Sleepless in the Southwest

sleepless in the southwestSettle down Southwestern critters! As the moon rises over the cacti in this lovely construction paper landscape, it’s time for the birds, animals, and reptiles to find their special spots. Turn off the lights, and your moon and stars glow in the dark!

glowing moon in the southwestWe read Bedtime in the Southwest by Mona Hodgson, illustrated by Renée Graef (Rising Moon, 2004). Twilight has come to the Southwest, and it’s time to go to bed. But is everyone ready? The little hare is hopping on his bed, the skunk appears to be ignoring Mama, and the porcupine is poking quills in his pillow in protest. But eventually, everyone scoots, snuggles, and nestles down to sleep.

You’ll need:

  • A large, flat piece of corrugated cardboard (ours was 22″ x 25″)
  • Dark blue poster board
  • Orange poster board
  • Brown, green, white, and gray construction paper
  • Several pieces of green self-adhesive foam for cacti (optional)
  • A southwest critter template color printed on 8.5″ x 11″ white card stock
  • Scissors, glue and tape for construction

This project was a step-by-step endeavor, as opposed to our more go-crazy-with-the-supplies-and do-anything-you-want projects (here’s looking at you, Roy). And while crazy art is fun, there’s also something soothing about methodical projects. That was definitely true of this project. It was very mellow. We even removed all the tables and chairs and worked in a big, relaxed circle.

working circleWe also prepped all the project items in advance, so it would be easier for the entire group to progress through the project together.

First, the backdrop boards! Glue a 7.5″ x 22″ piece of dark blue poster board to the top of the backdrop board. Then, cut mountain ridges in the top of a similarly-sized piece of orange poster board, overlap it a little with the blue poster board, and glue it in place. Glue a white card stock moon and stars to the night sky. Next up, your critter habitats!

sleepless in the southwestBut first, a word about the little pockets each critter gets tucked into. We had a ton of old archival mylar lying around, so we used that to create clear pockets. Overhead projector transparency sheets work too. But you can opt for non-transparent pockets and use good old construction paper. Also, your pockets needs a little wiggle room at the top for sliding the critters in and out. So leave 0.75″ of the pocket un-taped.

pronghornAs you can see, the pronghorn habitat is a small bump of brown construction paper with a pocket taped in front of it. Super easy! The coyote habitat is 3 brown dirt mounds, one cut to look like the entrance to a burrow. The pocket is taped behind one of the mounds.

coyoteThe roadrunner habitat is a big spiky green bush with a little construction paper nest in front of it (the pocket is under the nest). Then we we then covered the nest with (optional) brown raffia pieces.

roadrunnerThe gila monster habitat is 4 gray rocks, with the pocket behind 3 overlapping rocks.

gila monsterFor the hummingbird habitat, cut a branched tree trunk out of brown construction paper, then tape the pocket over a fork in one of the branches. Cut a tree canopy with a big hole in it, then glue it over the top of the tree trunk and the pocket, leaving plenty of room to slide the hummingbird in and out. The hare habitat is at the bottom of the tree. It’s a pocket covered by a fringed 6″ piece of green crepe paper (or just use construction paper).

hummingbird and hareFinally, the elf owl. Did you know that elf owls live in cacti? We wanted to capture that awesomeness, so Katie painstakingly cut holes in 2 dozen cacti. Tape the owl’s pocket directly to the board, slide the owl in the pocket, and then position the hole in the cactus directly over the owl’s face.

elf owlBecause you need to retrieve your owl, you only want to attach the bottom section of the cactus to the board. We used self-adhesive foam for our cacti, and solved the problem by leaving the paper backing on the top part of the cactus, but peeling and sticking the rest:

peeled cactusWe used self-adhesive foam for all our cacti. It gave them a terrific texture, and it was fun for the kids to peel and stick them wherever they wanted. But construction paper works too! At the very bottom of our background boards was a long mylar pocket to store the animals when they’re not tucked into their habitats. We slid some cool Southwestern patterned paper into the pocket too.

critters in bottom pocketYou might have noticed that we kept the names of the critters on our template cut outs. I also broke from tradition and presented them to the kids already colored in. That’s because we wanted the kids to see what the various Southwestern critters looked like, and to learn their names. However, if you’d like the same template in black & white, here it is!

critters with namesThe very last thing Katie and I did was go around with a bit of glow-in-the-dark paint and fill in their moon and stars. We also added optional shooting stars (by painting glowing lines behind one of the stars on the board).

painting the moon and starsAnd that’s it! I like to think that, later that night, little Southwestern landscapes were glowing softly across town as kids tucked the animals in and went to sleep. Goodnight, sweet Southwest.

glowing moon in the southwest

Spring Chicken

spring chickenNo spring chicken? We got your spring chicken! The drinking straw “sticks” on this little bird puppet allow it to flap its wings and soar across the big blue sky! I designed the project for a weekend story time event for 50 kids. It needed to be inexpensive, appealing to ages 2 – 6, constructed without white glue or hot glue, and easy to put together with minimal adult assistance. For the full effect of the bird’s flight, check out the video clip at the end of the post!

You’ll need:

First, cut the bird’s body and wings from the template and color them with markers. Tape a jumbo craft stick to the back of the bird’s body (an 8″ craft stick work best). Make sure to leave approximately 1.5″ of space above the craft stick. Later, you’ll need that space to attach the bird’s wing.

bird on craft stick with typeYou could also wait until the end of the project to tape the craft stick in place, but I found that the early placement of the stick helped kids attach their wings in the right place (i.e. close to the top of the bird’s body instead of the middle).

Next, fold each wing downwards along the dotted line, then attach the wings to the body with long pieces of tape. It’s important that the entire fold of the wing is covered with tape. I used orange masking tape to demonstrate this in the image below, but I used clear tape on the actual project.

taped wingNow stick an additional piece of tape over the bird’s back and wings like a “tape saddle.” Again, I used orange masking tape to demonstrate it below…

tape saddleUse tape to add feathers to the head, tops of the wings, and tail. Finally, tape the short end of a flexible straw to the underside of each wing, close to the wingtips (if the straws are too close to the body, the wings won’t flap properly). Use scissors to trim the ends of the straws so they don’t extend past the wings.

taped drinking straw with typeTo operate your bird, hold the craft stick in one hand, then gather the two drinking straws in your other hand. Holding the straws straight behind the bird, use them to flap the wings of the bird up and down!


Since my audience was primarily preschoolers, I read Birds, written by Kevin Henkes and illustrated by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow Books, 2009). It’s a lovely book with simple text and plenty of opportunities for audience participation (such as naming the colors of birds, naming the types of birds, and yelling “Surprise!” on one of my favorite pages). The illustrations are colorful, pretty, and, in some places, extremely imaginative and delightful.