Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Love Lands

I've recently been reading more frequently. I find that it expands upon some of the information shared on Cynopsis! Kids and has a more international perspective. I was so excited when I found this article. Holy Sir Topham Hatt!

Drayton Manor is a theme park in England that recently opened a dedicated Thomas and Friends section. Thomas Land! Need I repeat that? Thomas LAND! The website promises "12 wonderful themed rides, a spectacular indoor play area and a shop filled with fantastic Thomas & Friends merchandise." SCORE!

My visit would be part of a fantasy trip to other lands across Europe. From England, I would travel over to Sweden to tour Astrid Lindgren's World. This is a children's literature fan's dream! The park includes Lindgren's home and theme areas of all of the writer's characters including Pippi Longstocking! From Sweden to Finland to visit Moomin World. The Moomins are the creation of illustrator and writer Tove Jansson. Though not very popular in America, the Moomins are sweet, well-loved characters throughout Europe and Asia.

Are there lands that I'm missing? I'm wondering if smaller theme parks focusing on popular characters or authors could survive in the States. What do you think?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Branch Innovation

While teaching in Massachusetts, I constantly had to remind my students that we needed to play non-violent games. This often included asking them to put down sticks or baseball bats that were guns or lightsabers. Scary fighting. Gone are the days of pirate fights and play-acting Peter Pan.

A friend recently introduced me to the thoughtful design of Naama Agassi. Agassi's website displays the work in beautiful fashion. My favorite product design is the branch holder. GENIUS!

Though pricey, this beautiful piece of plastic slips right onto a branch taking your outside games up a notch (or ten). Why stop at branches? A dowel would work too and might be a really great prop for your high school or community theater Shakespeare performances.

Had my students thought of such a clever addition to their props, I might have different ideas about redirecting their play. Maybe not. They would have definitely gotten major respect, though!

Sword fight, anyone?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

After posting a link to my experiment with stop-motion animation, I received an email from Ethan Danahy at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University. He encouraged me to try out the center's SAM Animation It seemed really interesting, and I wanted a chance to learn more about the center before officially leaving Tufts.

I had the pleasure of meeting Danahy this July. He took me on a full tour and shared information about the center's work with me. I kept thinking, "Why am I just finding this place now?" I would have loved the opportunity to work with them throughout my graduate studies. They are truly amazing!

Turns out, I did work with CEEO. They run a LEGO program called STOMP, which introduces engineering and robotics concepts to school-aged children (schools, home schools, and camps) using LEGOS. STOMP engineers visited my Kindergarten class in 2010. They loved working with the engineers and really adopted the process of designing, building, and testing their work. This program seems to be the center's most popular. The center has partnered with LEGO to develop engineering education programs.

Now onto SAM. SAM is a program that assists in stop-motion animation. It was developed at the center and used primarily to teach science and engineering concepts. It seems like the perfect STEM tool. I'm excited to experiment with it myself, just for fun. There is a version available online for free! You can read more about SAM, watch some videos, and get the program here.

Danahy gave me a tip about doing stop-motion in the future: the quality isn't necessarily your software, but your camera and your lighting. He recommended using a webcam and attaching it to a stand that the center helped design. Teachers can purchase classroom kits that allow stop-motion animation work to be part of the learning day. I think the program would be particularly interesting for New York City teachers who use the Moving Image Arts Blueprint.

CEEO's products are "research informed and classroom tested." Definitely check out the center and experiment with SAM. Feel free to post links to your SAM experiments here!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Small Gift, Big Smile

I’ve got a package to send to my sister in California. Every time we see our favorite Sanrio characters, Little Twin Stars, on something cute, we snatch it up and send it to one another. I love Sanrio. As a child, I loved the cute designs, delicate details, and opague plastic wrapping on their small products. My parents liked the price point. Now, I appreciate and respect the brand for its longevity and continued success!

None of Sanrio’s characters have ever had a successful television show in the States, yet they are internationally recognized and loved. There’s no Hello Kitty Land (to my knowledge, though it would be awesome), and Sanrio sticks close to its original mission to create character-centric products for kids. Theoretically, the first Sanrio fans could be in their 60s right now! It seems as if the only other character who comes close to Hello Kitty’s popularity and recognition is a mouse.

What Sanrio does best, though, is develop partnerships. For this year alone, their 50th anniversary, the brand partnered with Doctor Martens, Vans, Target, Jelly Belly, Pullip, and Momiji.

Most recently, they’ve created a corporate partnership with Yogurtland. This promotion includes Sanrio yogurt cups, character plush, a tee shirt, key chains, and spoons. The spoons are my favorite! Lucky for me, the only Yogurtland on the east coast is in my parents’ obscure New Jersey town. How cute does my dad look with a Sanrio yogurt cup?

Thanks to my parents' taste for adventure and frozen yogurt, we've collected all four spoons! What a super cute promotion! I think we could all take a lesson from Hello Kitty and Sanrio.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Craft: Fireflies

This summer, I learned an awesome, new craft from one of the other teachers. We were studying fireflies, so decided to help the students create their own fireflies out of recycled water bottles. I decided to try this out at home with my cousins.

1. Tape the very bottom of your water bottle with painter's tape or masking tape.

2. Paint the water bottle with acrylic paint, any way you'd like.

3. Once the paint has dried, create wings for your firefly. You may want to use construction paper, pipe cleaners, beads, etc. Elmer's glue should be able to hold your wings on, or an adult can help with hot glue.

4. You can use googly eyes or draw a face on your bottle cap.

5. Peal off your tape, and drop in a glow stick!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Guest Blogger: Xavier Raphael Vanegas

It has been a fascinating journey as I have been developing a children’s television show called
Fink Forest Friends, which received the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship. It seems many cable networks aren’t interested though in accolades, but two things: a fully developed show and ancillary possibilities - merchandise, video games, toys, and digital products. The brand started through its potential in the ancillary side with an eco-friendly plush toy line, now featured in a few boutiques around Los Angeles.

Now comes the bigger challenge - developing the show. Not just so that it stands out from the rest of programming on television, but how will it fare against the best kids' shows? Our show has to fit in a space between classics like Winnie the Pooh and hit shows like The Wonder Pets. My collaborator, Cathleen Cimino, and I love Josh Selig’s work at Little Airplane, which has been a huge inspiration for the development process.

Such work represents the kind of finesse and attention to storytelling we want for our program. At the same time we realize that the process cannot be rushed as we seek to uphold the integrity and original vision of the Fink world and its characters. Look at Pixar, they spend up to 8 years developing their brands for a film release. They’re the best studio brand right now and I think it has to do with development - allowing oneself to travel down one possible story path for a few weeks then say, "You know what, that isn’t working." So instead of forcing the charge forward, you can back pedal to a place where the infinite possibilities for the show are reset and the brand richly developed.

We are closer to developing our vision of the show. What started years ago as absurdist anti-plot mini comics where everything in the Fink Forest was just simple and cheery all of the time, has now evolved into developed characters and plots that follow 4 friends - Skunk, Lily the Red Panda, Moose and Bird as they learn lessons through their adventures and mishaps growing up in the forest.

Photo: Original Bird and Moose comic with simple, no plot or story line

The initial simple, plot-less concept for the Fink Forest Friends was a sort of backlash against Joseph Campbell from my days at the Film Studies program at Columbia University. However, in molding the substance of the show and making it more accessible to an audience, we’ve been conscious of keeping the original quirkiness intact. Now the characters are in the process of transformation from simple 2D drawing concepts to 3D models toward a new hybrid style of animation. There’s a long way to go, but it’s been an exciting process and we are hoping to release our first animation piece soon.

Part of developing the series involves having a clear consciousness of the world and the brand beyond the show itself, with cross-platform considerations like social networks and new learning-technologies and devices. It opens up an exciting realm of possibility because even the most inane detail in the story world can then lend itself for exploration in greater depth. I’ve seen this as an opportunity to make the world as rich as possible so as to encourage fans and participants to look deeper into it.

Photo: Developing the world of the Fink Forest

If I were to give one piece of advice to someone pursuing their own idea or show, I would probably say the most important part is the world building. Take time to bring depth to the characters and be open to creative dynamism brought on by writers and other collaborators. “Fink Forest Friends” continues to be enriched by this process, all towards the end of the final pitching of the show. We’ve been lucky to be able to work with incredibly talented writers who have taken the original Fink characters and breathed new life into them and shaped them into robust multi-dimensional beings.

The Fink Forest Friends are more complex and rich than ever before. I can’t wait to share the characters with the world. They are starting to become like actual people as to the level of depth woven into them. Now, I can anticipate how a given character will react in a given situation and as the plots unfold we learn more about each character, their habits, traits, fears, hopes, and desires. With great characters we’ll be able to deliver incredible stories. It’s been a pleasure working with our creative team and I think I have in turn become a better artist and storyteller in the process.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

King Bidgood's Bathtub Lesson

Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my students and Massachusetts friends. I'm glad to be home, but I think I miss my students most. I enjoyed working at the school and learning from the children. I absolutely learned something new from them every day!

Our summer preschool group did a pretty great project that I wanted to share. Have you heard of King Bidgood's in the Bathtub? It's the story of a king who is in his fancy bathtub and just won't get out. He eats, plays, and meets in the tub. Our group loved this story!

After we read the story, we decided to use clay to create a giant bathtub. The children then created items from the story to put in the tub. Once the clay was fired, painted, and fired, we recreated the story and put the items into the tub until it was filled. The children were also able to take their clay creations home with them at the end of the week.

Clay is an amazing medium for children to work with. This year I saw preschoolers work with clay for over 30 minutes just created and destroying different shapes. It takes a great deal of focus and energy and can be a lot of fun. Try it out!

If I were to do this again, I might use a sensory table as the bathtub. The clay bathtub takes some time to create and a lot of space in the kiln to fire.

You can get your copy of the book here!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Our Craft List

My cousins are visiting today, and we're working on an exciting craft project that we'll be sharing in a few days. Until then, my cousin Abby and I are brainstorming a list of crafts that we'd like to work on.
-Paper mache planets, creating the solar system
-A paper mache helmet
-Paint butterflies with acrylic paint
-Make fish out of water bottles
-Use brown paper to make white-tailed deer

We'll let you know what we work on and how it comes out!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Means Pearl

Family summer vacations remind me of Pearl. Pearl is the mermaid that my sister and I would spend our time with at the Jersey shore each summer. If we were lucky, we would meet her at Jones Beach for New York adventures, too! All of this happened in our mother’s Pearl stories that she would tell us throughout the summer when we were bored, tired, sad, or cranky. The stories were magical and soothing!

Last year I wanted to see if they still worked, so I tried them out on my Kindergarten students each day during lunch. They were entranced! The stories inspired a massive unit that included the students writing their own Pearl stories, creating underwater art, and a mermaid kingdom dramatic play. At the end of the year, I created a video version of the first story for the children to take home with them over the summer. I’ve run into several of my former students this summer, and they always bring up our adventures with Pearl and how much they enjoy watching the video. You can catch it here. I shared it on the blog last year. Below is a picture of our Pearl Underwater Kingdom dramatic play room including our wall of sea creatures and Mrs. Octavia Calamari's cave.

Why did my sister and I love mermaids so much? I was on Etsy a few months ago searching “mermaids,” a regular activity, and a glass, Avon mermaid popped up on the screen. This reminded me of my grandmother’s years as an Avon lady. It also reminded me that there was another kind of mermaid that Avon sold. She was blonde with a blue tail, and they sold bubble bath that I could still smell if I closed my eyes. With that, I searched Avon mermaid, and there she was. After continued Etsy, Google, and eBay searching, I learned that there was a long line of products with this mermaid on it. Her name was Sweet Sea. TOMY licensed the character and created products with Avon as well as toys sold in mainstream toy stores. I also learned that there was a television movie made. A new goal of mine is to purchase the VHS and create a digital version for myself.

While we’re on the subject of mermaids, I recently discovered an Australian tween series about girls who magically acquire tails. I was able to watch a few episodes thanks to the power of Netflix. The series is called H2O: Just Add Water and seems to be inspired by both Splash and its younger sister, Aquamarine. Nonetheless, it is adorable. If I was 11, that would be MY show!

Off to the shore for more mermaid inspiration. See you next week!