X-ray Magic (Thaumatrope Toy)

Optical Illusion Toy

Halloween Costumes


Picking out a Halloween costume was pretty simple when I was a kid.  In mid-October the stores would fill a few shelves with costumes in cardboard boxes.  You could see the mask peeking out through the plastic covered lid.  The side of the box had a picture of the entire ensemble.  I always knew exactly who I wanted to be – Spiderman, but my mom always had another idea – homemade costumes.  Lots of kids made their own costumes; mostly ghosts, hobos, and witches.  I was usually a witch.  Witches had powers like superheroes, so I was okay with that.


When my daughter, Alyssa, was little and I would ask her what she wanted to be for Halloween, it was never a costume that could be quickly purchased at a store.  Her ideas were super specific…  “I want to be a Halloween mermaid.”  “I want to be a girl skeleton.”  “I want to be the painting called “The Scream.””  She’d make a drawing of her idea.  Then I’d have to figure out how to make the costume.  Her costumes were always really unique and she liked it that way.  She wanted to be different from everyone else.  So, naturally, my dad would always pretend he was making the exact same costume for himself.  He made the claim every year and she always fell for it and argued that he needed to come up with his own idea.  I can only imagine what my dad would have looked like as a Halloween mermaid or a girl skeleton.


Little Jack never cared what his costume was.  I’d usually buy a costume at the store and change it a bit to make it unique.  But when Jack was five, his  buddy told him he was dressing up as a superhero he’d invented called, Dino Boy.  He said his mom was going to help him make the costume.  Jack loved that idea!  Jack had also created a superhero.  His guy was called, Pickleman.  Pickleman looked like a pickle and dissolved into pickle juice whenever he needed to make a quick getaway.  I tried to imagine my child walking into his kindergarten classroom dressed as a giant pickle in a red cape.  I just couldn’t put him through that humiliation.  Some of the kids in his class were really mean.  I talked him into being his favorite TV superhero, Teen Titans’ Robin.  It was the most difficult costume I ever made.  Green leggings were impossible to find.   I think I found a pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas that had green pants.  Robin wore black high-tops.  I could only find red, but several Sharpie markers later, they were black.  I sewed the black and yellow cape; made the logo and the mask.  I bought black hair gel to give Jack the spiky dark look of Robin’s hair.   Jack felt so cool in that costume.  It was totally worth the effort!


It doesn’t really matter if the costumes are store-bought or homemade, simple or complicated, standard or unique.  It’s always fun to put on a costume and become someone else for a few hours.


This craftivity is a toy from the 1800s.  It’s called a thaumatrope.  It’s an optical illusion toy.  You make a disc with a picture on each side.  Then attach the disc to a stick and spin it between your palms to see a flicker movie effect.  Click “X-ray Magic” to get the template and instructions for this craft.





Rainbow Ruler

Rainbow Craft
Click to get the template and instructions for the rainbow ruler craft.


Alyssa was our first born.  And as every first born she was amazing, challenging, and nerve-racking.  My husband and I had no idea what we were doing.  I kept feeling like I was in a bad babysitting situation and the parents were never coming home.  She was a colicky baby and an intense toddler.  She was crawling at 5 months and walking by 7 months.  She didn’t talk until after her first birthday.  I remember it well.  We were at our community pool.  I told Alyssa not to touch the metal handrail because it was hot.  She was a very defiant little kid.  She looked right at me and touched the handrail.  She said her first word, “HOT!”  Then came the Helen Keller moment when every word she’d ever heard made sense to her.  Within a few weeks, she was talking in complete sentences.

Twelve years later, Jack was born.  Jack was an easy going baby.  Like Alyssa, he was quickly mobile.  Talking came at a normal pace.  His first word was bus; pronounced “buh.”  Buh was the word he used to describe all large public vehicles.   His next word was da.  Da was a multipurpose word.  Jack used a variety of motions to indicate the meaning of the word.  Da with a chest pound meant Jack.  Da with clenched fists meant dog.  Da with a nod meant yes.  And the enthusiastic da was for Dad.  Jack was creative from the start.

Alyssa loved school!  And missing a day of school made her miserable!  When she was in kindergarten I announced, “Your aunt has invited us to an all expenses paid trip to Disney World.”  She replied, “Mom, I can’t miss school.  We’re going to learn about Obstinate O this week.”  (She was able to read chapter books, but didn’t want to miss a lesson about the short o sound.  Her teacher was awesome, but the Magic Kingdom VS short o?)

Jack hated school!  (He loved preschool, but when it came to kindergarten, he was not a fan.)  Like Alyssa, he started kindergarten knowing how to read, but he didn’t take to reading like she had.  It was hard for him.  I knew his eyes were inverting and flipping letters and numbers.  (That happened to me when I was little.)  He struggled in school.  He had trouble copying words from the whiteboard.  He had trouble counting sets of objects.  The only things he liked about school were riding the bus and recess.

Alyssa never lost her love of school.  Learning came easy to her.  She had an inner competitiveness and wanted to be the best.  Alyssa graduated at the top of her class in high school, aced the SATs, and won the National Merit Scholarship.  She went on to college and succeeded there, too.

Jack is now in high school.  He has to work hard to get passing grades in math and science and it is very stressful.  He does fine in his other classes.  He still likes riding the bus and P.E.  He’s a smart and creative kid, and he’ll do great in life, but our public institution of learning has not been an ego boost for his future.

Our schools are filled with a rainbow of different learners.  In the past 15 years, public school has taken a turn toward elevating academic levels to appease the Alyssas while ignoring the needs of the Jacks.  The Department of Education must have thought that raising the bar would make all students work harder to achieve.  They didn’t consider that students like Jack aren’t motivated by test scores and grades.  They are motivated by great lessons.  Unfortunately, teachers are now buried in paperwork and test planning which leaves little time to prepare great lessons.

There may never be a one-size-fits-all solution to learning, but a great presentation, with a hands-on element, and some room for creativity – that worked for both of my children.  We all know teachers who make the lessons fun and interesting – the great teachers who reach the majority of their students and leave a lasting impression of knowledge.   The ones who make “Obstinate O” as appealing as Disney World.   I don’t know where they find the time in this school system, but getting rid of tests and excess paperwork would give teachers more time to prepare great lessons.  Great lessons make great teachers.  Great teachers inspire great learning!

Click here to get the template for the RAINBOW RULER craftivity.  It has a set of rules for creating the basic rainbow.  Once the rainbow is on the paper, your child gets to choose how to complete the project.


Quilt Cube

quilt cube pencil holder craft
Click this photo for quilt cube template and instructions.


The first time I remember realizing that a creative idea doesn’t always equal a great idea, was in third grade.  Our teacher was gone for a week and we had a substitute teacher.  She gave us a packet of worksheets.  We had the whole week to complete them.  The work was pretty easy, so I had extra time to “be creative.”  I decided to make decorative borders on each page.  I remember looking at a fill-in-the-blank worksheet and deciding that it would be neat to eliminate the words in the word box by drawing a different shape around each word and coloring it in with a pretty pattern.  As I worked on the worksheet, I remember thinking, “When my teacher sees how great this looks, she is going to insist that everyone do this on every worksheet from now on.  The kids will love this!”

When our teacher returned from her absence, she had a basket full of worksheet packets to correct.  I couldn’t wait until she corrected mine.  I could hardly concentrate on my reading assignment.  I could picture her standing at the front of the class.  She was holding up my worksheet packet.  “Class, I need your attention.  I want you all to look at this great example of how to turn a worksheet packet into a work of art!!!”

As I was daydreaming, I didn’t notice my teacher walk to the front of the classroom, worksheet packet in hand.   “Class, I need you all to look at this worksheet packet.”  I woke up from the daydream.  “It’s really happening!!!!” Then she spoke some more.  And she sounded really angry.  “This worksheet packet is disgraceful!  Someone has scribbled all over it!  Look at this fill-in-the-blank page.   The answers aren’t even right.  And this person can’t look for the correct answers in the word bank because, YOU CAN’T EVEN SEE THEM ANYMORE!!!!!  I don’t EVER want to see another worksheet packet like this one.  If I do, I’ll rip it up and throw it in the trash!!!!”

So that didn’t turn out like I imagined it would, but it didn’t stop me from being “creative.”  My work was often the example of what not to do.  But, sometimes, I got the five star review.  And that made all of the “this is total trash” reviews fade away, for that moment.

This craftivity is called QUILT CUBE.  (Click “QUILT CUBE” to get the template and instructions.)  As I was making the crayon patterns on the cube, I thought of the fill-in-the-blank page and laughed.



Cat Cones

cat cones
Click the photo for CAT CONES template and instructions.


When I was in fifth grade I got a book from the Weekly Reader book order called, “Save That Junk.” The author claimed that every piece of trash was a hidden treasure just waiting to be discovered; all you had to do was use your imagination and some crafty embellishments. As I flipped through the pages of that book, my imagination went wild! There were line drawings of previously discarded garbage transformed into useful knick-knacks. I couldn’t decide which craft to make first: Soda Can Wind Chime, Bleach Bottle Piggy Bank, Phone Book Angel, Paper Bag Purse, or Cereal Box Moccasins.

My sister’s ninth birthday was coming up, so I decided to make the piggy bank for her gift.   I begged my mom to “clean more stuff,” because I desperately needed a bleach bottle.  I also needed four empty thread spools for the legs of the piggy bank.  That was no problem; I knew where my mom kept her sewing stuff.  I quickly unrolled thread until I had four “used” spools.  The bleach bottle still wasn’t empty, so I decided it was time to clean the bathtub drain.   Now I had everything I needed to make a super useful thing out of used junk.

First I painted the spools with white house paint.  I accidentally spilled a little paint on the rug in my bedroom.  I didn’t have the right kind of glue to make the spools stick to the plastic bleach bottle, so I used chewed gum.  I snuck a knife out of the kitchen to make the necessary cuts in the bottle.  Because I never washed the bleach bottle, drops of bleach dripped out onto my bedspread as I carved the coin slot.  I used a permanent marker to draw spots on the pig. Each time I turned the bottle to make more spots, I was stamping the previously drawn spots on my new sweater.

I don’t remember if “Save That Junk” had any ideas for balls of tangled thread, a marker stained sweater, a rug caked with dried paint, or a comforter dotted with bleach spots, but that bleach bottle piggy bank was awesome.  It was hard to believe it was made from unwanted junk.  I loved it so much, I decided to keep it for myself.  For my sister, I made a birthday crown out of a paper grocery bag and some used wrapping paper. It was gorgeous!



“Save That Junk” inspired this craft.  I call it, “Cat Cones.” You only need one sheet of paper to make this project. (And if you were wondering, yes, it can be a used sheet of paper.) You can print the template and instructions by clicking on CAT CONES.