Category Archives: science activity

Repost: A Handful of Fun

(After a very LONG day, I decided to reach back into the archives to provide this post on sensory play that originally came through during March of last year!)

 Think of your average preschooler.  How long has this child been proficient with language?  Depending on the age, the child may not really be too proficient yet!  Others seem to have been talking non-stop since 2 1/2, but that means they’ve been talking now for all of…..about a year!  Now think of how long these children have been seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling, and tasting.  Their whole lives!  Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one.  This is why children will dive in hands first, exploring a new substance.  The senses are their most familiar, most basic way to explore, process, and come to understand new information.

This is why we must allow young children to learn through experience, not just lecture.  These children need to use their senses and be engaged in meaningful experiences.  As we talk with them about what they are observing and sensing, we give them new language tools to connect with these more familiar sensory tools, building language as well as supporting cognitive concepts specific to the experience. 

Now, the flip side to this equation is important to remember as well.  Just as children learn through their senses, they also are developing the ability to use those senses and are building the neurological pathways associated with each one.  With added sensory experiences, combined with the scaffolding of adults and peers, children become more perceptive.  Their sensory intake and processing becomes more acute.  As they are better able to use their senses, they are then better able to learn through their senses.

Sensory play is really part of the scientific process.  Whether out loud or within the internal dialogue of the mind, children have developed a question, leading them to investigate– by grabbing, smelling, listening, rubbing, staring, licking , what have you!  They are using their senses to collect data and from that, attempt to answer their own questions.  Whether or not young children are always able to verbally communicate this process, it is still a valid exercise in scientific inquiry.

The sensory table is the usually the first place people think of for sensory play.  That’s logical, as the term “sensory” is shared by both.  The sensory table certainly stands as an open invitation for hands-on exploration, but it is not the only place where the senses come into play.  Throughout the preschool room and throughout the preschooler’s day, there are appeals being made to the five senses.  The sound of toppling towers in the block area, the feel of finger-paint sliding under their fingertips, the glow of the Light Brite at the small manip table, the smell of cinnamon playdough.  As teachers, the more we can attend to the sensory involvement of our planned activities, the more our children will be engaged and the more they will learn. 

For example, when discussing the need for warm clothes in the winter time, we can simply tell children about it, or we can have them hold ice cubes, one in a bare hand, and one in a gloved hand, let them really feel the difference and then meaningfully attach a verbal discussion to the sensory experience.

Back at the sensory table, we can find many more benefits to sensory play.  That bin of sand, or foam, or colorful rice is more than just another way to keep kids busy, it is a bustling factory of developmental growth.  In addition to honing sensory and science skills, sensory play builds language, social, and dramatic play skills as the children negotiate with one another to share tools, create stories, and build dialogues.  Both small and large motor skills get a boost as well, as the children manipulate the medium and tools of the day.  Creative, divergent thinking is displayed as the children are essentially invited to explore and come up with new ways to use the materials.  Cognitive skills are fostered as well as the children learn about specific concepts pertinent to the bin’s contents.  Things like gravity, parts of plants, states of matter, and color mixing are easily explored and understood through sensory play.  As you teach appropriate boundaries with sensory play, children develop more self-control and body awareness.

As one of the truest open-ended activities, sensory play provides an opportunity for every child to succeed.  No matter whether you are gifted or delayed, learning a new language or mastering your first, you can’t really fail with a bin full of beans or a ball of playdough.  Children who struggle to succeed or who are apprehensive about failure often find solace in sensory play.  The simple act of pouring water or running fingers through rice is often cathartic and calming to many children who may be struggling emotionally.  It can soothe the nervous child, distract the homesick child, and serve as an outlet for the angry child.  For children with special needs and sensory integration disorders, sensory play may be particularly therapeutic.  (Please note that we must also avoid over-stimulation in many sensitive children.  Special attention must also be paid to children with sensory integration disorder and properly recognizing their thresholds.)

We often think of the sensory table as being a tactile activity, which it largely is, but the other senses come into play as well!  The tapping sounds of popcorn kernels hitting the bin, the pungent smell of baking soda and vinegar at work, the sight of separating colors as tinted water, oil, and syrup are mixed together are all sensory experiences that can be tapped at the sensory table.  Taste sometimes finds less desirable ways to sneak in at the table as well, though taste-tests can also be properly planned as fantastic sensory experiences!

Find ways to optimize sensory play for your children.  Whether that’s providing a bin of sand to explore, giving your child a dish wand and plastic dishes to “wash” at the sink, or finding ways to integrate the senses into your other activities, provide space and time for sensory play!  It’s a natural and satisfying way to explore and learn!

Links you might love:

Creating a Sensory Table on a Budget

Setting Boundaries with Sensory Play

How to Find Sensory Materials on the Cheap

Messy Play: Bubbles, Sand, Dough, and Water  (Great Sensory Play Ideas from lekotek) 

Top photo by osmar01.
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Filed under Article, science activity, sensory activity

Colorful Ice Sculptures

This is one of my favorite winter-time sensory activities!  Though it’s great any time of year, colder temps outside make it easier to freeze all those ice blocks!  Get your kiddos in on all the action by letting them mix the colors (I like to use washable liquid or powder watercolors), and letting them observe the change from liquid to solid…..and then back again!  Pop the colored ice into your sensory table, kitchen sink, or even the bathtub, and get building!  (Originally posted 12/18/09.)

Ice is a fun, inexpensive, and fascinating material to explore in your sensory table!  I like to add color to the water before filling my ice molds, to add interest, and so that the colors begin to mix as the ice melts.  Then I fill a variety of containers – ice-cube trays, of course, but also empty plastic food containers (Cool Whip, sour cream, yogurt, etc.), plastic cups, popsicle molds, muffin tins – anything to create an interesting shape.  You can place these in your freezer, if you have the room, or if you’re lucky enough to have absolutely frigid temperatures as we did here, just place them outside overnight.

Place the ice in your sensory bin with paintbrushes and water, and show the children that if they brush the ice with water and then press two together, the water freezes and holds the ice pieces together like glue!  They can build castles and forts to their hearts’ content!  I also add a salt shaker so that they can observe what happens as salt is added to ice.  Inevitably, they’ll eventually want to chop at the ice (particularly if they’re only partially frozen, with water in the middle, a fortuitous and fascinating accident), so if you want to protect your paintbrushes, provide something else, like craft sticks to use for chopping.

This activity provides experience with science concepts like freezing and melting.  Talk about why the ice is slowly melting and discuss whether the ice would stay frozen or melt outside right now!  It also provides a frigid sensory experience that paves the way for language development as you use synonyms for the word “cold”, like “freezing”, “frigid”, “chilly”, and “icy”.  Other words to describe the experience, such as “slippery”, “smooth”, “melting”, “freezing”, and “dissolve,” easily come into play.  (And, if your children are anything like my own boys, words like “destroy”, “blast”, and “invincible” will also likely come into play.)

See how much learning fun you can have with a little water and coloring?  For a fun spin, you could also try the same activity outside on a snowy day!

For more wintry activities, click here!

 
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Repost: The Winter Games…..Outdoor Ideas for Preschoolers on a Snowy Day!

It has been plenty cold around here, so I thought I’d go back to last year  for a re-post of outdoor winter activities!  Enjoy the holiday weekend!

The best way to learn about winter is to get out and explore it!  Here are some ideas for some fun in the snow!

  •  Fill spray bottles or squeeze top bottles (dish soap, Gatorade) with colored water and create designs in the snow.
  • Make tracks in the snow using a variety of objects (cars, spoons, shoes).  Play a guessing game to match the tracks to the objects.
  • Look for animal tracks.
  • Experiment with freezing different sized containers of water outside.  Which freeze fastest?
  • Place a small plastic toy in water and let it freeze outside.  Bring it inside and experiment with ways to thaw it out.
  • Go Sledding!
  • Bring a container of snow inside and let it melt.  Look with a magnifier at the impurities in the resulting water.
  • Bring in snow and put it in a pot or electric skillet.  Pour salt on it and watch it melt.  Apply heat and melt completely to water, then boil it.  Collect some of the steam on a lid or dish.  You can talk about the water cycle, phases of matter, as well as the fact that when the water evaporates, the salt is left behind.  (This is a complex concept to really grasp, but children enjoy the activity.  I used it to answer a child’s question as to why the snow leaves “white stuff” on our cars.)
  • Build a snowman or snow fort!
  • Use the same tools you would use for sand castles to build snow castles.
  • Press cookie cutters into the snow to make shapes, or use letter cookie cutters to write a message.  This works best in packed snow.  If you’re worried about cutters disappearing, put the snow in a baby pool or in your sensory table.
  • Catch snowflakes on black paper or black felt and examine them with a magnifying glass.

 Outdoor activities promote motor development as well as provide natural earth science experiences.  Bundle up and let the games begin!

For more wintry activities, click here!

Photo by toomas.
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Take a Trip: A Song, A Graph, and Safety Talk

If you’re exploring a transportation theme, here’s a fun little ditty about transportation I found years ago.  (I didn’t write down where I found it, so if you know the original author let me know!)  It’s a fun piggy-back song, to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle:

Take a bus or take a train,

Take a boat or take a plane.

Take a bike or take a car,

May be near or may be far.

Take a rocket to the moon,

Just be sure to come back soon.

This is a fun song that the children enjoy and it gets them thinking about the different types of transportation.  I like to write the words up on chart paper and then have a picture to go with a few of the words.  I’ve attached pictures here.   As I’ve said before, I don’t offer these because I think I’m a talented artist, but because they’re done.  (Sometimes done is better than perfect!)

After getting familiar with the song, I’ll often ask the children about the rhyming words in the song.  Then we’ll talk about other words that might rhyme as well.  On another day I may ask about words that start with the same letter and sound (bike, bus, boat).  As the children become more familiar, I may remove the pictures and have them add them above the corresponding words.  Even if the children aren’t “reading” I think it’s valuable for them to make the connections between the written and spoken words and their meanings.

Now if you want to get more bang for your buck (and who doesn’t?), you can also use this song as a springboard for a math activity.  Use a few of the pictures from the song as the base pictures for a graph.  Use the post-it method or unifix cubes to count out one-to-one how many people in your group have used each type of transportation in the song (or just a few if you’re worried about attention).  If you’re working with just one or two children, have them survey people!  Create a sheet with the pictures and have them record hash marks as their respondents answer about the types of transportation they have used.  They could ask people in your own home, or make some phone calls to friends and family!

Graphing with young children not only teaches them that specific skill, but reinforces one-to-one counting (one object to one number), greater than/less than comparisons, and representational thinking.  If you’re currently working on recognizing written numbers, you could cap off your graph with the written numbers of the totals below the pictures.

And last of all, what would a unit on transportation be without a little talk about safety?  This is another activity I picked up years ago.  Place a ball or a marble inside a cup.  Tell the children that this is them inside a car.  “Drive the car around on the floor (making the requisite car noises, of course), and then make a sudden stop (and yes, you have to say, “Errrrrch”).  Thanks to Newton’s law about objects in motion staying in motion, the ball will roll out of the car.  Talk about what that could mean for them.  If they’re in a car and the car stops, they will keep moving and could fall over or even out of the car. 

Now ask who buckles up when they take a trip in the car.  Give the ball some buckles by taping it in.  Drive the car around again and make some sudden stops.  As Newton would explain, that object in motion has now been interrupted by an equal and opposite force.  The ball stays safely in the cup.  Talk with your little ones about the importance of wearing seatbelts so that they can stay safe in their cars.

Singing, literacy, math, science and safety, all in one unit!  Who says preschool is “just cute”?
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Will it Float? Simple Graphing for Preschoolers

I really do love graphing with preschoolers.  It makes math concepts like numeracy, 1-to-1 ratio (counting one number for one item), comparing numbers, and sorting objects very visual and hands-on.  Graphing does not have to be complicated.  We’re not talking parabolas here, just simple T charts will do.

Just recently I did a sink or float activity (because no matter how many times we do it, my boys still think that 20 pound pumpkins will sink) and I used the back of the door for our graph.  Just a door and some painter’s tape.  Voila!  A graph! 

Here’s how I organized the activity:

After gathering all the items we would use for our investigation, I drew a quick sketch of each item on an index card.  Before the activity, we talked about each item and made hypotheses as to which would sink or float.

I made a quick T chart with painter’s tape on the back of the door, and labeled each side.  You could easily use the same technique on the wall, the floor, or a table top. 

Next the children took turns pulling a card, finding the corresponding item and tossing it into the bathtub.  (Yes, bathtub.  Where else are you going to float a 20 pound pumpkin?)  After each item we then placed the card on our graph.

Afterward we looked over the graph, counted, made comparisons, and talked about what the floating items had in common.  It was a quick, easy, and fun way to explore science and math together!

How do you use graphing with young children?
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Five Fun Ways to Serve Up Some Pumpkin!

If you’re looking for some ways to make this week memorable for your little ones, try serving up some pumpkin!  You may want to use pumpkin as an ingredient (as in Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread) or use the pumpkin as the dish!  Here are five ways to serve up some fun, originally published on Halloween of last year!

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I mentioned before that a pumpkin’s greatness is in part due to its hollowness. We’ve talked about floating pumpkins, pumpkin drums, and of course, Jack-o-lanterns, but perhaps best of all, a pumpkin can be hollowed out to create a bowl! You can use a cleaned out pumpkin to hold pre-made food, such as soups or a casserole, or you can actually cook in the pumpkin shell as well!  Here are five festive ways to turn your gourd into a gourmet dish!

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1.  Apple Crisp!  I love making this Pumpkin Apple Bake recipe in the fall, cooking it up inside the pumpkin.  The children love using the apple peeler/slicer to help out.  I give the apples a head start by cooking them on the stove before putting them in the pumpkin and cooking it all together.  The pumpkin does soften a bit, but holds its shape as long as you don’t cook longer than 1 1/2 hours or so.  Take the opportunity to talk science and compare the cooked pumpkin to the uncooked pumpkin lid!

2.  Soups, Stews, and Chiles!  Cook up your favorite fall time soup.  Place it in a hollowed out pumpkin and serve it up from there!  Try out this delicious Potato Soup recipe or this tasty one for Chicken and Rice.  You could also use smaller hollowed out pumpkins as individual soup bowls!

3.  Shepherd’s Pie!  Because Shepherd’s Pie is basically cooked already, it doesn’t take long just to melt the cheese on top.  This helps keep your pumpkin from getting too soft.  Try this tasty recipe here.  (I omit chipotle chiles when cooking for the little ones.) 

4. Dips!  Whether you’re having something sinfully savory like this one, or going the healthy route with something like this, you can easily put your favorite dip inside a pumpkin, place it on a platter, and serve chips, veggies, or bread all around the pumpkin.

5.  I Scream!  OK, a little Halloween play on words.  Use small pumpkins to hold ice cream!  Serve up your favorite flavor with cookies on the side!

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Whichever route tempts you most, start by cutting the top of your pumpkin off.  Jack-o-lantern style is usually a little too small. Don’t be afraid to cut off 1/4 to 1/3 of the pumpkin.  This gives a wider opening which makes it easier to serve food.  Hollow it out well, and then rinse.

Don’t forget to involve your children in this fun project!  Have your little ones help you hollow out your pumpkin and rinse it.  Let them help make the food to go inside as well.  (Read more about how cooking benefits the child’s development here.)  Serve it up for something truly memorable!  Don’t worry if you’ve missed Halloween.  Pumpkins are a symbol of harvest and a fun fall fixture! (Say that ten times fast!)

Enjoy a special pumpkin surprise with your little ones!

For more favorite fall activities, click here!
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Gum Drop Adventures

While enjoying some family time at the cabin (the memorable scene I wrote about here) my sister-in-law pulled out a brilliant activity that I thought I would share with you all here!  There were three very simple ingredients, and you don’t have to live near a specialty store to find them: 

  1. Gum Drops
  2. Toothpicks
  3. Imagination

One long table scattered with paper plates full of candies and toothpicks instantly brought 24 kids running to the table to stack, stick, and snack their way through a fun, creative activity!

The activity is wonderfully open-ended so it was enticing and engaging for everyone at the table, ranging in age from 3 to 16!

The kids had a blast creating everything from simple barbells and human figures to complex castles and cathedral-like structures.

They were all on summer vacation so I didn’t ruin the fun by pointing out that they were building fine motor skills, math skills like spatial awareness and geometry, and getting plenty of problem solving and science practice as they questioned and tested their many different attempts at structural integrity.

Simple supplies.  Open-ended exploration.  Tons of learning objectives.  And smiles like this!  Why not give it a try?

Top photo by Silvio Gabriel Spannenberg.

All other photos by the amazing Joan Taylor!
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Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, math activity, science activity