I introduced Perler beads as a maker option in the library this year, and I wanted to share some advice I wish I'd known before I started.
Perler beads, or fuse beads, are very small cylinders that can be arranged on plastic peg boards. You can use an iron or heat press on the design to melt the beads together, and then you have a 3D design that can serve as a nameplate, bookmark, earrings, key chain, or decoration.
I've seen this in secondary libraries (and I got a useful start from Kelsey Bogan's high school library blog tips), and I wanted to bring it to my elementary library, too. I wanted to have this as an ongoing station that's available all the time, but I see 800 students, ages 4 - 12 each week -- I would almost certainly have beads everywhere--so I needed more of a guided system. If you want to try them in your library or classroom, here's how I got started:
Scheduling the Makerspace Time
I started with an after-school craft club, made up of about thirty 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, who stayed for about 45 minutes after school. We did origami, rubber band bracelets, washi tape cards, and Perler beads. It was good to test drive the projects with a motivated group of students before I rolled it out to library classes.
For our makerspace workshop days, full classes came in, and students could choose from a variety of table station activities, including Perler beads. Since we have such a large school, we needed a lot of materials prepped and available for back-to-back classes. Some crafts were ready when students left the library, but Perler bead designs have to be ironed (and cooled). I couldn't do that while I was also supervising classes, but having volunteers on hand to iron them right away would have been really helpful. As the designs stack up, all those peg boards are used up, and space becomes limited to safely store the (relatively fragile) un-ironed projects.
I used sticky notes for student names and stashed them underneath the peg boards so that when I ironed them later, I knew which design belonged to which student.
As students are building their designs, it helps if they don't use one single line of beads (these are too fragile and might not fuse together). They should also avoid going right to the edge of the peg boards if possible (this makes it easier to iron).
What to Buy
You need beads, peg boards, a heat press, parchment paper, designs, bead storage, designs-in-progress storage, and finished design storage. You might also want work trays, tweezers, and bead vacuums.
Beads - So Many Beads
My biggest, most crucial tip is this: if you want students to be able to follow design patterns (not just free-design), buy the beads in pre-sorted packages. I saved money by buying two giant tubs of beads like this:
I don't want to confess to you how many seasons of various shows I went through over school breaks as I sorted 11,000 beads into fifty or so color containers - and I still wasn't finished. I had a very dear volunteer help with some of it, and very dear students come in over some recesses who sorted a few hundred, but it is not a sustainable process for a school as large as mine. Nobody has time to sort that many beads!
I did also buy additional packages of pre-sorted beads, and we went through some specific colors very quickly, so it's a good idea to get a lot of red, black, white, yellow, navy, and brown, in addition to orange, green, tan, pink, and purple. The extra colors in some designs, with fun names like toothpaste and butterscotch, do make a difference for shading and detail, but you could probably get away with standard colors and more basic design patterns.
I also bought a few design pattern books like this one, and some of the bead kits I bought came with design patterns. You can find designs online, and it would be a fun project to invite kids to make their own patterns on graph paper, too.
You will also need a heat press to fuse the beads together. It's a good idea to get one with a safety stand so you can rest the hot iron on it. Mine has a cord; it hasn't really been a problem, but a cordless one might be a little more convenient to handle.
Parchment paper protects the beads and the plastic peg board from the direct heat of the iron. I got 6-inch square pre-cut pieces, and because no library ever has enough money, I have been able to re-use the paper sheets multiple times before they wear out. They don't stick to the iron (of course you don't press it longer than a few seconds at a time). However, you do have to be careful about arranging the paper on the beads so you don't bump them off the peg board, especially at the edges, before they fuse together.
An alternate method is to apply masking tape to the finished design and iron over that, and that is definitely easier when you flip the design over to heat press the other side, but taping it is a tricky business - easy to accidentally pull up beads the students have arranged. Parchment paper works better for me.
Some of the best advice from Kelsey Bogan's blog (linked above) was to buy lots and lots of peg boards. If you have class after class building designs during one day, you need to have enough for each new student until you can iron the finished designs and remove them from the peg boards. Also, it's possible that you might warp some of the plastic boards due to heat from the heat press, so you might need replacements on hand.
Peg boards are available in lots of shapes and sizes - I got a lot of these squares, as well as some circles and hexagons. I also got some smaller plastic boards in the shape of flowers, stars, and hearts (some of these are included in Perler bead kits or with design books).
I tried two different sizes of food containers to store beads - larger tubs for storing colors, and smaller condiment cups for individual students at their work stations. The idea was that they could scoop out the colors they needed from the larger containers and take them back to their tables.
In practice, the lids on the larger containers were unwieldy for lots of students (although secure when latched), so I wish I'd found a better solution. The condiment cups worked pretty well - I ended up just filling several of them with red or yellow or popular colors and scattering those (with lids on) on each table. I did have some multicolor tubs out, too. Some students were more invested in using specific colors, so having plenty available to refill was helpful.
It's really good to think about this in advance - storing the sorted beads, peg boards, and designs in progress takes up space. I bought some plastic containers with latching lids to store the sorted bead tubs, and I bought some flat plastic case containers to protect and store the student designs that were finished, but not yet fused.
Originally, I planned to layer the designs on top of each other inside the cases, but I was too scared I would mess up the ones underneath, so I only used a single layer. I had to find space for the cases outside of the main library area so no students would accidentally bump in to the finished designs.
I did actually buy some recyclable trays for students to work on, thinking they could use them to safeguard their designs or bead cups, but they really haven't needed those - they just work on the table surface and it's worked pretty well.
I also got some tweezers to help handle the beads. Some students really like using them - others prefer to use their fingers.
It's not a must-have, but I also got the mini rolling bead vacuum, and it is so satisfying to use that students argue about who gets to clean the floor under the table. Of course, it collects all the beads together, so whatever falls will be mixed up and go in the multicolor bin.
If I had only upper elementary or secondary students, I think this would work really well as an ongoing station that students could come in and access. However, because I have very young students and my library space is designed so that they can touch and reach everything, I schedule Perler bead design work as an activity that happens during designated times. Rolling storage carts - one for designs in progress, and one that holds beads, design books, and peg boards - works best so that I can wheel the supplies out while they're in use.
This activity does require a lot of supplies, and it can get expensive for large numbers of students.
My students were highly engaged in this activity, although it was challenging for a few of them. Many of them chose to come back during recess times to finish more intricate designs.
Learning activities included reading and following diagrams with designs, experimenting with spatial awareness as they created their own designs, and persisting with an artistic activity from start to finish.
How have you used this in your library or classroom successfully? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments!
I'm getting requests for these books more and more lately from my students, so I wanted to collect an updated list. Many of these protagonists are Indian-American or Pakistani-American, while other books feature protagonists living in India or Pakistan.
Thirst by Varsha Bajaj
Minni and her family work hard to survive, and when Minni's mother has to leave for a month, Minni takes over her job as a housekeeper for a wealthy family. The 12-year-old girl in that family has her own private bathroom, while Minni has to stand in line to pump water, and then take time to boil it before using it for cooking or bathing. Minni has big dreams, but struggles to keep up with school and family obligations. How much is too much?
Also by Supriya Kelkar: Ahimsa and American as Paneer Pie
Also by Saadia Faruqi: A Thousand Questions and the Yasmin series - the latter targets early chapter book readers
Also by Reem Faruqi: Unsettled
Also by Veera Hiranandani: How to Find What You're Not Looking For and The Whole Story of Half a Girl
Also by Padma Venkatraman: The Bridge Home and Climbing the Stairs
Also by Kashmira Sheth: Keeping Corner and Blue Jasmine
Secondary readers may also try books by Mitali Perkins - I'm a fan of Secret Keeper. What other great titles are out there?
I hate to spoil things for any player - part of the fun is discovering surprises, making mistakes, and learning from them - so I haven't given away all the secrets in this Animal Crossing guide. Still, if you're searching about it online, it's likely you have questions. If you're running around with a swollen eye second-guessing whether you should have shared that scallop, you are not alone.
13 Early-Game Things I Wish I'd Known about Animal Crossing
1) You will get more inventory space in your pockets
The first chance you get, use Nook Miles to get the pocket organizer (unlocks ten more spaces in your pockets), and another expansion comes along soon after that. You won't always have to stop at your house, the museum, or the Nook brothers every five minutes to put things down - it will get better.
2) Select multiple objects when selling in Nook's Cranny
It took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize I didn't have to go up to the brothers and talk for each individual item - I could keep clicking on multiple things in my inventory before clicking "confirm" to select them to sell. If I can save just one person, this confession will have been worth it.
3) Get the ACNH app; re-consider the official print book
By its nature, the app can be updated, while the book, which I bought four months after the New Horizons release, was already missing some villagers and information. The only benefits to the book that I found were the efficiency flower-breeding charts and information about home and island ratings. I bought the book mostly to have the creature availability (time of year/day) and sell price, but the book lists those in two separate creature lists. The app has them all together.
4) The ladder and vaulting pole won't break like other tools
I was carrying extras of these to mystery islands at first, because I didn't want one to break and leave me stranded. You only ever need one of each.
5) Cover the holes with "y"
After you use your shovel to dig a hole, you can press "y" to kick sand/dirt to cover the hole up again, instead of pressing "A" again to use the shovel to fill it in. Note: you can accidentally pick flowers and other objects in front of you or under you with this method, so it works better on the beach than in the woods.
6) Changing your appearance
You need a mirror, which you can build when you get the DIY recipe, or buy, or receive as a gift. Place the mirror, then walk up to it and press "A" to get options.
7) Put Away Tools Fast
Click the down arrow on the left side to instantly store a tool in your pocket. It's nice not to have to whack your new neighbors with a net when they run up to say hello.
8) Where the Clothes Go After You Put on Your Wet Suit
Click "X" to open your pocket inventory and navigate down to the shirt icon next to the bells - it gives you the option to remove your wet suit, and then you can see your outfit again.
9) Re-Order Your Inventory
Open your pockets, select and hold an item with "a," and then drag it to the slot you want using the left stick. This is useful if, for example, you like having your tools in the top row.
10) Crafting Faster
If you press "A" at the workbench, you can craft DIYs faster; it's not a big time-saver unless you are making a lot of things in a row (like fish bait from a stack of manila clams).
11) Moving Furniture / Design View
If you move your left stick and press "A" at the same time, you can slide furniture. You can also press "A" and rotate the stick to rotate furniture. After you upgrade to a house (from a tent), you can press the D-pad to enter design mode, which makes it a lot easier to put items exactly where you want them.
12) You Need Iron Nuggets Early On
There's a challenge early in the game that requires iron nuggets and wood to craft specific items. The wood is easy to come by, but you'll need to master the rock resources (see below) daily to get enough iron nuggets. You can use a Nook Miles ticket to fly to a mystery island to collect more of these resources.
13) Animal Crossing is for Everyone
There isn't one way to play this game; there are different paths of emphasis and you can take the ones that interest you most.
You can collect the following in Animal Crossing: Villager Photos, DIY Recipes, Furniture, Clothing, K.K.'s Songs, Reactions, Museum Items, Gyroids, Bells and Nook Miles, and Plants.
You can design the following items in Animal Crossing: Furniture, Clothing, and Pathway Patterns, Home Decor, Island Layout, Themed Island Decor
If you aren't a collector or a designer, you can chat with in-game villagers, wander around the island enjoying the beach, or find a blend of all these that works for you. It's not just for kids, although it's family-friendly; there are online groups with thousands of adult players. No matter how you choose to play, the game is surprisingly addictive!
Animal Crossing - New Horizons (ACNH) is a game for Nintendo Switch. At its core, the game is about transforming a deserted island to a thriving destination. Players use the natural resources like shells, stone, and wood to build and trade items, and interact with animated animal characters who "move" to the island, or visit to sell goods. There is a lot of potential for creativity, and the game has a lot of concepts that translate to the real world.
Process Skills Students can Learn from ACNH
Players have to be able to read to engage with many aspects of the game. There are some actions that don't require reading, but villager interactions and early game challenges and "recipes" for building things require players to read to make in-game decisions.
Players have to manage money (called "bells" in the game), and make decisions about how to save or spend it. Villagers (in-game characters) also invite players to play a game called High Card, Low Card, which is good probability practice; with a scale of 1-9 in that game-within-the-game, even young students can play successfully. Players can also choose when and where to sell some items, so that they earn more or fewer bells, depending on the time or the buyer.
There are a ton of things to collect in this game! Fish, shells, bugs, fossils, artwork, recipes, flowers, music, furniture, natural resources, and villager photos are some of the categories, and there are a lot of different options within those groups. Players can keep track of these collections, and although they don't necessarily sort all the objects, they are working with groups of objects with clear commonalities. For example, players can collect fossils, sea creatures, art, and insects to put in a museum on the island. Each item is automatically sent to the correct museum wing and put on display with a placard of information, and players can tour each wing and see the different items together. Players can decorate by classifying with themed furniture, or designate island areas for different purposes, like amusement park rides or food courts or botanical gardens.
Players have a lot of choices about where to put buildings, furniture, plants, and decorations on the island, and also within their in-game homes. Further, they can also customize furniture and clothing objects - designing with patterns and colors that can show up on floors, walls, tables, chairs, and outfits. There are so many different items in the game that players can create themed spaces, from cute and cuddly to sleek and sophisticated. Spatial sense comes in to play, as size and shape and angle factor in to the placement of objects. The design aspect will appeal to creative minds - you can recreate realistic places, shape mountains and waterfalls and roads, or even the island theme song to your liking.
Players can experience seasons that match their hemisphere, and the seasons affect the plants, animals, weather, and bonus items that appear in the game. There is also a sunrise and sunset, and some in-game businesses (a clothing shop, the gift shop) close at night, so players can't access them if they are playing late or early. Plants mature over time, and buildings require time to be constructed, so delayed gratification is a factor.
Concepts Students Can Learn from ACNH
Sea Creatures, Insects, Art, and Fossils
As players find the first of each type, they can deliver specimens to the museum, curated by an owl named Blathers. He offers to share information about each item when a player donates it, whether it's a tiger beetle, a snow crab, or the fossil of a dinosaur tail.
Players can buy turnips from a visiting vendor and then sell them at a higher - or lower - price the following week. This feature introduces students to the stock market in a simple form, as they can decide how many turnips to buy at a given price, and decide when to sell as the price changes throughout the week.
The rarest colors of flowers cannot be discovered or bought in the game - they have to be bred from red, yellow, or white varieties of different species. Like the stalk market, this is an optional game element, but it offers a foundational understanding of genetics as players place flowers and offspring populate - either in the wild, or through controlled planning for specific results. Highly coveted blue roses require several generations to produce.
Social and Emotional Concepts
Of course a video game can't replace a club or a friend group, but Animal Crossing does include some social and emotional concepts. Other villagers teach the player's character dozens of reactions, which include body language and naming emotions like distress, joy, and frustration. Players can use these reactions in different contexts within the game.
Additionally, players interact with visitors by doing favors or exchanging gifts. While we may not want to teach students that they give gifts in order to get something in return, it does illustrate some reciprocity - that it is nice to give a gift to someone who gives one to you. Further, if players treat villagers with kindness (talking to them, retrieving lost items for them), or with rudeness (hitting them with nets or ignoring them), the villagers respond accordingly, so there is a direct connection between player actions and friendship with villagers, and while it's simplistic, that direct connection between types of social interactions and friendship outcomes may be a helpful illustration for some students.
Animal Crossing is a family-friendly game, and a great jumping off point for some fun lessons and creative writing.
Read more about how to manage Animal Crossing as a beginning player.
1) Lena's Shoes Are Nervous by Keith Calabrese
Lena might be ready for school, but her shoes have some reservations.
2) I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes
This book is outstanding! Everyone should read it.
3) Fry Bread: A Native American Family Tradition
by Kevin Noble Maillard
"Fry bread is time . . . fry bread is us." This picture book would be an excellent mentor text for student writers.
4) The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer
What happens to a book that was once popular and is now past its prime?
5) Muddy As a Duck Puddle and Other American Similes
by Laurie Lawlor
A simile from A to Z!
I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada. I love being a teacher-librarian!