Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Pumpkin Science - STEM Program

Pumpkin Science activities for kids, pumpkin catapults, pumpkin volcano, pumpkin battery, explore a pumpkin

I was searching for inspiration for my November STEM program, and looked up a list of holidays and observances. When I saw that November 2nd was "National Pumpkin Destruction Day", I immediately thought of the "Pumpkin Chuckin'" competitions I'd seen on television, where they build huge catapults and sling-shots to see who can throw pumpkins the farthest, and knew building mini-catapults to hurl candy pumpkins would be the perfect foundation of a "Pumpkin Science" program. I easily found several other related activities, settling on pumpkin volcanoes, a pumpkin battery, and pumpkin investigation.[Click on any image to see larger.]

Ages: 5-10

Time: 1 hour (most were done by 45 minutes)

Number: 12 (prepared for up to 24, but snow and cold kept many away)

Budget: $30

  • 1 large pumpkin (mainly for the guts)
  • 5 small pumpkins (I used pie pumpkins)
  • 3 or more small pumpkins of unexpected shapes, sizes, and colors
  • 50 craft sticks, plus extra for back-up and experimentation
  • 250 small craft sticks, plus extra for back-up and experimentation
  • 24 plastic spoons, optional
  • 100 rubber bands, plus extra for breakage and experimentation
  • 24 lids, about 1" or slightly larger, such as from a gallon milk jug
  • hot glue gun & glue sticks
  • 3 bags of small candy pumpkins (like candy corn)
  • several large bowls and/or cardboard targets
  • 2-3 boxes baking soda
  • 1 gallon vinegar
  • food coloring
  • dish soap
  • 2" deep dish/bin for containing "lava"
  • 1/4 dry measuring cup
  • 1 Cup liquid measuring cup
  • tape measure
  • ziplock bags
  • kitchen scale (if you happen to have one)
  • Potato Clock kit (or zinc and copper strips, wires, and very low voltage digital clock)
  • Towels
  • Paper towels
I set everything up as separate stations, since we really couldn't afford to buy pumpkins for everyone, and wouldn't have room to store them if we did. I had everyone come in and have a seat along the wall while I welcomed them and gave a brief introduction and instructions for each station (there were also signs with step-by-step instructions and photos at each station), and safety rules, which were mainly no shooting pumpkins at or near any people, and no eating of the ammunition, because it would be dirty and they'd run out. [I told them I had an extra bag of candy pumpkins I would had out at the end to eat, after they washed hands.] 

Activity #1 - Mini-Catapults & "Pumpkin Chuckin'" 

Prep - I bundled up 8-10 small craft sticks, 1 large craft stick, and another large craft stick with a lid hot-glued at the end (leave a small amount of the stick showing so you have something to push down on) for each person, then put them out on the table with 4 rubber bands each, along with instructions, extra supplies, examples, and spoons for an alternate design.

1. First, stack together several small craft sticks and wrap a rubber band around one end.

2. Next, insert a large craft stick in between the first two small craft sticks, then put a rubber band around the other end of the stack.

3. Hot glue a milk top to the end of a large craft stick, leaving some of the stick showing, and let cool (I prepped this part in advance). Then attach the other end of the stick to the short end of the base with a rubber band.

Mini-catapults for kids

4. Do a couple of test launches to determine where you want to place the fulcrum (stack of small sticks), then wrap the final rubber band around the intersection of the four sections to hold it in place. Experiment with the number of sticks in the stack, and where it is placed and see how it changes the distance and trajectory. [An alternate design uses a spoon in place of the craft stick with attached lid, or rubber banded onto the craft stick.]

Mini Pumpkin Chuckin', Mini Pumpkin Chunkin'

5. Place the payload (candy pumpkin in our case) in the bucket, hold the base down with one hand, press the end of the arm down with the other hand, then let go! (We learned the hard way that you have to leave room at the end of the stick to push down on, as pushing on the cap will cause it to pop off after a couple of launches.)

6. I set up a target range along one wall of the room. First, I placed a long table perpendicular to the wall on each side, with two large bowls at the far ends to try to aim their pumpkins into (placing a small towel in the bottom helps keep the pumpkins from bouncing out), and a small bowl of ammo at the near end. Then in between the tables I put a large cardboard standing jack o'lantern with cut-out eyes leftover from last year's Halloween party for them to try to shoot thru the eye holes. This provided ample space for a number of kids at once, and I reminded them to take turns and visit the other stations so everyone got a chance.

They had a blast! I even managed to capture a couple of pumpkins mid-chuck, and got some slow-motion video:


Activity #2 - Pumpkin Volcano

Pumpkin Science activities for kids, pumpkin volcano

You can't go wrong with any activity that involves mixing baking soda and vinegar! 😉 I had two stations set up on a table, and I did a demo first so they could see how to do it, then let them take turns doing it. [The pumpkins had to be washed out in between turns, which the adults were really great about doing while I was helping kids with the other activities. I strategically set this station up very close to the sink!]

1. Add 1/4 Cup baking soda, a few drops of food coloring, and a few drops of dish soap to a small, hollowed-out pumpkin (pumpkin should be sitting in some type of dish to catch the overflow of "lava").

Pumpkin Volcano, Pumpkin science activities for kids, pumpkin activities for kids

2. Pour in about 2/3 cup of vinegar all at once, and watch the eruption of bubbling foam!

3. Empty pumpkin, rinse out, and repeat! They never tire of this, and will use up however much baking soda and vinegar you make available to them (and ask for more!).

Activity #3 - Explore A Pumpkin   

Pumpkin Science activities for kids, Explore pumpkin

For this one I provided several small pumpkins in various shapes and colors, a pumpkin cut in half so they could see the internal structure, a measuring tape, a deep bowl of water, and pumpkin guts (from the one large pumpkin) in a ziplock bag and in an open bowl for those who were not squeamish (I also meant to bring my kitchen scale, but forgot it). On the table was a sign with a labeled diagram of a pumpkin, and several prompts for investigation:
  • Does it sink or float?
  • How tall is it?
  • How big around is it (circumference)?
  • How heavy is it?
  • What color is it?
  • What shape is it?
  • Is the skin rough or smooth?
  • What does the inside look like?
  • What do the insides feel like?
  • Are all pumpkins alike?
  • (Forgot to add this one) What does it smell like?
I thought about giving them papers to record their observations, but then decided against it because I felt like that made it too much like school or homework. 

Pumpkin science activities for preschoolers, explore a pumpkin

Activity #4 - Pumpkin Battery    

I've always wanted to try this, but was a little skeptical it would work, but it really does! Not all kits work equally well, but I highly recommend this Potato Clock kit I got from Amazon. The clock in it requires extremely low voltage to work, so just one pumpkin is enough; other kits required 2-3 in series to work (it will work with many fruits and vegetables; I also tried it with a potato and an apple).

1. Connect the copper strip to the positive wire, then connect the zinc/magnesium strip to the negative wire. 

2. Insert the electrodes (metal strips) into the pumpkin about an inch; ensure that they are not touching. The skin is hard to pierce so hold the electrode close to the bottom so that it doesn't bend as you push it. [The small chunk is cut out because one young participant pushed the electrode all the way into the pumpkin, and I had to cut into it in order to retrieve it.]

3. Voila! The clock is now running! One Amazon reviewer claimed that he kept the clock running for 11 weeks with a single potato!

Pumpkin science activities, pumpkin battery

How It Went  

Although I was disappointed the weather kept the turnout from being what I expected, I still had a decent crowd, and this program was very easy to set up, didn't cost a lot, had surprisingly little clean-up, and was a lot of fun!

Predictably the most popular activities were the Pumpkin Chuckin' and the Pumpkin Volcano. Surprisingly, several kids were already familiar with the fruit/vegetable battery, though had not seen it done with a pumpkin before (apparently, a potato battery is mentioned somewhere in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, because one kid exclaimed, "Who knew the Diary of a Wimpy Kid would teach me science!" The pumpkin exploration center did not see as much activity or excitement as the others, but some did do it, and it was nice to have on hand for the younger siblings who had to tag along but couldn't really handle the other activities.

No matter how many times they see some version of the baking soda and vinegar reaction, they are always enthralled with it, especially when done on a large scale. The trays I had the pumpkins in were not quite deep enough to contain all the foam, but the overflow was never excessive and just added to the excitement. Shockingly, there really wasn't much mess to clean up, either.

I had hoped they would do a little more experimentation with their catapults, but they were too eager to hit the target range. I was pleasantly surprised that they managed to resist temptation and did not eat the candy pumpkins reserved for ammo; I think letting them know in advance that I had a bag reserved for eating afterward helped motivate them, as well as not wanting to run out of ammo. I was proud that they also refrained from shooting at each other, and impressed at how well they picked up all the little pumpkins off the floor; I think I only had to pick up one or two at the end.

What I Would Do Differently 

In all honesty, I don't think I would do anything differently except to be sure when gluing the lids on the sticks for the catapults that room was left so that you could push down on the stick itself, not the lid, because I quickly found that the force would cause the lid to pop right off. But I had the glue gun handy and could quickly fix them when that happened.

If I had an older group that had a little more patience and more developed problem solving skills, I could probably do a program just on the catapults, and have them build and compare a couple of different designs, test and see how different tweaks and adjustments changed their firing range, and talked a little more about the physics involved, as well as the history. But what we did was perfect for the ages and personalities of the group I get.

Even though the "Pumpkin Exploration" table didn't see as much activity, I still think it's important to provide the opportunity to practice basic scientific observation. Plus it was really handy to have for the younger kids. One toddler enjoyed holding and looking at the smallest pumpkins, and squishing the bag of pumpkin guts.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Movers & Shakers - Toddler Storytime

One of my coworkers usually does this storytime, but I had the chance to fill in for her when she was attending a conference last week. Though I see toddlers in my monthly outreach visit, this was my first time doing a toddler storytime with this particular structure.

Our system has two different storytimes for toddlers (defined as ages 18-36 months), a "Little Listeners" which is more of a traditional storytime for kids who are able sit and listen for longer periods of time, and/or prefer a quieter, calmer storytime. "Movers & Shakers" is for the same age range, but is more lively and active (more what I think of as a typical toddler storytime). It has more songs and rhymes with lots of movement, only 1 or 2 books that are typically very short and very interactive, and ends with bubbles and playtime. I've subbed once for the "Little Listeners" at another branch, but this was my first "Movers & Shakers".

Since children this age need and like repetition, my colleague uses the same songs for several sessions, changing it up each month, and doesn't really try to make it fit any particular theme. She had already selected this month's songs, so all I had to do was select the books and present it. She also uses a chime to get everyone's attention when it is time for storytime to begin, and during the storytime if they need refocusing.

I began storytime by ringing the chime and leading everyone to the storytime area, then sang a quick "Hello" song and handed out programs with all of the songs. I then introduced myself, explained I was subbing for Ms. S, and that she would be back next week. I went over expectations (it's okay for kids to wander, but please don't allow them to get into my things, invade others' personal space, or block anyone else's view; feel free to step out and come back if you need to, etc).

Next was a song from Jbrary I've been using a lot lately in my own storytimes that has movement and identifying body parts and actions. You can do as many or few verses as your want, and mix up the parts and actions:

Hello, Everybody

Hello, everybody, can you touch your nose?
Touch your noes, touch your nose?
Hello, everybody, can you touch your nose?

(Touch your toes, wiggle your ears, blink your eyes, rub your tummy...)

Then it was time for our first book, Eric Carle's From Head to Toe. I think this is the perfect book for a toddler storytime! 

The text is very short and simple, it has large, simple, bright and colorful illustrations of animals that the children can identify and imitate sounds, and it invites the children to move like the animals, "I am an elephant, and I can stomp my foot. Can you do it?"

I do skip the page featuring the donkey kicking because storytime is usually a bit too cramped for that, and I don't want anyone to get hurt. (I noticed that when Mr. Rogers visited Eric Carle on his show, he skipped that page when reading it aloud, too.)

That was followed with this movement song, also from Jbrary. To lead into it, I first showed everyone how to roll their arms, and told them we would be going up and down, out and in, and fast and slow.

Roly Poly
(to the tune of "Are You Sleeping")

Roly poly, roly poly
Up, up, up! Up, up, up!
Roly roly poly; Roly roly poly
Down, down, down. Down, down, down

(In-out, fast-slow)

Then we did one of my favorites that kids of all ages seem to love:

Five Little Dinosaurs

One little dinosaur went out to play,
Out in a giant swamp one day.
She had such enormous fun,
She called for another dinosaur to come.
(slap hands on thighs to imitate dinosaur running)

Two little dinosaurs....
Three little dinosaurs...
Four little dinosaurs....

Five little dinosaurs went out to play,
Out in a giant swamp one day.
They had such enormous fun
That they played all day til the was done!

(spoken) And then their mamas called,
Time to come home!"
And all the little dinosaurs ran back home.
(slap thighs to make running sounds)

I led into our second book with a quick verse of "If Your Ready for a Story" that is just a bit different than how I typically do it:

If You're Ready For a Story
(to the tune of "If You're Happy & You Know It")

If you're ready for a story, find a seat.
If you're ready for a story, find a seat.
Check your hands and your feet; if you're ready find a seat.
If you're ready for a story, find a seat!

For the second book I choose another great one for incorporating movement that I've used before, Everybunny Dance by Ellie Sandall. This is such a fun book! I start with telling the audience that this is a stand up and move book, not a sit and listen book, and they they are all going to be little bunnies, too. I have them show me their bunny ears (holding two fingers up over their heads) and shake their little bunny tails to get started.

As we go through the book, they get to do a lot of different movements along with the bunnies: dance and twirl, clap hands, pretend to play instruments, sing, etc. Then the fox comes and we have to crouch down and hide, staying very still and quiet. The fox also dances and plays, but then becomes sad and cries because she is all alone. When the bunnies realize that the fox is just lonely, they all jump out and clap and call "Bravo!".

That was followed by the classic "Wheels On the Bus" song, another I really like because of the motions and being able to do as many or few verses as you need/want to.

Then we began to wind things down with bubbles, starting with a counting song. We did the first verse, then once I didn't need my counting fingers anymore I began blowing bubbles as we did the second verse, and for a few minutes afterward.

Ten Little Bubbles

One little, two little, three little bubbles.
Four little, five little, six little bubbles.
Seven little, eight little, nine little bubbles.
Ten little bubbles go POP!

Pop, pop, pop, go all the bubbles.
Pop, pop, pop, go all the bubbles.
Pop, pop, pop, go all the bubbles.
All the little bubbles go POP!

I closed with the "Storytime Is Over" song, and put on some music and brought out some sensory toys for them to play with: sensory tubes, nubby balls and other 3-D shapes, and "Search and Find" alphabet bags. These are kind of like bean bags, made with a soft, velvety fabric, with a clear vinyl "window" on the front. Each is labeled with a letter, and inside are various objects that begin with that letter, along with the plastic pellet "beans". Kids can squish them all around to find and name all of the object. I believe they came from Lakeshore, but don't seem to be available any more.

How It Went 

Though the conditions weren't ideal, I thought it went pretty well. This storytime is normally held in the meeting room, where there is more space, less noise, fewer distractions, and the little ones are contained in a closed room. However, because it was election day and the library is a polling center, the meeting room was required for voting, so we had to have storytime in the space originally intended for storytime that really isn't the greatest design.

It is enclosed on three sides, but the fourth side is open to rest of the department, with the play area directly behind it. It is too small and cramped for the larger group this storytime attracts, too easy for little ones to wander off, and too much noise and distraction from older kids playing right behind us. Additionally, the area is lined with built-in storage bins, topped with cushions for seating, which are great for storage and for parents and kids to sit on to read together, but not so great for storytime because everyone sits there instead of on the floor closer to the presenter. This means it's harder to engage them because they are so far away and can't see the pictures very well. We ask people to move close, but they seldom do, and I do try to get up and walk around so everyone gets a better look. We really need our own separate, designated children's program room!

Since it was election day and school was out, there were a number of older kids at the library playing, so there was quite a din behind us and much more distraction. There was so much background noise my coworker at the desk relatively nearby said she couldn't hear me or the storytime at all! But despite that, I think it went pretty well, though there was the embarrassing moment when I totally blanked on the tune of the "Five Little Dinosaurs" song, even though I've done it at least a couple of dozen times and it's one of my favorites! I ended up speaking the first verse instead of singing it because I just couldn't come up with the tune, but finally it came to me for the remaining verses.

My voice was hoarse afterward from trying to talk/sing over all the background noise, though. I think it's time to invest in some kind of personal PA system. If you use one that you like, tell me about it in the comments!

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Election Day At The Library

Election Day in one word........Exhausting!

Election Day proved to be a very long and very busy day. I am currently part-time, so I usually just work a 4-hour shift, but since one of my colleagues was away at a conference I also worked the morning shift and covered her toddler storytime.

The day started off fairly quiet for the first hour, but then as it got closer to storytime families started pouring in, and with school being out for election day, they also had older siblings in tow. I had a pretty big crowd for storytime, and it went pretty well, especially considering we had to have it out in the open area of the department rather the meeting room. Unfortunately, we do not have a dedicated program room, and the meeting room was being used for voting as the library is a polling place. Having storytime out in the open means there is a lot more noise from older kids playing around us, and a whole lot more distractions. But despite that all that, I think it went okay.

Election day book display for kidsWith it being a storytime day, school being out, and the library being a polling place, I knew we would have lots of families with kids in and out all day, so I did a couple of special election-related things. First, I set up a display with election-related books. I pulled both fiction and non-fiction, including books that had anything to do with elections, voting, voting rights, and a few general government books to fill in if we started running out. Some of the books were from the election picture book bibliography I put together a few years ago, but I also included books for older readers and chapter books.

Then I set up a simple little "election" for the kids to vote on. We did this last year with a more complicated ballot that had three different races to vote on, to more closely mirror the real election, but the kids found it very confusing and most just couldn't understand the concept of voting on three different things. So this year I kept it very simple, and instead of labeling it as a race for a government office, I just put it as "pick your favorite character". 

Polling station for kids, election activities for kids, voting activity for kids
Rather than picking a random assortment of fictional characters, I thought it would be easier to narrow it to one type of character. My first thought was to pick your favorite cat or dog character, because there are several of either, but then I've seen that done several times, and realized there were probably more well-known pig characters than either cat or dog, so I went with favorite pig character. 

[Only later did it occur to me that people might think I was making some kind of commentary about the real-life candidates, but I swear that was not my intent at all!]

I made up a simple ballot with 6 characters, including name and image, with instructions to mark their favorite and then put the ballot in the ballot box, and set up a polling area with a flyer, ballot box, ballots, and pencils.

I don't think the younger kids participated as much as I would have liked, since they didn't quite understand the whole thing as well as the older kids, and couldn't really do it by themselves. I meant to announce it in storytime, but of course forgot. Though I did try to point it out to as many people as possible, it seemed that many just didn't want to bother. However, I did get fairly good participation from the older kids who could read and do it on their own. I even had several stop playing and rush to get in line to vote just before 5:00pm when I announced the poll was about to close.

The results were a bit surprising, and I think reflect the greater participation by the school-aged kids. We had a total of 56 votes, with a narrow margin of only ONE vote separating the top two candidates:

  • Piggie (from the Elephant & Piggie series by Mo Willems) - 18 votes, 32%
  • Wilbur (from Charlotte's Web by E. B. White) - 17 votes, 30%
  • Peppa Pig (from the British children's TV show) - 9 votes, 16%
  • Mercy Watson (from the series by Kate Dicamillo) - 8 votes, 14%
  • Olivia (from the Olivia series by Ian Falconer) - 4 votes, 7%
  • Babe (from the book by Dick King-Smith) - 0 votes 😞

I really didn't expect Wilbur to get that many votes, and thought Peppa would get more. I made a flyer with the results to post in the department for the kids to see.

Though there was a bit of a lull in the middle of the day, it got super busy later in the afternoon, and I was run ragged with helping people find things, checkout, answering questions, etc. I was getting a bit stressed because I could see that toys were getting everywhere, display and face-outs were being emptied, shelves were a wreck, rejected books lying everywhere, but I was so busy assisting customers, I just didn't have a spare minute to do any straightening up like I normally do, since I was on my own due to being short-staffed with one colleague at a conference,  another unexpectedly having to take off due to a family emergency.

I finally got someone from circ to cover so I could take a quick break, but even then it still took me 10 minutes to get away once she came back because people kept asking me for help. Finally, I got a quick break, and after that things slowed down enough that I had a chance to quickly do some cleaning up in the last few minutes before I left. I always try to straighten up periodically during my shift, and especially at the end because I don't like to leave a mess for the next person to have to deal with. All in all, it was a good day; just very, very busy!

After work I went straight home, grabbed a quick bite, and took a hot shower and a well-deserved nap!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Toddler Outreach Visit

For the last several months I've been making monthly visits to an area daycare, seeing a toddler class, two 2-year old classes, a 3-year old class, and a 4-year old class. Because I am only allowed an hour and the teachers don't like to combine classes, I have had to rotate which ones I see, which is not ideal for building rapport. Today when I arrived, the daycare informed that that I will just see the toddlers and 2-year olds from now on, as they have arranged a music class for the older classes on that day.

While I would have preferred to keep the older classes as I could do more fun books with them, the silver lining is that there will be more continuity, I will be able to build a stronger relationships since I will see the same kids every time, and planning will be easier as I know who I am going to see each time and won't need to plan for the entire range of ages from 1 through 5.

Today I brought another Jane Cabrera book since her Baa Baa Black Sheep worked so well with the toddlers last time, as well as a couple of books that were a little on the "scary" side since it was just Halloween.

Toddler Class 

I started with the "Hello" song, followed by "Hello, Everybody" to greet everyone and get them warmed up. Normally I do a couple of other songs because they've always responded better to music than books, but today they were clamoring for books so I went right to the first book, Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera. I chose this because they responded so well to another book by Cabrera last week that could be sung, and because it had all the different animals they could identify and make the sounds of (one little boy was particularly excited about the lion).

After I finished that. they kept saying "book, book, book", so even though I hadn't really planned on more than one book for them, I pulled out Jan Thomas' The Doghouse. This book is a good choice for a wide age range, because it is short and simple enough for the younger kids, the illustrations are bold and simple, and they can identify the animals and imitate their sounds. For older kids, I am very dramatic and really build up the suspense, but for the littles I tone it down and keep it lighter.

Then I finished with what is usually their favorite song, "The Wheels On The Bus", but today only a few of them were into it, and the others just kept getting up in my face saying "book, book" and "read, read". But I didn't have anymore books appropriate for them, plus we were out of time, so I with a goodbye song, "Storytime Is Over".

Younger Two-Year Old Class 

For both two-year old classes I started with the "Hello" and "Hello, Everybody" songs as well. I started with Row, Row, Row Your Boat with the younger class, and was impressed that the teacher sang along with me, and the kids said the "row, row, row your boat" part each time and did the rowing motions. The loved identifying the animals and making the sounds. They ask for another book right away, so I went right to The Doghouse, reading it just slightly more dramatically than for the toddlers.

Then, they again begged for another book, so instead of a song or rhyme, I went ahead an pulled out my last book I had intended for the older kids, I Want To Eat Your Books by Karin Lefranc and Tyler Parker about a book-eating zombie. Though I think some of it went over their heads, they seemed to get the basic gist and still enjoyed it. After than I was a little late for the next class, so we did a quick "Goodbye" song to close.

Older Two-Year Old Class 

After the greeting and warm-up songs, I first read The Doghouse, and while I didn't go all out on the drama and suspense, I did step it up a little since these kids were older, and they really loved it!

Then we moved on to I Want To Eat Your Books, which they were able to follow a little bit better than the previous class. This book has a nice rhythm for reading aloud, and is just the right touch of "scary" for this age. I also use this book as a great opportunity to discuss how to treat books and take care of them so everyone can enjoy them.

How It Went 

Today's visit was very surprising, but in a good way...everybody was begging for books! I was absolutely amazed at the 180 the toddlers have done since the first several visits when they only responded to music, and paid no attention to books at all. One little boy was genuinely upset that I couldn't stay and read more books.

Then in the younger two-year old class, it was the same thing. They have done fairly well about being engaged with books, but nothing like today. They just couldn't get enough! One little girl even ran after me saying "Noooooo!" because she didn't want me to leave. Though I hate to see them upset or disappointed, I have to admit at the same time I find it gratifying to know they like me being there to read to them that much.

While I'll miss seeing the older classes, it will be nice to see the same kids every time and not have to plan for such a broad age range.

And just for fun, as I was leaving I noticed they had an adorable display of book character pumpkins that I couldn't resist snapping a couple of photos of:

From top left: Woody, the Grinch, Rainbow Fish, Mouse Paint, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Mike Wazowski, and a cat (?).

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Leaf Art - Elementary Art Program

Though I love doing STEM-related programs, this year my co-worker and I decided to mix things up so that we could each do some science and some art, and this month I wanted to do a leaf art program because I love fall leaves, and I've wanted to do a leaf-collage program every since I first saw Lois Ehlert's Leaf Man several years ago.

These were my inspiration books, which I also displayed during the program:

Ages: 5-10

Time: 1 hour, though most kids were done within 45 minutes.

Number: I only had 11, but could have easily accommodated twice that.

Budget: $20


Leaf Art activities for kids

  • lots of leaves of assorted types, sizes, and colors, flat and not too dry
  • glue
  • paint brushes
  • assorted googly eyes (optional)
  • paper
  • crayons
  • table covering (I really like the disposable tablecloths that are paper on top with a plastic layer underneath) - $5 for package of 2
  • small spray bottles - at least 3
  • tempera or powdered watercolor paints
  • heavyweight watercolor paper - package of 30 sheets for $9 (or other thick, absorbent paper, cardstock might work as well, or possibly better)
  • paper towels

Activity #1 - Leaf Collage

1. I provided several pictures for inspiration, some that I found online as well as the pages from a damaged Leaf Man book that had been withdrawn. I told them these were just for inspiration and not to try to copy anything exactly because we might not have the same types of leaves, and to use their own imagination.

2. Each participant was provided paper, glue, and a paintbrush for spreading the glue out in a thin layer. The leaves, extra paper, and assorted googly eyes were placed on a table behind them. I instructed them to just squeeze a little glue onto the paper, spread it out with the paintbrush, and then press a leaf into the glue, or for the larger leaves they could apply the glue to the back of the leaf.

3. This seemed to be the favorite and most satisfying of the three activities for most of the kids.

Leaf art, leaf collage for kids

Activity #2 - Leaf Rubbings 

A classic activity, and all you need are leaves, paper, and crayons! I sorted through our crayons and picked out all the ones that were already naked, but put out extra crayons in case there weren't enough or someone wanted a different color. I first demonstrated how to do it, showing you can do whatever combination of leaves and colors you like (interestingly enough, someone took my example paper home).

1. For this activity, it doesn't matter if the leaves are colored or not, so I just put out green leaves and saved the other colors for the collage table. Simply place your leaves face down (the veins are more pronounced on the underside) on the table, place a piece of paper over them, and rub over the leaf, holding a naked crayon horizontally. Start with light pressure and only increase pressure if necessary. Change direction to pick up all of the details. It helps to have someone hold the paper still, or to tape it to the table.

Leaf art for kids, making leaf rubbings

2. Experiment with different leaves and colors to get different effects.

Leaf art for kids, making leaf rubbings

Activity #3 - Negative & Positive Leaf Prints 

This one was a bit messy! To prep, I covered the tables with disposable absorbent tablecloths with plastic backing (old newspapers would be great, too). Then I diluted liquid tempera paints with water in spray bottles, enough so that they would spray but no so much the paint wouldn't show up well on the paper. I just eyeballed it, but I would guess roughly 1 Tablespoon of paint to 1 Cup of water. Mix well. 

*Make sure the nozzles are set for spray, not stream!

I put out heavy watercolor paper, 5 spray bottles of paint (in blue, green, red, yellow, & orange), assorted leaves (again, green is fine for this activity), and my practice example on the table. I also demonstrated for the kids before we started.

1. Pick out a few leaves with interesting shapes and arrange them on the paper.

2. *LIGHTLY* spray the paint, being sure not to hold the bottle too close to the paper. Spray from about a foot above the table, and slightly back from the paper. You want the paint to fall down on and around the leaves, not go under the leaves, to get the sharpest outline. Remember, LIGHTLY is the key word here! You can use more than one color on different areas, but if too many colors overlap, it will just look brown or gray.

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

3. Let it sit and soak into the paper for a few minutes. Then, place another piece of paper over it, and rub with fairly heavy pressure over where the leaves are, then gently peel the paper back. Carefully remove the leaves and discard. Any excess paint that is not absorbed can be carefully blotted off with a paper towel.

4. This will give you both negative and positive prints of your leaves. Some turn out better than others, in my case one of the kids ended up with a much nicer set than I got from my example above, and it takes a little practice. Some (most?) will have to learn the hard way that it really is necessary to use a light touch and not combine too many colors, so encourage them to do more than one.

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

Leaf art for kids, positive and negative leaf prints

How It Went  

In all honesty, I was disappointed in the turnout; I really expected to have more than the usual 12-15, not less. I thought people would be all excited about fall and fall leaves, and was actually worried about having too many show up. I don't know if it was lack of interest, or the pull of the beautiful weather we had that day that kept people away. I think I should have played up the collage art more in the marketing, since that was clearly what most participants seemed to enjoy the most.

The collage and rubbings worked fine, and there were no issues there at all, but the print-making did not quite go as well as I'd hoped. I had ordered the special heavyweight watercolor paper thinking that it would readily absorb the paint and dry more quickly, but it didn't quite work that way. While it did absorb some, and once absorbed it dried very quickly, it took much longer than I expect to absorb. 

I thought it would soak up the paint immediately, but instead the paint first beaded on top of the paper and only slowly soaked in, taking much longer than I expected. Also, when doing the positive print, the paint did not transfer as well to the watercolor paper as it did to a piece of cardstock I tried. If I were to do this again, I would definitely experiment more ahead of time with different papers to see if I could find one that worked better.

And, as I have frequently observed when I or anyone else had done a painting activity, people are too impatient to wait for their paintings to dry, and understandably don't want to take one that is still wet with them, and often leave them behind and never come back for them. Even though these dried much faster than most, and all were relatively dry by the end of the program (after blotting off excess), I found many left behind. I don't know if I will bother with any painting activities in the future as there is just too much waste.

Two of our participants found an unexpected guest that had been a stowaway on one of the leaves:

What I Would Do Differently 

I think next time I would definitely do the collage and put more emphasis on it, but find some other way of making prints or a completely different activity instead, and find another activity in place of or in addition to the leaf rubbing, as there didn't seem to be as much interest or enthusiasm for that one, perhaps because it is one that can easily be done at home.