When my children were little, we headed to the library almost every week. They signed up for Summer Reading Clubs, but our reading programs didn’t have activities like puppets, magic shows, visiting animals or hands-on science projects, nothing like the Mansfield Public Library’s Summer Reading Program.
So when it was time for our next episode of Let’s Try It, I was all about finally getting to participate. For those of you who don’t know, this series of stories is about entertaining things to do in Mansfield. Enterprising reporter Coleen Daniell and I don’t just report these stories, we dive in and participate.
On Thursday, we headed to the Mansfield Public Library to create straw rockets. Coleen was running late, leaving me alone with a roomful of competitive tweens, teens, their moms and grandmothers. The kids couldn’t seem to understand that I wasn’t just watching like the other grown-ups in the room I was there to build my own rocket.
But they got the picture somewhere between me trying to use a set of teeny-tiny safety scissors and me dominating them in the distance event.
Here’s how it worked. Youth services librarian Yolanda “Yolie” Botello quickly explained how to turn a piece of paper into a paper rocket, how to cut out tiny fins and bend them to learn about aerodynamics and then shoot them using plastic straws. The idea was to see how far we could launch them, using markers on the floor of up to 20 feet, then to go for accuracy, trying to hit a plastic shopping basket or a sombrero sitting on a chair.
Only one rule, Yolie said, don’t shoot the rockets at each other.
The kids, who ranged in age from 10 to 15, started cutting, wrapping and taping our paper slips around pencils to make tubes, closing one end and taping the little fins on the other end.
Most of the kids got done before I did. (Their fingers actually fit into the little scissors. Yolie felt sorry for me and got me a pair of adult-size scissors.)
Then they started shooting. Hey, that looked easy. They lined up and started launching their rockets, 4 feet, 6 feet, even 12 feet. I could do that.
I decided to try a test run before I lined up for competition. I mounted my rocket and blew. And blew. And nothing happened. I blew some more. I started to get light-headed and a little dizzy. Moms started to giggle. I moved my rocket a little higher on the straw, might as well give it a head start, right? And BLEW! My little rocket suddenly popped up and fell about a foot away. Wobbled in the air and plunked down about a foot away.
Well, at least it got off the straw.
OK, let’s do this. I lined up with all the other kids. I watched their strategies. I studied their form. I saw who was doing well and what they were doing. Andrew Nicks, 13, arched his straw up and his was sailing farther than anybody else’s. My turn, I used Andrew’s trick and my straw sailed about 10 feet away. HECK, YEAH! Take that, kiddies!
I lined up again. I’ve got this, I figure. I arched my straw, sucked in air and blew. And my little piece of paper shot off the straw like something designed by NASA, sailing well past the 20-foot mark and me jumping all around the room, waving my arms in the air. OH YEAH!! Uh huh! In your little kid faces. Boom!
Time for accuracy, I was on a roll. I blew and my little rocket sailed over the basket, over the sombrero and hit the door about 5 feet beyond. Well, ok. So accuracy was going to take some time. I tried a couple more times, and let’s just say that I’m better with distance.
Coleen finally arrived and immediately started talking trash, explaining that she has years of experience shooting paper wrappers off her straws and at unsuspecting offspring. Uh huh. She puffed, she launched. Her rocket went 10 feet. Second shot, 12 feet. Not so easy, huh, Coleen?
About this time Yolie started announcing the awards, Edgar Carnes, an 11-year-old aerodynamic engineering whiz from Mansfield, earned a Frisbee for his 18-foot shot. Yolie explained that my STILL UNMATCHED 20-foot launch was disqualified because of my age. Either fear of an age-discrimination lawsuit or my pouting face caused her to reconsider and I brought home a stuffed tiger. Uh huh! That’s what I’m talking about.
Coleen lined up to try for accuracy, missing her first couple of shots and starting to get a little bothered. Turns out, only five kids in the room actually managed to hit the basket or sombrero. While they picked out their awards, Coleen kept trying, watching as Edgar’s 8-year-old little sister, Sephora, dropped her rocket in two times in a row.
Coleen, who seriously needs some counseling for her competitive issues, finally hit the sombrero (even though she later admitted that she was aiming for the basket). Her victory dance would have done Deion Sanders proud.
Of course, since the competition was already over, she didn’t earn a prize.
We both loved this project, how with just paper and straws Yolie managed to engage an entire room of kids. This year’s theme is STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) based, she explained. But she makes learning fun. The tween and teen programs are held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, while the programs for younger kids are at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays. All the programs are free.
The July 24 tween and teen program will require preregistration and be limited to the first 25 kids, who will be building Artbots, actual robots with markers for legs that move and draw.