Ever-Ready

ever readyFrom sandwiches to personal flotation devices, we’re prepared for whatever picnicking perils come our way. We made a delicious paper picnic lunch for two, and then tested our emergency preparedness with a problem-solving card game. Bust out the marshmallows and the umbrella. Nothing’s going to get in the way of THIS picnic!

We read Ready for Anything! by Keiko Kasza (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009). Duck wants to go on a picnic, but Racoon is feeling a bit paranoid. What if they get attacked by killer bees? Or fall in a river? What if a terrible storm blows in, they take shelter in a cave, and find a dragon inside?!? Duck counters his friend’s dire predictions with happier ones. What if it’s butterflies instead of bees? What if the river is cool and refreshing? What if they roast marshmallows with the dragon in the cave? Finally, Raccoon agrees to go, but he fortifies himself with all sorts of emergency equipment. At the picnic site, Duck realizes that he forgot the picnic basket. Uh on! A true emergency! Luckily, Raccoon is ready for anything. He’s brought a delicious back-up lunch.

You’ll need:

picnic basket with lunchFirst, the picnic lunch! If your box has a lid, cut the lid and tabs off (if you’re using a tissue box, just cut the entire top off). Decorate the box with patterned tape and colored masking tape (or just markers).

To create movable picnic basket handles, punch 2 matching sets of holes in both sides of the box. Next, punch a hole at both ends of your tagboard strips. Curve the strips over the box, line the holes up, and use a brass tack to attach the handles.

finished picnic basketIf you don’t want moveable handles, simply staple a tagboard strip to the center of the box.

Now for the food! Use construction paper to make two sets of the following picnic items: 2 slices of bread, 1 piece of lettuce, 1 tomato slice, 1 piece of cheese, 1 banana, and 1 cookie circle. Use markers to decorate the banana and cookie. Here’s what our pieces looked like (carefully arranged in what I’ve dubbed the “happy picnic food face”).

happy picnic food faceYou can simply glue the layers of the sandwich together. Or, if you want to add a bit of bulk to it, use little squares of double-sided foam mounting tape between the fillings. Here’s a shot of a square of tape connecting the bread and cheese:

taped sandwichTo make beverages, color the juice label template, then wrap each label around a toilet paper tube. Cut a drinking straw in half, and tape each piece inside a tube.

juice bottlesTuck your lunch in the basket (and don’t forget the napkins!). Your final step is to color the picnic emergency equipment cards from the template. You’ll notice there’s a blank card on the template. That’s just in case you’d like to add another piece of equipment. Like a big bar of chocolate. I’ve definitely had chocolate emergencies.

emergency equipment cardsAfter giving the kids a few minutes to play with their new picnic sets (and there was quite a lot of picnicking going on) I asked them to gather in the story time area. Then, loudly and with lots of drama, I read each scenario from the picnic emergency scenario sheet. The kids had to listen carefully and select the equipment card they thought would solve the problem best.

gameI kept the scenarios very simple, but feel free to create more complicated ones. Or write some that require a double card solution!

Let it Go

let it go 1Does your Snow Queen need some silvery magic? Try these super simple, super inexpensive, but super fun metallic dance streamers! We took them out on our gallery floor to see how they’d go over. Three little girls immediately asked for a set. I’ll admit, I played with them too. It’s impossible not to twirl them and feel just a little bit magical.

You’ll need:

  • 2 wooden dowels
  • 1 silver metallic tablecloth
  • Scissors
  • Silver tape

The best tablecloth to use is a super-shiny crinkly one (I bought mine at Oriental Trading Company for $3.25). Spread out the tablecloth and cut 8 ribbons from it. Here are my ribbon measurements (you can adjust yours according to the height of your child):

  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 41″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 49″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 60″
  • 2 ribbons measuring 2.25″ x 66″

Bunch 4 ribbons (one of each size) together, twist tightly, and tape securely to one end of a wooden dowel. Continue wrapping the tape downward and around the dowel until it’s covered. I used silver prismatic tape from Party City (a roll costs $4.99).

prismatic tapeThe Party City tape is the same width as duct tape, which can be awkward to wrap around a thin dowel. So I cut the original tape pieces in half, creating narrower strips (since the tape has peel-off backing, cutting long strips in half is easy). Repeat the above steps with the remaining 4 ribbons and wooden dowel, and you’re done!

metallic dance streamersCue the music and…LET IT GO!

let it go 2If you’re a fan of Hans Christian Andersen’s original Snow Queen, you might want to check out this fabulous adaptation by the Princeton Youth Ballet!

Lipogram Fortunes

lipogram fortuneNo one can predict what wisdom a fortune cookie will reveal. Except in this case. We can say with absolute, 100% certainty that our fortunes will not contain the letter O. Because hidden inside our cookies is a carefully crafted lipogram fortune.

If you have eagle eyes, you might have noticed that the fortune in the above photo does contain the letter O. That’s because that particular fortune was written for a QUEST. More on the QUEST in a moment…

The lipogram fortune cookie activity is always a crowd-pleaser at Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group for ages 9-12. First, we introduce the lipogram – a type of writing in which the author leaves out a letter (or letters) when crafting a sentence, paragraph, or story. Then we write fortune cookie fortunes that cannot include the letter O. Here are a few pearls of wisdom, future predictions, and unusual directives, all with nary an O in sight!


Making beds creates happy parents everywhere.

Beauty is great, but brains are better.

Never give up.

Rain will fall where it never falls.

Life is filled with crazy bananas!

Washed feet are always appreciated.

Beware the lizards. They bite.

Quick! Buy all the chunky peanut butter in Alabama!

Surprise hug the dude sitting nearest the exit.

There will be an alien kidnapping.

Marble will crack and the universe will be put in small terms…beep…beep…beep…shwee, shew, whee!

The future that lies ahead isn’t paved yet.

Saturday night is finally live.

Rip up this paper immediately.

Read this!

Be clear and direct – a Giant Space Laser can be disabled with the right steps.

Buy bad cheese.

Ye with withstand danger.

Child, eat the asparagus in the plate because it is amazing!

Never try being smart in class.

Leave this Chinese restaurant.

Be safe in life, but carefulness is an inadequate skill.

Have a nice day.

Beware jumping chipmunks.

Falling is a bad idea.

The difference between happiness and sadness is this: the happy man has a warm puppy.


We do the lipogram fortune cookie activity early in the program. Later, it makes a triumphant comeback during our QUEST, which occurs at the very end of the program. The QUEST is super elaborate cross-campus race that involves teams solving riddles, encountering student actors, following maps, and unearthing clues. One such clue is hidden inside a bunch of lipogram fortune cookies.

You may already be aware that you can order fortune cookies with special messages. They say things like “It’s a Boy!” or “Will you marry me?” or “Happy Anniversary!” But you can order custom messages too.

We ordered cookies with 4 custom messages. Each message was missing a particular letter (or two). In the QUEST box, next to the 4 cookies, was a letter wheel and a golf pencil (here’s the letter wheel template if you’re interested).

letter wheelFirst, the QUEST kids had to recall the lipogram activity. Then, they had to figure out that the missing letters spelled out a QUEST clue (the letter wheel and the golf pencil helped them keep track). Here’s a solved wheel, pointing the kids to their next destination:

letter wheel solutionI buy my cookies online from Fortune Cookie Planet. They are peanut free, tree-nut free, vegan, and preservative free. 50 cookies with 4 custom messages costs $20 (plus shipping). Another option is to obtain fortune cookies locally, use tweezers to pull out the fortunes, and carefully inset your own message inside. Just make sure you have a few extra cookies on hand. Sometimes they crack apart during the fortune-swapping process!


Illustration of fortune cookie used on letter wheel template is by Coffee Addict on wikiHow.