Stars and Constellations

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Our theme this week was Astronomy – Stars and Constellations.

The big question was: What’s a star? (And what star is nearest to your home?)

We also talked about constellations – how members of ancient cultures “connected the dots” to make constellations and told stories about those constellations to make them easier to recognize and remember.

Science Projects

Make a constellation viewer. Kids placed a square of black construction paper over the end of a toilet paper tube, and rubber banded it in place. Then used a thumb tack to poke holes in the shape of a constellation. You can then look through the tube at a light to see the constellation, or shine a flashlight through the tube to project the constellation on a wall. (Note, if you want your projection to be accurate, you need to punch the holes so that when you look at it from the top, you see a mirror image of the constellation… either that, or punch it to match the constellation, then take the paper off, flip it over, and tape it down again.)


Make a constellation projector. Kids took a large margarine tub and placed it bottom up on the table. Then they took a copy of a constellation pattern, and taped it onto the bottom of the tub. They then used either thumb tacks or nails and hammers to poke holes in the tub everywhere a star appeared on the star chart. (The thumb tacks were plenty strong to poke the holes, but kids enjoyed using the nails and hammers.) When finished, they could place the tub over a flashlight or lantern and project the constellations on the ceiling.IMG_20160123_123414252

Make a star chart felt board. Kids took a folder, opened it up and glued black (or deep blue) felt to one side. Then cut out white felt stars and moon that they could use to lay out constellations. When done, they can store the stars in the pocket of the folder.


Art / Engineering Challenge: Star Mobile. We had cardstock they could glue aluminum foil to and then cut out stars. (That’s the art / small motor practice part.) Then, they moved to another table to assemble a mobile. Figuring out how to balance the arms of a mobile is definitely an engineering challenge – deciding how long the strings should be, how many items to put on each arm so it balances, and so on. This project was aimed at our 5 – 7 year olds and was definitely a challenge for them and their parents. Both parts (making the stars and making the mobile) were too challenging for our little ones.


Collaborative Collage: We put out black foam core, white crayons, glue, cotton balls, legumes, and other items to represent stars, and encouraged kids to create a “night sky.”


Starry Night: We had a poster of Van Gogh’s Starry Night next to the easel, and put out the paint colors needed for it and big brushes so children could try to duplicate it.

Pocket star: The next time we do this topic, we will have the children make small stars they can tuck in their pockets. (To go with an activity in closing circle.) Haven’t figured out the medium yet – maybe model magic clay?

Tinkering / Free Exploration

Giant Tinker Toy Constellations: We drew three constellations on the board, and encouraged kids to replicate them, using the “hub” pieces of tinker toys as stars, and the “tubes” to connect them into constellations. To be honest, the kids instead used the tinker toys as construction toys, and built blasters, light sabers, cars, lawn mowers, etc. But one of the dads built a great model of the Orion constellation!  We also have regular sized tinker toys, and I suspect that kids might have been more likely to build constellations with these small table top toys.

IMG_20160123_123650921  orion

Sensory Table: We had red kinetic sand (to represent Mars), and Mars rovers / moon rovers, and star shaped small cake molds. Our other idea was sensory materials such as rice combined with plastic animals that appear in the constellations.


Geo-Boards: This are an easy “connect the dot” activity where kids fasten rubber bands on the nails on a board to make patterns. This ties in with the idea of looking up at the stars and connecting the dots to make constellations.


Coloring / Connect the Dots: We also considered having a project where kids could connect the dots to form constellations, then color them in. If you search for “constellation coloring pages for kids” you’ll find lots of options for this.

Matching Game: You could also create a matching game, where some of the cards showed a picture of a pattern of stars without the constellation drawn, other cards show the lines of the constellation and others show the illustration of the constellations.


Opening Circle

Explained the basic concepts of stars and constellations. Showed a telescope and talked about how it could be used to study the stars.

We used a “starry night” lantern (similar to this one) to project stars on the wall to demonstrate looking up at the sky and finding constellations.

We had drawn the Big Dipper on the board. We extended the drawing to show how it was part of Ursa Major – the big bear. We asked the kids if bears really have long tails like that, then told the story of why this one does: we simplified it down to “Zeus wanted to save a bear from a hunter, so he picked it up by the tail, swung it round and round his head and threw it up into the sky.” (For more details on this story, plus tales of this constellation from Mongolia, China, and Native American Algonquin and Blackfoot tribes, go to You can also search for ‘myths of big dipper” – this star cluster is one of the most recognizable, so appears in many cultures. You could also share the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Slaves escaping the south via the Underground Railroad sang this song, which refers to the big dipper, which points to the north star. If they aimed for the north star, they were heading north.)

IMG_20160123_123650921  ursa

Book – Fancy Nancy Sees Stars. We will be doing a planetarium field trip in a few weeks, and this book is a nice lead into that, as it tells a story of a class going on a similar field trip. (It gets a little bogged down in telling a story of how the rain is so bad they can’t get to the planetarium on the designated night, so I might skip / summarize a few pages.)

Closing Circle – age 5 – 7

Book –  Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations. This book has beautiful illustrations, and nice text about the tales related to the constellations that are named after animals. It also works well for younger children.

Dramatic Play – We told a very simplified story of Perseus and Andromeda (see a full story here, or listen to a podcast children’s story telling the tale from Andromeda’s perspective.) We had a serpent puppet, an Andromeda puppet, and a Perseus costume, and children could take turns acting it out.

Closing Circle – Age 3 and 4

Song – Twinkle: We started off by saying “you all know a song about a star… what is it?” When they didn’t immediately guess, I just held up my hands and made a twinkling motion, and they guessed Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. We sang it once through, then told them we’d sing it again, and we would show them sign language words you could use to say the words of the song with your hands. (See a video of the signs here.)

We asked whether you could see stars in the daytime, and reminded them that yes, we always see the star Sol in the daytime (our sun.) But we also talked about how at the very end of the day, when it’s still light out, if you look hard, you may see the first star of the night appear.

Rhyme: We taught the rhyme “Star Bright, Star Light, First Star I See Tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight.” Then we asked them what they might wish for.

Book – Stars by Mary Lyn Ray. We said we’d talked about the science of stars, now we were going to talk about the magic of stars, and how people throughout history have thought about them as magical and special. We read this book which is a fanciful story of making a star to keep in your pocket.


Song – Catch a Falling Star: We taught the chorus of “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.” Then, we put on the music (using this YouTube video), and blew bubbles, pretending the bubbles were falling stars they were trying to catch. (A couple minutes of catching bubbles is always a hit with this age group!)

For more star activities that work for ages 1 – 5, check out my Fun With Toddlers series post about Stars and Moons.

More Books

  • Our Stars by Rockwell. I think this is a perfect book for circle time for 4 – 6 year olds – it’s a nice overview of everything you need to know about space and astronomy. My husband has quibbles with some of the details (like where it says “I can see billions of stars” which is more than you really see, or where it says “when you see Orion in the sky… it’s the season to harvest” – he thinks it needs to specify when you see Orion in the EVENING sky, as you can see it later in the night or early in the morning at lots of times other than harvest season) but I think the overall quality of the book outweighs these little things.
  • The Sky Is Full of Stars by Branley (an expert astronomer) is another very nice overview of astronomy and constellations, and I really recommend it for a 5 – 7 year old. But it’s long, so not a circle time book.
  • The Big Dipper (is also by Branley and is quite a nice introduction to star gazing and constellations, with focused attention on one – the Big Dipper. I like this focus, because I think it would then be easy for you to find the Big Dipper with your child within a few days of reading this book and they’d have the excitement of recognition. Appropriate for circle time (engaging and short) for ages 3 – 6.
  • How to Catch a Star  by Jeffers. I really love this book (as I loved Stars – described under circle time) for it’s imaginative / fantasy feel. There’s a boy who loves stars and wants one to put in his pocket. He tries and tries to reach it, then gives up, then a sea star washes ashore for him to carry. Pretty, elegantly simple illustrations. I think this would be a good circle time book for ages 3 and up. My five year old found it delightful as he understood that there was no way the boy would get a real star, but then it was fun when a different kind of star came to him.
  • Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations  by Mitton is a companion to Zoo in the Sky. It’s also a very pretty book. It shows the stars of constellations as part of a fully illustrated image of what that constellation represents, and has a very brief version of the story that goes with the constellation – not informative enough to be your only book on the topic but pretty enough that you’ll want to look at it!
  • Stars! Stars! Stars! by Barner. Again, very nice illustrations – this is a pretty children’s book. I find the words don’t have a rhythm and rhyme – it seems like they want to, but it just doesn’t flow well, so it’s not as enjoyable to read aloud as I wish it were.



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How could you teach a kids’ science class and NOT include dinosaurs??

This was our week to touch on this topic – a perennial favorite for preschoolers. Here’s what we did:

Dress-Up / Imaginary Play: Most of our topics don’t really lend themselves to dress-up, so this was a chance to bring that in: we had dinosaur tails we made (like these), dino hood and gloves, and masks, plus roaring dinosaur hobby horses from the dollar store.


We also read the book I Am a Tyrannosaurus by Hines, and encouraged the kids to act out different dinosaurs as the book describes. And we set out a collection of toy dinosaurs, toy trees, and wooden blocks for kids to build scenes with.

Science Exploration

Dino Dig: There’s lots of ways you could have children “dig” for dinosaurs (Party Ideas by a Pro recommends casting plaster dinos and burying them in sand.) We kept it easy (easy to set up and easy to clean up) by filling a plastic tub full of shredded paper and then burying plastic dinosaurs in it to dig up. (I’ve also done it with shredded paper in a cardboard box and we hid wooden dinosaur skeleton puzzles that we had pre-assembled and glued together. Kids love this simple activity!

IMG_20160116_102429244  dinodig

Dino Bones in the Sensory Tub: We buried dried pasta in sand in the sensory tub and gave them paint brushes to clean the “bones” with and sort them into a dish. I will note that we put in too many noodles – they were too easy for the kids to find – it would have been more fun if they’d had to hunt for them. Also, they were a lot of work to get OUT of the sand when it was time for clean-up. (We wanted to save the sand for later use in other projects, so needed to get out all the noodles.) There are also a variety of “dinosaur bones” you can buy that could be buried, but I like this for the fact that they’re easy and cheap materials for anyone to use.


Making fossil impressions: We made play-dough. We put play-dough in the bottom of a paper bowl, then pressed noodles into it and removed them, leaving an impression (you could also use shells, leaves, pine needles, or other items to make impressions.)


Footprints: We cut out large dinosaur footprints. Then we had kids trace their own footprints and cut them out and compare them to the size of the big footprint. Then they could decorate the footprints. (We also had in the room a paper tracing of a real triceratops footprint, that was about 3 foot by 3 foot.)


Sorting Activity: I made up a dinosaur family tree, plus 10 cards describing categories of dinosaurs. (See my sample cards. Note: I do not have copyright permission to the images included, so you should find your own images to use for your cards.)  We set them out on a table, along with a big pile of plastic dinosaurs and encouraged kids to sort them into categories.



Molded Dinosaurs: We had plastic molds of dinosaurs that kids pressed air drying clay in to make take-home dinosaurs. (On Amazon, search for “dinosaur molds” and you’ll find several options.)


Rubbings: We had plastic rubbing plates that kids could lay paper over and use crayons to make rubbings of birds and reptiles.


Make a Triceratops Mask: With a paper plate, paper triangles, and popsicle sticks.


Assemble a paper skeleton / add pasta bones: We printed out materials from Prekinders. We cut some out in advance, so the younger kids could just assemble a skeleton, while the older kids were encouraged to use their scissor skills cutting out the pieces and assembling them on a paper. After gluing together the paper skeleton, kids were given the option of adding noodle “bones” to their picture.

IMG_20160116_132604994  IMG_20160116_132542006

Outdoor Activity: Search for Signs of Wildlife: Once a month, our class meets at a park with nature trails, and we do a nature-based activity. This month, we talked about how you could tell an animal had been in the woods: if you saw tracks, scat, signs that animals had been eating (like stripped bark or chewed leaves), homes (spider webs, nests, etc.) and eggs. We looked for signs of real animals, but also signs that a dinosaur had been in our woods.

I found pictures of items online, printed and laminated them, and hid them in the woods. We found t-rex footprints, sauropod footprints, dinosaur poop (really a picture of crocodile dung), dinosaur eggs (a photo of an alligator nest), and a photo of chewed up leaves. (Here’s a pdf of the photos I used, but again, I don’t have copyright privileges for these images, so would encourage you to find your own.)

I wanted to take the kids to a clearing in the woods, but when I checked it before class, I found that there was a lot of trash there. I took the kids there anyway, and used it as an opportunity to talk about the fact that animals sometimes leave waste behind, because they can’t help it. But, we as humans can choose to leave no trace – picking up and carrying out all our trash. We cleaned up the clearing before returning to the classroom.

Other ideas

TP roll skeleton: I like this idea of using toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls to lay out a dinosaur skeleton:

Make salt dough bones: For an ambitious project, try making your own set of dinosaur bones out of salt dough. Then the children can use them to assemble skeletons.

Big Ideas

In circle time, you’ll discover that you have some kids who know next to nothing about dinosaurs, and others that know more than most adults! There’s a few messages that should be made clear to all.

  • First, dinosaurs are extinct. They lived a really long time ago, but they are not alive now. The closest thing we really will see is a crocodile or an alligator, although birds are also descendants of dinosaurs.
  • They weren’t ALL really big. Some dinosaurs were the size of a chicken.
  • The way we know about dinosaurs is by finding and digging up bones and fossil evidence, and then attempting to assemble them into full skeletons and gather data about things like what they ate, how they walked, and so on.
  • When talking about dinosaurs, it’s pretty hard to avoid the idea that some dinosaurs lived by eating other dinosaurs. Parents can sometimes get skittish about the “violence” of dinosaurs, especially since movies make millions of dollars by showcasing this violence. But you can also be pretty matter of fact about it. Just as we can say “frogs eat bugs” or “eagles eat mice”, we can address that carnivorous dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs.


There must be hundreds of children’s books about dinosaurs! And believe me, I’ve read most of them when my son was three… we’d walk to the library twice a week and bring home a giant stack of nothing but dinosaur books. (If you live in King County, and you don’t know how to go online and put books on hold for pick up at your local library, go to the library now and learn how!!! It’s just as easy as ordering from Amazon… go online to, search for any book you want, place a hold on it, and in about 2 – 4 days, you’ll get an email saying it’s ready for pick-up at the library branch you chose. In the library, they’re set aside on special shelves, and it takes just minutes to pick them up. We get literally 100’s of books a year this way, including every single book I’ve talked about on this blog. If you prefer ebooks, you can also check out plenty at

Here’s photos of just a few dinosaur books.

IMG_20160116_090444350 IMG_20160116_090642203

Here’s some good overviews that I would recommend for varying age groups. They cover basic ideas like what dinosaurs are and how scientists know about them.

Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs by Barton. The best dinosaur book for toddlers, age 2 – 4. Simple primary color illustrations and simple text.

Let’s Talk About Dinosaurs by Teckentrup. Good for ages 3 – 6, although we skipped some pages when we read it in circle.

Digging Up Dinosaurs by Aliki. A nice overview of both dinosaurs and paleontology: now how bones are excavated and transported to museums. Too long to read in a group circle time, but good for reading to a 4 – 6 year old one-on-one.

Dinosaurs!  by Gibbons. A nice overview of dino facts, at a level preschoolers can follow but kids age 5 to 7 will also like.

In addition to all the non-fiction books, dinosaurs also feature prominently in LOTS of story books. Dinosaur Roar by Strickland is not educational, but it’s one of my very favorite books to read aloud. Captain Raptor by O’Malley is entertaining space opera with dinosaurs. Also check out When Dinosaurs came with Everything.


Again, there are LOTS of TV shows and movies that incorporate dinosaurs. Many kids love Dinosaur Train on PBS, and the Land Before Time series of movies. When my son was four, he loved Walking with Dinosaurs from the BBC. It’s done like a nature documentary, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that some dinosaurs eat other dinosaurs, so it might be frightening for some little ones, but will work well for others, and they definitely did their research to get things as scientifically correct as possible. On YouTube, you can find “Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures” from cbeebies, which is also documentary style, but a little sillier / kid-friendly. (Both these shows do a good job of animating dinosaurs, and it might make your child think that dinosaurs are actually living somewhere on the planet now, so you may need to clarify extinction.)

There are also countless videos on YouTube if you search for “dinosaur songs for kids.” I have some of the ones we liked on a playlist here:



On this blog, I talk about lots of books about science for kids. I offer Amazon Associate links, so that if you want to go and read more about the books and read reviews, it’s easy to do so. But, really, I encourage you to get the books from your library instead. It teaches your child about the incredible free resource that is your public library.  And… if you’re not already going to story times at the library, read this article about all the reasons why you should:

If you’re in King County, and you don’t know how to go online and put books on hold for pick up at your local library, go to the library now and learn how!!!

It’s just as easy as ordering from Amazon… go online to, search for any book you want, place a hold on it, and in about 2 – 4 days, you’ll get an email saying it’s ready for pick-up at the library branch you chose. In the library, the books on hold are set aside on special shelves, with all yours gathered together in one spot, and it takes just minutes to pick them up. And when they’re due back, you’ll get an email reminding you. If you’re not done with them, you can renew them online from your computer or mobile devide. (Unless someone else is waiting for that book.)

We get literally 100’s of books a year this way, including every single book I’ve talked about on this blog.

If you prefer ebooks, you can also check out plenty at (And yes, it’s easy to get them on to your kindle.)


There is an updated version of this post at

Question of the week: What are the ways we create Electricity and what do we do with it?

Here are the activities we used to explore electricity:

Electricity Experiments

Challenge: Can you create an electric circuit using play-dough?
We made two batches of play-dough, one conductive and one insulating. (See recipes: Students stick battery pack wires and a pre-wired LED into the dough and experiment with which completes the circuit and lights the light. Once they learned which dough would conduct the electricity, we wanted them to play with it a bit longer, so we had them test several lights, and sort the lights by color. There’s a lot more you can do with “squishy circuits” made of play-dough. Here’s a video of a TED talk on why squishy circuits are cool for kids.

Lighting a Bulb: Use 9 volt batteries, and lightbulbs on wires. Connect the wires to light up the bulb and show how a circuit is completed. We also had mechanical switches and DIY switches we could include in the circuit. (If you don’t already own these materials, there are several simple kits that include the basics, such as School Specialty 560962 or the Eisco Labs kit.)


Lemon Battery: So, on many websites, and in many kids’ books about electricity, you’ll find directions for a lemon battery – you put a penny and a zinc screw in a lemon, and use it to light a lightbulb.
The science behind this is something like this: What’s happening in a voltaic battery: two electrodes – one copper and one zinc – are submerged in an electrolyte – an acidic solution (lemon juice in this case). Zinc and lemon produce electrons and copper and lemon lose electrons. Electrons pass through the lemon juice from one battery terminal to the other, creating electricity.
The idea for the experiment is: roll the lemon with some pressure to get it juicy, then insert into the lemon one zinc item (screw or eyelet) and one copper item (copper wire, rivet or copper penny – from before 1982 when pennies were more copper than zinc). Be sure the two metals don’t touch. Then take a lightbulb on wires – touch one wire to the zinc item and one to the copper to light the bulb. (Or so several sites / books claim.) We found that the current produced by the battery was way too weak to light even a very low voltage LED. We did get a voltmeter which could measure the current to show a reaction was happening. This website claims that if you touch your tongue to the copper and zinc, you’ll feel a slight tingle and taste a metallic tang. We did not attempt this.

Playing with Electrical Tools / Toys

Create electricity with a hand generator: We had a crank-powered flashlight and emergency radio plus several small flashlights with dynamos. (Like these, but we got ours in the Daiso dollar store for $1.50 each.) These were a great free play activity for the active kids – we turned off most of the lights in one room and they just played with flashlights and did flashlight tag.

Plasma ball: We had one of these to let kids see the “lightning”: Sphere Lightning Lamp

littleBits: We had the littleBits Electronics Base Kit. littleBits is kind of the Lego of electrical circuits. It’s a modular system, with little bits that click together with magnets, so it’s easy to assemble them correctly. (They say they’re for ages 8 and up, but my five year old can do everything with them, and even the 3 year olds could handle the basic concepts.) There are inputs (buttons, dimmer switch / volume control, sound activated switch, light sensor switch, remote controllable switch), and outputs (lights, buzzers, motors, etc.) The base kit comes with an instruction book to explain the basics, but also “ideas to get you started” on other things you can invent with them. The goal is to encourage tinkering. There’s lots more info about them on Amazon.

Here is a basic configuration: power cell, input switch (a push button) and an output (a bright LED light.)


Here is another simple set-up of power module, wire, and motor. But, we’ve attached the motor to a windmill propeller, and mounted it on a little popsicle stick building. When you turn on the power, the propeller rotates.


I have to say: I LOVE the littleBits. They’re a great toy that my five year old really enjoys and learns from. But… they’re stupidly expensive! I am hoping that over time, with economies of scale, (and likely competitors) the price comes down. But for now they’re quite pricey. Snap Circuits is another modular electronics kit I have heard of, but I haven’t had the chance to experiment with it.

Cheap Toy: Ok, I know you’ve all seen toys during your life where if you touch two metal contacts on the bottom, it completes a circuit and the toy does something. (My daughter got a toy chick one Easter that would chirp when you held it in your hands.) I’m now searching for a toy like this and haven’t found one. (Other than these “liquid activated” glasses.) But I want one, because when my daughter brought her chick to school (lo those many years ago), she and her classmates discovered all sorts of cool concepts about electricity by playing with it. For example, if one person touches one contact and another person touches the other, the bird does not chirp. But then when those two people hold hands (to complete a circuit) the bird chirps. The bird chirps when set on a metal surface but not if set on wood or rubber, and so on. I’d love to have been able to have the kids in our class do similar experiments.

Static Electricity

Weather Note: There’s lots of great static electricity activities you can do, but it’s worth noting that your success will depend a lot on the weather! We figured that in January, our classroom air would be quite dry due to all the forced air heat that was blowing through it. However, when the outdoor humidity is at 85% as it was last Saturday, your static electricity demonstrations will be less effective than you had hoped…

History and an Experiment to Go With It: 2,500 years ago a Greek mathematician and astronomer named Thales (TAY-less) first noticed the effects of static electricity. He was polishing a piece of amber, with a piece of wool or fur. Thales discovered that after he rubbed the amber that it attracted dust particles or other light objects like straw or feathers. (More history here:  You could re-create this in class with amber, sheep skin, and feathers.

Balloons and static: It’s easy to generate static electricity by rubbing a balloon on hair – you can then hold the balloon near your hair to make it stand up on end, or stick the balloon to a wall, or use the balloon to pick up small lightweight bits, such as puffed rice cereal or torn up tissue paper. You can also have a plate of salt and pepper. Wave the static charged balloon over it – the pepper will fly up first, and the heavier salt will be slower to attract. You could have a contest where kids stick their balloons to a wall, and see whose balloon stays stuck the longest.

Combs: You can rub a plastic comb with wool or silk to create static, then use it to pick up feathers, cereal or tissue paper, pepper, etc.

Light a bulb with static: Our teacher rubbed a balloon on her hair to build up a static charge, then held the balloon to one end of a compact fluorescent bulb, and it made it light up briefly. (Better in the morning class before the humidity spiked outside!) Learn more at:

Make Lightning: has two methods for getting a spark. We haven’t tested these.

Parachute: During circle time, you can use the parachute – have some kids stand under the parachute while the other kids and adults lift it up and down – pretty soon the kids’ hair will stand on end.

Water table: Have a static generator (balloon and hair, or amber and wool, or comb and wool) next to the water table. Charge it up, then pour a trickle of water past it – will the static electricity “bend” the stream of water?

Alternate water table idea: Put in scoops and water wheels. Put pictures of water wheel generators next to the table so you can explain how before the invention of electricity water wheels on streams were used to do work (like grind grain or pump bellows.)

Art: This topic didn’t lend itself to art as well as some other topics do. What we did:
1) drawings with Spirograph to represent electron orbits. 2) Scratch art pictures of lightning bolts… scribble with oil pastels to fill a piece of paper with bright colors. Paint over that with dark blue/black acrylic paint like the night sky. While the paint is still wet, use a stick to draw lightning bolts – it will move the paint aside to reveal the colors below.

Circle Time Concepts

We discussed the experiments they had tried, asked what they had observed, and discussed the basic ideas of electrical current, circuits, generators, and batteries.

Grounding in their Experience: For static, ask them: have you ever slid down a plastic slide and then gotten a shock when you touched someone? Have you ever played parachute games at circle – did you notice that for the kids who went under the parachute, their hair would then stand up straight? When your parent gets laundry out of the dryer, have you ever seen a sock stuck on to something? Then explain that is static electricity.

Pass the current: Have kids hold hands in a circle. Squeeze a child’s hand, they squeeze the next hand, and so on, to pass the current all the way around a circle.



Books for Circle

  • Oscar and the Bird.  When Oscar the kitten finds a tractor in a field and accidentally turns on the windshield wipers, he is full of questions about electricity. Luckily, Bird knows the answers! With the help of his friend, Oscar finds out how electricity is made and stored, which machines need electricity to work — and why we always need to be careful around wires, batteries, plugs, and sockets. Ages 4 – 8.
  • Electricity: Bulbs, Batteries, and Sparks (Amazing Science). A little long, but otherwise a good circle book for ages 5 and up. (skip the “fun facts” when reading aloud.)
  • Switch On, Switch Off by Berger. Library description: Explains how electricity is produced and transmitted, how to create electricity using wire and a magnet, how generators supply electricity for cities, and how electricity works in homes. Ages 6 – 8. Probably too long for circle.

Good resource books for older kids (age 5+) and for experiment ideas. Not for circle.

Group Activities

Electrons: Explain that all things are made up of molecules (reminder of the states of matter activities last week.) All molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons and neutrons which hold tight together in the nucleus, and electrons are held loosely. Give each child a die (or a coin) where some/one side is labelled “proton or neutron” and one is labeled electron. On each turn, they roll their die or flip their coin, then pick it up. If it says proton or neutron, they run to the center of the room and huddle together. If it says electron, they orbit in a circle around the protons and neutrons.

Pass the Electron Game: This idea started with an idea on Hub Pages:  Have all the kids stand in a line. Tell them they are a copper wire. Give each one electron (a ball or other small toy). Tell them they’re a balanced copper atom. But, when the battery (the teacher) gives an extra electron to one child, they have to pass it on as quick as they can. When the extra electron gets to the end of the line, flash a flashlight to show the electricity was discharged. We tried this in our morning class – the teacher told them that they should take the new electron in their left hand, pass the old one on, then pass the new one to the right hand. But it turned out that it was too much of a small motor challenge for our three and four year olds – they had a hard time transferring balls from hand to hand. There are two ways to fix that. One is that they hold THEIR electron in their left hand the whole time and always use their right hand to take and pass the new electron. The other is what we did in our afternoon class, where we just pretended they were holding their own balanced electron, and the only moving ball was the extra electron that was passed to them. We were then able to pass several electrons at once, for a “hot potato” style game. You can also curl the end of the circle to complete a circuit.



There is an updated version of this post at:


At today’s Family Inventors Lab, our theme was Rainbows.

We had a painting of a rainbow on the wall, then had a black and white line drawing of a rainbow below that they painted in to match the one on the top. (We had two siblings who were really dedicated to getting this project done right.)

We “made it rain” by filling cups of water, spraying shaving cream on top, and using pipettes to drip liquid watercolor onto the shaving cream clouds. It drips through, creating colorful rainfall below. I failed to take pictures, but here’s some from Pinterest… check out the original posts here, here and here for more ideas for activities, and thoughts on talking to kids about the science of rain

rainWe also used pipettes to drip liquid watercolor onto coffee filters, which creates some beautiful color mixing. If you want to take this one step further at home, they can be turned into butterfly decorations with a clothespin and a pipe cleaner. (Source for idea)

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

We had a light table with lots of colorful objects on it, rainbow crayons, rainbow colored blocks, a rainbow colored tumbling mat with colored hoops to jump into for some big motor play, and color your own playdough. (This was not quite successful – our colors were too wet and made the playdough too wet to handle… we’ll be tinkering with this activity to get it right in the future!) We had blocks of ice that they could sprinkle salt onto and pour water onto, and drip liquid watercolor on to help it melt.

We had diffraction grating peepholes. (When you hold these up to your eye, then look at a light, the light is broken up into rainbows. Different lights produce different patterns… when I look at my ceiling light at home, I see circular rainbows, when I look at the LED flashlight on my cell phone, I see six rays of rainbows radiating out.) We had crayons and paper out so the kids could draw what they saw. (If you want to learn more about how prisms separate “white” light into colors, watch this video. Here’s a simple, low equipment experiment to do with your child. And here‘s more activities and a little info about Inventor Isaac Newton and his discovery that light is made up of 7 colors.)

The books we read in opening circle were:

Other books we used/had available:

  • Who Likes the Rain by Etta Kaner
  • What is the Water Cycle by Ellen Lawrence
  • A Rainbow of My Own by Don Freeman

We sang a few rain and rainbow songs, including a spontaneous sing-a-long of Rainbow Connection after one of the parents suggested it. (Check out the classic video here.)

We always have more ideas than we have time and space for, but if you’d like more ideas for rainbow-themed activities, look on our Pinterest page:

Class Structure


I teach a Family Inventor’s Lab, a STE(A)M enrichment class for ages 2.5 – 7.

We have designed the flow of the class so we begin with letting the children explore and discover on their own, making their own connections, and discovering their own questions before we give them any answers. After that, we talk about some big ideas, then send them to play with those ideas some more, then re-gather to share their conclusions. The maps above show the relation of this class structure to the scientific method and to an engineering process. Let’s look in more detail about how this works.

Set-Up: Before class, the teachers have set up a variety of hands-on activities related to the theme. They always include: building projects, toys for free exploration, art projects, some big motor activity, imaginary play, puzzles or other small motor skills, a sensory table and/or a water table, and books on the concept. (Just click on any category in the right hand sidebar, and you’ll find plenty of examples of activities we have done on various themes.)

Discovery Time: The first twenty minutes is “discovery time.” We let the kids explore freely, trying things out hands-on, noticing patterns, and making their own connections and interpretations before we present the concepts of the day. Some children come in with a lot of prior knowledge on the day’s topic (like our resident paleontology fans on dinosaur day!) and quickly build on that knowledge. Others come in with virtually previous exposure to a concept, and are really creating connections from scratch. They are “gathering information.” As questions arise, instead of immediately giving answers, we ask more questions to stimulate their thinking. (See examples of questions that extend learning.)

Opening Circle: We then have an opening circle with all the kids combined (up to 24 kids, ages 2.5 to 7). We ask them to share what they’ve seen, we ask a few children to share what they have made. (During discovery time, the teachers watch for kids who are creating really good projects to illustrate some concepts – they ask those children if they will show their work during opening circle.) We ask them what they think the theme is and how the activities connect to it. After we’ve first grounded in what they’ve discovered, we introduce the key concepts of the day, and talk about the other activities we’re doing. Sometimes we’ll give them a challenge to work on during tinkering time.

Tinkering Time: They return to the activities with fresh information and interpretation, and have 30 more minutes to explore more, tinker more, and test out ideas.

Teachers encourage kids to test ideas, then adapt them a little, then test them again, to learn more about the topic. We let them know it’s totally fine if some of their tests fail. (Read about why the willingness to fail is the key to an inventor’s success.)

Outside Time: Our Rockets (older kids, age 4 to 7) go outside. We often have more ideas related to the theme that they can explore outside. But this is also a little time to just run off some steam, so they come back in better able to relax and attend to opening circle. (Learn about the mood and concentration benefits of outside time here.) [The Robots – age 2.5 to 4 have closing circle first, then outside time.]

Conclusions Circle: In closing circle, we talk again about: what did you observe, what did you build, what did you test, what did you learn? We do more activities related to the theme, often including a book on the topic to wrap up the day’s concept.

A few days after class, parents receive an email, which often has follow-up activities they can do at home, or pointers to this blog to learn about more activity ideas we had but weren’t able to fit into class time or logistics.

We find that beginning with hands-on discovery raises the children’s engagement. Kids are naturally curious, but this format specifically harnesses that curiosity as a learning tool. They arrive to the opening circle open and ready to learn more. If we started by “teaching” them, they wouldn’t learn as much.

Check out this great article: What’s Going On Inside the Brain of a Curious Child. (It’s from KQED’s Mindshift series which is full of fascinating stuff about how we learn!)