More Cowbell

more cowbell

Is that a drum solo? Or the sound of a massive stampede? YOU decide when your buffalo finger puppet performs on this awesome drum set! It took a little work, but we figured out how to get this entire drum set on a single sheet of paper. Just cut, color, fold, and rock out!

We recommend reading Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums, written by Audrey Vernick, and illustrated by Daniel Jennewein (Balzer + Bray, 2011). From the first time you brought that baby buffalo home, you knew he was destined for great things. So order a drum set and wait for the magic (and don’t forget a couple cases of earmuffs for the neighbors)!

You’ll need:

First, cut the drum set from the template. It will looks like this…

drum set step 1Decorate it with markers, and don’t forget to write the name of your band inside the circle of the bass drum! When you’re done coloring, flip the drum set template over:

drum set step 2Roll the lower drums inwards, and tape them to the back of the set.

drum set step 3Next, fold the tabs downward along the dotted lines. These are your drum heads. Use scissors to shape them to the tops of your drums, then secure them with tape.

drum set step 4Repeat the same process with the upper drums.

drum set step 5Now fold the long base of the drum set upwards, tucking the cymbal stands between the lower and upper drums.

drum set step 6Turn the set around, and stick small tape loops to the tops of each cymbal stand. Pinch two circles of tin foil onto the tape loops. Your cymbals are ready, and your drum set is done!

drum set step 7Use scrap paper from your template to fashion a pair of drum sticks and finger loops. Tape the sticks to the finger loops, and slide them over your fingers.

drum sticksFinally, your buffalo drummer! Cut and color the buffalo finger puppet from the template (or use the full color version here). Cut finger holes in the chest. Then ready your drum sticks, step behind the drum set, and JAM!

more cowbell

Light It Up

light it upWhen it comes to crafting, the best way to send that project over the edge of coolness is to LIGHT IT UP! We’ve wired flannel boards with conductive thread, tested a neon sign writer, made super simple lanterns, made some slightly-more-complicated lanterns, crafted a vehicular night light, a castle votive, lightning bugs, cities of light, and illuminated underwear. And who can forget the interior lights on Marissa’s blog birthday cake?

glow baby glow croppedSo when we spotted the Circuit Clay kit by Klutz we were excited. Ideally, the kit allows kids to do all sorts of electrical experimenting, with the added bonus of sculpting unique creations. But conductive clay? Would that even work? I must admit, we were a wee bit skeptical.

klutz circuit clay kitThe Klutz kit retails for around $22 (ages 8 & up). It contains a 52-page instruction booklet, 4 packs of color conductive clay, 1 pack of white insulating clay, 20 color LEDs, a battery pack (4 AA batteries required), and 52 paper embellishments for your projects. Katie put the kit through its paces. Take it away Katie!


Following the instruction booklet’s explanation of a basic circuit, I molded two balls of green clay into cubes, pushed the wire legs of a red bulb into each cube, and inserted the positive (red) wire and the negative (black) wire into the cubes. Lo and behold, the bulb illuminated when I flipped on the battery case!

klutz circuit clay battery pack and bulbFeeling certain in my understanding of basic circuits, I moved ahead in the instruction book and created a Princeton University-inspired orange and black flower, complete with a little glowing bee and butterfly from the kit’s paper add-ons.

The flower project required the use of the insulating clay, which doesn’t allow the electric current to flow through it. However, the instructions were straightforward. The clay petals were pretty thin, so it was challenging to make sure the bulb’s wire legs were fully inserted. One wrong move, and the bulb would go out. This issue would be doubly hard for kids. However, the end result was pretty cool:

klutz circuit clay flower projectA note about the instruction book: it is an exceptionally well written and illustrated manual that provides easy to understand lessons for kids about electricity. Kudos to Klutz for using every inch of the book with colorful images and educational descriptions.

klutz circuit clay bookletRiding a wave of confidence, I decided to crank it to 11 and make my own design with as many lights as possible. As I was forming the letters to say “Hi” and the circle around it, I had to remember to maintain the circuit between the conductive clay and the insulting clay. I will admit this was a little challenging, and I *may* have broken several bulbs putting it together. But eventually it worked! Here’s a photo of it in full darkness. Notice that the blue bulbs are much dimmer?

hi in the darkNow for the bad news. I found the clay was quick to crumble and shred, even fresh out of the package. It was sometimes tough to keep the LED bulb’s long wire legs fully inserted into the designs, and it was frustrating at times to figure out how to set up the different circuits. Finally, the book says to “keep your clay in a resealable plastic bag or container so it won’t dry out.” I did seal it in a Ziploc bag, but a couple weeks later, the clay was dry, flaky, and nearly impossible to manipulate.

crumbled clayThe Klutz Circuit Clay is definitely a clever way to teach kids about electricity without them accidentally getting hurt or shocking themselves. It’s an activity children with patience and strong reading skills can do on their own, but younger kids will definitely need assistance. The suggested age range may be a little low (ages 8 & up), but I’m not sure if kids older than 10 would find this experiment worth their time and attention.

Following in the footsteps of our kid tester, Hope, and weighing the pros and cons, I rate this product 2 out of 5. The lessons about electricity, circuits and positive/negative charges are great, but the flaking clay, easy-to-break LED lights, and tough-to-mimic designs might be frustrating for kids.

The Neverending Story

mystery mansion the neverending storyA mysterious phone call, a revealed trapdoor, a suspicious red envelope, a missing portrait. This is the world of “The Mystery Mansion,” a storytelling card game by Magical Myrioramas ($20).

Also known as “endless landscapes,” myriorama cards were popular toys in Europe in the 19th century. No matter what order you put the cards in, they always line up to create a continuous landscape. You can arrange the cards for visual fun, or you can arrange the cards to tell a story. The Mystery Mansion set has 20 cards, which means there are 2,432,902,008,176,640,000 possible combinations. That’s a lot of mysteries to uncover!

mystery mansion box and cardsThe set comes in a neat-o box that opens like a book, with the cards and 2 sets of instructions nestled inside. One set of instructions give short, enticing descriptions of the cards. Example: “He should be a loyal member of the household, but his face belies a bitter grudge…” The second set of instructions repeats the same card descriptions from the first set (which is rather redundant), but it also gives suggestions for various game play.

The cards are beautifully illustrated by Lucille Clerc, in a style that reminds me of Edward Gorey. They are printed on heavy card stock, so they’re very sturdy. Here’s my favorite. A bookshelf, of course.

mystery mansion single card There is no suggested age range listed for this product, but my 7 and 9 year-olds played with it quite happily. The dominant color is light pink, but that didn’t seem to bother my son one bit. The theme IS murder, so it might not be an appropriate topic for all kids. But in my opinion, the imagery isn’t too terribly disturbing. Here, in fact, are the 3 most intense cards.

mystery mansion three most intense cardsMagical Miroramas also has “The Hollow Woods,” which is very Brothers Grimm and graphically speaking, lot more sinister. They are also releasing “The Shadow World” this August, and that looks very cool – all sci-fi and steampunk!

This is a really beautiful and interesting set – beautifully illustrated, carefully thought out, nicely printed, and well packaged. It’s highly portable, and who can argue with the potential for endless narratives and stories of your own making? This would make a terrific and unusual gift for a reader or writer. Recommended!