Little Hands Art: Bubble Blowing

Painting with bubblesDiluting regular tempera paints with water and adding a little dish soap creates bubble paint. Blow bubbles, and when the bubbles pop against the paper, they leave a complex bubble shaped paint ring. The pictures don’t do a very good job of representing the results, since the bubble impression are rather faint as a rule.  The blue painting in the left of this picture, for instance, actually has a honeycomb of bubble rings in the center of what looks like an empty circle. In real life they are much more interesting.

There are two main ways of popping the bubbles against the paper. First, you can use a bubble wand (or a pipe cleaner bent to the proper shape) to blow a bubble directly onto the paper. This method produces an expanding circle of color as the bubble grows along the paper, with a darker outside ring when the bubble pops. That popping action also sends minute drops of bubble paint splattering to make teeny tiny drops on the paper (and sometimes on the face as well….)

Bubble paint in a bowlThe second method is to use a straw to blow bubbles into the bowl of bubble paint, and then lay the paper on top of the bubbles. This pops the bubbles onto the paper, leaving a complex honeycomb of multiple bubble rings with no splattering.

Both methods are fun. I personally found the bubble wand pictures to be my favorite mthod. This particular group of children, as well as my own preschooler when I tried this at home, heavily favored the blowing bubbles into the bowl method, likely because it’s fun to blow bubbles with a straw. As one of the children exclaimed, “I’m never allowed to blow bubbles in milk! And this is even messier!”

Painting with a pipe cleanerBecause this is process art and there is no wrong way to create art, we also had some children who used the pipe cleaners as paint brushes to paint pictures both abstract and representational.

Exploration Station: Sound

Exploration Station pictureFor this month’s Exploration Station we are listening. This particular station is extremely simple in concept: there are ten tubes with objects inside that will make a noise. Half of the tubes are covered in paper, the other half are left clear. Young children are encouraged to shake the containers and listen carefully to the noise that is produced. What words would they use to describe the sound? Is it a soft sound? A hard sound? Additionally, can they match the mystery tube that is covered in paper with the clear tube that makes the same sound?

This activity is not about learning the science of sound, but rather about refining observation skills. We generally think about observation in terms of sight, but learning to listen carefully is also an important component of taking note of the world around us. Young children can also practice the mathematical skill of matching, as they try to determine which two canisters make the same sound.

Exploration Station on listeningFor the record, these are quarter size coin tubes with their lids glued shut. They separately contain sugar, water, a marble, sunflower seeds, and those magnetic colored circles some people use for Bingo. I wanted to represent several different types of sounds, some that were very farm from one another (water and the marble, for example) and some that were similar but still distinct (such as the Bingo markers and the sunflower seeds.) I had some of my coworkers test the similar sounds to ensure that they really were distinct enough to be differentiated.

You will note the strings leading away from the tubes. This is to keep the containers from wandering away from the Exploration Station table, which is a problem we have had before with some of our materials. Because the strings needed to be long enough for children to pick them up and shake them, they do get tangled easily, but I haven’t come up with a better solution so far.

Science Storytime: Baking soda and Vinegar

Baking soda and vinegarBaking soda and vinegar: possibly the most popular childhood chemistry experience. The ingredients are cheap and the results are spectacular, making this a perennially used activity for children.

To start the program we talked about baking soda and vinegar as separate substances. All of the children had used baking soda to make cookies or cakes, and several had already done the “volcano” activity at home or school. We talked a little about how baking soda helps to make cupcakes rise up while they are baking. I told the children that when baking soda and vinegar are mixed together, they make a gas called carbon dioxide, and the gas being released forms bubbles in the liquid. I then demonstrated. Then I wondered aloud about what we use when we blow bubbles. Soap was one of the answers, so I suggested that maybe if we added soap, the carbon dioxide would blow bigger bubbles using the soap, just like we blow bubbles on a bubble wand. I’m not sure if everyone understood what I was talking about, but they were definitely eager to try it out. Adding the dishsoap significantly increased the volume of bubbles, so it was deemed a success.

Baking soda and vinegar inflate a balloonThe main concept I wanted the children to take away was that mixing the ingredients created a gas, which could blow things up. Our next demonstration of this was to put a balloon on top of a water bottle containing vinegar. We put baking soda inside the balloon and shook it into the vinegar. The carbon dioxide caused the balloon to begin inflating.

Next, we made exploding baggies. We put the vinegar in the baggie, then wrapped baking soda in toilet paper. We then tossed the toilet paper/baking soda bundle into the baggie and hurriedly closed it up tight. The resulting gas blew up the bag enough to make them explode with a loud pop. The toilet paper package is to keep the baking soda from reacting immediately with the vinegar, allowing you time to close the bag up securely before the gas begins to be produced. Children quickly realized that shaking the bag slightly helped to accelerate the mixing of the two substances.

Baking soda and vinegar about to explode from a baggie

Since several of the children had already experienced a baking soda “volcano”, they were eager to see that recreated. It wasn’t hard to use one of the water bottles, add a little dish soap, and create that classic “volcano” effect. I hesitate to refer to them as volcanoes, because the chemical reaction, flow rates, temperature, etc, are all so different from the real reactions of a true volcano.

After I had demonstrated all of the possibilities, I let the children and their parents interact with the materials on their own, recreating the things I had done or experimenting on their own. This was a very popular Science Storytime, with lots of engagement and interaction.

Engineering Challenge: Building Bridges

Building a bridgeOur kids’ engineering challenge this month was to build a bridge that spanned one of the library’s delivery boxes and would support the weight of a bottle of paint. Before we started building we talked about the three major types of bridges, the truss bridge, the suspension bridge, and the beam bridge. I then reinforced the engineering process, and that re-designing and trying again are important components.

A bridge made of stringFor supplies I provided pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, string, newspapers, masking tape, straws, and scissors. Our first level of challenge was to build a bridge over the short section of the box. The second level of challenge was to build a longer bridge over the long dimension. The third challenge was to remove one of the materials they were using, so build without straws or without pipe cleaners. Only two of the children took me up on the third challenge, the rest wanted to free build and improve their existing bridges once they had passed the first two challenges. Adding extra paint bottles was a common self-imposed challenge.

Bridge built of popsicle sticks and stringIf I had been building a bridge, I would have used rolled up newspapers to make a beam bridge, but no one tried that. The most popular design choice was essentially a suspension bridge, with string or pipe cleaners attached to each side of the box. This still left a lot of room for individual creation, and while there were a lot of variations on that theme, none of them were duplicates. Interestingly, as far as I can tell none of the children were influenced by the work of others. This was simply a popular design.

Little Hands Art: Balloons and Yarn Painting

Painting with balloonsIt was a beautiful spring day today, so I was not terribly surprised when we had a much, much smaller crowd of children at this program. The few children who did attend were very young.

Theoretically we were going to be painting with balloons and yarn, two “paintbrushes” that are not normally used. The children were so young that they were mostly still at the stage where they are exploring the concept of paint, so there was a lot of finger painting and discovering what paint tasted like, rather than purposefully working with the balloons or yarn, but everyone had fun and it was still a productive activity in that the children were able to experience how paint interacts with the world and the ways in which they can manipulate it.

I played around with the supplies myself. The yarn did not work as well or as easily as I thought it would. Perhaps my tempera paints were too thick? Or perhaps the particular yarn I used was not good for the job? For whatever reason I found that the paint did not stick to it very well. Just dipping the yarn into the paint did not leave enough paint on the yarn to make more than a single faint line. I had to use my fingers to really push the yarn into the paint before I had any sort of useful amount of paint on the yarn, thus covering my fingers in paint.

The balloons were much more successful. They easily picked up the paint. The picture does not show it very well, but the final product has some very interesting textures to it, as the paint lifted off the balloon.

Science Storytime: Seeds

Seeds in an egg cartonAs the weather finally starts to look a bit more like spring, we focused on seeds for this week’s Science Storytime. We read the book Seeds! Seeds! Seeds! by Nancy Wallace. It’s a very dense book that is not a perfect fit as a group read aloud, so I abridged it slightly as I went along. What I do like about it is that it talks in detail about features of a seed such as the seed coat, and has some illustrations of the steps of the germination process that I thought would be absorbed by my young audience.

After we read the book we talked for a bit about seeds. Most of the children knew that plants had roots and  that seeds need both water and sunlight to grow. I gave the children pea seeds and sunflower seeds to examine with magnifying glasses. I had some leaves for them to look at as well, to help round out the discussion, but in retrospect I should not have brought those out, since I wanted to keep the discussion more focused on seeds and seedlings rather than a broader exploration of plants as a whole.

seeds planted in an egg cartonOnce the discussion was over, we planted some seeds of our own. Along with the peas and sunflowers, I also had zinnia seeds. I let the children choose which seeds they wanted (most wanted one of each) and they each got three seeds to plant. I had cut up some egg cartons to plant the seeds in. Egg cartons make decent seedling starters. They are biodegradable, so you can plant them right in the ground like a seed pot. I encouraged the children to make little signs to indicate where they had planted their seeds. I had purposefully not attached the signs to the popsicle sticks that were meant to hold them up because I thought it would make it difficult to draw on an uneven surface, but attaching the signs to the sticks took a surprising amount of parental guidance, so I think if I was doing this again I would attach the signs to the sticks ahead of time, especially if I was going to do it with a large group, or one were there was not a lot of parental involvement. They were all eager to make their own labels, whether that meant drawing a picture for a parent to label or writing the words themselves. The children had a wide range of ages, and it was interesting to see the range from pre-writing to confident labeling.

Little Hands Art: Water Colors

Coffee filters colored with watercolorsThis week featured two related projects. I have seen a lot of great feedback online about doing coffee filter art with markers. Basically, you draw on a coffee filter with a washable marker, and then get the filter wet, either with a brush or an eyedropper. The marker colors run and create an interesting and unpredictable color splash. However, I had noticed with my own son that very young children tend to make tenuous or thin lines with markers, and this is a project that works best with thick, strong lines. I also find that the washed colors show up better when the filter has dried, which means a level of delayed gratification that very young children don’t have yet.

Two young children play with water colorsSince I still wanted to work with the coffee filters, I decided to add to the project with water colors. I set up ice cube trays filled with washable water colors, and put eye droppers and brushes on the tables. Eye droppers can be tricky for little ones, both from a fine motor skill perspective and a developmental understanding that you have to squeeze, let go, and then squeeze again to make the liquid come out, which is one of the reasons I made sure brushes were available as well.

Two children play with water colorsAs expected, it was the older children who were more interested in drawing with the markers, though I did see some of the younger children experimenting with dipping the marker in the water before drawing. Several of the older children combined the two projects, dropping watercolors onto the coffee filter to create a colored background which they then drew on with darker markers. Since the paper was already wet, it blurred the markers lines slightly for an interesting effect.

I recognized from past experience that many of the children were going to be just as interested in mixing the colors together as they would be in using them on the paper, so I made sure to provide empty cups specifically for that purpose. Overall this was a very successful project, if only because many of the children were fascinated by the eyedroppers.



Little Hands Art: Easy Squeezy Painting

Boy squeezing paint from a bottleWorking on an idea I encountered first online here and here, and using the recipe for squeezing paint from MaryAnn Kohl’s book First Art, we had a blast exploring squeezing paint out of bottles and onto paper. The basic concept is as simple as it sounds: just squeeze paint. There’s a lot for young children to explore, however, from learning how to regulate how quickly the paint flows from the bottle to trying to moving the bottle around the paper while simultaneously squeezing. And of course there are all the funny noises the paint makes when the bottle is almost empty.


Boy squeezing paint from a bottleWe used the recipe from First Art, which calls for one part salt, one part flour, one part water and enough tempera paint to give it color. This made the paint thicker and grittier than regular paint, giving texture to the squeeze paintings. The texture of the paint itself was an object of fascination to many of the children, particularly the youngest participants who were the most likely to touch it in the first place. We had several children who were far more interested in simply touching the salty paint and playing with it on their fingers than they were in squeezing.


Examples of the Squeeze Painting projectsWe had a wide age range, from toddler to about six or so, with the consequent range of ideas and abilities. The younger children were happy to just explore squeezing out the paint to see what would happen, while the older children wanted to “make something”. For some of the children five minutes was all the time they needed to experiment with squeezing. Other children were very intent and deliberate about trying every color of paint and every method of using it. One girl carefully filled several monochrome papers with each of the different colors before she was ready to put multiple colors on the same page. Another child immediately wanted to experiment with letting the thick paint mix with several colors, and was surprised when it did not mix very well. Some of the children remembered last week’s print making and wanted to see how the thicker paint reacted to the printing process. There was a lot of great exploration.

Science Storytime: Patterns

Pattern Bead BraceletScience Storytime should technically be STEM Storytime, since we also cover mathematics concepts, such as in today’s program about Patterns. (Why didn’t we call it STEM Storytime? After some discussion we decided that while STEM is a well-known buzzword in the school and educational system, it’s not as widely known by the general public. Since the target audience was families with preschool children who have not yet entered the school system, we were worried that some families might not realize the intent behind the program. It’s hard to stop and read all the details when you have a small child in tow, and seeing a sign for Science Storytime is more straightforward.)

Patterns built with blocksWe read the book Pattern Fish and talked a little about what makes a pattern. The book is great for sharing patterns and gives the children a chance to predict what the next part of the pattern is going to be. For example, it might say yellow, black, yellow, black, yellow…(page turn) black! Participation in yelling out what the next part of the pattern was going to be increased dramatically as I read further into the book. We had a mix of younger and older preschoolers, and the older four and five year olds helped to model for the younger children.

After reading the book, I made some simple patterns using megablox, and we examined the patterns. By this time almost everyone was ready and able to tell me the next color in the pattern. Then I dumped the megablox on the floor for the children to make their own patterns. This was a lot harder, especially for the three year olds and younger four year olds. If a parent helped, they could say what the next color should be, but left to their own devices they tended to just randomly build towers and then seemed confused why it wasn’t a clear pattern. Building the towers helped them practice this new skill. When their towers were built, we shared them with the group to show off the patterns they had created.

A beaded bracelet showing a simple patternAfter the block towers, we made pattern bracelets. I had pipe cleaners and beads, and the children strung the beads on the pipe cleaners in patterns. Two of the younger children just wanted to string beads without patterns, which I was happy to let them do, since learning should be a fun exploration at this age. The rest of the group very intently created patterns both simple and fairly complex (wood, blue, green, blue, wood,…. was a sophisticated pattern done by a five year old.)

Engineering Challenge: Boats

A boat made of tin foil, tape, and popsicle sticksCan you float twenty pennies in a boat made of these materials? That was the question posed at this weekend’s Engineering Challenge. The children were given tin foil, wax paper, coffee filters, saran wrap, soda straws, popsicle sticks, and masking tape to build with.

Before the program started we talked about what makes a boat float, and why boats can float even though they are heavier water. If I were to run the program again, I think I would also have spent five minutes talking in more depth about the materials we were going to use and their properties.

As usual, I created several level of challenges. I was reasonably sure that everyone would be able to float 20 pennies by the end of the hour (though it took some children quite a long time to achieve that goal) and that others would succeed on their very first attempt. Multiple challenges meant that everyone could ultimately be successful with at least one goal, while also being given levels of challenge that were truly difficult for that individual to achieve. Once a child

managed to float the pennies, they almost always immediately ran to get more pennies to see just how many they could float in that particular boat before it sank, so “float more pennies” was not going to be much of a challenge. Instead, I noticed that since tin foil featured very heavily in most of the initial designs, I made the second level of challenge be to float twenty pennies, but without using tin foil. Since tin foil folds so easily and maintains its shape in a way that the other materials do not, this meant that most of the children had to completely revise their designs, rather than just recreating them in a non-tin foil material.  The third level of challenge was to float the pennies using only two materials.

A child adding pennies to the boat they built out of popsicle sticks and wax paper

There was a lot of trial and error with this challenge. I did not need to emphasize that the engineering process involves a lot of redesigning to make improvements because the children were highly engaged in tweaking their designs. I did not see any frustration during the program. Even the child who struggled with the first level of challenge was motivated and happy as he tried design after design until he finally found one that worked. Luckily his mother understood how important it is for children to work through their own ideas, and let him experiment with designs that, from an adult perspective, were clearly not going to be successful. She did confess afterwards that it was quite difficult not to jump in and just tell him the “right” way to do it. It was all worth it to see the growth in understanding as the program progressed, not just in how boats are designed, but also in how the various materials interacted with one another and with the water. (This is why I should have had a discussion about the materials before we began building.)