The Squirrels Have It

the squirrels have it

The race for the perfect acorn is on…but will these squirrels in snazzy running shoes be able to catch the elusive offering of the Quercus borealis maxima? We made oatmeal container squirrels and designed the perfect acorn. Then, kids chased down their grown ups to “catch” said acorn. Chaotic? Yup. Did we get photos? Oh yeah!

We read Aw, Nuts! by Rob McClurkan (Harper, 2014). Acorn-loving Squirrel has been stashing nuts all season, but when the most perfect nut of them all drops from a tree, he HAS to have it. But fitting the nut into his already overcrowded home? Problem. In fact, Squirrel’s house pretty much implodes with the new addition, sending him on a cross-country chase after the runaway acorn. He finally succeeds, but wait…is that a NEW delicious acorn Squirrel sees out the window?

You’ll need:

  • 1 small oatmeal container
  • Construction paper
  • Poster board
  • 1 packing tape core
  • 1 paper bowl
  • 1 pipe cleaner
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

squirrel with sneakers

The squirrel is very simple. Wrap a small oatmeal container with brown construction paper. Add arms and ears. Use markers to draw on eyes, a nose, and a mouth (or use wiggle eyes and a bit of self-adhesive foam like we did). Hot glue a dark brown poster board (or construction paper) tail to the back. The squirrel’s sneakers are white poster board, which are decorated and hot glued to the bottom of the oatmeal container. Check out these killer sneaks:

awesome squirrel sneakersNext, the acorn! This is a packing tape core. Our cores were 3.5″ tall, which is slightly taller then your average core (we get them through our recycling program). But a regular core works too. Or a small box, really. The cap of the acorn is a paper bowl that has been cut down, flattened around the tape core edges, and hot glued in place. And don’t forget the pipe cleaner stem!

enticing acornYou might have noticed the acorn looks a little…unusual. That’s because kids were instructed to make the acorn as enticing as possible. Which means going crazy with , patterned tape, and markers!

When everyone was finished, we headed outdoors to the library’s plaza to chase down some acorns. Katie was behind everyone with her camera to capture the race, I was in front snapping the blog photo, and the story time grown ups brought out their cameras to create what Katie calls “the ultimate story time paparazzi shot.”

story time paparazziWe asked the kids to line up. The grown ups, acorns in hand, got a little head start. Then on the shout of “Go!” the kids chased after their respective acorns!

acorn race 1 acorn race 2 acorn race 3

Food Allergies & Children’s Programs

food allergiesIn 2009, I gave my 13-month-old son a taste of a peanut butter snack I was enjoying. 15 minutes later, we were in an ambulance rushing to the emergency room. His eyes were swollen shut, he was covered in hives, and his crying was choked and ragged. Turns out he’s severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs.

Being the parent of a kid with food allergies has definitely changed my approach to the programs I develop. I thought I would share some of these changes with you! Here they are, in no uncertain order…

  • So long egg cartons. I no longer do craft projects with egg cartons. Also on the “do not use” list, any packaging that once stored food. The exception to this is non-nut flavored tea tins and oatmeal containers. But I always have alternative non-food containers ready, just in case.
  • Careful with food lids and beverage caps. Very rarely, I use food lids for projects. Mostly, I use beverage caps (water, soda, or juice caps). I never use lids or caps from mayonnaise, nut butter, or milk containers. I clean the caps before the program, announce that I’m using food lids and drink caps at the program, and provide hand wipes for cleaning them during the program. I also offer an alternative non-food item to use.
  • Goodbye candy prizes. These days, I seldom award candy prizes. Instead I opt for stickers or little trinkets. If I do use candy prizes, I always have an alternative available for food allergic kids. Example: I developed a Robin Hood tax game for a large-scale event. Once the players “lost” all their money, they received a chocolate coin as a consolation prize. But food allergic kids got to take home a metal replica of a Medieval coin (to the envy of all).
  • Save packaging and labels. Parents of kids with food allergies always have to check food packaging because allergens are sometimes listed in sneaky ways. If you offer food at your program, keep the original packaging on hand so parents can check the labels. Example: At a program about discovering India, kids had an opportunity to enjoy mango lassi samples from a local restaurant. But there was no ingredient label for the restaurant lassi. So for kids with food allergies, I offered mango juice poured straight from the original bottle into dedicated cups. There were quite a few takers (including some folks without food allergies!).
  • Consider going nut free at events. Part I. Approximately 1 in 13 kids have food allergies today. The rest of the population is raring for all the fantastic things we enjoy at events – yummy, delicious, goodies dyed neon colors. As a recovering cotton candy addict myself, I certainly don’t want to deny anyone their fun. However, I must say that peanuts and tree nuts (which appear to be the most dangerous in terms of severe allergic reactions) have a way of showing up in unexpected places. A peanut butter ice cream cone drips on the floor where a baby is crawling and mouthing a toy. Sticky hands that previously held a piece of walnut baklava grasp markers at a neighboring table. Eeek.
  • Consider going nut free at events. Part II. Going nut free doesn’t have to be limiting. For example, at a Journey to the Centre of the Earth event, we served a custom “dirt” gelato. It was basically chocolate gelato with chocolate cookie crumbles. No nuts. True, the gelato was processed in a kitchen with nuts and was therefore inedible to kids with nut allergies – but that’s OK. Food allergic parents are prepared for that sort of thing. But at least there was no chance that a random almond was going to show up at the “cave crawl,” or peanut butter was going to be smeared on a bench.  And lemme tell you – not one single person complained about the lack of nuts in that amazing dirt gelato.
  • Clean up art supplies. Recently, I did a program at a local pool, and kids worked on their craft project while eating snacks they brought from home. Later, I cleaned all the markers and scissors, to insure no allergens were clinging to them.
  • Save a line for allergens. Any time a kid registers for one of my programs, I always include a line on the registration form for food allergies and an emergency number. If a program is going to involve food, I contact the child’s parents for clarification about the allergies (if you’d like to see an example of this process, take a look at this post). If the parents don’t feel 100% safe about the food, we work out an alternative. And yes, there have been times when I’ve completely removed food activities from a program to keep a child safe. I don’t mind doing that at all. There are plenty of creative alternatives to food!
  • Listen & Ask. I’ve been doing children’s programs for over 15 years. In the beginning, food allergic children were rare. Even though I was respectful to parents wishes and made modifications to my programs, I always wondered if those parents were being, well…just a little too sensitive about their child’s diet. But watching my son suffer in that emergency room, I quickly realized that no…they’re not being too sensitive. If a parent contacts you with a concern about something, listen to them and ask what they need to feel safe at your program or event. Parents of food allergic kids are used to planning for, and coming up with, reasonable alternatives for things. They will definitely appreciate you helping them make more informed decisions about what to expect at your event!