Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Tween and Teen Crafts: No-Cook Playdough with Robin Willis and Scout Jensen

Slime is still incredibly popular with tweens. And I’m amazed every day about how interested tweens are in arts and crafts that many would feel are “too young” or “retro.” So why not try DIY playdough? This is a fun STEAM activity that requires few ingredients and can provide a lot of fun in different ways. And if you are doing grab and go kits with tweens and teens the ingredients are few, cheap, and easy to measure out and put in pick up craft bags.

No cook playdough made by Scout Jensen

Robin Willis says . . .

During our current situation, we all need a little something to play with, something to make and enjoy. Why not a little playdough? I’ve had great success with the following recipe.


  • 2 Cups all purpose flour
  • 2 Tablespoons baby oil
  • 1/2 Cup salt
  • 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 1 to 1.5 Cups of boiling water
  • Food coloring


Mix flour, salt, and cream of tartar well in a large mixing bowl. Add baby oil and mix thoroughly (it will look crumbly.) Pour 1.5 Cups of boiling water into a large measuring cup and add food coloring. Regular food coloring will produce pastel colors, so use gel food coloring if you’re looking for vibrant colors. Pour about 1 Cup of the boiling water mixture into the flour mixture and stir well. If you still have flour at the bottom of the bowl after stirring well, gradually add small amounts of the water until it comes together.

Allow the playdough to cool!

Get it out and enjoy. You can make several different colors by adding the food coloring after you make it, rather than in the water, but this will leave colors on your hands as you mix it in.

Scout Jensen says . . .

Scout is 11, almost 12, and she’s going into the 6th grade. She is big into arts and crafts and has spent a lot of the pandemic doing arts and crafts that she has found on Tik Tok. One of those have involved making her own playdough. She found a recipe on Tik Tok by this channel and there is a longer YouTube tutorial:

This is a simple recipe that uses 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup salt, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Just add a few drops of food coloring to color your playdough. We used food coloring paste, which could be put into grab and go bags. We also experimented and used both water color paint and acrylic paint, which worked. Robin Willis also recommended using tempera paint powder.

She did this weeks ago and she stores her playdough in a plastic baggy and still takes it out occasionally and squishes it.

Both recipes work well and the ingredients can easily be put it plastic bags or small, plastic food storage containers to share in grab and go kits.

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Silhouette Mugs


Like most librarians, I get many ideas from Pinterest. When I saw a Disney castle mug made of decorative dots, I knew my teens would love it because Disney inspired crafts are very popular at my branch. Although we focused on Disney inspired silhouettes, any silhouette would work. In fact, you can turn your own photo into a silhouette using this tutorial.



  • Dollar Store Mugs
  • Paint Sharpies
  • Tape
  • A silhouette image for a template (these can be made on a cameo machine). You can also use large, removable stickers. For example, large letters for initials works well.

Here’s an entire Pinterest Board dedicated to Sharpie Mug Art


  1. Wash and dry the mugs
  2. Tape a silhouette to the mug. Make sure the tape is under the silhouette. You do not want to cover the part of the mug where you will paint with the tape.
  3. Make sure all paint sharpies are prepared and shaken so the paint will come out.
  4. Have teens test sharpies on a piece of paper so they are aware of how the paint will come out.
  5. Then have the teens start adding paint dots around the silhouette. Make sure they are very close together. If the cardstock is thick enough, it is fine to touch the cardstock with the paint pen. They need to make dots all around the image and as close to it as possible.
  6. This process can be done on both sides of the mug.
  7. Allow the paint to dry and then remove your silhouette template.
  8. To complete the mugs, you can instruct teens to bake the mugs at home in an oven for 30 minutes at about 350 degrees. However, this step is recommended but it is not necessary.


While your mugs are drying, you can tie this craft into the great artistic technique known as pointillism. Artists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac made entire masterpieces using nothing but dots and their artwork is still influencing artists of today. You can learn more about pointillism here.

Working Title/Artist: Study for A Sunday on La Grande JatteDepartment: Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1884 photography by mma, Digital File DT1026.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 9_29_11

Final thoughts: This was a fun craft. It is a little bit more expensive than some other crafts because of the cost of paint sharpies. Couponing can help. As long as the teens are patient, they should get good results.

Editor’s Note: This would also work well on a blank canvas, a t-shirt, or even on a piece of card stock that you then frame.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

TPiB: Locker Crafts

It’s back to school time which for a lot of middle school and high school teens means one thing – LOCKERS! Well, I’m sure it means a lot of things. But for the creative side of me it means LOCKERS! I love making a locker personal, which means MAKING STUFF. We’re all about making! So here are some of our current favorite magnetic crafts that would be great for a locker making event.

The key, of course, to locker crafts are magnets. I have something to say to you about magnets. When you go to the craft store you will find that the cheapest magnets you can buy are these:


DO NOT BUY THESE. They are self-adhesive but they do not in fact stick well. And because they are rolled up it is hard to get them to lay flat. Basically, I have nothing positive to say about this magnet approach except that it is, in fact, usually cheapest. And there is a reason for that.

So what do I recommend? These:magnets2

They seem to have the sticking power we need for our crafts and they are still self-adhesive, a bonus because hot glue it turns out is in fact really hot. I may or may not have recently have been reminded of that fact the hard way.

So now that we have the ever important magnet discussion out of the way, let’s move on to the locker crafts I have to share with you. And here’s an important thing, if you have some additional ideas, please do share them with me in the comments. I love new ideas.

Magnetic Memes

Made with some original artwork and the BeFunky app

Made with some original artwork and the BeFunky app

As you may have read, I am obsessed with making my own photos and creating magnetic frames. So obsessed, we recently painted The Teen’s closet door with magnetic paint so we could decorate it with all of our “locker crafts”. It’s all in the name of MakerSpace research, I swear.


But here’s why I like the photo memes:

1) Let’s be honest, I’m in love with my kids. But you don’t have to use pictures of your kids. You can make them with a picture of anything and a quote from anywhere. It’s an opportunity to be creative and personal.

2.) I love how it combines learning how to use tech with allowing teens an opportunity for creative self-expression.

Here is a short tutorial on making your own memes and here is our tutorial for how we made them into magnetic duct taped framed masterpieces that hang well in a locker.

Magnetic Memes, Take II – The Grid Photo


In addition to making photo memes, I am also obsessed with the grid photo. It’s a great way to show a relationship over time or highlight a special day or event. For example, here is a grid photo of The Teen and The Bestie ice skating the other weekend. It would be a great way to do the 12 years of school (see, obsessed with my kids). I have done montages of my marriage to The Mr., the girls over time, the girls with various friends, etc. I even recently made one for a friend and her husband who went on a cruise. Teens could do their senior year, homecoming, prom, etc.

To make the grid photos I use the grid option on the Photo Shake app. You can do something like 16 to 25 photos. It allows you to move the photos around. You can have frames or no frames. I have printed them out larger size and framed them so they decorate my walls. You can print them out in the smaller Instagram size and use the above mentioned magnetic duct tape framing technique to create a grid photo for a locker.

Magnetic Memes, Take III – Button Form, Kinda


If you have a button machine you can easily turn your buttons into magnets. You simply take out the pin, use the machine as directed, and put a magnet on the back. You just need to make sure it is a thick enough magnet to compensate for the inward curve of the button back. Teens can make their own photo memes as outlined above and use them to make magnets. I made this one using a Lego minifigure, a background, and the PhotoCandy app. I downloaded it into Publisher to make sure it was the correct size for my button machine and then printed it off and voila’ – I have a homemade and completely awesome magnet. We are doing this for our upcoming Star Wars Reads Day activity.

Magnetic Chalkboards


Yesterday I outlined two ways you can make chalkboards. Add magnets to the backs of your creation and you have a locker chalkboard. Again, you’ll want to make sure you use strong enough magnets because these are slightly heavier. They have 4×4 canvas frames that would work well for this craft. And in the comments Kirsten shares with us how you can make your own (cheaper) chalkboard paint in a variety of colors.

Magnetic Chalkboards Adapted into Dry Erase Boards


You can use the tutorial mentioned above with a couple of variations to make a dry erase board instead of a chalkboard. After cutting your matte board to size, cover it with contact paper. You can use white contact paper to get a traditional dry erase board look if desired. We used colored matte boards and clear contact paper to get various colors for our dry erase boards. They work really well.

Rainbow Loom Pencil Hangers


The Teen found and did this craft all on her own. Afterwards she came and got me and said, “Mom, this would be a great library program.” It was a proud day for me. She of course used a YouTube video as a tutorial, which you can find here.

Bottle Cap Magnets


This is a tried and true standby for us. As you can see, we have done a lot of variations: Minecraft, Divergent, Sherlock, Duct Tape, etc. You can find instructions here.

There you have it, some of my favorite locker crafts. These have all been tested by several of my teens have the teen seal of approval.

Have some of your own to share? Drop me a comment. I’m always looking for new ideas.

See Also: Teen Program in a Box: Send Them Back to School with Style

Teen craft cabinet essentials

When I began hosting craft programs at the library, I wondered how people could possibly talk about crafts as an inexpensive activity. Everything cost money! Even many “cheap” crafts don’t come cheap if you don’t have any supplies stored up. Case in point: Poetry Month favorite, blackout poetry.

Use your damaged and discarded books and newspapers and create inspiring poems by marking out lines and words with Sharpies… which cost over a buck a piece. If you don’t have a tub of them somewhere in your library to pull into the program room, that free program does actually cost money.

The most cost effective solution is to beg and borrow where you can, and kindly bring the Interlibrary Loan staff a tray of brownies every now and then as thanks for letting you borrow their Sharpies (or the scissors from the YS staff… or the knitting club for their cast off yarn…). But sometimes a teen librarian just needs her own stuff, kwim?

It takes time to build a great craft stash, so don’t be afraid to ask for the funds you need, but plan carefully too. Take into consideration what you have, what you want, and what you can add bit by bit in a logical way. Spend the funds you are allocated, too! Did you get $20 for a program and have $3 left? If your library works on a “use it or lose it” kind of budget, by all means use that $3 in a meaningful, appropriate way. Here are some of the little things that add up over time, but all make great additions to a teen crafting stash. Items to collect from staff members at no cost to you are starred.

Teen Craft Cabinet Wish List

(aka the “what to buy with the last $5” list)

Scrapbook paper

*Old magazines/books/comics

Tacky glue (if you have only one type, this is what I recommend for its versatility)

Glitter glue

Glue sticks



Scissors (Fiskars cost more but are worth it. With teens, you can get away with school size/quality)

Retractible utility knives

Duct tape

Washi tape

*Embroidery floss, yarn

*Multi-colored felt, fabric remnants and scraps

*Containers (glass jars, small boxes, Altoid tins, etc)

Puff paint

Fabric markers

Fine tipped markers

Colored pencils

“Grown up” coloring books (Dover always has a few inexpensive options)

Craft sticks

Paper plates

*Shopping bags (for toting items home)

Baby wipes (for cleaning up)

Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for sales on stacking containers, portable drawers, or just some shoe boxes for organizing your stash!

What else would you add? What are your most versatile craft stash pieces?  

Book Review and Program Ideas: Playing with Surface Design by Courtney Cerruti

When The Mr. and I were in college, he was an art major. I had the distinct privilege of of learning about an array of artistic ideas while watching him take classes. Because of this experience, or perhaps just because of the moments we’ve shared and the influence he has had on me, I’ve always had a tendency to involve arts and crafts into my teen programming in the library. As someone who intensely values self expression and learning, I think it is great to offer teens an introduction to a wide variety of mediums, techniques and opportunities to explore. You never know what might just click with them.

When looking for teen program ideas, I find that it is helpful to be aware of what books are in my nonfiction area. I try to thumb through them when new one comes in, making a note of any ideas I might want to tuck away for future use. Sometimes I will find a single activity that I adore and later use at a theme program, like a Doctor Who party. Other times I might find an idea or technique that I want to build a whole program around, like t-shirt alteration.

Playing with Surface Design is a book that is all about using things like stamps, inks, paints, etc. to alter the surface of something to create a new sort of something. With just a few simple techniques, you can upcycle something you buy at a thrift store to make it uniquely your own, for example. Or you can create your own package wrapping and ribbons, giving something that homemade touch that seems to say I love you and went through this extra step of effort. Or you can take a pair of thrift store shoes and make them new and personal.

Playing with Surface Design discusses four main types of surface altering: monoprinting with gelatin, paste paper, credit card painting and mark making. Mark making is literally doing things like making random marks on a piece of paper – and yes, it can mean scribbling – and then using that paper to make cool designs. Gelatin is like doing printing but instead of using a traditional ink you use a gel based ink. Paste paper involves using various combs and tools to make patterns on paper using paste and pigments. Don’t worry, it’s all explained really well at the beginning of the book.

Here are some examples of ways that you could use this book in teen programming:

1. Paste Paper Mobile

One program that I have done multiple times is a program called Renovate Your Room. It’s all about teaching teens simple things they can do to re-decorate their room on a budget. I will usually have a local interior design person come in to discuss basic things like layout and design, color theory, and even feng shui. Another activity I sometimes do is use a stack of discarded magazines and have them create a collage of their dream room using pictures cut from the magazines. And then we might do a simple activity, like some duct tape crafts that you can add into your room to give it some flair. On page 41, Cerruti goes through the steps of creating a paste paper mobile. This would be a great hands on activity for this type of a program. Also, if you were having a thematic teen program it would be fun to create a mobile for a background decoration.

Some of the other activities that would be great for a Renovate Your Room type of program include Painted Pillow Cover (p. 47), Color Play Lampshade (p. 53) and Scribble Garland (p. 81).

2. Making Polka Dots

I can’t believe I have never thought of this myself, but in the section on Study in Circles: Tea Towels (page 43), Cerutti shares how you can use bubble wrap and ink pads to make polka dots. You could do this, for example, in a t-shirt alternation program, or in a program where you make your own journals, papers, gift wrap and more. It’s quick, simple and kind of genius.

3. Framed Photo Mats

One of my favorite things to do with my teens is to do photography types of activities using apps with a variety of filters – it involves tech!  With the right tools – a smart phone or table and access to a printer – you can do a wide variety of fun programs with teens creating pictures, whether they be selfies, photobooths, or thematic. You could combine that with a program where you make your own photo mats using the techniques in Playing with Surface Design.

4. Back to School Crafts

There are a variety of activities that would be fun to include in a back to school program including Moder Black-And-White Book Covers (p. 69) Patterned Notebooks (p. 73), Making Marks Postcards (p. 77).

5. Earth Day Printmaking

As little kids, almost all of us did crayon rubbings of leaves and twigs and liked the outcome. Bold Botanical Prints (p. 61) takes those rubbings to the next level and teaches the basics of gelatin printmaking. The prints can then be framed and displayed in your teen area, or taken home.

Some of the other activities mentioned include making personalized notecards, stamping wrapping paper, making marbled tassles, and creating stamped-envelope keepsake pouches.

Other titles in this book series include Washi Tape (which I love) and Playing with Image Transfers (which I want desperately). There are some examples of artists working in the filed in the final portion of the book and I think it helps make the art real, pairing it to names and examples of people doing this type of art in the real world.

This book excited me with all of the creative ways I thought of using it in my personal life and teen programming. I found the directions to be pretty thorough and easy to follow. I definitely recommend it.

This book was sent to me for review as part of our Quarto Week here at TLT. Later today we will be hosting a giveaway for 5 of the books we chose for you.

About Quarto Publishing Group

The Quarto Publishing Group (formerly Quayside Publishing Group) books have earned a reputation for style and quality in the fields of art, crafts, hobbies, food and drink, nature, lifestyle, reference and children’s. The children’s program just launched in 2014 with the creation of Walter Foster Jr., but expanded dramatically with the “coming home” of our Quarto UK imprints Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and QEB Publishing, now formally published through Quarto USA.  In addition, a number of our general and specialty book imprints, such as Quarry Books, Motorbooks, and Race Point, publish books on history, craft, art, and other topics of interest to teen readers.  Visit us know at www.quartous.com and beginning this June at www.QuartoKnows.com.

Take 5: Postcards from France, programs, books and more for a France themed day (Quarto Week) (TPiB)

In my home, Paris is a dream destination. The Tween collects a variety of memorabilia and we tend to collect and read books that take place in France. This post for a Paris themed TPIB has been sitting in my drafts folder for a really, really long time. But I’m finally dusting it off and sharing it with you as part of our Quarto Week because of the book Origami City.

Origami City: Fold More Than 30 Global Landmarks by Shuki Kato & Jordan Langerak does exactly what you think it would do – it gives you step by step instructions for folding more than 30 landmarks out of paper. After a brief introduction giving you basic instructions and explaining the symbols used in paper folding, the various origami project are divided into geographic regions. The section on Europe includes a few French landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, the Le Louvre Pyramid and the Arc de Triopmhe. In addition there are some basic fun projects like a house, car, stop sign, park bench, etc. so you can, in fact, make a little paper city.

This book would be a great addition to our previous Eat and Read Around the Globe program outline that includes things like making postcards from each city and tasting the foods of the region. In addition to the France location, it includes the Taj Mahal (which looks awesome), the Tokyo Tower, Big Ben (Doctor Who program!), and the Sydney Opera House, to name just a few.

5 YA Titles Set in France

Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

Just One Day by Gayle Foreman

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Rook by Sharon Cameron

More YA Reads set in France

Craft Ideas:

French Manicure : Have a spa day and give yourself a French manicure.

Little Paper France : Make a little paper model of France that you can use to decorate. You can also decoupage the pieces onto a canvas or other cool thing – like a jewelry box – if you wanted. These pieces would be a great addition to your city that you make using the Origami City book.

Eiffel Tower Paper Banner : Decorate by creating a paper banner with images from France.

Edible Eiffel Tower : Edible crafts are yum.

Free Printable Paris Themed Bottlecap Craft Inserts : Use these cool inserts – which are Free! – to make bottle cap jewelry or magnets.

If you use the FilterMania app on a smart phone or tablet, there is an Eiffel Tower frame you can use to create cool pictures.

You can also use Instagram images and Publisher (or some other design program) to create Paris themed postcards.

About Quarto Publishing Group

The Quarto Publishing Group (formerly Quayside Publishing Group) books have earned a reputation for style and quality in the fields of art, crafts, hobbies, food and drink, nature, lifestyle, reference and children’s. The children’s program just launched in 2014 with the creation of Walter Foster Jr., but expanded dramatically with the “coming home” of our Quarto UK imprints Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and QEB Publishing, now formally published through Quarto USA.  In addition, a number of our general and specialty book imprints, such as Quarry Books, Motorbooks, and Race Point, publish books on history, craft, art, and other topics of interest to teen readers.  Visit us know at www.quartous.com and beginning this June at www.QuartoKnows.com.

About the Books Mentioned:

Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

Seventeen-year-old Julien is a romantic—he loves spending his free time at the museum poring over the great works of the Impressionists. But one night, a peach falls out of a Cezanne, Degas ballerinas dance across the floor, and Julien is not hallucinating.

The art is reacting to a curse that trapped a beautiful girl, Clio, in a painting forever. Julien has a chance to free Clio and he can’t help but fall in love with her. But love is a curse in its own right. And soon paintings begin to bleed and disappear. Together Julien and Clio must save the world’s greatest art . . . at the expense of the greatest love they’ve ever known.

Like a master painter herself, Daisy Whitney brings inordinate talent and ingenuity to this romantic, suspenseful, and sophisticated new novel. A beautifully decorated package makes it a must-own in print. (Bloomsbury 2013)

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Allyson Healey’s life is exactly like her suitcase—packed, planned, ordered. Then on the last day of her three-week post-graduation European tour, she meets Willem. A free-spirited, roving actor, Willem is everything she’s not, and when he invites her to abandon her plans and come to Paris with him, Allyson says yes. This uncharacteristic decision leads to a day of risk and romance, liberation and intimacy: 24 hours that will transform Allyson’s life.

A book about love, heartbreak, travel, identity, and the “accidents” of fate, Just One Day shows us how sometimes in order to get found, you first have to get lost. . . and how often the people we are seeking are much closer than we know. (Speak 2013)


Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris–until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all…including a serious girlfriend.

But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss? (Dutton 2010)



Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Readers of If I Stay and Elizabeth George will love Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, author of the award-winning novel A Northern Light. Revolution artfully weaves two girls’ stories into one unforgettable account of life, loss, and enduring love; it spans centuries and vividly depicts the eternal struggles of the human heart.

BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present. (Random House 2010)

Rook by Sharon Cameron

History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she.

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse. (Scholastic 2015)

All book descriptions are the publisher’s book descriptions.



TPiB: Herbal Bath Sachets (aka Tub Teas)

This morning as I walked outside, there was this gross layer of ice over everything that was practically invisible. The kids at the crosswalk were slipping and falling all over the place, and then it started to rain ice. Not hail or sleet, this was like little jagged shards of ice that were pelting my face. It’s still winter, and it’s going to be for a while here in the upper Midwest. All I wanted to do was go back inside and take a nice soak in a hot tub with one of these cute, easy to make, nice smelling sachets.

It’s an easy craft that would very nicely fold into a DIY spa program, a mother/daughter craft night, and it’s a great craft around a gift giving holiday for tweens and teens that want to make something nice and useful but have outgrown pinch pots and ornaments.  If you’re looking for an easy program with a lovely result, this is a great one to consider.


Size 4 unfilled tea bags

Epsom Salts (unscented, lavender, or eucalyptus scented)

Dried botanicals (lavender, rose buds, chamomile, lemon or orange peel, peppermint, eucalyptus, jasmine)

Hole punch

Scrapbook paper & markers for tags

Yarn or ribbons to tie

How to do it

Set out your herbs in bowls with spoons. Put the epsom salts into a larger container with a scoop.

Encourage teens to smell the different options, and if they’re  not sure what they want to combine, to add small pinches to their palm and see how their mixture smells before making a bigger batch.

Once teens have an idea for their combination, have them add a hefty scoop of epsom salts to the bag, then top it with roughly a quarter cup total of herbs. The salts will soften the water in the bath and also add some extra bulk, offsetting the cost of filling the bag entirely with herbs which can get pricey.

Some of the unfilled tea bags have heat seals, but the ones I used did not. To keep them closed, we folded them over twice, then punched a hole through all layers. This makes it easy to string a tag on (just remember to remove the tag before tossing it in the bath).  As teens make their tags, encourage them to come up with clever names for their blends, and especially if they are going to be given as gifts, include the ingredients.


Many dried herbs and botanicals can be bought online, but I purchased mine at a local bulk food store. This allowed me to buy smaller quantities and save on shipping. Call around to find out if your local shops have this option.

Some tub tea recipes include the use of essential oils. I avoided this with my program because of the cost and the fact that special care must be taken with some essential oils. If you have experience with them, or have some on hand, this is another option for changing up the scents.

The tea bags aren’t the strongest things. They’re plenty tough for steeping tea, but they can’t take much abuse. Remind teens not to overfill the bags, and to be gentle while handling them.

TPiB: Mexican Sugar Skulls Made Out of Clay (with links to a few other multicultural crafts)

As part of a Social Studies project, The Tween and her classmates had to create crafts to sell at a recreated “Mexican Market”. For our craft project, we created Sugar Skulls out of clay which proved to be very popular. Sugar Skulls are an important part of the Mexican Day of the Dead, or the Dia’ de los Muerto, which you can read more about here. There were also featured in the 2014 movie release Book of Life.

To make our sugar skulls we used a variety of materials until we found the combination that worked best. Because we are working with clay, this project is a two day project but the final product is epically cool and worth the time and effort.

For the actual skull, we tried both white air dry clay and colored Sculpy clay (which you have to bake). Both of the two types of clay were easy to work with. The Sculpy clay produced a cleaner and more polished looking product, but it was more expensive and of course you have to bake it. In terms of ease of use, the air dry clay wins hands down.

For decorating our skulls we tried a variety of applications:

Spray paint & carving (time consuming, a bit of skill required). See the black colored skull at the top left corner for an example.

Enamel paint (time consuming, more difficult to work with). Example not pictured.

Sharpies! – This one won hands down. They were easy to use and immediately dry which meant we could finish them quickly.

Easiest, cheapest & quickest combination: Air dry clay + Sharpies

Best looking, most expensive & most time consuming combination: Sculpy clay + Metallic Sharpies

So here’s the steps I recommend for completing this project in a library environment, which are not necessarily the steps I would recommend for doing this at home where you have more time and an oven.

Day 1: Sculpting your sugar skulls

Supplies: Air dry clay, some type of surface to work on (plastic table cover or place mat), clay or pottery sculpting tools, paper plates (to store the drying skulls on and remember whose is whose)

Time: As you get better, you can make 1 in about 10 to 15 minutes. So plan on making 4 to 5 per teen in a 1 hour period.

To make the skulls you basically manipulate the clay to get into the size and shape that you want. Starting off with a round ball helps. You’ll want to make sure that you kind of smooth it all over when you get it into the shape that you want so there are no rough edges.

Then set them aside and let them dry for 24 hours. You’ll want to make sure that your teens can identify their sugar skulls the next day so maybe have them place them on paper plates with their initials or names on a cart so you can wheel them out of the way to dry.

A note about colors: If you use just the plain air dry clay, your skulls will be a basic white. You can spray paint the skulls to add more color. To do this in a library programming setting I would preselect a certain number of colors – say 5 – and have the teens write what colors they want their skulls spray painted on the plate. A black skull with the metallic markers looks very cool. But a white skull with a variety of colors also looks cool if you want to keep it simple for yourself. To paint the skulls you’ll need to let them air dry for 24 hours then take them outside to spray paint them (in the grass or on say a flattened box) and let them dry for a minimum of 4 hours.

Day 2: Decorating your sugar skulls

As I mentioned above, using Sharpies to decorate the skulls turned out to be the easiest for us. We didn’t have to wait for a previous layer to dry. And those of us with less skill were still easily able to participate. And by those of us with less skill I mean me. After you look at a few pictures you can just be creative and go with it.

Remember that when dealing with crafts from a culture that is different than your own you want to do basic research to make sure you are being mindful of the meaning and history and sensitive to the cultures that you are exploring. Take a moment with each craft to make sure your tweens and teens understand the history and customs surrounding whatever craft you are making. You can make the craft for a specific program, like a Dia’ de los Muerto program full of stories and songs, that will help your teens understand this holiday.

Or you can do the craft as part of an overall multicultural craft day or series of crafts. I am including below a couple of other multicultural crafts that I have done over the years that might make for a great craft day or series. As always, you’ll want to do your research beforehand so that you are informed and can discuss the history and origins of each craft with your participants. Crafting can be a good way to engage tweens and teens in hands on learning while discussing issues of multiculturalism and diversity, the need to learn about and respect cultures different than our own.

Paper Fortune Cookies : Popularly associated with China, though these cookies are actually absent in China and may be based on a Japanese cracker. Also, you can make these cool fortune cookies made out of fruit roll ups.

Khamsa Hands : A Khamsa hand is a symbol of good luck from Morocco, Africa. It is often made out of various precious metals, typically silver, but for crafting and education purposes there are a variety of ways you can make these. You could go beyond the traditional paper format by making Shrinky Dink ones (blank Shrinky Dink papers can be bought at most craft stores and a toaster oven can be used for heating purposes).

Gyotaku : The traditional form of Japenese fish printing. You take a fish, and yes typically a real one though you can get fake ones for this, and rub it with ink and use it to make a print on paper, tote bags, t-shirts, etc. I first became familiar with this when The Mr. was an art major and him and his friends did it at an art party. He still has the t-shirt today he made more than 15 years ago.

Mini Pinatas : Pinatas are commonly associated with Mexico, though it’s history dates back to Europe. In fact, the word Pinata is a form of the Italian word Pignatta. It is believed that the Spanish brought the tradition to Mexico. For an edible variation, try these ice cream cone pinatas

More Resources
Simple Analogy: Multicultural Crafts for Kids
Multicultural Crafts to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month
Make Candy Sushi

TPiB: Touch Screen Gloves from the Robot Test Kitchen

There’s no need to spend big bucks on fancy gloves that let you use your touchscreen devices. In this inexpensive and simple program teens can make their own! This is also a great STEM related program for those of us who are more comfortable with traditional craft programs. It’s timely given the winter season fast approaching, and teens will end up with a really useful product that they can either keep and use themselves, or give as a gift.


supplies$7 Conductive Thread

$1 / 2 pairs Gloves

Needles & Needle threader

Fat markers

There are no real big expenses here as you can likely find some needles around the library or your own house. The bobbin spool of conductive thread linked above contains 26 yards, ample even for a large group. Teens can bring their own gloves from home, or you can easily find them this time of year at a Dollar Store.



Thread the needles with a couple feet of conductive thread.

Have teens select and put on the gloves, then pretend that they are using a handheld device. This is to figure out exactly where they want the conductive bits to be (hint: it’s not square in the center of your thumb!). Use the marker to mark the spots.

Stitching the finger padRemove the gloves and insert a capped marker into the first finger that you’re going to sew. This is so you can use your dominant hand to sew and still avoid sewing the fingertip closed!

With a simple satin stitch, create the conductive pad.

It’s important to get the stitches to go all the way through the layer of glove material. If the conductive thread doesn’t contact your finger, it won’t work.

Test out each pad after you finish stitching, but before you knot it off. If it doesn’t work as well as you want, add more rows of stitching in the correct places, being sure to go all the way through the fabric of the glove so that it contacts your hand.

After knotting off the work, leave a tail of thread inside the finger of the glove to ensure that there’s plenty of contact between your hand and the conductive pad.

If visuals help, this great video explains it all.

If you do self-directed programs at your library, this would be an easy enough activity to set out as a take-home with a few additional prep steps:

  • Cut lengths of the thread and wind them around cards – ideally instruction cards for this activity.
  • Consider pre-threading needles with the thread.
For more details on this project and lots of extension activity ideas, check out our review on the Robot Test Kitchen.



Quicky & Easy Program Idea: Bottle Wrapping

Bottle Wrapping

The town I live in has a local arts council, which does a lot of cool things. One of the things I recently discovered that they do is host what they call a “Pinterest Party”. They find a cool craft idea on Pinterest, gather the supplies to make it happen, and for a small fee you can come. Because it’s for grown ups, it usually involves wine and socializing as well. I love this idea for teens, but obviously without the wine. You’ll have to save the wine for afterwards.

The party I recently went to involved wrapping a variety of jars and bottles with things like yarn and twine to make decorative pieces. It was easy to do. And The Tween liked one I made so much she confiscated it and has made it into a pen holder for her desk. The other I might give to someone as a Christmas gift. (So if I give this to you as a Christmas gift, act surprised!)

I know that technology and MakerSpaces are all the rage right now in libraries, but I feel like old fashioned crafts meet a lot of teen needs as well: Teens can be active and yet meet their social needs; There is still creative and spatial thinking and planning involved; Fine motor skill manipulatives are always a good thing; and at some point problem solving will usually have to be involved (or maybe I’m just bad at crafting). Plus, I am a firm believer that STEM is enhanced when we add the A and remember to think STEAM – the arts are still important and can enhance STEM education.

What You’ll Need:

Empty jars and bottles (washed and dried out) – Wine bottles, olive jars, anything works
A variety of yarn and twine
Mod Podge
Sponge brushes
Charms and embellishments

What You Do:

See that big curvy part around the charm? That was hard.

You can start from either the bottom or the top (I tried both and found top down to be easier).

Apply some Mod Podge to your bottle and begin wrapping. You’ll want to keep wrapping one continuous string, so don’t cut it off of the skein. That’s why you need about one skein per person. You just keep alternating adding a little bit of Mod Podge and then wrapping your away around.

Make sure you are pulling it tight and avoiding big gaps in your rows.

They didn’t say to do this, but I did it on one and not the other and I think the one I did it to looks better, so apply a layer of Mod Podge on the outside when you are finished. It will dry clear and I thought it gave it a more polished look.

Use a matching or complimentary piece of yarn to thread and hang a charm onto your bottle.

Other people glued on flowers, made initials out of string which they glued on top, etc.

Why I Recommend It:

This craft was easy to do and it is one of those crafts you can do and still sit around and be social. Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of my tweens/teens are financially challenged so it is nice to have a program where they can take something home that they made and either use it to decorate their room or give it as a gift. This way, they have a physical reminder that not only did they accomplish and make something cool, but they’ll remember that they did it at the library and have those positive associations with the library. Craft programs affirm and empower our teens, they help them meet some of the 40 developmental assets (like their social needs), and they help make those positive connections were looking for.

Check out The Tween’s new pen/pencil holder

Also, check with your children’s department to see if they have left over yarn from previous events. Ask staff to save and collect empty jars. That will help bring the cost down but also makes this a great environmentally friendly craft – think Earth Day! – as you teach teens to upcycle.

Things I Learned:

Going around the curvier parts of a bottle is hard. Go slowly, doing only a couple of rows of yarn at a time and allowing it to get tacky before you add the next few rows. This helped keep it from sliding up and having wide gaps.

Yarn was easier than twine to work with and I felt like you ended up with a more colorful and polished look.

As I mentioned above, put a layer of Mod Podge on the outside of your bottle after you are done covering it in the yarn.