headquarters). They had this fantastic photo on display too. Kids at the Houdibras Tavern dig in 1969. It was the PERFECT archeology and history connection. So cool.

Hudibras Dig Historical Society of Princeton

Photographer Warren E. Kruse of the Trenton Times, from the Collection of the Historical Society of Princeton

And there you have it! An archeological dig site to spark the imaginations of budding young archeologists (with their dedicated research assistants offering a boost when needed).

young archeologist

Ice Capades

ice-capadesTwirl, leap, coast and spin! The skating rink is open and you’re invited to strut your stuff, courtesy of a magnet attached to the bottom of a toilet paper tube skater. If things start to get a little chilly, glide through our cozy hot chocolate shack for a fill up!

hot-chocolate-stopWe read Little Red Gliding Hood, written by Tara Lazar, and illustrated by Troy Cummings (Random House, 2015). Little Red is a great skater, but her ice skates have definitely seen better days. When a skating competition is announced, along with a prize of brand new skates, Little Red is thrilled. Unfortunately, it’s a pairs skating competition, and she has no partner. Unfortunately, while searching for a partner, she encounters the Big Bad Wolf! After a face-paced and spirited chase across the ice, he finally catches her. But he’s not going to eat her…he just wanted to tell her that her laces were untied! Turns out the not-so-bad Wolf needs new skates too, and he’s a great skater to boot. The day of the competition, Little Red and the Wolf enter the completion. They put on such a great performance, the judges give them a perfect 10 and the grand prize!

You’ll need:

  • 2 toilet paper tubes
  • 2 circles of tagboard or cardboard (approximately 1.75″ in diameter)
  • Construction paper, various colors
  • 4 s
  • 2 champagne (or wine) corks
  • 1 small tissue box
  • 1 hot chocolate shack template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 8 medium craft sticks (4.5″ long)
  • 1 skating rink (more on that later!)
  • Tape and scissors for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

We’ll begin with the skaters, which are toilet paper tubes with magnets glued to the bottoms of them. Later, the skaters’ magnets will connect with a magnet wand held underneath the cardboard skating rink. Move the magnet wand, and the skater magically glides!

First, hot glue 2 tagboard circles to the bottoms of 2 toilet paper tubes. Definitely use hot glue – you really want those circle to stay adhered to the tubes.

skater-tube-circlesNext, use construction paper and markers to turn your tubes into a pair of ice skaters. In keeping with the book, one of our skaters was Little Red, and the other was the Big Bad Wolf. Katie put this adorable duo together, and added a bit of red ribbon for Red’s hood and the Wolf’s sash.

skating-duoHot glue a button magnet to the bottom of each tube.The bigger the magnet, the better the results on the rink! Our magnets were 0.75″ in diameter. We tried smaller ones, but they just couldn’t keep the connection.

magnet-on-bottom-of-skaterNext, hot glue button magnets to the bottoms of 2 corks (but test to make sure the skater magnets and the wand magnets attract before hot gluing them to the corks). We used champagne corks because they have a bulge at the bottom that was easier for little kids to grip. But wine corks work too.

skater-magnet-corkNow for the hot chocolate shack! Cut the bottom and 2 sides off a small tissue box. Your shack should have no floor, and the doorways should be tall enough for your skaters to glide through easily.

shack-boxWe used tagboard for the sides of the shack and the roof, but construction paper works too. Cut and color the sign and 2 windows from the shack template and attach them to the shack. We reinforced the sides of the box by gluing craft sticks on above and below the windows and on both sides of the doorways. The final touch – a chimney- is totally optional. Cut a bubble tea straw down to 6.75″ and add a little polyester fill smoke rising from it.

hot-chocolate-shack

Now for the ice skating rink. We snagged a huge, 3″ x 63″ box lid through this program. Since kids needed to reach underneath the rink, we hot glued four 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” craft boxes in each corner, and reinforced them with packing tape.

ice-rink-on-boxesPlace your skater on the top of the box, then place your magnet wand underneath the box. The magnets will connect through the cardboard, and you can start skating!

skater-on-icePlunk your hot chocolate shack down, crank up the Tchaikovsky, and skate!

on-the-ice

We learned that if you tilt the magnet cork juuuust so while you’re pulling your skater, you can actually make him/her spin rapidly. Check out these fantastic moves:


When story time was over, the giant skating rink stayed at the library for a future project. But we did give each kid a 14″ cardboard cake circle to continue the skating fun at home.

Looking for another way to enjoy the ice? How about a little ice fishing? Or maybe you need a little frozen magic? Or you might be dreaming of spring

Glow, Pumpkin. Glow!

pumpkin-balloonA no mess, no carve, no flame, gorgeously glowing pumpkin? You got it! Bounce these LED pumpkin balloons around at your next story time, sneak a few on the shelves on the 31st, or take a spirited evening stroll.

You’ll need:

  • 1 orange LED balloon
  • A black Sharpie permanent marker

I first spotted these LED balloons at JaZams, our local toy store. They’re made by a company called illooms. A variety pack of 5 latex balloons cost $6 , and a pack of 15 balloons cost $13. I’ve also seen illooms sold online at Oriental Trading Company, Amazon, and Walmart for varying prices. Party City sells just the LED bulbs (12 for $10). So that’s an option as well – buy the bulbs and a package of orange balloons.

illoom-led-balloonsThe illooms LED balloon has a round, hard tip at the top, and a tab sticking out of its neck. Pinch the tip while simultaneously pulling the tap to activate the LED. Then inflate the balloon (the directions suggest a pump, but I went with my lungs).

deflated-balloonThe round tip acts as a balloon weight that pulls the inflated balloon upside down, creating the the perfect pumpkin shape. Use a black Sharpie permanent marker to draw a pumpkin face on the balloon, and you’re good to glow!

Looking for a few more simple Halloween projects? Try a toilet paper roll jack-o’-lantern, a hanging bat exhibit, a shoulder snake, or an herbal amulet to ward off those pesky goblins. And as long as were talking about spooky orange vegetables, take a look at this Creepy Carrots story time.

way-creepy-carrots