Worth the Splurge: Plastic Wheels

plastic wheels by kelvin educationalYou’ve seen them in various projects that roll, toddle, and race. For anything ambulant, we highly recommend these fantastic plastic wheels, sold by Kelvin Educational. This post also includes instructions on how to make an official Pop Goes the Page wheel assembly for all your vehicular needs!

We discovered the 1-3/8″ diameter wheels while designing an event for Richard Scarry’s classic book, Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. The event was my son’s idea. He was 6 at the time, and told me the library needed to do “a program about crazy cars you can make.” Crazy cars we DID make, with some science thrown in to boot (details here).

cars and trucks montageTo make a wheel assembly, tape two, 4″ plastic straws to the bottom of a box. Then thread two, 6″ wooden rod “axles” through the straws. We used BBQ skewers cut down to the proper size with pruning shears (and don’t forget to cut off the pointy end of the skewer!). Here’s what a finished wheel assembly looks like:

axles and wheelsThe wheels can be purchased from Kelvin Educational. Black wheels are product #990168 ($10 for 100); and color wheels are #990169 ($11 for 100). Warning! Sometimes, the wheels slide off the ends of the skewers. To remedy that, we hot glue foam beads to the outsides of the wheels. But Kelvin Education DOES sell the same wheels, same price, with “end caps.” So we recommend going with those (black #990170; color #990171).

In terms of sturdiness and versatility, these wheels are definitely worth the splurge! Here are some story time projects we’ve created with them…


pigs on paradePig parade floats (marching band optional)


skunk on the street 3Hitting the streets with your pet skunk


red-wagon cropped

A super sweet tissue box red wagon


go with the floeAn ice floe for a geographically challenged polar bear and penguin family


monster-bike croppedA bicycle for a well-meaning monster


bon-appetit

A crêpe cart with all the trimmings, including a menu that allows you to order en français!


If these plastic wheels won’t work for you, alternatives include wooden wheels (a regularly stocked item at Michael’s Craft store), wooden spools, sized-down toilet paper or paper towel rolls attached to the bottom of the box, or poster board/card stock wheels glued to the sides of the box (like this awesome car, or this charming train).

Amazing Space

amazing spaceThis summer, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art  to do a program in their lovely, lovely Art Studio. The program was a version of the Cars and Trucks and Things that Go event we had at my library last spring.

Located in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Carle Museum was founded in 2002 by Eric and Barbara Carle. The museum was created to honor picture books, both as works of art and for their educational value. The Carle’s heartfelt mission is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books. The museum has an international collection of picture books and picture book illustrations, beautiful exhibition galleries, scores of educational workshops, public programs, a bookstore, and a library.

It also has an amazing, hands-on, all-ages Art Studio.

The first thing you notice when you enter the studio is that one wall consists entirely of windows, flooding the space with beautiful, natural light. The ceilings are very high, giving the room an open, airy feeling.

studio 1The studio seamlessly combines areas for artists of all ages. For very young children, there’s this area with a low table. On the day I visited, it was stocked with paper, crayons, and interesting objects to trace. Learning toys were heaped in big, bright containers on a comfy rug.

toddler artOn another wall of the studio is this fun activity panel at toddler height.

activity panelNearby is a light table with transparent color shapes to discover and arrange!

light tableScores of studio tables, chairs, and art supplies stand ready for you to embark on artistic adventures. There’s always a project (or two) for you to try.

studiostudio 2windowsHigh above are colorful mobiles. Here’s my favorite:

mobilesScattered here and there are clever book displays to reinforce art and literacy connections. I was especially drawn to this one. The stuffed duck! The bright blue eggs!

duckAt the far end of the studio is a well-stocked resource library (the museum also has a reading and research library in a different area of the building). Awesome textured artwork on the wall, yes? Don’t you just want to pet it?

resource shelvesIn the center of the studio are cabinets. The storage, oh the storage! Tons of counter space. Three sinks! My crafting heart goes pitter pat, pitter pat! On the top right of the cabinets are the adorable animal creations that started off this post (I especially love the elephant with the milk lid feet).

cabinets and sinks And while we’re on the subject of storage, may I draw your attention to this devilishly clever use of a low table? Not only does it offer another layer of table space, it allows even the smallest child an opportunity to browse the art materials. Practical and thoughtful!

clever little tableHere’s the low table all loaded up for the Cars & Trucks program (and there was still room for storage boxes underneath). I’m totally going to do this at my next event!

art supply tableAs you can imagine, Mr. Frumble and I had a fantastic time at the Cars & Trucks program. You can read about it (and see fantastic photos) here! A huge shout out to Meghan Burch, Guided Art Programs Educator, for welcoming Cotsen and making the program possible. Another big thank you to Studio interns Hannah Pancione and Beth Caronna for their enthusiastic energy and mad car creating skills! It was an amazing day in an amazing space.

mr frumble at the carleThe Carle Art Studio has a fantastic blog if you’re looking for hands-on ideas, programs, or if you just want to be blown away by their creativity. I especially enjoyed this post on mixing art and science. You should also check out their snow stencils, handmade paint brushes from natural materials, magazine paper tree, window art color wheel, super cool pasta machine printing press, and decorative post-it wall that doubles as a written memory project!


In addition to making a delightful, creative mess in the Carle’s Art Studio this summer, the Cotsen Children’s Library is a recipient of a 2015 Carle Honor!  For more information, and to see the other honorees, please click here.

Vroom Vroom, Zoom Zoom

mr. frumble pickle carPickle car anyone? The world of Richard Scarry is full of fantastical vehicles, and at last Saturday’s library event, we invited kids create a wheeled wonder and give it a test drive! For a slideshow gallery of some seriously fun vehicles, scroll to the bottom of the post.

The program was called Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, which is, of course, the title of one of Richard Scarry’s books (Golden Books, 1998). We were joined by our friends at scienceSeeds (who you might remember from this post). They brought all sorts of goodies. Little motors to take apart, homemade remote control cars, programmable LEGO cars, and this snazzy traffic light that demonstrated how simple circuits work. The back of the traffic light was open so kids could see how it was wired.

traffic lightBut scienceSeed’s most popular station by far was a set of 4 wooden ramps for car races. If you don’t have wooden ramps handy, cardboard ramps work too!

racing rampsMy library coordinated the car decoration portion of the program. Here’s how it worked. Kids arrived at the front of the gallery and were given two choices of vehicle. A “dragster” (which was a 7/8″ x 2″ x 8″ jewelry box), or a “truck,” (which was a 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 9” craft box).

Older kids could skip the box and opt to build a car from scratch using craft sticks and balsa wood. Then, they attempted to get their creation down a race ramp without “cracking” a plastic egg passenger. Here’s an intrepid trio who worked together to design the ultimate vehicle.

engineersOnce kids selected a box, we taped two, 4″ plastic straws to its bottom. Then we threaded two, 6″ wooden rod “axles” through the straws. The wooden rods were BBQ skewers cut down to the proper size with pruning shears (and don’t forget to cut off the pointy end of the skewer!). The final step was to slide 4 plastic wheels on the ends of the wooden rods (later, kids used hot glue or tape on the ends of the rods to keep the wheels from sliding off). Here’s what the completed underside of a truck looked like:

axles and wheelsI purchased the wheels from Kelvin Educational, an online science supply company. They are 1-3/8″ in diameter. The wheels can be a little difficult to locate on the website, so here are the product numbers: black wheels are 990168 (they cost $10 for 100 wheels); color wheels are 990169 (they cost $11 for 100 wheels).

wheelsAlternatives to the plastic wheels are wooden wheels, wooden spools, round foam beads, or tagboard circles with holes punched in them. Basically, if it rolls and has a hole in the center, you can use it!

Once the boxes were fitted with axles and wheels, kids proceeded to the decorating area. There, they found three, 6′ tables loaded with art supplies. University students from Stella Art Club and the Men’s Soccer team volunteered at both the art tables and the science area. They were amazing!

art materialsI don’t have a full list of all the art supplies we provided, but some that were particularly appreciated were mini pinwheels, animal finger puppets, and metallic springs (all 3 were purchased from Oriental Trading Company). Also popular were sparkle stems, fabric flowers, foam beads, and craft ties. A call for recyclables to University library staff also yielded some interesting one-off items, like decorative buttons, plastic bead necklaces, and little figurines.

We had work tables set up all over the gallery. They were stocked with markers, scissors, color masking tape, packing tape, and glue sticks. There were 4 staff-operated hot glue stations too. Here’s the central work area in action:

central work area The final touch to the program was Katie’s brainchild…a “Find the Goldbug” game. Katie made, and hid, 5 Goldbugs in the gallery. Each Goldbug had a word written on its base. Kids had to find all the Goldbugs, decipher the “secret sentence” (it was “Everyone wants a pickle car”) and repeat the sentence to me or Katie. The prize? A little checkered racing flag to adorn your vehicle! The flags were “race car flag picks,” ordered from Oriental Trading Company (we made sure to cut the pointy ends off).

hidden goldbugKatie and I wore mechanics coveralls at the event (thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop!). I managed to carry cough drops, my iPhone, my digital camera, the battery box for my microphone, my office keys, and lip balm in my coveralls. It was like I was wearing the most useful purse in the world. Coveralls are way comfortable too. Katie didn’t want to take hers off. I think I’ll get her a pair next holiday season. With her name stitched on the pocket.

team coverallAnd now, how about some amazing vehicles? Some kids fashioned little trailers for their vehicles. Some added pull strings. You might notice a few cellophane flames left over from this project. Love it!

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Thanks once again to Princeton University’s Men’s Soccer team and Stella Art Club. Your volunteerism, enthusiasm, and creativity was very much appreciated!