Science Storytime: Bubbles

Bubble experimentFor the first Science Storytime of this school year, we focused on the wonder of bubbles. Before the program I read over the notes from the ALSC blog on a similar bubble program.  I had intended to use the same book that she used in her program, the Let’s-Read-And-Find-Out book Pop! (I love that series, especially the Level 1 books!) but foolishly forgot to put it on hold, so it wasn’t available the day of the program. Instead, we read a picture book that featured bubbles in it.

We talked for a bit about bubbles. The group was very young, mostly older twos and younger threes, and this was the first meeting, so they were a little shy during this aspect of the program, though they all seemed excited by the thought of bubbles.

To demonstrate why bubbles are always round, no matter what the shape of your bubble blower, I had everyone stand up and hold hands. I said we were the bubble molecules, and that we wanted to cling together while also making the biggest shape we could. We then tried to get as big as possible. Inevitably, we ended up in a circle. We did that a couple of times so that the kids could see that it would always be a circle. I then talked about bubbles and how they are always a sphere/ball for the same reason. I had intended to talk about surface tension and volume as well, but my very young audience wasn’t in the mood, so I jettisoned that in favor of moving outside for the bubble blowing.

I bent pipe cleaners into several different shapes so that we could use them as bubble blowers and observe first hand that the shape of the blower did not influence the shape of the bubble. They all created round bubbles. One child did make the observation that what did influence the bubbles was the size of the opening. Larger openings, whether triangles or circles, created larger bubbles.

BubblesTo add a fun experimental aspect, I had set up four different bubble solutions. One was plain dish soap/water, one had glycerin added to it, one had corn syrup added to it, and the fourth was commercial bubble solution. The dish soap I was using was blue, so I added water colors to the commercial solution to make it a matching blue as well. I did not want to the children to attribute any differences in the solution’s effectiveness to color rather than an actual difference in materials. I handed out papers that they could use to record their observations, but let them know that it was an optional part of the activity. I was worried that very young children might be turned off by having to right down every bubble interaction. In the end, no one used my chart to record the bubbles. I don’t think it would have mattered much even if they had, because the bubble solutions all seemed to work more or less the same. The regular bubble solution was the easiest to use in one blow, and the glycerin bubbles seemed to last a hair bit longer, but otherwise I did not see a difference. Perhaps I should have purposefully made one a dud, as a comparison? In any case, the children and their parents seemed to have a great deal of fun blowing, chasing, and popping bubbles.


Science Craft: Worm Fun

wormsOur second Science Craft of the summer stretched what it means to be a “craft” a little, but we all had fun, so I don’t think anyone cared.

I bought several dozen nightcrawlers from a bait shop to bring to the library. To begin the program I talked about earthworms, their physiology, habitat, and benefits to the soil. Did you know that many earthworms in North America are invasive species from Europe? I love that my job lets me learn so many new things.

Part two of the program was worm racing! I followed the ideas on this website for my races. I already had a roll of plastic table cloth material, so I covered all of the tables with that, then used a marker to make one small and one large circle. After spending a few moments having fun just holding the worms, and after some instruction on safe ways to handle the worms (squeezing = not a good idea), the children were instructed to put their worms in the inner circle, and the worms would “race” to see which worm made it to the outside of the outer circle. The original website’s circles were very large, and I was worried that my worms would not be active enough, so I made my circles much smaller. It turns out that I shouldn’t have been worried. Not only were my nightcrawlers much larger than the worms the original poster was using, but they squirmed around quite a lot. In a way the smallish circles worked out well, because each table got to have multiple very quick races, but if I ran the program again, I would use larger circles.

A worm painted masterpiece.
A worm painted masterpiece.

Next we painted with the worms. After much internet poking around to assure me the worms would be fine, as well as some quick trials runs of my own to double-check, I was assured that the worms would survive. We dipped the worms in nontoxic paint and then put them on the paper. As they wriggled around they painted the paper. There were bowls of cool water to rinse the worm off so that more than one color could be used. (I emphasized several times that worms breathe through their skin so rinsing should be quick.) The younger children in particular were very taken with the idea that the worms were painting a picture for them.

I provided little plastic cups with lids (the sort that I usually put paint inside for craft programs) so that anyone who wanted to take their worm home could do so. As far as I could tell we didn’t lose any worms to squeezing, though I can’t speak for what happened once they got home.

Science Craft: Ice Cream in a Bag

The summer has started and the library is awash with children. Tuesdays have traditionally been craft days for school aged children during the summer, with the crafts following the theme of the Summer Reading Program. This year’s Fizz, Boom, Read theme means I chose crafts that are at least marginally related to science. Sometimes this means that I had to stretch exactly what a “craft” is, but we’re making it work.

Our very first Tuesday Craft was Ice Cream in a Baggie. If you’ve never done this before, believe me, it’s worth it! The kids were thrilled about the ice cream and the parents were fascinated. I could tell that some of the adults were skeptical that it was going to work, and then amazed when it did. The kids, of course, never doubted for a moment.

Before we started I gave a little talk about how ice forms, using some of the children as volunteer water molecules. I then explained the effect salt has on ice, and how using salt lowers the freezing point, creating an even colder icewater solution. This is the key to making ice cream in a baggie.

So how does it work? First you get a big gallon sized baggie and put in ice and salt. I hadn’t thought to measure the ice and salt the way that I measured the ice cream ingredients, but no one had any problems, so apparently there’s a lot of leeway. I’d say the average child used a little less than two cups of ice and maybe a half cup of salt or less. Kosher or rock salt or the salt you can buy for ice cream makers are best, but table salt is much cheaper and works just as well. We used table salt without any problems.

Next you get a smaller baggie, pint or quart size. Into this second bag you put 1/2 C of whole milk (you can also use cream or half and half, but milk is cheaper when you’re buying for large crowds), a splash of vanilla (I had the children use the 1/8 tsp), and sugar. Because I had more measuring cups than I had measuring spoons I had them put in “a little less than 1/4 C” which made for some very sweet ice cream. In ideal circumstances I probably would have used about 2TB of sugar. But none of the children complained that their ice cream was too sweet, imagine that!

Next you seal the small baggie. Then check to make sure it’s sealed. Then triple check to make sure it’s really, definitely, absolutely sealed. After that you pop the small bag into the larger bag, close the larger bag, and shake, shake, shake. I’d intended to sing some shaking songs, but the noise of dozens and dozens of shaking bags was so loud that I didn’t even try. It takes about five minutes of shaking (and there were a lot of parents who ended up doing the shaking, so thanks parents!) and then the solution turns to ice cream! It’s a softish ice cream and a little grainy (using cream would have helped smooth it out) but delicious nonetheless.

While I did not add any flavorings other than vanilla, I have done this activity in the past with other flavorings. It’s easy to add a squirt of syrups intended for flavoring milk. If you want to add more solid flavors, such as strawberries or broken up oreos (my two favorites) then you need to freeze those additions ahead of time or the ice cream won’t freeze properly.

No pictures today because I was too busy running the craft.

Homeschooling Activity Club

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor our homeschooling activity this month we made slime. We’ve done this before, but I’ve always used the recipe that calls for Borax. This time we made slime with liquid starch instead, since I’ve discovered that it creates a stretchy  pliable material that I prefer to my traditional Borax slime recipe.

We talked very briefly about the science behind making slime, the way that the liquid polymers in the glue are bound together by the liquid starch. We’d gone into more detail about this at an earlier activity club when we made slime with Borax, so I did not feel it needed an in depth review.

In addition to being a fun activity, it was also an experiment. The slime directions I was using, found here called for clear glue. I was reasonably certain that regular glue would also work, but I didn’t know for sure, and when I tried it at home with the only glue I had (wood glue), it didn’t work, so there was some element of uncertainty. I decided I’d have the kids try both types of glue so they could discuss differences (if there were any) and see if one type of glue made a better slime. As it turned out, they both worked about equally well. As you can see in the picture above, the only real difference was in the color quality. The clear glue produced vivid translucent color, while the white glue created pastel colors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe mixed more or less equal parts clear glue and liquid starch, plus some liquid watercolors and glitter to make the slime more interesting. The original directions say to add the starch a little at a time, and when I made a practice batch (since it’s never a good idea to try something out with an expectant audience), that’s exactly what I did. However, when it came time to make it with the group, I ended up just splashing the liquid starch into their bowls, since it made the sharing of the starch bottle easier. I would definitely recommend the slower method. It took much longer and a lot more stirring and kneading to get the slime to really come together when we put a lot of starch in at once. This is good to know because I want to re-use this activity as one of my summer science crafts, where I will be working with a much larger group that might not adapt well to patiently stirring.

The original website I found the recipe at indicated that if you had straws, you could blow bubbles with the slime. Of course we had to try it. Getting the hang of it took a little more concentration than the kids were expecting, and the younger members struggled a bit. But we did have some great success once they figured it out, and the adults had some fun blowing bubbles for the younger crowd. (As you can see in the picture, I provided gloves for the children who wanted to play with the slime, but didn’t want to actually touch it.)

Science Storytime: Pollination

Fingerpuppet bee and flowerThe May flowers are blooming and I thought it would make a nice tie into pollination. There are many different picture book options to read about bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. I chose to talk only about bees during today’s session to keep a tighter focus on the conversation. Before reading the book we talked about what the children already knew about bees. They were very eager to share about stingers and personal experiences with bees. Pollination came up and we talked a bit about what they already knew about pollen and bees and how the two are connected. I was surprised by how much they already knew and in a fair amount of detail, though I suppose that these are all children whose parents are bringing them to a science-themed storytime, so it probably shouldn’t surprise me that such basics of biology have come up in their conversations in the past.

reaching into a bag of "pollen"After we read the book, which featured a large 3-D bee, we narrowed in on pollination. I saw on pinterest a great way to show the mechanics of how bees pollinate flowers unintentionally using cheese puffs. I found pictures of flowers and had my teen group cut them out and tape them to paper sacks that we had cut in half to make them shorter. To make it a little more exciting I also had my teen group make little finger-puppet bees.  I put cheese puffs in the bags and explained to the children that the cheese puffs represented pollen. I then dropped small flat glass beads taken from our mancala board into each bag to represent nectar. I handed out the fingerpuppet bees and told the children to fish around in each bag to collect nectar. Once they had all had a turn with at least two of the “flowers”, we stopped and looked at our hands. The original lesson had suggested rubbing the fingers on the white flowers on front of the bags, but I found that didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. However, the cheese dust was clearly evident on everyone’s fingers, so the lesson was still driven home. Even better, the pipe cleaner antennae that my teen group had placed on the fingerpuppet bees as antennae were completely covered in cheese dust, which perfectly connected to our previous discussion about bees having furry legs and the ways in which pollen attaches to those legs.

Bathroom STEM: Flowers

Flower displayPutting up STEM questions and activities on the bathroom wall is a great use of available space, while at the same time capitalizing on a captive audience.

With spring finally arriving, this month’s Bathroom STEM theme was flowers. I located, labeled, printed and laminated pictures of several flowers that children were likely to encounter locally .

For some math-based questions I hung a poster asking “How many yellow flowers are there? How many purple flowers? How many red flowers? How many flowers in all?” I purposefully included a tri-color violet (which I grew up calling a johnny-jump-up) in one of the pictures so that children would have to decide if it counted as a purple flower, a yellow flower, or both.

My other goal with this display was to increase children’s awareness of types of flowers. Though these are all flowers that are grown in this area, children may not be aware of their specific names. The hope is that questions such as “Have you ever seen these flowers in your yard? In your neighborhood? At the library?” will inspire children to be on the lookout for new fauna, and will then use their new vocabulary to help identify the flowers. Obviously the children will need to either read the labels, or be in the bathroom with someone else who can read. However, I find that non-readers are generally young enough that parents often accompany them into the bathroom in a public place such as the library.


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.