Let’s Get in Formation

let's get in formationIt doesn’t matter if you’re a massive cumulonimbus or a more modest tuft. A fluffy costume, weather pom-poms, and abject enthusiasm are all you need to be part of the most adorable cloud formation ever. Did we pull some awesome moves? You bet. The video is at the end of the post!

We read Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld (Henry Holt, 2011). Cloudette is a very small cloud, but she doesn’t mind. There are benefits to being small (like always being able to see fireworks, even when the sky is crowded)! Sometimes, however, Cloudette can’t help yearning for more. Especially when the big clouds do such important things. One day, a storm blows Cloudette far from her neighborhood. Exploring the new place, she discovers a frog pond that’s almost dry. She decides to do something about it. Concentrating all her efforts, Cloudette rains and rains until she creates the perfect pond for scores of thankful frogs. Delighted, she flies off to find more jobs a useful little cloud can do.

You’ll need:

  • 2 sheets of white poster board
  • White cotton balls
  • White string
  • Hole punch
  • 2 wooden dowels
  • A set of nine, 18″ crepe paper streamers (6 in rainbow colors and 3 light blue)
  • A set of two, 2″ x18″ pieces of blue cellophane
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • Scissors and glue for construction
  • Hot glue

First, your weather pom-poms! We made 2, a rainbow and a rainstorm. To make the rainbow pom-pom, twist the bottoms of six, 18″ rainbow color crepe paper streamers together. Use color masking tape to attach the streamers to the end of a wooden dowel, then continue wrapping the tape around the dowel until it’s covered.

To make the rainstorm pom-pom, twist the bottoms of three, 18″ light blue crepe paper streamers and two, 2″ x18″ pieces of blue cellophane together. Attach with color masking tape, wrapping downward until the dowel is covered.

weather pom-pomsNow for your costume! Cut 2 sheets of white poster board into matching cloud shapes. Hot glue the 2 shapes together. Why? Because when it comes to gluing scores of cotton balls on poster board, 1 sheet is just too thin. It warps almost immediately. With 2 sheets hot-glued together, there’s much less warping. Glue cotton balls to the front of your cloud costume, and add a construction paper mouth and eyes if you’d like.

cloud costumeUse a hole punch to make two holes in the top of the cloud. Thread white string through the holes, adjust for height, knot the string, and hang the cloud costume around your neck.

clouds ready to goWhen everyone was ready, the clouds gathered outside on the library’s plaza. We spread out in a grid (well, we attempted a grid) to insure that no one would get smacked by a weather pom-pom. Then, facing the kids, I cued up my playground whistle, and we got in formation.

Wrist Owls

wrist owlsCats might make you sneeze and toads are rather old-fashioned. What you really need…is an owl! This project (which is derived from these wrist parakeets) is designed to be simple, inexpensive, and a snap to assemble at large-scale events with minimal staffing. The owls were a huge hit at a Harry Potter event we did in 2007, and again in 2017 at Wand Works.

You’ll need:

  • 1 toilet paper tube
  • Construction paper
  • A selection of small feathers
  • 1 pair of dot stickers (optional)
  • 1 small triangle of self-adhesive foam or construction paper
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • Scissors, tape, and hole punch for construction
  • Brown or black markers

The color of your construction paper and feathers varies depending on the color of your owl. At our event, we offered both brown and white options.

Wrap a toilet paper tube with construction paper, then use tape (or glue) to attach feather wings and ear tufts. Use a marker to draw the owl’s eyes – or – use dot stickers for an extra pop of color. We added details to our sticker eyes with a Sharpie ultra fine point markers. Attach a small triangle of self-adhesive foam for the beak (or just use a snippet of orange or yellow construction paper).

The earlier incarnation of this owl project used different shades of brown construction paper for the owl’s head and its stomach:

alternative owlBut we simplified things further and just used markers to draw outlines of feathers on the owl’s chest. Finish by punching 2 holes on the bottom of the tube. Thread a pipe cleaner through the holes, then fasten the owl to your wrist. You’re ready for Hogwarts!

off to hogwarts

Wand Works

wizard with wandOf everything in the Harry Potter universe, I must admit I find the wands most fascinating. Not just because they play an integral part of spell casting – they also reflect the unique personalities of their owners. Additionally, shouting in Latin is so much more exciting when waving a wand. We tried to capture a little of that magic at Wand Works, our Harry Potter event.

gray magic woodworking wand displayOriginally, the event was just going to be about wands, wand making, and wand testing. But then I started thinking about the other ways students prepare for Hogwarts. So we brought book bags, text books, and owls into the mix. And, while I’ve recreated an assortment of Hogwarts classes over the years (check out this boggart from Defense Against the Dark Arts), I’ve never managed to do Muggle Studies. We had to do something on Muggle Studies!

Here’s how our event worked. As kids entered the library, they were greeted by a table full of these awesome book bags:

accio books logo by Polly CarlsonThat beautiful Accio Books logo was designed by Polly Carlson. You can find it here, on her truly clever blog Pieces by Polly. She was kind enough to give us permission to use it for the event. Also at the table were a slew of Crayola metallic markers for bag customization:

book bag decoratingThose are 13.5″ x 14.5″ polypropylene totes from 4Imprint. Specifically, it’s the “Value Polypropylene Tote (item #103873). We tested a couple of polypropylene bags for this project, and 4Imprint’s held the Crayola metallic markers ink beautifully (it smeared on the others). Also, 4Imprint had the best prices and customer service, flat out.

Tucked inside each and every event bag was a color ticket, which lead the lucky witch or wizard to my favorite fictitious bookstore of all time:

flourish and blotts ticketsHere’s our Flourish & Blotts, staffed by Princeton junior Gabrielle Chen (she’s also the artist behind that fantastic sign)!

flourish and blottsBehind Gabrielle was a shelf stocked with copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the AgesHogwarts: A Cinematic Yearbook, and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay (alas, we missed the release of the text book version of Fantastic Beasts by mere weeks). There were also real quill pens with powdered ink packets, and some adorable Harry Potter Magical Creatures coloring kits.

stocked bookshelfThe tickets were color-coded with items on the shelves. Hand in your ticket, and receive the matching item! Just in case you’re wondering, we did sort and distribute the event bags by estimated age of the child. This was to insure that a 4 year-old received a Harry Potter coloring kit, not a copy of Fantastic Beasts.

Did you notice the little cauldron with the brooms sticking out of it in the above photo? Since we couldn’t buy books, quills, and coloring kits for everyone, the little brooms were the prize most frequently received by kids of all ages. But they are way cool because they are actually customized broom pens!

broom pensThese are “Personalized Witch’s Broom Pens” from Oriental Trading Company ($12 a dozen). For no extra fee, you can customize them with 1 line of text up to 16 characters in length. We went with “Nimbus 2000.” Everyone LOVED them! In fact, the whole table was a lot of fun. It was terrific to see kids, holding books (or quills, or coloring kits, or broom pens) with big grins on their faces.

fantastic beasts funElsewhere on the event floor was real-life wandmaker Lane O’Neil from Gray Magic Woodworking. You previously met Lane in this post. In person, his wands are even more beautiful, fantastic, and magical. His table was so swarmed. I couldn’t even get near it for the first hour of the event!

wands on display, gray magic woodworkingLane also displayed his lathe, tools, different types of wood, and wands in different stages of completion. He did demonstrations, showed slides, and answered questions throughout the entire event.

lane o'neil gray magic woodworkingNot far from Lane was our Muggle Artifact exhibit, curated by Princeton University sophomore Téa Wimer. The exhibit consisted of 45 Muggle objects complete with informative exhibit labels. Below, two attendees ponder a Cookie Slicer (which, amazingly, looks just like an old school photo enlarger).

muggle cookie slicerAnd here, two scholars consider a World Checker. Nearby is a rather puzzling object on a pedestal. Kids could write guesses as to what the Muggles use the object for. The full exhibit, as well as an interview with Curator Téa Wimer, is now online!

muggle world checkerOwls are another must for Hogwarts students, so we had a table where kids could make these awesome and super simple wrist owls.

wrist owl examplesAnd now we come to the main event – THE WANDS. After much searching and testing, we settled on wands made from cooking chopsticks, hot glue, and paint. They are, in fact, very much like the wands our kid tester made for her DIY Harry Potter party.

But there were problems. While these types of wands are wonderful in small batches, we needed hundreds. The event was recommended for kids ages 5-11. Would someone poke their eye out? Hot glue is used to create the texture of the wand. Would someone burn their fingers? The wands require paint. Would they dry sufficiently? And – how messy was this all going to get?

Turns out, we solved all these problems, and everything went beautifully.

First, we bought 2 kinds of cooking chopsticks on Amazon. 13″ pointy ones (4 pairs cost $7.40) and 10.5″ blunt ones (10 pairs cost $11). If you’d like to know the exact brands we used, e-mail me for the links.

wand chopsticksFor the event, we made trays out of box lids, separating the wands into blunt and pointy sections. This was primarily for the benefit of parents and caretakers. The pointy chopsticks were definitely the most popular, but we also had many adults who were very grateful for the blunt wands. There was even some quietly-switch-from-pointy-to-blunt-while-the-kid-is-distracted going on.

tray of wandsNext came the hot glue. While we would have loved for kids to make their own hot glue designs at the event, we knew that just wasn’t possible on a large scale. So we hot glued all the wands in advance. It took us a couple months of chipping away here and there, but in the end we had hundreds of wands, and no two were alike.

hot glued wandsNext, the paint! After testing a number of different paints, we settled on Michaels Craft’s in-store brand, CraftSmart. We used their satin acrylic paint because it was water-based, non-toxic, fast-drying, and there were lots of different shades of brown. The regular acrylic paint was too dull, but the satin left a really nice finish on the wand.

finished wands, both kindsAt the event, kids selected the wand they liked from the tray, and then picked the paint color they wanted. To make the color selection easier, we made several paint choice panels out of cake pads and jumbo craft sticks. The numbers below the paint samples corresponded to the name of the colors (which were written on the back of the panel for the table staff).

wand paint panel From left to right, the CraftSmart satin acrylic paint colors are khaki, golden brown, brown, burnt orange, and espresso. Burnt orange and espresso were definitely the most popular. But all the colors looked fantastic.

You need very little paint per wand. To keep the mess down and conserve paint, we gave each kid a 1.25oz plastic cup with a little bit of paint inside it, a paint brush, and a paper plate to work on. When the kid finished, his/her paint cup and brush could be used with another kid.

the painting of the wandsThis paint was extremely fast drying on the wood, even with multiple coats. The hot glue, however, was another story. In order to dry the wands faster, we put together a wand-drying chamber out of a piece of cardboard, jumbo binder clips held down with packing tape, and 2 box fans running on low.

wand drying chamberBelow you can see the wand drying chamber in action, with the wands inserted in the clips. At the event, kids wrote their names on little bits of paper, which were clipped with the corresponding wands. Depending on how many coats of paint were on the wand, it typically took 5 – 10 minutes for a wand to dry in the chamber (15 if there was a LOT of paint).

wands drying in chamberTo be clear – the wand drying chamber was tucked behind the event tables, away from the crowds. Only event staff had access to it for obvious reasons. However, if I was to do this event again, I would definitely add a designated “Wand Pick-Up Area” to make things run even more smoothly.

FINALLY, we had an activity that I only dared dream of, but Princeton University junior José M Rico made a reality. A virtual, interactive, wand-testing classroom. It was AMAZING. I teased a screen shot on our Instagram, but here’s a photo of Katie casting one mean Bombarda spell.

katie and bombardaAll the details of the game, as well as video and a free download, can be found here!

I’d like to thank everyone who made this event possible. Thank you Polly Carlson for graciously letting us use your Accio Wand design, student artist Gabrielle Chen for painting the awesome Flourish & Blotts sign, and Lane O’Neil for bringing his talent and wands to the event. A hearty round of applause to our incredibly creative Muggle Artifacts Curator Téa Wimer. Further applause to our wildly talented game designer Jose Rico, as well as artist Jeremy Gonclaves, who allowed us to his 3D game background.

A big shout out to our extensive team of wand hot gluers, Andrea Immel for swooping in to help at our owl table, and all the Princeton University students who volunteered their time to help at the event. Many, many thanks!