Monday, July 1, 2019

Dragons! - Family Storytime

I initially had no idea what I was going to do for storytime this month, but when checking in new books I came across one that had to do with dragons, making me realize I had never done a dragon-themed storytime! So I set about requesting many picture books with dragons to consider, and found some really great ones for storytime.

I had a very small, but enthusiastic, crowd today as it was sunny and hot for the first time all summer, so I'm sure many families were at the pool, lake, or leaving for vacation with the holiday coming up. We started with our welcome song and then I went straight to our story song after introductions because I just had a feeling if I talked too much or did an extra song I would lose them.

Dragon storytime
For our first story, I chose a shorter, but super cute and very interactive book, very similar to Christie Matheson's Touch the Magic Tree, There's a Dragon In Your Book by Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott. This book opens with an egg about to hatch, and a warning not to turn the page, which of course we do. 

This lets a cute baby dragon into our book, and the book encourages the audience to tickle her nose, which makes her sneeze, and that catches our book on fire! But eventually we put the fire out and all is well. But then the last page is FULL of eggs! Do we dare turn the page? 

After that, we had fun pretending to be dragons with this action rhyme based on a classic:

Dragon, Dragon

Dragon, dragon turn around.
Dragon, dragon touch the ground.

Dragon, dragon fly up high.
Dragon, dragon touch the sky.

Dragon, dragon swing your tail.
Dragon, dragon shake your scales.

Dragon, dragon give a "ROARRRRR!"
Dragon, dragon sit on the floor.

Dragon StorytimeThen I moved to our next book, and my favorite of the three, Dragon Was Terrible by Kelli Dipucchio and Greg Pizzoli. I fell in love with this book when it first came out, but then somehow forgot all about it before I got a chance to use it! This book is a little longer, but is so funny and dramatic that it holds the audience's attention well, and really suits my style. I had SO much fun with it!

The dragon in this story is really terrible. I mean the spitting on cupcakes, taking candy from baby unicorns, COLORING IN LIBRARY BOOKS kind of terrible! Finally the king has enough and offers a reward to any knight who can tame him, but all fail (miserably). Then the people have had enough, and offer the reward to any person who can tame the dragon. Many try, but all fail (embarrassingly). But then one small boy comes up with a unique solution. But will it work?

I followed that with another take on an old classic, "Going On a Bear Hunt". But this time we were hunting dragons! If you aren't familiar, this is a call and response chant, with the audience repeating each line after you, while clapping in rhythm.

Going On A Dragon Hunt

Going on a dragon hunt....
Gonna catch a big one....
But we're not scared!

Look, there's a big river ahead...
Can't go over it....
Can't go under it....
Have to swim across it....
(Make swimming motion)....

Repeat the first stanza each time. We swam across the river, climbed a big mountain, and creeped into a big, dark cave. Then we felt something with scales. And sharp claws. And hot, stinky breath! Oh, no! A dragon!

Then we ran out of the cave, climbed down the mountain as fast as we could, ran to the river, swam across, ran inside the castle, pulled up the drawbridge, and closed the gate! Safe at last!

Dragon Storytime
For our final book I chose another short, simple one without a lot of text, If I Had a Dragon by Tom and Amanda Ellery. In this story Morton thinks he would rather have a dragon than a little brother; a dragon would be way more fun. But, what if it flew off while he was walking it? Or took up all the room in the swimming pool? Or breathed fire on him? The more Morton thinks about it, the more he realizes that a dragon really wouldn't make the best playmate and he'd rather go home and play with his brother.

After that we sang our closing song and I put out the supplies and instructions for the optional craft.

After a disastrous attempt to download another supposedly free printable dragon mask template that had a virus and messed up my laptop, I copied one from into a Publisher document instead (laptop is still fried) and printed it on cardstock.

I provided crayons, scissors, tape, large craft sticks, and red & orange streamers. First they colored their dragons, then cut them out with the help of their grown ups, and some of the grown-ups needed help with the eye-holes. After that, they attached the crepe paper streamers to the back and cut them into jagged fringe to look like flames, and added the craft stick for a handle. Simple, but turned out surprisingly cute!

Dragon Storytime, Dragon craft, dragon mask

How It Went
I had a really small turnout, and two of the kids were very young and couldn't sit still and were roaming throughout the storytime, but that was fine. On little girl was extremely engaged, so that made up for it. They really liked the first two books and the first action rhyme, but were getting a little restless during the "Dragon Hunt" and last book, but some were still listening.

I think Dragon Was Terrible was everyone's favorite! I loved finally getting a chance to read it, and I was excited to have an outreach visit two days later and a chance to read it again.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Preschool Dinosaur Program - SRP

Preschool dinosaur activities

For whatever reason, my library system decided to go rogue a few years ago and break away from CSLP, so instead of doing "A Universe of Stories" like everyone else this summer, we are doing our own theme, "Dig Deep & Read".[Definitely one of my least favorite SRP themes, but I am getting to do some fun programs with it]. The children's librarians all voted on a slate of program ideas, then each programming staff member chose one or two of the ideas to write up a basic plan for, so we had a core collection of programs for each location to pick from.

I am all about paleontology, so when I was asked if I wanted to do the preschool dinosaur dig program, I of course gave an enthusiastic "yes!". Though someone else came up with the basic plan and provided info on where to get supplies, I made it my own and added some things and tweaked others.

Ages: 3-5
Time: 1 hour
Number: 30 kids, accompanied by 25 adults
Budget: ?? (most supplies we already had)

  • large tub or small kiddie pool
  • sand
  • items to dig for (real fossils, plastic fossils, small plastic dinosaurs or skeletons, etc.)
  • tarp
  • Lakeshore Dino-Dig Excavation Kit ($25), comes with 4 dirt sifters, 4 brushes, and 24 small soft plastic dino skeletons)
  • salt dough (several batches)
  • items to make impressions (large or small toy dinosaurs, skeletons from Lakeshore kit, shells, etc.)
  • paper plates
  • dinosaur rubbing plates ($11)
  • coloring sheets
  • paper
  • cardstock
  • crayons
  • markers
  • scissors
  • inflatable dinosaurs ($20), these hold up really well and are fairly sturdy
  • cut & fold dinosaur pattern from

Initially I had everyone gather and sit in the floor in the middle of the room, and I read Ten Little Dinosaurs by Pattie Schnetzler and Jim Harris. I love the artwork in this book and kids love the big googly eyes and silly rhyming text that counts down from 10-0, ending with "poor little dinosaurs, all extinct." 

It's fun and silly, but also introduces scientific names of dinosaurs, extinction, safety (don't play in the street), and a great segue into talking briefly about how there are no living dinosaurs today, but we know of their existence because of the fossilized remains they left behind: bones, eggs, trace fossils like footprints, and even poop! This was great to get everyone calmed down and listening, and nicely led into our different activities, which were set up as stations around the perimeter of the room.

Station 1 - Fossil Dig

We already had a large tub with sand and plastic casts of fossils and tiny plastic dino skulls left from a previous program by a former staff member, and I added the sifters, brushes, and a few of the skeletons from the Lakeshore excavation kit. I put a tarp down on the floor, and put the tub in the center of it, and let the kids have at it.

Dinosaur activities for preschoolers
(click on any image to see larger)

Station 2 - Make Your Own Trace Fossil

Trace fossils are signs of their existence left behind by living organisms that are not actually part of the organism, things like footprints, trails, burrows, nests, imprints and impressions, etc.

1. Get a ball of salt dough about the size of a golf ball or slightly larger and knead until smooth. (Salt dough: 2 C flour, 1 C salt, 1 C water. Makes enough for 10.)

2. Flatten until about 1/4" thick.

3. Use various objects to make impressions. I gave them tiny toy dinosaurs, the dino skeletons from the Lakeshore kit and large dinosaurs for footprints. (I meant to give them shells, too, but forgot to pack them).

4. Once you are happy with your trace fossil, gently transfer to a paper plate to take home.

5. At home, place on cookie sheet and bake at 250°F for about 1-1/2 hours, then let cool. Now your traces are preserved in "stone", just like a real trace fossil!

Dinosaur activities for preschool, preschool paleontology

Station 3 - Cut & Fold Dinosaur 

Prep - I downloaded the free file for the printable pattern for this simple 3-D cut & fold dinosaur and printed it on various colors of cardstock, including white. I provided markers, crayons, and scissors.

1. Color and add details to your dinosaur as desired.

2. Cut out along heavy black lines.

3. Fold on the dotted lines.

4. If desired, cut the short lines along the back, then fold back the little flaps for added detail.

Dinosaur craft for kids

Station 4 - Coloring

I provided regular printed coloring sheets, blank paper, dinosaur textured rubbing plates, and both thin and fat crayons, with some that were already "naked" set aside for the rubbings.

Dinosaur crafts for kids

Station 5 - Photo Opp

I brought my large dino skeletons (about 3' tall; purchased for $40 each from Home Depot at Halloween) for kids to pose with for photos. I also had a couple of safari hats from our dress-up collection, two plastic trowels, and several little signs for props. The dinos also posed for a PSA by themselves:

Dinosaurs didn't read, dinosaur activities for kids

Station 6 - Inflatables

I put out the inflatables in the middle for kids to play with, and/or to use in the photo opp. I highly recommend these, as they hold up pretty well. The ones I have were leftover from my son's 5th birthday, which was 11 years ago, and used for another library program 5 or so years ago. I store them deflated in a closet. They are super cute and the kids loved them.

Station 7 - Triceratops Footprint 

I have a pattern for a life-sized triceratops footprint, based on a real one. (Unfortunately, the original file is no longer available online and I did not save it.) I taped an outline of it on the floor so the kids could see how many of their feet could fit inside one triceratops footprint, or see if they could fit their whole body as one little girl decided to do.

How It Went

This took a long time to set up and clean up, but it went really well! I was initially worried about having too many people show up, but we had the perfect number for the space we had. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and I got many compliments and thank you's from adults and kids, and one hug!

One little girl spent so much time coloring and designing her cut & fold dinosaur, she had not gotten around to doing the other stations except the sand pit, so I told her to go ahead and made a trace fossil while I started cleaning up the other stuff and I gave her some coloring sheets to take home. It's always interesting to see how different children approach each of the various activities, and which ones they spend the most time on.

Surprisingly little sand ended up on the floor, only two small spots (the salt dough ended up making more mess than the sand). I was a little surprised at how much people liked the cut & fold dinosaur craft, and one mom said she was having more fun making rubbings that her child (I noticed another mom really got into a colleague's leaf rubbing activity back in the fall, too. Maybe an idea for an adult or family program??).

It went so well that I honestly don't think I would change anything, except to permanently glue my big dino skeletons' hip and shoulder joints into position and attach them to some kind of a base so they will stay standing. They are not made that well and not that sturdy and people got frustrated with them falling over. I also wish I had remembered to take photos of each station before the program started. I love that it was a truly multi-disciplinary program, including elements of literacy, sensory activities, STEM, arts & crafts, and play. I would love to do it again!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Potato Print Making - Elementary Art Program

Potato stamps, potato prints

Though I've done a few programs that had an artistic or creative component, this was my first official art program. It was also the first public summer program I've been solely responsible for, though I've done outreach programs and helped with a number of public programs in the past.

Potato print making is an old tried-and-true activity that even my husband remembers doing in school, but it can be frustrating trying to carve the shape you want. Luckily I came across a quick and easy method from The Best Ideas for Kids that is more kid-friendly, especially for a crowd.

Ages:  5-10
Number: As many as you have space and potatoes for!
Time: 45 minutes - 1 hour
Budget: $15-25

  • potatoes (small potatoes will make 2 stamps, large can make 3 stamps)
  • assorted mini-cookie cutters (I already owned these)
  • butter knives (scavenged from home & the staff break room)
  • tempera paint
  • paper 
  • paper plates
  • paint brushes
  • paper towels
  • paper clips
  • cups 
  • water
  • disposable tablecloths

Prep - I cut the small potatoes in half, and the large ones into 3 pieces right before the start of the program, put them into 2 bins, and spread the cutters out onto 2 trays. I also set out sign holders with illustrated directions, stacks of paper towels, paint brushes, and butter knives on the tables.

After the participants came in and sat down, I explained what we were going to do, and demonstrated how to make the potato stamps. 

1. First, select a cutter, then a potato piece the appropriate size.

2. Then, push the cookie cutter into the potato. It is easier to get it started, then turn it over onto the table and push the potato onto the cutter.

making potato stamps with kids

3. Next, use the butter knife to slice into and around the cookie cutter, taking care not to cut under the cutter.

4. Peel away the excess potato, using a paper clip to clean up any tight corners or crevices if needed.

potato stamps for elementary

5. Carefully remove the cookie cutter and blot excess moisture from your newly created stamp. Now the stamp is ready to use!

(While they made their stamps, I prepped palettes of paint on paper plates and set them out on the tables (1 for every 3-4 kids to share) along with cups of water for cleaning brushes.)

6. Using a brush, apply a very SMALL amount of paint to the potato stamp. Seriously, less is more! If it looks wet, there is too much and it will slide on the paper, distorting the print. Test it out on a scrap piece of paper or paper towel first.

7. Carefully invert and press stamp onto the paper, making sure all surfaces make contact; you might have to slightly roll or rock the stamp to get all the edges and details. You can probably get 2-3 prints without having to re-apply paint.

potato prints with kids

8. Repeat!

potato prints for elementary

9. I encouraged them to make more than one stamp as long as there were potatoes left, and/or to share stamps with each other or try their hand at carving their own shape as well. I provided zip-lock bags for those who wanted to take them home (they will last a few days in the fridge).

10. We made a piece of collaborative art (pictured at top) by combining prints from the stamps they created on one large piece of paper.

How It Went 

It went well, but I was a hot, sweaty, tired mess by the time it was over! The room we have is not all that big, and it was packed! Initially, I had the perfect number of participants, with about 20-25 kids and their accompanying adults, which is what I had prepared for and comfortably fills the room. Then a daycare and a few other latecomers showed up, adding another 15 or so kids! Thankfully our assistant manager came in and helped set up another row of tables and chairs for them and my supervisor grabbed a few additional supplies.

After that initial panic, things went well. They were much faster at making the stamps than I expected, so I wish I had prepped the palettes of paint and cups of water in advance. I also forgot to tell them to use the brushes to apply a light coat of paint to the stamps, though it was on the printed directions at each table, and they started out dipping the stamps into the paint and using WAY too much paint. Also, some did not understand that the shape was supposed to stay attached to the potato, and they sliced it right off and used it by itself, which can work, but is not as easy and is more messy. I found kids and adults completely ignored the illustrated instructions placed on the tables.

I ended up with a total of about 40 kids and 20 adults, and we went through 20 pounds of potatoes! 

This is a great technique to use for making your own wrapping paper or customizing plain gift bags or boxes. It can also be used with fabric paint on clothing or bags. 

potato prints library program

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Butterfly Metamorphosis - Passive STEM Program

Metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, butterfly STEM program

Eric Carle's beloved classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, was first released 50 years ago, on June 3rd, 1969. I used this, and the recent release of my new favorite storytime book, The Very Impatient Caterpiller, as an excuse to do an activity I've always wanted to do, getting caterpillars and watching them grow and metamorphosize into butterflies.

I thought this would be a great passive STEM program to do at the library that families would enjoy. We decided to do it in May rather than June, since summer is so super busy already, and it really didn't fit our summer reading theme. So I timed it to get the caterpillars in around my weekend to work in May, and used the family storytime to introduce them and kick it off. 

I ordered a kit from Carolina Biological Supply that included two cups with 5 caterpillars each (we actually got 6 each) and all the food they would need, a large mesh butterfly cage, cotton rope wick for feeding, and both print and online resources that included general information, care instructions, activity sheets, and more. They are a little more expensive, but this is a well-established scientific company with an excellent reputation and their caterpillars seem to have a higher success rate.

(click on any photo to see full-size image)

The caterpillars come in 8 oz deli-style cups, which have perforated lids lined with cloth or paper (for the caterpillars to attach to later), and contain an artificial diet. Painted Lady caterpillars are the only ones to thrive on an artificial diet, which makes them much easier to raise, and reduces the chance of disease. I let everyone who attended the Caterpillar Storytime look at the caterpillars up close, then placed the cups inside a screen-covered aquarium for protection, and placed them on a shelf next to the desk, along with an information sheet and diagram of the life-cycle. I updated the info sheet at each stage in the process.

Painted Lady caterpillars

And then we watched and waited as the caterpillars grew...and grew...and grew (and pooped), at a rate of about 1/4" a day! In 8 days they had grown from 1/2" long to 2", and began to make their way to the top of the cup, where they attached themselves and hung upside down in a "J" shape for about 24 hours while the chrysalis formed under their skin, which they then molted one last time. After letting the last chrysalis harden for 2 days, the cloth they were attached to was transferred to and pinned inside the butterfly cage.

Painted Lady pupae in chysalides

Then, it was time for more watching and waiting. After about 7-8 days, the first butterfly emerged early one morning and was waiting to greet my coworkers when they came in. Most of the rest emerged the next day (when the library was closed for a holiday), and the final two the following day. 

Painted Lady Butterfly

Out of 12 caterpillars, we had 10 healthy butterflies. One caterpillar had been unable to attach to the lid and pupated in the bottom of the cup, and did not survive. Another butterfly that did survive and emerge had to be euthanized because its head/face did not develop normally; it had one eye that probably wasn't functional, no antenna, and no proboscis, so would have slowly starved to death.

Feeding Painted Lady Butterflies

I feed them sugar water, orange Gatorade, and mashed fresh fruit to give them variety, putting the liquids in a bottle with a wick or in a small dish of saturated cotton balls. I decided to keep them for a week, in order to time their release with the exact anniversary of the release of The Very Hungry Caterpillar on June 3rd, which I advertised with flyers in the department. Much to my surprise, they began mating right away and laid eggs prior to the release, so if I were to do it again, I would plan on releasing after 3-5 days. 

Painted Lady Butterfly eggs

I had also planned a whole social media component, announcing the arrival of the caterpillars and inviting people to meet them at the special storytime, posting updates and videos, and hopefully catching an emerging butterfly on video, but unfortunately due to bad timing and too much bureaucratic confusion it never happened [our social media person and programming manager both left in May, right before summer reading, so marketing was a hot mess and only high priority summer reading programs were making it onto the Facebook page]. That was very disappointing and frustrating to me, as I felt it was a huge missed opportunity to engage the public on social media.

Another frustration was that out of 12 caterpillars, not only did *I* not witness a single one during the final molt to reveal the chrysalis nor emerge as butterflies, no one else did either. Every single one of them did it after hours when no one was around! I was so disappointed!

Some of the the things I learned during this project:
  • Inside the chrysalis the caterpillar basically liquefies, except for a few highly organized clusters of cells that use the resulting "primordial caterpillar soup" to grow the new butterfly body. 
  • The chrysalis has gold metallic spots.
  • When the butterfly first emerges, its proboscis is in two separate grooved halves, which it has to rub together until they "zip" together and interlock, forming the drinking channel. Click here for a graphic.
  • Caterpillars and butterflies may be shy about revealing and emerging from the chrysalis, but they have no problem mating while people are around!
  • They begin mating almost right away, and though they generally try to wait until they find a suitable host plant on which to lay their eggs, they will lay them inside the cage as soon as 2 days after mating. 
  • The females typically die after they have laid all their eggs (we did have one butterfly die before being released; another reason I would release earlier in the future).
  • People are really bad about poking at the chrysalides and more stern signage was necessary.

This was a really fun and interesting project, and while I must confess I did it as much for me as the public, people really seemed to enjoy it and find it interesting. I had 30-40 people attend the release, and that was without it being listed on the calendar or any advertising other than a flyer posted next to the cage. I had hoped to get the butterflies to sit on the kids' hands for a minute before taking off, but even with the temptation of sugar water, they were too eager to soar, and immediately headed skyward, though one did briefly make a pit stop in one girls' hair. It was less than 30 days from the arrival of the caterpillars to the release of the adult butterflies!

I took way more photos and video over the course of the project than could be included in this post, including some really cool up-close pictures of the eyes, proboscis, scales, and eggs taken with a macro lens attachment, so I put them together in the following video:

Now I'm in the process of planting a butterfly garden at home that I hope will attract some Monarchs and Swallowtails to lay eggs! They are even more spectacular butterflies, and much more attractive caterpillars, than the Painted Ladies. One of my co-workers and I are also hoping to start a butterfly garden at the library, but that will have to wait until after summer reading!

Update: I took the eggs that were laid prior to release home to raise, and four days after being laid, they began hatching into teeny, tiny caterpillars, 1-2 mm long, barely visible to the naked eye (luckily I have a macro lens). The eggs started out blue, then turned black as the caterpillar grew and was close to hatching, then clear egg shells were left behind. I was even able to catch a few hatching on video!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Eric Carle Storytime - Outreach Visit

We took a break from regular storytimes at the end of May, and that meant I didn't get to do my usual weekend family storytime. Fortunately, I still had my monthly outreach visit, which just happened to fall on June 3rd, the exact day Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar was released 50 years ago! 

Since I did a caterpillar theme last month, I decided to do an Eric Carle-themed storytime this time. His books cover a nice range as far as length/amount of text, which would work nicely for the broad range of ages I see on my visit (18 months - 5 years). I pulled several different books to take:

Eric Carle themed storytime, Very Hungry Caterpillar storytime
(click  to see larger)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar Pop-Up Book - the star of the show!
  • 1, 2, 3, to the Zoo - Short and simple, good for younger kids, with counting and animal identification as animals ride a train to their new home at the zoo.
  • From Head to Toe - Another short and simple one that's great for younger kids, animals & colors, movement (I'd advise skipping the donkey kick page).
  • The Very Busy Spider - Slightly longer, but repetitive
  • Hugs & Kisses for the Grouchy Ladybug - one of the newer ones, feelings and animals
I ended up using only two of them as I did not see all four classes due to scheduling conflicts and misunderstandings at the preschool. I was able to see the toddler class, and the 3-year old class.

Toddler Class
I started with my "Hello" song, and then we sung "The Wheels On The Bus" which they really got into, and used the same tune to sing a song about different animal sounds/movements with miscellaneous animals (I took inspiration from what was on their shirts).

Then I read From Head To Toe, which proved too long for some of them, but I did have a few who stuck with me until the very end. This is such a challenging age to do, especially in a day care setting! I ended with my "Hands Go Up" closing song, then explained our summer reading program to the teachers and gave them a class reading chart.

As I left several said "bye" and one little boy said "Bye, see you tomorrow". They are so adorable, and really participated well today.

3-year old Class
This class increased by at least 50% last month, and with so many newcomers and such a large class, I had a lot of trouble with them last month and never could get them to settle down and ended up cutting it short. So I was kinda dreading them this time around, but they did much better; still need a little work, but better!

They were overly chatty and not listening at first, but after I did the "if you can hear my voice, clap one time; if you can hear my voice, clap two times; if you can hear my voice, clap three times" thing, getting lower each time, they finally settled down. I explained the summer reading program, then I explained that it was The Very Hungry Caterpillar's 50th birthday, and showed them my pop-up book, which kept their attention. Most of them were familiar with the story, and those that weren't quickly caught on, and they would say the "he was still hungry" part each time, and name the foods. I also explained how it should be a chrysalis instead of a cocoon (moths come from cocoons, not butterflies).

Our time was up, but since I had to cut them short last time and they were being good, I went ahead and read one more, again selecting From Head to Toe to give them a chance to move around. I ended with a closing song, and then got mob hugged in an attempt to keep me from leaving, because they wanted me to stay and read more stories. A much better outcome than last time!

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Flower Power - STEAM Program

Flower STEM activities,

This program was inspired by the saying "April showers bring May flowers". I thought flowers would be a great theme for this time of year, as many are blooming, but it's not too late to plant new flowers, either.

For this program we dissected flowers and learned about all the different parts and what they do, extracted the pH-sensitive pigment from rose petals and tested it, then made seed bombs with native wildflowers. 

[Click on any image to see larger]

Budget: About $45, not counting stock supplies
Ages: 5-10
Number: 15 kids (accompanied by adults)
Time: 1 hr to 1-1/4 hr


Flower STEM program
(all materials not pictured)
  • 2 bunches of alstroemeria flowers (or any flower that clearly shows anatomical structure; lily or hibiscus also work well, 1 flower per participant plus few extra)
  • 1 dozen red roses (8 would have been enough)
  • white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • plastic ziplock bags (snack or sandwich size)
  • water
  • seed bomb matrix (or about 2-3 cups each natural clay powder and compost)
  • 2 packets native wildflower seed mix
  • large mixing bowl or bucket
  • 45 small Dixie cups
  • 45 clear plastic shot glasses or test tubes
  • measuring spoon
  • mixing spoons
  • Exacto knife, scalpel, or razor blade (only to be used by instructor)

Activity 1 - Flower Dissection 

Flower Dissection Activity, STEM, STEAM
  1. I found a labeled diagram of the parts of a flower online, and handed out copies to each participant.
  2. I gave each participant a stem of alstroemeria flowers, though 1 bunch would have been enough since each stem has several blooms. (lilies work the best for visualizing all the parts clearly, but they can be pricey and some of them stink).
  3. We started with talking about the stem and leaves, discussing how the stem contains the xylem and phloem, which carries water and nutrients to the rest of the plant, and how the leaves use the energy of the sun to produce food through photosynthesis.
  4. Then we moved through the rest of the flower parts, taking them apart as necessary to better view the more internal parts. I cut them down the middle for them so they could see the inside of the ovary.
  5. I gave them a few minutes to study their diagrams and flowers as they wished while I prepped the next activity.

Activity 2 - Extracting Natural pH Indicator 

Natural pH indicator from flower

Flowers contain anthocyanins, which are water soluble pigments that produce shades of red, purple, and blue, and give many flowers their color. They are also found in red cabbage, berries, and other foods, and are responsible for some of the colors of autumn leaves. Anthocyanins are pH sensitive, which means their color can change under acidic or alkaline (basic) conditions.

In this activity, we extracted the red pigment from rose petals, and exposed it to an acidic solution and an alkaline solution and observed the color change.
  1. Each participant was given a small ziplock bag and half the petals from one rose (this was more than needed; each full-size rose is easily enough for 3 people).
  2. They were instructed to tear the petals into small pieces and put them into the bag. (It is easiest to open up the bag wide, and tear the petals over it, dropping the pieces directly into it.)
  3. Then they added a small amount of water (about 1 ounce, or 2 Tablespoons), which I had dispensed into Dixie cups, squeezed the air out, sealed the bag, and then smooshed the petals with their fingers for a few minutes, until the water becomes colored. (If it appears too concentrated, add a little water; if too dilute add more petals and smush longer.)

    Extracting anthocyanins from flower petals
  4. After the water became a definite purplish-pink color, indicating the pigment had been extracted, one corner of the bag was opened slightly, and the liquid carefully decanted off into 3 clear shot glasses/test tubes (It's okay if a few small pieces slip through).
  5. I then gave each participant a Dixie cup with a very small amount of vinegar (1 T) in it, and they were instructed (1) NOT to smell it directly, and (2) not to do anything until everyone was ready and I instructed them to. After everyone was ready, they were instructed to pour some of the vinegar in the first tube of rose extract, until they observed a change. They could add more after that if they wished. I explained that we would do nothing to the center tube of rose extract, because it was the control.
  6. Next, I gave them a small amount (1 T) of a baking soda solution (1 T baking soda in 3C water), and all added it to the third tube of rose petal extract, and observed the color change.
  7. I explained that vinegar was acetic acid, which we observed turned the pinkish-purple rose extract bright red, and the baking soda was an alkaline, or basic, solution, which we observed turned the rose extract a dark bluish-green.

    Natural pH indicator from rose petals

Activity 3 - Seed Bombs

I used a pre-mixed seed bomb matrix because (1) I only needed a small amount and it would likely have cost even more to buy the clay and compost separately, and resulted in excess leftover, and (2) it would save time and be less dusty and messy.
  1. I broke up the mix in a large bowl with a large mixing spoon. It is supposed to be ready to use, but seemed too dry, so I added a little water. (Of course I added too much, so I had to run get corn starch out of the supply closet to thicken it.)
  2. Then I added the two packets of seeds and mixed until it was well mixed and a good rolling consistency.
  3. I divided it evenly among the participants, and showed them how to roll it into balls, about 1/2" in diameter. After they rolled all theirs, they placed them in cups to take home.
  4. They were instructed to set them outside in the sun to dry well if they wanted to save them until fall to plant, or they could plant them now as is. The idea is to just toss them randomly in areas that are bare.
Making seed bombs

The package of matrix I got was enough for 15 participants to each make at least 6-12 seed bombs, depending on size. If we had not been pressed for time, I would have had the kids help more with mixing the matrix and adding and combining the seeds.

How It Went

I was very pleasantly surprised at how good of a turnout I got (15 kids and 9 adults) since it was the day after a holiday AND the last week of school. I figured everyone would have their days off or be distracted, and expected a low turnout.

Everyone seemed very engaged, if a little bit impatient at times. I was very impressed that one little girl knew what leaves did, including the word photosynthesis. Most of them did really well following directions, though every time they had to wait just a couple of minutes for everyone to catch up, or for me to hand out the next round of materials, they acted like it was taking forever, (have fun on those long road trips, parents), LOL! 

One girl got a little behind because she was so intent on tearing her rose petals into almost microscopically small pieces and had to be repeated urged to work a little faster and it was ok if the pieces were bigger. They were amazed when the water started turning purplish-pink as the pigment was extracted, and were very impressed with the color changes in response to added acidic and alkaline solutions. [Red cabbage is even more impressive as it has multiple pigments and covers the whole range of pH, but is very stinky to work with.]

I was impressed with how little mess they made making the seed bombs, and they really had fun doing it. I had to demonstrate to a few again how they were supposed to roll it into multiple small balls, rather than one large ball or mud pie. There was one girl who wanted nothing to do with it though, and said she was going to take it home and "make her mother do it". I was really impressed I made it through the whole program wearing white pants that were still white at the end!

One of my regulars cutely asked me, "Miss Jennifer, are you a scientist?" to which I replied, "I used to be, but now I'm a librarian, and that's even more fun!" [I have a BS in biology education, an MS in Microbiology, and in another lifetime worked in biomedical research.]

What I Would Do Differently 

Honestly, this one went really well as is, though it did run over just a tad. This was mostly due to several latecomers coming in a different times, causing me to have to pause and quickly grab them materials and catch them up. 

But it would also be great to just take the pigment extraction activity and expand it to a whole program by itself, by (1) providing them with additional (non-hazardous) solutions to test and determine if they are acidic or basic and (2) test the extract from a different flower of a deep blue or purple color. I had wanted to do a blue or purple flower as well, but the florist did not have any on hand, so if you want to do this, I would suggest ordering specific flowers in advance. This article has several suggestions for flowers, fruits, and vegetables that can be used; keep in mind some flowers, such as delphinium, are toxic, so be sure appropriate safety warnings and precautions are given.

One of the kids observed that the rose petals would leave pink-red marks when rubbed on the paper, so another activity that would go with this them could be using flower petals to "paint" with.