Creating Words (Literally)!

Mix, pour, and paint…constructing words has never been so hands-on! Today, Katie and her intrepid assistant are test driving the “Perfect Craft” Alphabet Craft Kit by Skullduggery. Intended for children ages 8 and up, this kit allows you to make three-dimensional letters from scratch. Did our letter kit make the grade? Take it away, Katie!

The winner of several awards from Creative Child Magazine, this kit retails on for around $20. It contains 2 two bags of casting mixture, 1 silicone letter mold, 6 small containers of paint, 1 paintbrush, 1 paint sponge, and 1 square of sandpaper. The suggested age range for the kit is 8+, but I feel younger children should definitely have adult assistance, especially when pouring the casting material into the mold. Children who are 10 and older can work on this craft kit on their own.

The instructions tell you to pour ½ cup of water into one of the bags of casting material and mix it together with your hands until it is a “melted ice cream” consistency. The original cast color is white, but you can give it color if you add paint to the mixture. My son and I decided to try and color our casting material orange, so we dropped in some red and yellow paint. Sadly, it did not come out as strong orange as we had hoped.

We debated what word we should create, and finally decided to spell out “Princeton.” However, we soon discovered a problem – there are TWO letter N’s in Princeton! We were going to be one letter short! Happily, we realized we could spell “Cotsen” with the letters we had already poured, and we could spell “Tiger” if we added the letter G. We still had extra casting mixture, so we also poured the letters A, K and Z, which are my son’s and my initials.

One entire bag of casting mixture allowed us to make 13 letters, but be careful! The instructions suggest you fill the letter mold about ¾ full. However, due to the fast pour of the mixture, we sometimes overfilled. As you can see, the final letters E and Z were quite thick!

We waited an hour for the cast to harden and then peeled the letters from the silicone mold. The letters had some crumbly edges that were easily sanded down using the provided sandpaper, but otherwise the letters looked fantastic.

We let the letters to dry overnight before we painted them. The hefty red paintbrush pictured on the front of the box? NOT the one that is included in the packaging! Ours was much much smaller!

The tiny brush really doesn’t provide adequate paint coverage, so I decided to try the kit’s paint sponge and multiple coats. In the photo below, you can see how I used the paint sponge and double coat on the C and S, the paintbrush and double coat for the T and E, and the paintbrush and one coat with the O and N. You can definitely see the color difference between the various methods.

As a final touch, I added a light coat of sparkle paint on all of the letters. Oddly, the sparkle paint removed some of the purple paint from the letter C, but not from any other paint color!

Perfect Craft’s Alphabet Craft Kit is ideal to keep children busy for a couple of hours. Creating and painting the letters was quite entertaining, and clean up was a snap. Once the letters are created, however, there’s not much more to do with the letters. I suppose you can use the letters to practice spelling different words? Or use them for a game of Boggle? Another thought I had would be to mount them onto a wood sign to hang on a child’s bedroom door, or create a family announcement board. Also, once you’re out of the casting mix, you are DONE! So think carefully about what you want to spell!

Final ranking: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Doing Flips

We’ve all been getting quite a bit of screen time lately, but what about if we take it waaaaay back to the early days of screens and animation? Turns out, it can be pretty fascinating. Especially if you have the flipbookit, a DIY hand-cranked miniature movie machine. Katie took the kit for a test drive with some pretty amazing results…take it away, Katie!

The flipbookit retails for around $35 and comes with everything you need to build your own flipbook animation of the historic “Horse in Motion.” The kit contents include instructions, a box to house the animation, pre-printed cards, and plastic pieces to create the spindle and flipping mechanism. There’s no suggested age range printed on this particular kit, but I would say it’s great for kids 8+ to build on their own. Younger children would need parental assistance.

The instructions, which are clear and easy to follow, have you start by building the cardboard box that becomes the “movie projector” (I loved the attention to detail with the snap rivets, which provide a fun industrial vibe).

I had two major issues with the box: the first was making sure the snap rivets were tight and secure. The second problem was when I was trying to insert the spindle, the opposite bushing (the part that holds the spindle in the middle of the box) kept falling out. It felt like I needed a third hand in order to secure the moving parts of pieces, but after a few unsuccessful attempts, I was able to build the spindle and attach the crank pulley.

The flip-cards are a thicker die-cut plastic, which offers the perfect rigidity to spin and create the “moving picture” effect when you turn the spindle. As you remove the flip-cards from the full sheets, you must be careful to not bend the sprockets (the small tabs on the straight side of the card).

The sprockets insert into holes on the spindle discs and if one is bent or torn, the “moving picture” effect might be lost. There are 24 individual flip-cards to insert into the spindle. Start with number (1) and work your way through all of them.

This can be a tedious task, especially when you get to the final cards and there’s not much room to squeeze them into place. Once they are all attached, put the flipbookit on a table and turn the hand crank. Voila! You can watch “Horse in Motion” over and over and over again!

The company also offers a blank DIY card kit, giving you the opportunity to create your own animation. It retails for around $14 and provides 24 blank flip-cards and five sheets of blank white label paper for you to either draw or print your own animation.

On their website, flipbookit also has a free Maker Tool where you can upload a video or a series of photographs. The online Maker Tool will then transform it into an animation and allow you to preview, make changes and finally, it will create a .pdf for you to print onto the blank label paper.

It wasn’t hard to convince my son to help me create a short video for the flipbookit. We tried out several different scenarios and finally decided to have him kick a soccer ball down a hallway in our house. He went back and forth, doing various tricks and movements, which gave me plenty of choices for the animation.

I was amazed at how easy it was to put everything together. Our original video was almost two minutes and the final version that became our “Soccer in Hallway” movie is just 2.6 seconds long. You will need a printer, preferably color, to print the .pdf of your final animation. It took nearly 30 minutes to affix the printed labels onto the blank flip-cards, and then insert them into the projector box.

The time was well spent because the final product is fantastic! My son has officially claimed the flipbookit  and I regularly hear the projector spinning in his room, undoubtably playing “Soccer in Hallway,” while he should be working on his online schoolwork.

My rankings:

KIT: 4.5 out of 5
I loved the simplicity of the cardboard projector. However, it doesn’t assemble in minutes as stated on the front of the box and there are a few parts to the construction that are challenging.

INSTRUCTIONS: 5 out of 5
The creators did a fine job making the instructions concise and well written. The images were perfect to help better explain the written tasks. Plus, they have the instructions available on their website to reprint if your original copy gets misplaced (as I learned from personal experience!).

BLANK DIY CARD KIT: 4 out of 5
As awesome as it is to create your own animation, it’s rather expensive for just one kit. The cost would start to add up if you had several artistic children who all wanted to create their own animations.

This was, by far, the coolest feature of the entire flipbookit. I was able to test and create several animations before settling on our final movie.

OVERALL: 4 out of 5
flipbookit  is very cool. It is a brilliant way to introduce children to an early form of animation and moving pictures. However, the cost to purchase the kit and DIY cards can be prohibitive for some people. I can also see it losing its appeal when one grows tired of watching a “Horse in Motion.”

Moby Dodecahedron

moby dodecahedron

Call me Cryshmael. Some weeks ago – never mind how long precisely – having money in our purse, Katie and I found something particular of interest to us at the store, and we thought we would test it and see the narwhaly part of the world. Yes, whenever we find ourselves growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly October in our  souls, we account it high time to test Klutz’s “Grow Your Own Crystal Narwhal” kit as soon as we can.* Take it away, Katie!

Klutz designed the “Grow Your Own Crystal Narwhal” kit for children ages 8 and up and it retails for $12.99. If narwhals aren’t your favorite, Klutz also has kits to grow a crystal fox, unicorn or dragon. But it’s science! It’s crystals! It’s a narwhal! And who doesn’t love adorable narwhals?

klutz grown your own crystal narwhal kitThe kit provides the basic pieces to get started. Namely an instructional booklet, 2 pipe cleaners, crystal powder, a plastic narwhal figurine, and a little paper backdrop to pose the finished product on.

klutz narwhal kit contentsHowever, you will have to fill in some gaps with items you may or may not have already at home: 2 heatproof glass jars with lids (I used old jelly jars, but Bell jars would totally work), measuring cups and spoons, a plastic plate, and a pot holder or trivet. Most importantly, you need to use distilled water to make the crystal growing solutions. I bought a gallon of distilled water at the grocery store for 99 cents.

You start by making a crystal “seeding solution” and saturate the pipe cleaners you’ve attached to your narwhal in the solution. I also saturated 3 pom-poms to create “icebergs” and tried to turn the remaining white pipe cleaner into “coral.” Let the narwhal (and optional icebergs and coral) dry overnight.

narwhal phase 1Next, you make a crystal “growing solution” and let the narwhal soak in the solution for 4-8 hours. If you made the solution correctly, crystals will grow on the pipe cleaners. Let the narwhal dry overnight, then do a second round of soaking in the growing solution. If your experiment worked, you finish with a beautiful narwhal with a crystal tusk, water spout and tail!

narwhal phase 2One suggestion…I had to get a bit creative with my glass jar because there wasn’t enough growing solution liquid to fully cover my narwhal. I simply rolled up a dish towel and rested my jar at an angle so the pipe cleaners were submerged.

soaking narwhalAnother suggestion is using something other than your fingers to remove the narwhal from the liquid after it is done soaking. I used a wood skewer, but you can also use a plastic spoon or tongs. In fact, every time I handled the narwhal or any of the experiment materials, I thoroughly washed my hands to remove residual crystal powder (which is aluminum potassium sulfate, or alum).

Place the crystal narwhal on the provided paper backdrop, and you are done!

finished narwhal on backdropIt took me 4 days to finish the project. But I allowed extra soaking time for the pom-pom “icebergs” to grow bigger crystals, so technically you can wrap up the experiment in 3 days. There is a great deal of adult supervision to complete this kit. I fully agree with the suggested age range of 8 and older with adult assistance. There is no way a child should work with stove tops, microwaves, boiling water, and chemicals without an adult present.

Here are my rankings…

KIT: 4 out of 5
Being asked to supply so many additional items in order to get the experiment to properly work is a bit of a bummer.

Klutz does a great job with the manual. It thoroughly explains how to do the experiment, the science behind crystals, fun facts about narwhals, important safety information, and provides a detailed troubleshooting guide if your crystals aren’t properly growing.

EXPERIMENT: 3.5 out of 5
There are a lot of tedious steps that could possibly frustrate the younger experimenters. You also have to commit several days from start to finish.

AWESOMENESS: 5 out of 5
You grow crystals! So cool!

This crystal narwhal kit shines! Recommended!

*All due respect to Moby Dick by Herman Melville. We couldn’t resist!