Monday, 12 November 2012

Harry Potter Holidays

Sasha had Friday and Monday off from school, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of activities prepared to keep her busy for two whole days. Since we've been reading the Harry Potter books together, and she loves the hell out of 'em, I thought she would enjoy a load of Harry Potter themed activities.

My criteria for activities was:
  1. It must be fun.
  2. It must support learning.
    (Literacy, science, art, physical activity, music, social skills, problem solving, etc.)
  3. It must be relevant and doable for a single six-year-old who has only read the first two Harry Potter books.
I searched the internet for "Harry Potter activities for kids," but almost everything that came up was kind of pathetic. I tend to shy away from things that restrict kids' creativity, so pretty much any website that started with the words "free printables" was off the table. Coloring a pre-printed owl or doing a crossword puzzle? No thanks. One "top ten" list of Harry Potter games for kids I found was almost entirely composed of screen-oriented activities like marathoning the movies, downloading an iWand iPhone app, and playing trivia online. As much as I love the occasional movie marathon, that's not really a great option for Sasha, since a.) we have enough power struggles over movies as it is and b.) she already vetoed watching the movies because she thinks they will be too scary for her, and she's probably right.

What's a nanny to do?

Make her own activities, of course! Here's my lineup of fun, educational Harry Potter activities, after the cut.

1. Making Parchment
Sasha has asked for a description of parchment a few times -- she knows the Hogwarts kids do their homework on scrolls of parchment, but wasn't sure what parchment was. So we made our own! As a setup to the activity, I explained the history of parchment as an early form of paper different from what we use today. Since we didn't want to skin any animals to make parchment, we decided to just make a parchment-look-alike with regular printer paper and a couple of regular black teabags.

 What you will need:
  • white paper (printer paper works well)
  • baking sheet with raised edges
  • black teabag steeped in mug, bowl, or cup
What to do: 
  • put the paper in the baking sheet
  • steep the tea bag in shallow hot water
  • when the water is cool enough for kid fingers to touch, let the kid rub the tea bag all over the paper on both sides, dipping back into the mug as desired. It’s okay if the tea bag breaks (we broke two), the tea grains will just add more texture!
  • allow to dry flat on a drying rack or clipped to a line. This may take all day! (You could probably speed up the process with a blow drier though.)
  • You can write or draw on your parchment when it’s dry if you like — you could even use it for the Owl Post activity listed below!

Bonus: If you've got the materials for it, writing with ink and a quill on your parchment is awesome. I happened to have a bottle of India ink from my comic inking days and a few chicken tail feathers from when our chickens were molting a few months ago. Even though this was a last-minute edition to my lineup of activities, it was probably Sasha's favorite thing we did -- she kept coming back to the quill and ink and writing/drawing more (on printer paper, construction paper, any paper she could reach). The only major warning about this activity is that this ink will stain things! I had to do a lot of "go wash your hands. With soap!" coaching afterward to keep the ink off the chairs and walls.

2. Potions

Okay, so this is actually just my favorite science experiment but with magical ingredient names. This is a twist on the classic baking-soda-and-vinegar reaction. Since Sasha likes art, I thought she might like the “color change” aspect of this experiment in addition to everyone’s favorite fizzing bubbly mess aspect.

What you will need:
  • cabbage juice (boil all or part of a red cabbage for 20 or 30 minutes, until the water is a deep purple. Allow time to cool.)
  • baking soda
  • vinegar
  • optional: other household acids and bases like lemon juice or hydrogen peroxide, and dishwasher or laundry detergent
  • several small bowls, cups, or jars

What to do:

Label each item with a potions ingredient from Harry Potter. I did "Aconite" for baking soda, "Dragon Blood" for the cabbage juice, and "Acromantula Venom" for vinegar. Divide the cabbage juice into the bowls and add the baking soda and vinegar to the cabbage juice. Let the kid explore: sometimes add both ingredients, sometimes just one; sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot; stir or blow on it, add an ice cube, whatever they want to try to see if different reactions occur.

The science:  

Red cabbage juice is a pH indicator. It will turn blueish when it comes into contact with a base (like baking soda) and reddish with an acid (like vinegar). Plus, when vinegar and baking soda interact, they fizz and bubble (the classic science fair volcano) as carbon dioxide is released. So basically, this activity produces color changes and fizzing, plus it encourages kids to form hypothesis and then test them with active experimentation. They can also name their potions and describe what effect the potion might have if it were used! Sasha said our potion was "for flyin'."


a.) Even though this is a "potion," I always like to discuss the real ingredient names and a succinct explanation of the chemical reactions alongside the "magic" because I think it makes the activity more meaningful (and no less awesome and magical).
b.) For variations on this activity, check out this general chemistry website.

3. Show your House colors!

This is a calm, simple art activity. Sasha is absolutely positive that she's got the heart of a Gryffindor, and as much as she'd like a red and gold scarf to prove it, her knitting skills are mostly tangled yarn and frustration, and mine aren't much better. So, the easier wearable alternative is bracelets!

this is mine... I'll try to get a picture of Sasha's if she'll hold still long enough.

What you will need:
  • beads (I like to use big pony beads because they're easy for young kids to thread) in House colors
  • embroidery floss in House colors
  • scissors

What to do:

You can either just let the kid string beads onto the embroidery floss and tie it when it's the desired length, or you can do a more elaborate friendship-bracelet style accoutrement. The easiest styles are a regular braid (three strings), and an overhand knot bracelet. Add beads as desired. Sasha was challenged enough by just stringing beads onto embroidery floss; I preferred to represent my House (Ravenclaw!) with the more complicated overhand knot.

For reference, in case you're not as completely detail-oriented as me when you read the Harry Potter books:
  • Gryffindor: red and gold
  • Slytherin: green and silver
  • Ravenclaw: blue and bronze
  • Hufflepuff: yellow and black

4. Grow your own Mandrake

This is essentially a do-it-yourself chia pet. In Harry Potter, Mandrakes appear in book two during Herbology class. They are described as tufty plants with ugly little babies where the roots would be on a normal plant. Sasha was psyched when I mentioned growing our own Mandrakes. 

uhh... I'll try for a better picture soon. Hopefully when it has hair.

What you will need:
  • Nylon or other thin, loosely knit sock
  • dirt (and possibly a spoon or small shovel to dig it up from the flowerbed)
  • grass seeds (millet birdseed or chia seeds work too)
  • a jar or glass (preferably see-through)
  • scissors
  • two rubber bands
  • decorating materials for your mandrake and/or their jar (markers, paint, googley eyes, glue, puffy paint, glitter glue, tissue paper...)
  • water
What to do:
  • Cut off your nylon a few inches above the heel and put first seeds, then a cup or two of soil in the toe. 
  • Tie it off with a rubber band so that you have a ball of soil with a long nylon "tail" hanging below it. The ball will need to be big enough to rest on top of your jar without falling in.
  • Grab a chunk of soil from the middle of the ball to form the Mandrake's nose and tie if off with a rubber band.
  • Decorate your Mandrake (eyes, a mouth, whatever you like. Just leave its head bald so the grass "hair" has room to grow!) and its jar (optional)
  • Fill the jar partway with water and place the Mandrake so that its "tail" is submerged at least two inches in the water and its head balances on the top of the jar.
  • The Mandrake will "drink" the water in the jar so you don't need to water it, just refill its jar when it gets low. You can spritz its head with water if you like.
  • It may take several days to start sprouting -- put it in a sunny spot and make sure it always has water!
5. Send a letter by Owl Post

This is a wizarding variation on Message in a Bottle. In the Harry Potter universe, witches and wizards send their mail by owl post. So in this activity, you'll make your own owl that can really carry your letter (or artwork) to a friend or family member via the US Postal System. Sasha had a hard time conceptualizing what I meant when I said "let's turn this bottle into an owl!" without an example to look at, so after she half-heartedly taped two floppy pieces of yarn to the neck of the bottle, I took it home and made it into an owl myself. If we had had more time (and a second bottle), my owl could have served as an example, and she could have made her very own to send instead of just sending mine.

What you will need:
  •  a plastic bottle (like a soda pop bottle, I used a cider vinegar bottle) or similar object, with lid
  • scissors
  • packing tape
  • glue
  • construction paper, tissue paper, googley eyes, feathers — whatever materials you’d like for decorating your owl
  •  paper (or parchment) on which to write your letter (or draw a picture)
  • any small objects you'd like to include with the letter, like beads, glitter, shells, stickers...

What to do: 

  • cut off the top of the bottle to make it easier to put your letter in it (this step is optional -- we didn't do it). Later, you can tape it back on with packing tape to "reseal" it.
  • decorate the bottle to look like an owl! I cut brown construction paper into wide strips, then cut each strip to have a fringe, and glued each to the bottle to give the owl a feathered, layered look. I also did yellow construction paper for the beak and the feet, and yellow googley eyes because I love googley eyes.
  • write your letter (or draw a picture) and stuff it into your owl! 
  • adhere the recipient's address to the owl's back (or wherever you like), then take it to a post office to have it weighed so you can pay exact postage to send it.

6. Miniature Dragon Eggs (snack)

In the first Harry Potter book, the Hogwarts gamekeeper (and Harry's first friend in the wizarding world) Hagrid wins a dragon egg from a stranger in a pub. He keeps the egg in the fire (because mama dragons breathe fire on their eggs) in his cabin until it hatches out a spiky black Hungarian Horntail dragonlet named Norbert. The dragon grows fast and eventually gets rehomed from Hogwarts to Romania where it can live in the wild with other dragons. In honor of Norbert and Hagrid, I thought it would be fun to make our own, very tiny dragon eggs! 

not my photo! We only made one and Sasha ate it too fast for pictures. This is from the article linked below.

What you will need:
  • a hard boiled egg or two (they don't have to be white)
  • cups that may get stained or a muffin tin
  • dye tablets (like for dying Easter eggs) or regular food coloring
  • vinegar or water

What to do:
  • Prepare your dye (tablets or food dye drops in vinegar or water) one color per cup or per muffin tin spot
  • Roll your eggs around so the shells are moderately cracked all over, but don't peel them!
  • Place the eggs in the dye. The longer you leave them the brighter they'll be.
  • Once they dry, peel and eat them! They will look something like the picture above. (That recipe calls for boiling the eggs in dyed water, but I think the cold vinegar-and-dye soak is more kid-friendly)

That's it for now! We interspersed all of these activities with Harry Potter reading (we just started book 3) and some Harry Potter drawing (and even hangman, spelling some of the names like Harry and Ron).


1 comment:

  1. AWESOMENESS!!! I sooo want to do these activities. Wish I were your kids! Thanks for sharing these ideas. I'll have to try to think of an opportunity to do them. :p You are so cool. Love, KMR