Spooky Old Classic

spooky old tree with kidsReady to do some daring exploring? All you need is a lantern, a map, and a classic book!

We read The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree by Stan & Jan Berenstain (Random House, 1978). Three little bears journey to a spooky old tree, daring to explore an old stair, an alligator-challenged bridge, a secret hall, and finally, the Great Sleeping Bear.

This was one of my favorite picture books when I was a kid, and when 2 extra-large recycled boxes graced my doorstep, I knew exactly what I was going to to with them. Create a spooky old tree for kids to explore!

Our spooky (but not too spooky) adventure begins with a glowing lantern…

lantern…and ends with a key hunt inside the spooky old tree!

spooky tree interiorYou’ll need:

  • 1 standard clear (or opaque) plastic cup
  • Glow-in-the-dark foam dough, glow paint, or a LED candle (optional)
  • tagboard circle for a lantern base (should be slightly larger than the mouth of the cup. Mine was approximately 3.5″)
  • 1 tagboard (or poster board) strip for lantern handle (approximately 14″ x 1.25″)
  • Markers for decorating
  • Scotch tape
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • 1 beverage cap
  • Hot glue
  • 2 sparkle stems
  • 1 spooky old tree map template, printed on 11″ x 17″ paper
  • 1 spooky old tree (read on for construction details!)

To make the lantern, begin by putting the glow-in-the-dark material inside the cup. I had some leftover glow-in-the-dark foam dough (from a program 3 years ago!) so that’s what I used. But you can also paint something that will glow, use a LED votive candle, or simply skip this step.

Decorate the tagboard circle with markers. When finished, tape (or hot glue) the circle over the mouth of the cup. Then flip the cup over so it’s resting on its tagboard base.

Now for the lantern handle! Decorate your handle with markers or color masking tape. Then use scotch tape to secure the handle near the BASE of the lantern. Some kids will be tempted to tape the handle to the top of the lantern, but that makes it too tippy.

taped handleUse color masking tape to create decorative bands at the top and bottom of the cup. Hot glue a drink lid / bottle cap to the top of the lantern. Finish by wrapping one sparkle stem around the base of the lantern, and the other sparkle stem around the beverage cap.

lantern capWith the lantern complete, we embarked on a map making project. I gave the kids a spooky old tree template, and asked them to draw what they thought the inside of the tree looked like. For inspiration, I taped color copies of pages from the book (featuring the hall, the bridge, the moving wall, etc.) on the surrounding walls. When the maps were finished, my assistant hid them around the gallery and invited the kids to go on a “map hunt.” While this was going on, we got the tree ready for action.

And now (duh duh DUH)…THE TREE!

spooky tree door closedI’ll start by saying that you do NOT, of course, have to create a tree like mine. A large box with a hole cut in it, a darkened room, a table draped with a dark tablecloth – all of these thing will do just as well. Kids will have fun no matter what. You also don’t have to have a hidden key game. Crawling through the tree with your glowing lantern is a fine adventure.

However, if you DO want to make a tree like mine, fire up the hot glue gun and let’s get started!

You’ll need:

  • 2 large boxes (mine were 32″ x 26.5″ x 22″ and 25″ x 25.5″ x 24.5″
  • 1 roll of brown craft paper (or brown wrapping/packing paper)
  • 1 box cutter
  • Packing tape
  • Hot glue
  • 4 small clear plastic cups
  • 4 LED votive candles
  • White, brown, black, and yellow poster board
  • Black marker
  • 1 large piece of tagboard for key reinforcement & key sleeves
  • 1 key template, printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 1 set of metallic Sharpie markers (optional)

I used the smaller box for the “entry tunnel” and the larger box for the “key chamber.”

boxesUsing the box cutter, cut matching rectangular holes in one side of each box. Push the two boxes together so the holes are connected, then tape and hot glue the boxes together securely. Now the boxes are connected by an interior “doorway.”

Wielding your box cutter once more, cut doors at each end of the joined boxes. One door is the entrance, the other door is the exit. I decorated the entrance door with a black poster board and added yellow eyes.

spooky tree entrywayThe exit door isn’t decorated on the outside, but I did cut a small rectangular “keyhole” in it. Here’s an interior shot:

spooky tree keyholeNow it’s time for the “bark” on the tree. Cut a big piece of craft paper:

branch sheetRoll and twist it into a tall cone-like shape (i.e. so the base is wider than the tip).

rolled branchThen hot glue the wider part of the “branch” to the box.

glued tree branchRepeat until the tree is covered! I must admit, I pooped out after the first box, and simply wrapped the sides of the second box with paper. But as you can see, it still looked great!

spooky tree side viewIf you want to see this tree building technique used on a smaller scale, check out this post.

Now, on to the interior of the tree! In the interest of time, I only decorated the key chamber. I left the entry tunnel undecorated. I used the white and brown poster board to create two spooky bear portraits with frames. Then I hot glued them to the walls. As you can see, I didn’t make them too spooky. Because it’s easy to get a little hysterical in a dark, tight room with flickering candles. So you don’t need super-scary bears glaring at you too, eh?

bear portraitsNext I hot glued plastic drink cups to the upper corners of the room and plunked an LED votive candles in each cup. Instant wall sconces! Finally, I used a black marker to add some details to the exit door. Here’s a birds eye view of the key chamber.

interior room bird's eye viewHere’s the entrance view again.

spooky tree interiorAnd here I am hot gluing everything (only burned myself once)!

dr dana gluesThe final step is the keys! To give the keys more texture, I colored them with metallic sharpie markers. Then I hot glued them to tagboard for extra reinforcement.

During story time, I knew was going to be repeatedly hiding the keys in a dark, very cramped place. I also knew I was going to drop a key someplace irretrievable. So I made “key sleeves” out of tagboard, slipped the keys inside, and hot glued the sleeve in the hiding places.

key sleevesHere’s one key sleeve glued in a crack in the ceiling:

hidden key 3And another key sleeve glued behind a bear portrait:

hidden key 2I placed the third key (with no sleeve) in a wall sconce:

hidden key 1Now we were ready! My assistant staffed the entry door, and I staffed the exit door. One by one, kids crawled inside the spooky old tree to find the hidden keys and stick them through the “keyhole” I had created. The key in the keyhole was my signal to open the door and let them “escape.”

Originally, I was going to have kids find all three keys. But we were so crowded that day we only had time for one key. One girl was a little scared, so we opened both doors wide and let her crawl through without stopping. She did it, and then circled back in line to do it again! I was very proud of her!

It’s Glow Time

glow pigmentIt’s the stuff that dreams are made of…it’s glow-in-the-dark pigment! To make custom glow-in-the-dark “paint,” simply measure this pigment into white glue and stir. In an instant, you have glowing paint to make your projects really pop. The pigment is activated by sunlight, fluorescent, incandescent, and ultraviolet light. Best of all, it’s non-toxic.

In the past, I’ve had kids paint surfaces with brushes, use squeeze glue bottles to write things, and create glorious glowing masterpieces in a black light room. I get my pigment (the standard green color) at Educational Innovations, an online science supply company.

It’s wonderful stuff!

Dream Boat

dream boatEveryone needs a jaunty Dream Boat hat. And this one has a special night time surprise on the back!

We read Arthur’s Dream Boat by Polly Dunbar (Candlewick 2012). One night, little Arthur has an amazing dream about a “pink-and-green boat with a striped mast, polka-dotted sails, a golden flag, and a beautiful figurehead.” As he continues to describe it, the boat (which first appears on his head) gets more and more elaborate. The only problem is, no one in the family is listening…until Arthur’s amazing dream boat simply can’t be ignored!

You’ll need:

  • 1 plastic fedora (I bought mine at Oriental Trading Company)
  • 1 strip of white poster board for a hat band (approximately 22″ x 2.5″)
  • A box (I used a 9” x 4 ½” X 4 ½” brown craft box, but a large tissue box will work too)
  • A selection of color masking tape (optional)
  • 1 wooden dowel
  • 1 tall wooden bead that the dowel slides into (test it first!)
  • 1 piece of white construction paper
  • 1 strip of dot stickers for portholes (optional)
  • 2, 4″ x 2″ pieces of tagboard
  • 1 wooden clothespin
  • Glow-in-the-dark glue (or stickers, or stars)
  • Hot glue
  • Tape, hole punch, and scissors for construction
  • Markers for decorating

Cut the lid (or top) off the box. I also cut the sides of the box to make it a little more boat-like. I cut the long sides concave (1) and the short sides convex (2).

cutting the boatUse the color masking tape to decorate the boat, and dot stickers to create portholes (or, simply use markers for this step).

Next is the mast. Slide the dowel onto the wooden bead FIRST, and then use the color masking tape (or markers) to create a pattern on the dowel.

mastWhen the mast is complete, use hot glue to really, really, really attach the wooden bead to the bottom (inside) of your boat, right in the middle. I put a big glob of glue on the bottom of the bead and then added more around the edges once I stuck it to the boat. I also had the kids sing the ABC song while waiting for the hot glue to completely harden.

This might seem like overkill but trust me, masts are delicate things, especially when kids start blowing on the sails or adding stuffed animal passengers!

With the mast in place, it’s time for the sails! Cut two tall, triangular sails out of white construction paper. My large sail was about 12″ x 8″ and the small sail was 10.5″ x 4.” Punch holes in the top and bottom of each, then decorate with markers.

sailsTo “hoist” the sails, slide the bottom hole of the large sail on first…

sail step 1Slide the bottom AND top holes of the small sail on next…

sail step 2Then slide the top hole of the large sail on last.

sail step 3Top it off with a flag! Cut a 4″ piece of color masking tape (we used golden metallic tape to match the description in the book) and wrap it around the top of the mast. Then snip the end like a banner.

mast flagThe figurehead is next. Take a 4″ x 2″ piece of tagboard and cut out your figurehead shape. Color with markers and hot glue a clothespin on the back. Clip to the front of your ship.

figureheadThe hat band is next. We suggested drawing waves, but each kid customized his/her hat band in different ways. Tape the hat band around the hat. Hot glue the boat to the hat to finish the project.

But there IS one last step. The day before the program, we used glow-in-the-dark glue to write “Dream” on a 4″ x 2″ piece of tagboard. After hot gluing it to the back of the boat, we invited kids to step into a darkened storage closet to see their dream boats light up. They LOVED it. In fact, my son still checks on his glowing Dream Boat every night at bedtime.

dream signIf you don’t have glow-in-the-dark glue handy, the same effect can be achieved with glow-in-the-dark stickers or stars.

As you can imagine, there were some pretty amazing Dream Boats. In fact, later that day, a mom sent me this fantastic photo of her rainbow-loving daughter and super stupendous Dream Boat!

dream boat girlFABULOUS!