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!