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).

The Violet Beauregarde Fail

violet beauregarde failWe always promised that we would share the good, the bad, and the ugly on this blog. Well, today we present a complete and total fail. We tested a 6ft, 72″ latex climb in balloon. Yes, a giant balloon you climb inside.

Why?

Well, we were doing research for new Willy Wonka escape room Katie is designing (you can see her awesome Sherlock Holmes one here). We spotted the balloon on Amazon and immediately thought of the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde and her unfortunate turn as a blueberry in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Here’s the shot from the seller’s listing:

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From Amazon

We imagined a Violet-like character in the escape room, giving hints and so forth. However, we were more than a little skeptical the balloon would work. But after watching several hilarious YouTube videos of people trying and succeeding, we decided to test one to see if it would work for us.

It didn’t.

For starters, even though this was listed as a “Climb In Balloon,” the instructions that arrive with the product DON’T tell you how to climb inside it. They instruct you to fill the balloon with helium and float it. Thankfully, YouTube had all the answers. In order to inflate it and wear it, we needed to use a leaf blower. Good thing Katie has a super duper electric one!

The balloon arrives in a plastic bag with the aforementioned instructions. It looks just like a little balloon, but supersized. I snapped a photo of it with a tape measure, just to give you an idea of the diameter.

climb in balloonThe technique for getting inside the balloon is to inflate it a little, stretch the neck open, and then quickly slide a foot in. Inflate again, and slide the other foot it.

feet in balloonThen you stand up, inflate, and start shimmying the balloon up your body. But in order to create the space for your legs and torso, the balloon has to stay semi-inflated at all time. Which means someone is running a leaf blower next to your head as you try to ease your way into your balloon suit.

balloon progressWe made it a little past my knees before the balloon ripped. NOOOOO! Maybe it was the roughness of my clothing? Something smooth like running tights, yoga pants, or even wearing shorts might have made the difference.

Or perhaps it was they way the neck of the balloon kept curling downward, stressing the sides of the balloon until it finally ripped? If we’d had a couple of balloons to test, my guess is that we would have eventually succeeded (but at $25 a balloon, this was simply not feasible). Whatever the reason for the fail, I was really, really, really sad. I wanted it to work folks. I really wanted to be inside a giant balloon with just my head sticking out.

Well, you can’t win them all.

The amount of work to get inside this balloon, the high potential for failure, and the price per balloon means we’ll have to figure out something else for the Willy Wonka escape room. And whatever it is, it’ll be Katie’s turn to climb inside it. Heh heh.

The Cuddly Alphabet

soft sensory alphabet by environments

I’m always on the lookout for literacy, and this has to be the cutest alphabet set I have EVER seen. Sweet little stuffed alphabet letters in various patterns, colors, and fabrics. Best of all, some of the letters crinkle, some squeak, some rattle, and some jingle. Just…so…adorable!

We discovered this set while putting together our new library baby program which involves unstructured social time and soft playscapes. But we also wanted a way to work in our best buddy, the alphabet. Enter the Soft Sensory Alphabet by Environments. The set comes with a fabric basket, and each machine washable letter is 5″ tall.

soft sensory alphabet with fabric basket by environmentsThe set retails for $62 online at Discount School Supply. The price is a little steep, but we couldn’t find it less expensively through any other vendors. Etsy, of course, has some fabulous fabric letters, but I don’t imagine they’re machine washable like this set.

How did the set go over? The babies and toddlers loved it. They pounced, sorted, stacked, and rattled the letters. Some traversed the gallery, grasping a favorite. Others spent a good amount of time removing letters from the fabric basket and putting them back in again…

alphabet playtimeThis little girl and her grandparents were naming all the letters as she picked them up. It was incredible to see her grab one and proudly say “W!” all on her own. The Soft Sensory Alphabet by Environments is definitely recommended!

alphabet friends