Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Fall - Outreach Visit


I had pulled several fall-themed books to use for this month's outreach visit, sure that by October 7th we would be having more fall-like weather. So needless to say, I was starting to wonder if I should pull a different selection when we were still having 95-degree weather all last week! But, over the weekend Autumn finally arrived, and I woke up to a cool, rainy, 53-degree day. The books I selected to take, to cover babies through pre-K were:
  • Fall Is Not Easy by Marty Kelley
  • When The Leaf Blew In by Steve Metzger & Kellie D. Lewis
  • Hocus Pocus It's Fall by Anne Sibley O'brien & Susan Gal
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
  • Mouse's First Fall by Lauren Thompson & Buket Erdogan
  • The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
  • Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills
  • Baa Baa Black Sheep by Jane Cabrera
Because the daycare decided to just have me visit the toddlers and 2-year olds today, I ended up only using a few of the books I brought.


I've been visiting this daycare for about 8 months, and have always struggled with knowing what to do for the toddler group, as all my prior experience was with ages 3-5. While they respond very well to familiar songs that have motions to do with them, I had never had any success with books. No matter what books I tried, they would completely lose interest and all start wandering off or getting into my stuff. I really felt like doing storytime with kids this young in a daycare setting was rather pointless and that they were better off with a music program, but I still felt obligated to try at least one book each time.

Well, today was rather monumental in that I was able to get them to engage and pay attention to not just one, but TWO books! I was so thrilled! It may never happen again, but it was still a beautiful thing.

I was greeted with lots of big grins, and started off with my "Hello, My Friends, Hello" song, and followed up with "Hello, Everybody" which involves identifying different body parts doing motions. I didn't get the usual level of participation, so I then moved to one that I know they all know and love, "The Wheels On The Bus", which finally got them going.

While I had their attention, I quickly moved on to the fall book I brought specifically for them, a large board book version of Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin by Tad Hills. This is a very short story with very little text, showing the two friends looking in several unlikely places for a pumpkin, before their friend Thistle clues them in to the pumpkin patch. And much to my surprise, most of them stood or sat and looked at the book the whole time! They loved the Duck and Goose, and found the pictures very engaging. I really love the fall color palette of this book myself, with lots of pretty oranges, yellows, and golden tones.

I followed that up with a quick, simple pumpkin song:

Did You Ever See a Pumpkin?
(to the tune of "Did You Ever See a Lassie?")

Did you ever see a pumpkin, a pumpkin, a pumpkin?
Did you ever see a pumpkin that grows on a vine?
There are short ones and tall ones, and big ones and small ones.
Did you ever see a pumpkin that grows on a vine?

Then I decided to try Baa Baa Black Sheep by Jane Cabrera since they were doing so well. I had been meaning to try one of Cabrera's books that are based on songs and can be sung rather than read since this group responds so much better to music, but had forgotten the last couple of times. I pointed out the sheep and one child named it, then several knew it said "baa". That helped get their attention, and the repetition and singing helped keep it. They swayed along with me to the music, and nodded their heads with me to the "yes, miss; yes, miss, three bags full". 

Then I sang a quick "Goodbye" song, and got lots of grins, waves, and high-fives goodbye. Such a great way to start the morning!

Two-year Olds

I visited two different two-year old classes, one is slightly older than the other. Both times I started with the "Hello" song, then warmed them up with "Hello, Everybody" and led into the story with my "If You're Ready For a Story" song.

I read The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri to the first class. This is a short, simple book that is usually good for younger kids as they can identify each animal the squirrel encounters, make its sound, and identify the foods the squirrel is collecting, though they often need help with the corn and berries. 

We talked about how acorns are probably a squirrel's favorite food, which led to a rhyme about five little acorns and a squirrel:

Five Little Acorns

Five little acorns, laying on the ground.
The first one said, "I'm big and round!"

The second one said, "I think I'm getting fat."
The third one said, "I have a nice hat!"

The fourth one said, "There's a squirrel up there!"
The fifth one said, "But we don't care."

Down climbed the squirrel and took them all away,
Back up to his nest, for a cold winter's day!

Then we read Duck & Goose Find A Pumpkin followed by singing "Did You Ever See a Pumpkin", and our "Goodbye" song.

For the second, slightly older group of 2-year olds, I read Hocus Pocus, It's Fall, having the audience say all the magic words. This book was a little long and the illustrations a bit too abstract for this age, so I started loosing them towards the end. I pointed out again the page with apples and all the different colors of apples, then we sang this apple song:

Did You Ever See an Apple?
(to the tune of "Did You Ever See a Lassie?")

Did you ever see an apple, an apple, an apple?
Did you ever see an apple, that grows on a tree?
There are red ones and yellow ones, and pink ones and green ones.
Did you ever see an apple, that grows on a tree?

Did you ever eat an apple, an apple, an apple?
Did you ever eat an apple that grows on a tree?
There are sweet ones and tart ones, and crunchy ones and juicy ones.
Did you ever eat an apple that grows on a tree?

I could tell they'd had enough by then, so I decided to go ahead and stop there with a "Goodbye" song, even though there were a few minutes left.

How It Went
Overall, it went well. It is rare that all classes on an outreach visit do well, so if I get one really good one and no really bad ones, I count it as a win! I was absolutely thrilled at finally being able to get the toddlers to pay attention to a book! I will probably try another book that can be sung rather than read next time. I just wish I had time to visit each class every month, but I'm only given an hour and there are 5 classes, so I have to rotate. It makes it harder to build rapport and have any continuity, but I do the best I can.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Spy School - STEAM Program

spy activities for kids, secret codes for kids, invisible ink for kids

Secret codes and hidden messages for kidsI was at a loss for a program idea when the deadline snuck up on me, so I took a colleague's suggestion to do a "Spy" theme as she had done it before at another branch and said it went over well. I decided to focus on cryptography, playing around with codes, invisible ink, and other ways of sending secret messages, plus a laser beam obstacle course just for fun. 

I got my ideas for hidden messages from WikiHow and ThoughtCo, and my codes from a book in our collection, Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing by Paul B. Janecszko (2004). If you're doing a similar program on cryptography, I highly recommend it.

Ages: 5-10 (5 was really just a little too young, those that didn't know how to read, or at least know the alphabet well, or do basic addition and subtraction got frustrated and bored during the code & cipher part, but the hidden messages worked well for all ages.)

Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes. To do everything I had planned would really require at least an hour and a half. So either allow more time, or do a little less.

Number: 15-20 kids is a good number, though it could work with a large group if all the kids were over 6.

Budget: Very low, most materials we had on hand, so roughly $10-15 for enough for at least 30 kids.


  • Paper
  • Ballpoint Pens
  • Pencils
  • Brad fasteners
  • White crayons
  • Washable markers or watercolor paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Baking Soda
  • Cranberry or Grape juice
  • Skim milk
  • Water
  • Q-tips
  • Dixie cups
  • 2 C measuring cup
  • measuring cup or spoon
  • red yarn or crepe streamer
  • masking tape
  • clothing iron
  • thick towel, preferable 100% cotton

We started off by talking about what spies need to know how to do, and right away someone said they needed to know how to be sneaky, they need to know how to blend in and not attract attention. Then someone said they needed to know how to crack codes, and we talked about how a big part of being a spy was getting information and relaying it back, and they had to find ways of hiding the messages, or encoding them. Someone mentioned using a language the other party wouldn't understand, which was a great segue to telling them about the Navajo code talkers, as well as codes, hidden messages, and invisible inks. One child mentioned dodging laser beams, which we were also going to be simulating. 

I had also pulled a number of books for them, a variety of non-fiction, historical fiction, and fun fiction that had to do with spies, cryptography, and espionage for them to look over and hopefully check out afterward.

Activity #1 - Simple Number Substitution Code

1. I gave them a piece of paper, and instructed them to write down the letters of the alphabet, then number them, starting with A=1, B=2, etc. I was a bit surprised that a few struggled with this, but it is early in the school year, so I guess the kindergardners hadn't all master it yet. I could have already printed it out for them to save time, but I wanted to include a little literacy and writing.

2. I then explained how you could use that to write things in code, by writing the corresponding numbers in place of the letters. For example, "CAT" would be "3 1 20" using that code. I said messages could be hidden in plain sight by disguising them as math homework, and gave them this list of simple addition and subtraction equations to solve, and then decode using the simple code they just created.

Secret message hidden as math homework

3. By solving the equations, and writing the letter that corresponded to the numeric answer for each one, they were able to discover this message "READ A GOOD BOOK".

Activity #2 - Pigpen Cipher

This one supposedly dates back to the crusades and was also used during the civil war. It is actually fairly simple, but it looks like alien writing. I showed them my name written with this code, and they couldn't believe it said anything!

1. I demonstrated how this code was formed, drawing the grids and filling them in, then showing how the portion of the grid around the letter is what is used to indicate the letter. Then I gave them a copy of the printed code charts, with a message to decode.

Pigpen cipher, Freemason cipher

2. Some were a bit confused at first, but once they got the hang of it, they quickly decoded it to reveal the message "I LOVE MY LIBRARY" (and no, I'm not above a little subliminal suggestion). I think they liked this code a lot because it looks so weird; I do, too.

Activities #3 & #4 - Take Home Activities

We didn't have time to do these in the program, unfortunately (I could've done the whole hour just on codes), so I sent them home with them. 

1. The first was a Greek Square coding activity, where the letters are arranged in a 5x5 chart ("I" and "J" share a spot). The letters are then indicated by a pair of number coordinates, the number of the row first, then the number of the column. So the letter "A" is indicate by the number 11 (1st row, 1st column), and the letter "Z" is indicated by the number 55 (5th row, 5th column).

Greek square cipher and message

When decoded, the message says "EAT YOUR VEGGIES"!

2. The second was a free printable decoder I found online from the blog "All For The Boys". You simply cut out the two circles, put the smaller one on top of the larger, and poke a brad fastener through the center to hold them together. You can then rotate the top disc to form a substitution code using the letters of the alphabet rather than numbers. For example, if you rotate it just one spot, then B stands for A, C stands for B, and so one, with ? standing for Z.

DIY decoder for kids to make

Activity #5 - White Crayon Hidden Message 

1. First I instructed them to write a simple message or image with white crayon.

2. Then they colored over it with a washable marker. Voila! The invisible message is revealed! It helps with the marker to go over it in two directions to get the best result (watercolor paint is another option).

hidden message
(The message is referring to the method used.)

We discussed how crayons are made of wax, which is hydrophobic and repels water, so the watercolor or water-based ink doesn't stick to it like it does to the paper, revealing the message.

Activity #6 - Impression 

If you've watched any cheesy detective/mystery shows on TV, you'll be familiar with this classic trick!

1. Put one piece of paper on top of the other (in TV it's always a notepad), then with heavy pressure, write a message or draw an image on the top piece of paper.

2. Set the written message aside, then take a pencil and lightly go over the blank paper underneath, like doing a rubbing, and eventually the original message will be revealed, if enough pressure was used. 

Activity #7 - Invisible Inks

There are many types of invisible inks, and they generally fall into 3 classes: those revealed by heat, those revealed by reacting with a second reagent, and those revealed by UV light. We did one of each of the first two types.

1. Make a concentrated baking soda suspension, 1 part soda to 2 parts warm water. It won't really dissolve, so you have to stir it well and keep it suspended as you use it. Using a q-tip or fine brush, use the baking soda solution to write a message or draw an image. Let dry.

2. Paint over the message with cranberry or grape juice, and the reaction of the baking soda with the with the acidic juice causes a color change, revealing the message.

Baking soda invisible ink

3. Next they used skim milk to write a message, and let dry. Once dry, an adult used a hot clothes iron on high (hair dryers, light bulbs, and hair straightening irons do NOT work) to go over the paper. The sugars and proteins in the milk will scorch before the paper does, revealing the message. (A sugar solution will also work, though the oft touted lemon juice doesn't work nearly as well).

milk as invisible ink

Activity #8 - Laser Maze!
What spy movie would be complete without a scene of someone trying to make their way through a labyrinth of laser beams without breaking one and setting of an alarm, or worse, a booby trap?

My wonderful coworker who suggested this theme graciously set up the laser maze for me and crawled through it to test it out. We used red yarn, but I've also seen crepe streamers used as well. The kids had a blast!

laser maze simulation for kids

How It Went
Other than planning too much and having some of the younger ones struggling a little, it went really well. I always under-estimate how long it will take the kids to do things, and it took way longer for some of them to write out the alphabet than I would ever have expected, and some needed more help and individual explanation catching on to the whole code thing.

Then on the other hand, there were a few older ones who zoomed though all the coding super-fast, so they started writing coded messages for each other to figure out while we waiting on the rest. It's hard to accommodate such a wide age range, from age 5 to 10, as the kindergartners are still working on their ABC's and counting, while 5th graders are reading novels and doing simple algebra! Though I think 3rd grade was the oldest I had today, and this program was perfect for them.

I'm glad I tested all the invisible inks I was considering in advance, become some didn't work at all as described, but the ones I chose to use worked very well for those that followed directions (some didn't keep their baking soda suspended). 

I was disappointed that only 1 person took one of the books to check out. At the previous location I worked, it seemed like people would checkout books related to the programs if we had them on display, but here for some reason they seldom do, even though this community in general have a much stronger reading culture.

Hidden messages and invisible ink for kids
   "Sneeky Spys"   "I Have A Evil Plan!!"    "Love" & "Cat"    

It was interesting to see what they put in their "secret" messages.

What I Would Do Differently
In an ideal world, I would lengthen the program and narrow the age range to ages 7-10, because kids really needed to have mastered their letters and numbers, and be able to read and do basic math to understand the coding. I think it would be neat to have a "training" session where they learn the codes and hidden message techniques, then have an activity that combines it all to solve or find something.

But, since that really isn't a possibility in my current library, I would have cut out more and sent more home. Even with sending home two activities, we were really rushed and didn't spend as much time on each as I'd like. I could honestly do an entire hour just on coding, or just on hidden messages. I wish now I had just gone ahead and printed the alphabet out for them, with corresponding numbers, as that took way too much time. I would also cut out the rubbing/impression hidden method, because while it works, there just wasn't time for that many, and they'll see it on television or in a movie eventually.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Fractured Fairy Tales - Family Storytime

Fractured Fairy Tales Storytime, Fractured Fairytales Storytime

I changed my mind several times about the theme for this storytime! First, the new Pete the Cat book gave me the idea to do a pizza storytime. But, as I was looking for ideas, I found out a colleague was already planning a pizza storytime. So then I decided to do "Big & Little", but not as an opposite concept, rather looking at relative sizes. For example, a 10 year old child may be big when compared to a baby, but they are little as compared to an NBA player.

But as I was reviewing books for a libguide I had to make for my kid lit class (I decided to do non-Disney princess stories), I came across two fractured fairy tales that just begged to be read out loud. As I was thinking, "boy I wish I could do these now," I realized that I could! So, I changed my theme to fractured fairy tales, and the plus side is I now have two partially-planned storytimes to save for later!

I started with our welcome song, and then another song I first saw on Jbrary and have been using a lot as a warm-up song lately:

 "Hello, Everybody"

Hello, everybody! Can you touch your nose?
Touch your nose, touch your nose?
Hello, everybody! Can you touch your nose?

Clap hands, pat head, rub tummy, wiggle ears.....

Then I introduced myself and the topic of fairy tales, and we talked a little bit about the typical characteristics of fairy tales: usually start with "Once upon a time...", often end with "...and they lived happily ever after.", frequently have dragons, princesses, princes, fairies, kings, queens, and magical beings in them. I told them the stories I had today were silly fairy tales, that might not end the way they expected.

Fractured fairy tale storytime
Somehow I managed to forget to do our "story song" before jumping into our first book, Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox and Lydia Monks. I like this book because there is not too much text and the humor is very obvious and silly, making it perfect for reading aloud to younger kids. I do wish the book were physically a little larger, though. 

This is a story of miscommunication and misunderstandings, with comical results as Prince Charming mistakenly interprets Rapunzels crying about a bad hair day as a plea for help, and then she mis-hears him every time he asks her to let down her hair, culminating in a surprise ending.

I segued into our next activity, a silly crown song, by asking how they knew a character was a prince or princess or king or queen in a picture, and of course they said because they would be wearing a crown. I've seen this song done with a variety of themes, and I'm not even sure anymore what the original version was! I changed up the order and the words to emphasize the silliness.

Crown craft

There's A Crown On Me!

There's a crown on my foot, on my foot.
There's a crown on my foot, on my foot.
It just won't stay put; does it really go on my foot?
There's a crown on my foot, on my foot.

There's a crown on my knee, on my knee.
There's a crown on my knee, on my knee.
Goodness, gracious me, does it belong on my knee?
There's a crown on my knee, on my knee.

There's a crown on my arm, on my arm.
There's a crown on my arm, on my arm.
It's not doing any harm, but does it go on my arm?
There's a crown on my arm, on my arm.

There's a crown on my head, on my head.
There's a crown on my head, on my head.
Did you hear what I said? I think it goes up here instead!
There's a crown on my head, on my head!

There's A Crown song props

I used a crown made from pipe cleaners that I had left from a drop-in craft program a colleague and I did back in December when we had the Maurice Sendak exhibit in our main library. I printed out clip-art images of crowns on cardstock and attached them to craft sticks for the kids to use.

Fracture fairytale storytimeThe second book, Waking Beauty, was also by Wilcox and Monks, and again involves some misunderstanding. The Prince follows a terrible sound to a thorn covered castle, where he find a beautiful princess snoring away. The three diverse fairies beg the prince to wake her, as they've had to listen to her snoring for one-hundred years! 

But, he doesn't listen as they try to tell him he has to kiss her, and interrupts with his own ideas. He tries yelling at her, pouring water on her, even shooting her out of a cannon! When he finally gives the fairies a chance to explain, he is reluctant to kiss her at first, after all, he's heard girls have germs! When he finally does, the results are very unexpected.

I had one other very short story ("The Frog Prince" from Jon Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man) and a couple of other rhymes and songs (Dragon, Dragon, Turn Around and The Grand Old Duke of York), but I had already lost half the crowd, so I quickly went to our closing song and the optional craft.

Optional Craft 
I had initially planned to have them make pipe-cleaner crowns like mine above for the craft, but I realized (1) we didn't have any gold or silver pipe-cleaners, and (2) the age kids I typically get wouldn't be able to make them themselves, and the parents would just end up doing it.

So when I saw a fairy tale craft using construction paper in all different colors and shapes to make your own fairy tale castle collage, I decided to do that instead, thinking it would be more developmentally appropriate. They could identify shapes and colors as they worked, and practice fine-motor skills in picking up and placing the shapes using their pincer grasp as well as using crayons to add details or backgrounds, and most importantly the kids would be able to do it themselves.

How It Went 
It was really a mixed bag. The first half went really well, and the second half did not. I had a decent crowd of about 24 kids and adults to start with, and initially they seemed very interested and engaged. They participated with the opening songs, and giggled the whole way through Rapunzel. They also seemed to really enjoy the "Crown" song, laughing and enjoying telling me each time, "No, it goes on your head!".

But as I got ready to start the second book, at least half the crowd just got up and left. The kids didn't seen to enjoy the second book as much, and I had forgotten about the ending where Sleeping Beauty punches the prince for kissing her. I remembered just in time to skip it, but rather clumsily. Everyone left was ready to go at that point and only two families tried the craft, one of whom didn't bother taking theirs home. Then a co-worker told me people often ask the circ staff to throw them away as they are leaving!

So I ended up being rather disappointed and frustrated, and re-thinking the whole way I do this storytime, especially the craft. I need to do something different, but I'm just not sure what yet. Shorter storytime, different structure, shorter books, just one book, better crafts, no crafts??? 

I really don't think it's me, I mean I've done literally hundreds of storytimes, trained others, and I think I know I know what I'm doing. I really think it's just the nature of doing the weekend storytime versus a regular weekday storytime that has a regular crowd who come specifically for storytime. But something is not working and that means I need to change something I'm doing.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Beyond Disney Princesses

This fall I am taking a Children's Literature class, which is a bit anti-climactic after working in the field for almost 7 years, but I can't imagine being a children's librarian and NOT taking a kid lit class (I've also had YA and Multicultural Lit). I'm a little disappointed because the scope of the course is not what I expected nor think it should be (glossing over picture books and transitional readers, and way too much YA, especially considering we have a separate YA class), but I digress.

Our very first assignment was to create a LibGuide, which in my opinion is a bit overkill for public libraries and a simple annotated bibliographical brochure or online list is what patrons prefer. 
We had to pick a topic, genre, or subgenre and create a LibGuide using whatever platform we wanted. It had to have a landing page with intro and background, complete with references, 12+ fiction books, 3+ non-fiction (not sure why so few), 12+ websites, at least 2 apps and 1 online interactive or activity. 

Each one of these had to have a graphic, bibliographic info, summary, our review, and a quote from a professional review. Do you know how hard it is to find 12 websites about princesses for kids that are NOT Disney related?? And do you know how hard it is to find websites that have professional reviews? I literally spent hours and hours on this thing, especially on trying to find reviewed websites.

I went beyond the requirements because I figured if I was putting in that much work to do the thing, I might as well put a in little extra and have something that was more complete and could actually be useful. I decided to share it so maybe someone else could get some benefit out of it and it won't have been just an academic exercise. Below is a screenshot and link:

Beyond Disney Princesses

I chose this topic because I always draw a blank when kids come in asking for princess stories, other than the Disney princesses. Now, I don't have anything against the Disney princesses per se, but they are so commercialized, and I think it's good to balance them with princesses that look different and are more adventurous and empowered, and don't need a man to solve all their problems. 

I had no trouble finding books, and I'm sure there are many more than the ones I have included so far. Even though I more than met the class requirements, I still consider it a work in progress and will continue to add to it as time permits, so if you have suggestions, leave them in the comments section! I've included a sampling of contemporary picture books, a few transitional chapter books and graphic novels, fractured fairy tales, and non-fiction. There are also websites with other resources and lists, and suggested apps.

I also discuss classic fairy tales and the benefits of reading them, as well as touch on some of the concerns about a steady diet of Disney. I used Google Sites because I needed something quick and easy, though it does have a lot of limitations, and I didn't want to use the subscription site provided by the school because then I would lose access once the class was over.

If you find it helpful, let me know! I'd love to know the many hours of work that went into this weren't wasted ;) 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kitchen Chemistry - STEM Program

kitchen chemistry, edible experiments

I thought it would be fun to end the summer with a kitchen chemistry program featuring edible experiments, namely making ice cream in a bag. This is a really cool activity that I have written up on the blog before ("Ice Cream In A Bag STEAM Program") as an idea, but this would be the first time that I had actually done it with a group of kids.

I decided to pair it with making butter, though it is a completely different scientific process at work, since both are dairy and both require shaking, which I thought we could have a little fun with by having a playlist featuring songs with "shake" in the lyrics.

Time: 1 hour
Ages: 5-10
Number: 24
Budget: $55 (if you have to purchase everything)

  • 3 pints heavy cream
  • 24 small containers (I purchased cheap, disposable 1/2 C storage containers)
  • plastic knives
  • gluten-free crackers
  • 1 gallon half & half (can also use whole milk, but will be less creamy)
  • 1 quart non-dairy milk (be sure it is unsweetened and unflavored; I used almond milk)
  • sugar, about 2 Cups total
  • vanilla, 1 oz
  • ice, two 22 lb bags
  • salt, 8 Cups (I used 1 large box kosher salt)
  • 48 pint ziplock bags* (I recommend double bagging)
  • 24 gallon ziplock freezer bags
  • spoons
  • measuring cups & spoons
  • thermometer
Activity #1 - Making Butter

1. We first discussed how butter is made from cream, and the cream is the part of the milk that contains most of the milk fats. The fats are suspended in tiny particles in the solution, but when cream is churned the particles are knocked into each other and stick together, gradually forming larger and larger globs until you end up with one big ball of butter.

2. I gave each child one of the small containers, then poured heavy cream into each one, just about half-full. I instructed them to put the lids on, and asked the adults to please double-check that they were completely sealed. 

3. I explained that they would have to shake that container very hard for about 20 minutes, and that first they would hear/feel it sloshing around, then it would form a thick foam of whipped cream that would not feel sloshy, but to keep going after that and eventually the butter would separate from the liquid, leaving a big ball of butter rolling around in the liquid.

4. Then we began shaking! To make it a little more fun, I put together this playlist to go along with the shaking:

5. I went around encouraging them to shake harder, and let their grown-ups help out a little if their arms got tired, showing them how hard you have to shake, and checking theirs to let them know if it was done, or how close they were. Many wanted to stop at the whipped cream stage, and had to be urged to keep going (hint: at that stage vigorous stirring can also push it to the separation phase).

6. After a lot of shaking the butterfat had finally congealed into a fairly solid ball for everyone, and I showed them how to decant the liquid off carefully and gave them each a pinch of salt to stir in for flavor.

7. I then passed out crackers for everyone to spread a little of their butter on to taste, and then they could put the lids on and take the rest home.

Making butter

Activity #2 - Ice Cream In A Bag

(For step-by-step photos and detailed instructions and explanations, please see my previous post on this experiment.)

1. We began with a brief discussion about how salt mixed with ice depresses the freezing point and causes the temperature to drop below freezing, allowing us to make ice cream. I had all of the ingredients put out on two tables, with signs instructing how much of each. They formed two lines, adding 1/2 Cup of half & half or almond milk, 1 Tablespoon sugar, and  1/4 teaspoon vanilla to a small ziplock bag, and sealing, then filling a large ziplock bag half-full with ice and adding 1/3 C salt to it.

2. After making sure the small bag was sealed, they placed it inside the large bag and sealed that as well.

3. Then it was time for more shaking! Luckily, this only requires 5-10 minutes of shaking, and it does not have to be as vigorous as with the butter making. The bag does get very cold, so having gloves to wear or towels to wrap the bag in is handy.

Making ice cream in a bag

4. After 5-10 minutes, carefully remove the smaller bag and check to see if it feels firm, open and enjoy! I had intended to measure beginning and ending temperatures, but I was too busy managing the crowd. However, when I tested at home, the ice was at 0℃ (32℉) at the beginning, then after salt was added the temperature steadily dropped to about -7℃ (20℉).

Ice cream in a bag

Note: This also works with juice to make a slushy/sorbet, which I had intended to do as well, but we ran out of time. I provided almond milk as a non-dairy alternative for those who have dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. Rice milk is the least allergenic, but does not work well for this application, and I couldn't find the coconut milk, which is most recommended.

How It Went 

This did not go how I expected at all! For these monthly after school STEM programs, I typically get about 12. So for this one I expected 12-15, prepared for up to 24, and got 32! And that's not counting all the accompanying adults and younger siblings. (This ended up be scheduled on the last day before school started, which I think is why we got such a huge crowd.)

So, from the get-go I was scrambling to get more chairs set up and stretch ingredients and supplies. Fortunately, I had asked one of our teen volunteers if she wanted to come in that afternoon instead of the morning and help with the program instead of the usual cleaning, straightening, and other boring stuff we have for them to do, and one of our circ staff stepped in to help as well.

I had to ask families to share one container of cream for the butter-making, which I didn't feel bad about since it would be plenty of butter, and they would likely be glad to let someone else shake for a while! Then I had to instruct them to just get 1/3 Cup of half & half for making ice cream, and still ran out because I had not bought any extra of that. Luckily, my coworker remembered some whole milk left from another program that was in the fridge and still good. We also ran out of ice and had to raid the icemaker in the staff kitchen.

But, though I didn't have time to get into the science of the activities as much as I would have liked because of the huge crowd causing everything to take longer, both activities worked really well and everyone seemed to really like it. I heard many families saying "We'll have to do this at home!" as they were leaving. 

We did have one big mess I felt really badly about because the carpet in the meeting room had JUST been cleaned last week, and one boy managed to dump his whole container of cream in the floor (I suspect a result of horsing around) because he squeezed it and popped the lid right off. He was part of a group of 3-4 older boys that kept horsing around to the point I told them I was going to have to ask them to leave if they couldn't act appropriately. I have never had to do that before.

Another small issue was latecomers. And I don't mean just 5-10 minutes late because somebody had to use the bathroom just as you were leaving or got caught in traffic, but 20, 30, even 45 minutes into the program! Some people seem to assume these programs are just "drop in whenever you feel like it" and seem surprised when they've missed out on part of the activities and we've run out of supplies. I don't really understand this or know what to do to make it clear that it's not a drop-in, self-paced, DIY type of program. One family came right at the end of the butter-making, and got really upset because I had no more supplies and they missed it, and aggravated because they had to wait until we began the next activity to join in. But I don't know what else I could've done at that point? 

What I Would Do Differently

First, as much as I hate waste, I probably should have had even more extra supplies, and I could have used whole milk instead of half & half to help cut the expense a little. Some might suggest registration, but requiring registration is STRONGLY discouraged by the powers that be, though it would've been very helpful in this case. 

Second, I think the butter making needs to be its own program, as it takes so much longer. I could've easily spent the whole program on that, and talked even more about the science of it, let them make a larger amount and try different flavor additions, like herbs, honey, cinnamon, etc., and had a few more "vehicles" for tasting it on. The ice cream making would work well with my previous "Icy Experiments" program.

For the ice cream, we used ziplock sandwich bags and gallon freezer bags with a slider ziplock closure, but had problems with both leaking of the outer bag, and leaking of the inner bag, causing some participants to end up with "ocean-flavored" ice cream. I used to use pint freezer bags, which are more heavy-duty, but they don't have those anymore. So I would definitely recommend double-bagging the cream mixture. Some of the outer bag "leakage" was just condensation, but some were definitely leaking at the corners, so though it's additional expense and plastic trash, double-bagging the outer bag might be a good idea as well, though wrapping in a towel for shaking helps with that problem, too. 

All in all, it was still a successful program, but if I had known I would get such a large crowd I would have planned differently. I really do prefer smaller groups for STEM programs in order to really focus more on the science and attempt more advanced activities.