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Craft a Colonial Water Cooler

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See more activities in: Fifth Grade, Fall

Not everything from the "lost colony" of Roanoke Island was lost—letters, drawings, and journals tell something of how the North Carolina colonists lived before they disappeared. Illustrations by colonist John White show bottle gourds growing in Roanoke gardens, which were used as "water coolers." Turn a craft gourd into a natural "water cooler" that works just as well today as it did in the 16th century.

You can find lagenaria siceraria, or bottle gourds, online. This craft calls for two gourds, but consider ordering an extra one in case one breaks. Look for one gourd with a melon-sized bowl and narrow neck, and another with a larger neck that will fit over the neck of the first gourd. If you shop in person, choose gourds that are dry but not brittle.

What You Need:

  • 2 dried bottle (dipper) gourds
  • Fine-tooth hacksaw
  • Rubber band
  • Pencil
  • Safety glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Leather gloves

What You Do:

  1. Important Safety Note: Before you do anything, talk about safety with your child. Sawing into the gourds creates dust that is irritating to the eyes and lungs. You and your child must wear paper particle masks and safety glasses throughout the craft to protect eyes and airways. Leather gloves are also essential to protect fingers, however, they can only give so much protection. Make sure your child saws slowly and carefully and keeps his fingers away from the blades.
  2. Once you and your child are clear on safety, begin the craft by prepping the gourds for sawing. Place the rubber band around the gourd with the thicker neck, about 3-4" down from the top. Draw a line around the neck of the gourd just under the rubber band, using the rubber band as a guide.
  3. Remove the rubber band and place it around the thin-necked gourd about 4" above the bottom of the neck. Draw a line around the neck following the rubber band.
  4. Before cutting into the gourd, do a few practice cuts. Cutting a round object is tricky, and practice will help you get the hang of it. Try a practice cut on the gourd with the thinner neck, above the line. This part of the neck will be discarded. When your arm "gets tired" (when the saw no longer jumps), it's your child's turn. Ask him to stop about half-way through the neck, then start real cuts on the marked lines yourself.
  5. After making the initial cuts, hold the gourds while your child saws along the lines. Take turns sawing if necessary. You may need to rotate the gourds midway.
  6. Now clean out the gourds. Ask your child to scrape out the cup piece with a spoon. Loosen the debris inside the container piece with a spoon or chopsticks, then pull and shake it out. Rinse both pieces several times in clean water.
  7. Have your child fill the cooler with water (only) and fit  the cup piece over the neck like a lid. Place the gourd in a cool, shaded spot with a slight breeze. In an hour or so, you'll see water "sweating" through the gourd walls. As the water evaporates, it cools the remaining water!

Enjoy a cool drink and admire your handiwork. By the time the colonies had established a firm foothold in America, some 70 years later, colonial potters and smiths were making cups from clay and pewter.

Updated on Nov 6, 2013
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See more activities in: Fifth Grade, Fall
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