Kids’ Books about the Beach

Our Sink-Float week was also an opportunity to bring in a beach theme, with our décor and imaginary play materials. We checked out from the library several books about the beach. Sadly, I didn’t love any of them.

Many of them (starred below) are part of a series of books about a particular character and they feel like the authors / publishers said “it’s time to write our next book about this character… what should the theme be?” “Hey, I know, let’s have them go to the beach!” So, they’re all OK books, but nothing special. (Unless your child happens to love that particular stock character.)

Beach books

Here they are in order from the ones I liked the best / would most recommend to the ones I liked the least. To see the Amazon page for any item, just click on the picture of the book cover (Amazon affiliate link).

Seashells by the Seashore by Berkes and Noreika. A counting book, where Sue walks along the shore picking up seashells. Each time she picks one up, a picture of it is added to the left sidebar of the page, so you can keep an eye on all the shells she has collected. At the end, she and her brother Ben bring the shells to their grandmother. I like the concept a lot. The art is OK. The text is OK – “So many seashells that we can mix. If we find a Whelk Shell there will be six… The tide is rolling in and it’s getting pretty late. This shell looks like a slipper! Now we have eight.” I like that at the end, there’s a description of each of the shells. You could put the book out open to these pages with a shell observation station to help kids identify shells.

Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee by Van Dusen. Not quite a beach book, but I like it better than the beach books… Fun art style, nice writing: “Mr. Magee and his little dog, Dee loved spending time in their boat on the sea. So early one morning at 6:32, they made a decision: that’s just what they’d do.” They motor out to sea, then a mischievous whale blows water out of its blowhole till their boat is blown 50 feet high and lands in a tree. Other whales come to their rescue.

Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach* by Watt. Age 5 – 8. S.S. would rather vacation at home than risk a trip to the beach. So he builds his own beach with a crayon drawing of the water, a flashlight sun, an inflatable pool and kitty litter sand. He misses the sound of the ocean though, and mounts an expedition to the real beach to find a shell. He gathers all his protective gear and safety equipment then makes an elaborate plan for his journey. He ends up having a fabulous time at the beach. Some fun and wacky humor with some spy-style hijinks. One of 8 Scaredy Squirrel books.

Ladybug Girl at the Beach* by Soman and Davis. Age 4 – 6. Lulu is looking forward to the beach till they arrive and she discovers how big and noisy it is. Anxious, she stays on the beach, building sand castles, flying a kite, eating ice cream and more. She finally tests the water, but then a wave comes in and almost knocks her over. She retreats to the land. They play on shore until her bucket gets swept away by the tide. She rescues it then decides she’s not afraid of the waves after all, and spends the rest of the day splashing around. Nice illustrations, relatable and likeable lead character. One of 20 or so Ladybug Girl books.

Duck and Goose at the Beach* by Hills. Age 4 – 6. Goose loves the meadow and says he never wants to leave. Duck immediately decides to go on an adventure – a trip to the beach! Goose reluctantly follows. But then when they arrive at the beach, Goose loves it, but Duck feels worried. They return home to their meadow. #10 in the Duck & Goose series.

Curious George Goes to the Beach*. by Rey. Age 5 – 7, too long for a circle time. George goes to the beach with the man with the yellow swimsuit. They run into a friend (Betsy) who is scared to swim. George plays ball, digs in the sand and plays. The seagulls steal his food. He and Betsy feed the gulls. The picnic basket is swept out to sea and George rescues it, then he and Betsy swim. One of countless Curious George books.

Spot goes to the Beach* by Hill. Age 3 – 4. A lift the flap book. Spot goes to the beach. His dad buys him lots of toys. He plays with a ball, builds sand castles, goes fishing and finds a friend. Little kids like hte lift the flaps, but this book is nothing special. One of countless Spot books.

Paddington at the Beach* by Bond and Alley. Age 4 – 6. Paddington goes to the beach. Seagulls watch him and make random observations: “He’s made a sand castle. Look how pleased he is.” “Now he’s lost his bucket.” Then they notice he has a bun in his pocket, wait till there’s a few more birds gathered, then they steal his bun. Not a great story. Sort of a counting book, in that there’s seagull number 1 and so on, and your kid could count the number of seagulls on each page. But there’s many better counting books out there. One of many Paddington books.

Sea Rex by Idle. Age 3 – 5. The third in a dinosaur inspired series. I LOVE the illustrations. But the text… there’s just not much to the story, The words are things like “station yourself near a lifeguard will keep an eye on you. Use plenty of sunscreen. Everyone loves a picnic. Bring plenty to share.” The fact that there are dinosaurs in each of the drawings I think is supposed to make it silly and wacky, but somehow it’s just a nice little book about dinos and kids at the beach.

Pete the Cat at the Beach* by Dean. Ages 3 – 6. Pete goes to the beach. His brother Bob goes surfing, but Pete says “maybe later.” Pete builds a sand castle, finds seashells and a crab, eats lunch, and plays ball, all the while watching Bob with envy, Finally he goes in the water, then ends up having a great time surfing. One of many Pete the Cats. I have to say I think Pete the Cat’s I Love My White Shoes is fabulous and a quality I consider “classic”. Pete’s Groovy Buttons is pretty good. But all the early reader Pete books are just typical early reader fare and don’t compare to Shoes.

For something a little different, there’s Waiting for High Tide by McClure. It’s not at the bottom of my list because it’s my least favorite, but just because it’s so different from the others that it’s hard to compare….

Waiting for High Tide is beautiful in a way that’s unusual for kids’ books. Cut paper illustrations are just gorgeous. It tells of a family building a raft of logs and a boy playing on the beach during low tide, waiting impatiently for high tide to come in so they can take the raft out. He studies the barnacles. finds clamshells, crab parts and seaweed, watches the gulls crack clam shells open on the rock, and herons try to catch sculpin. This book isn’t a good fit for my Saturday STEM class. However, if I was planning a beach trip to the San Juan islands or anywhere else on the Salish Sea, I would ABSOLUTELY bring this along to read to my child before and after our days on the beach. Ages 5 – 8, too long for a circle time read-aloud.

My recommendation for a book about the beach / ocean

So, after reading all these library books, I’d say nothing comes close to a book I already own. The Big Big Sea by Martin Waddell. This is a truly gorgeous book that honors the beauty of nature, and the magic of parents sharing nature at night with their children.

A mother takes a child out after dark. They see the moon, they run into the sea, they walk on the beach… “We just stayed for a while by the sea. And mama said to me, ‘remember this time. It’s the way life should be.'” It ends with “We sat by the fire, Mama and me, and ate hot buttered toast and I went to sleep on her knee. I’ll always remember just Mama and me and the night that we walked by the big big sea.” Ages 3 – 5. Wonderful bedtime book. To see the illustration style, do a google image search for “big big sea waddell“.

Sink or Float

There is an updated version of this post at:

This week’s theme was Boats, and What Sinks / What Floats.

Challenge Activity / Invention: Engineer a Boat that Floats.

We created a “ship building factory.” We put out various materials, including popsicle sticks, straws, corks, paper, aluminum foil, clay, rubber bands, water-bottle bottoms, etc. Plus tape and glue. Kids were encouraged to create a “something” that will float. We had a water table next to the work table where they could test their creations, then bring them back to the table to tinker with, then return to the water for another test. Here’s pictures of some “boats” in progress.




More Experiments with Buoyancy

Testing & Research: Do heavy things always sink?  Can you make heavy things float?

We had a tub of water, and placed next to it a container of glass weights, and miscellaneous items like dixie cups, the bottoms of water bottles, and so on. (Styrofoam trays and egg cartons are also a great resource for this activity.) Kids saw that the glass weights sank to the bottom, but if you put them on a broad platform, they wouldn’t sink. Kids could also bring their boat invention to this station and see how much weight it could carry. In this photo, a child is loading up the bottom of a clear plastic water bottle.


Sidebar Math Activity: Kids count number of glass marbles that their boat can hold before it sinks.   We had tally sheets where they could keep count and compare which vessel could hold the most glass weights.

Exploring Buoyancy: We put out three tubs – one filled with fresh water, one with salt water, and one with carbonated soda / seltzer water. Kids were encouraged to test one item (their boat, or a cup of stones) in each of the three tubs to see which kind of liquid best floats their boat.




What shapes float best: Put out a few pre-made shapes with foil, then more sheets of foil to experiment with. Does a ball of foil float? What about if you make a flat tray (like a tiny cake pan shape) with foil – does that float?

You could also offer some toy boats at this station, and then demo to the children that if they set them in with the flat hull facing down, they float, but not if you flip them on their side or top. (This ties into the discussion in opening circle, see below.) You could also show how they float when they are empty (which of course means full of air) and what happens if they start taking on water.

Displacement: If you’re reading What Floats in a Moat (see below), you can re-create the experiment by having three identical plastic containers – one filled with milk, one half-full, and one empty so kids can test what happens.

Dancing Raisins: Simple, cheap and easy way to delight small children…. Pour a cup of carbonated soda. Add raisins. The bubbles of gas collect in the ridges of the raisin until it floats to the surface, then they pop and the raisin sinks back down… over and over again.


Egg Float. Provide a hard boiled egg, a cup of warm water, a dish of salt and a spoon. Let kids discover that if they place the egg in the water it sinks. Encourage them to stir in a spoonful of salt, then test it again. How many spoonfuls of salt do they need to add to make the egg float?

Art Activities and Take Home Projects

Bubble Blowing Art. We put out dishes of bubble fluid mixed with liquid watercolor (or food coloring). Kids blew bubbles at the paper, and as the bubbles popped, they made splashes of color. Our youngest children (3 and 4) are still learning to blow bubbles, so this was good small motor learning for them.



Sea-Shell Impressions – We used Model Magic air drying clay (see last week’s post to learn more) and a collection of small scalloped sea shells. Kids made a small ball of clay, then pressed the shell into it to make an impression. (You could use this activity during dinosaur week to make “fossils.”)


Another fun experiment with modeling clay (be sure to choose a clay that can withstand a dip in the water!!). Give a child two equal size balls of clay. Have them shape one of the balls into a boat (or cup or bowl, if that’s easier for them to understand.) Then put the ball of clay into water – it sinks! Put the boat on the water – it floats! Why does one sink and the other float when they weigh the same? Explain density and surface area.

Create Discovery Bottles: We filled water bottles with a mix of colored water and vegetable oil, then added some sand, small rocks, and small sea shells. Then we sealed the bottles.  The bottles create their own slow motion waves when tipped or shaken.


bottle bottle2

Sensory Experiences and Observations

Sensory Table: We filled the sensory table with sand and small seashells.

Shell observation and sorting: We put out a wide variety of shells to explore, plus magnifying glasses for a close look. Kids were encouraged to sort them, looking for commonalities and differences between the various shells.


Imaginary Play:  Climb Aboard an Imaginary Ship. With blocks, fabric, some sea-life puppets and a mast with a sail, we built an imaginary ship to play on.


Big motor play: We took the kids outside with bubble wands to blow bubbles and let them float away on the breeze.


There is a pond at one of our classroom sites, and we’d hoped to be able to float some boats on the pond, but this year, the surface of the water is really scummy, and while it might have been a good opportunity to study bugs and water plants and eco-systems, it wasn’t a good place to float boats we had built. Maybe next year…

Opening circle

Gathering Song: Row Row Row Your Boat

Question of the Week:  What floats and what sinks?

We asked kids to share their observations from discovery time. One of the first answers that will come up is that heavy things float and lightweight things float. But through the discussion, you can guide them toward the realization that it’s not really about the weight – it’s about the shape of the part that’s touching the surface of the water. (Example: Even though ferry boats are very heavy, they float great, as long as the water-tight broad flat bottom is facing down. If you flipped the boat over, it wouldn’t float well at all!)

You could also discuss that some things float if they are filled with air (use a balloon as an example.) Explain that even something as big as a blue whale can float because it has air inside of it.

So, if you want to  build something that floats, you could try a broad flat bottom, or try filling something with air – it’s all in the engineering.

Song: “The Ocean is a beautiful thing – I know, I know…”

Book: Who Sank the Boat?

Closing Circle

Book: What Floats in a Moat.

Song: “Floating is a wonderful thing – I know, I know…”

We asked them to discuss what they learned about what floats and what sinks. Ask them to use their bodies to show you a shape that would float and a shape that would sink.

Note: be sure to bring lots of old towels to this water-filled week!


What Floats in a Moat? by Berry and Cordell. This is not just a book about sinking and floating, it’s also a good book about inventors (Just click on that link to learn more about this book and other great books!) And it’s a fun rollicking read-aloud. Archie the Goat wants to cross a moat. He muses that a barrel might float. So he builds a boat with a barrel full of buttermilk – it sinks. He builds a second boat with an empty buttermilk barrel. It floats but then capsizes. Then he builds the third boat, the S.S. Ballast with a barrel half-full of buttermilk. It’s perfect! Read the book, then talk about displacement. Caveat: I think the text of the book doesn’t really make it clear what’s happening with the third barrel – you may want to say something to the kids when reading it to clarify that this time the hen only drank half the buttermilk, so the barrel is half full.

Who Sank the Boat? by Allen. A great book for even very young audiences (age 3 – 7.) One by one, a cow, a pig, a donkey, and a sheep climb into a boat. Will it sink? When will it sink? The suspense builds and builds. Then the final creature steps in – a tiny mouse. And the boat sinks. Fun read, and interesting examination about the cumulative effects of things. (Like the straw that broke the camel’s back.) You could also re-create this in class with a container and plastic animals… how many can fit before it sinks.

Things That Float and Things That Don’t. This is not something I would read aloud to 3 -5 year olds – too complex. But, it’s a FABULOUS book for 6 – 10 year olds, especially in a home school setting, where you and your child could actually walk through each of the experiments together. Fun illustrations of a boy, a girl, and a dog, plus the fact that the book is addressed to the reader – inviting them to try everything out (“You could have fun guessing which things float…. fill your sink about halfway…”) make this an engaging non-fiction read. Guides kids through a series of observations and experiments with household objects to learn about density.

Let’s Try It Out in the Water : Hands-On Early-Learning Science Activities by Simon, Fauteux, and Cushman. This is all about “let’s try it out” – hands-on experiments to try. “Imagine you’re at the ocean… you throw [a pebble] as far as you  and watch it splash. Then it disappears. The pebble sinks to the sandy bottom…. now you see a large ocean liner… but it is not sinking… Let’s find out why.” Then is suggests you collect objects from the house that won’t get damaged if they get wet. Then test the weight of each in your hands – which is heavier? Then put in water – which things float, which sink? Then you make a foil boat and try loading it up with objects. Nice project book for kids 5 – 7. You could even use this book as a basis for a lesson plan for your class or at home – kids would walk through these experiments:

  • Fill different size and shape containers with water – how much do they hold? How many cups of water does it take to fill the tub?
  • Find a variety of items to test to see if they sink or float.
  • Build a foil boat. How much weight can it hold? If you put some of the items that sank on their own into the boat, do they sink or float?
  • Run a shipping business – send things back and forth to your friends on the other side of the tub. How can you ship the most items at once?
  • Crunch the foil boat into a ball. What happens?
  • In a pool or tub, try floating on your back.
  • Use a squirt gun to drip water into a boat – how much water does it take on before it sinks?
  • How many cups of water can you float on a tray?
  • Take an empty plastic water bottle and a full one. Place in a tub. Which sinks?

Floating and Sinking (Start-Up Science) by Challoner. Though it doesn’t have the same cute, playful illustrations as the previous two books – it’s aimed at age 7 and up – it also is a project based book that you could use to inspire a full lesson plan. (But it’s not really something I’d read aloud in class.)  I like that the author did a good job of sequencing the learning. It starts simple and gets more complex, building on each previous idea throughout the book. Here’s the activities:

  • Lesson 1 – some materials are more buoyant than others. Take a lightweight coin and a heavy wood block. Which will float and which will sink?
  • Collect cork, Styrofoam, rubber, and wax items and test them. They all float – they are buoyant materials.
  • Lesson 2 – materials that are denser than water sink. Test a small block of wood, and a block of modeling clay the same size. Which floats?
  • Collect chalk, modeling clay, steel and glass – all sink.
  • Lesson 3 – objects seem to weigh less when they’re in water because the water supports them. Tie a rubber band around a heavy but somewhat buoyant object. Hold the rubber band so the object dangles from it. How far does the rubber band stretch? Now let the object float on the water. Does the band stretch less?
  • Displacement: put a doll in a full bathtub (or any other object in any full container of water). The container overflows because the water is displaced.
  • Lesson 4 – boats float because they have a large base – they hold air which is less dense than water. So the water pushes up on the boat. Drop a ball of clay in the water. It sinks. Make a boat out of the clay. It floats.

That’s the first third of the book… it keeps going.

Floating and Sinking (How Do Things Move?) For ages 3 – 5. Lots of bright, engaging photos and nice graphic design. Nice simple overview, if you want a quick read for little ones without  much science detail.

Floating and Sinking (Junior Science Series). From 1990. And I have to say that graphic design and children’s non-fiction writing seems to have improved since then. It’s got some good examples and some good projects, and if your library has it, and not the other books, it will serve you… just the others are better. Age 6 – 8.

Sinking and Floating (Simply Science)by Rosinsky. The format of this book is strange. A typical picture book has self-contained info on a page or a page spread where it completes a paragraph or a thought. Then you turn to the next page for the next thought. This book flows the text from page to page, more chapter book style with a lot of pictures thrown in. The info is fine, though better for age 7 – 9 than my age group (3 – 6). But it’s not as easy to digest as other books.

The Magic School Bus Ups And Downs: A Book About Floating And Sinking. I haven’t read this but include it because I know there’s a lot of MSB fans. I find these books too advanced for my 3 – 6 year olds, but they’re generally quite good.

Making Things Float and Sink by Gibson. Not really a book I’d use in class – aimed at older children. But source for some good experiments. Like freezing colored water, then placing that ice cube in a glass of hot water – you can see that ice floats, and because of the color, you can see that as it melts, the cold water sinks to the bottom of the glass. It also has directions for making a hydrometer to test density with a straw and clay. Plus marbled paper, boats from ping pong balls and straws, a Styrofoam boat with a rudder, and a balloon powered water bottle boat. Plus some of the activities we describe above.

Big Machines Float! by Veitch. If you have a child who LOVES big trucks books about construction equipment, they’ll like this book, which is basically just a collection of pictures of big boats at work: ice breakers, floating cranes, galleons, cargo ships, and cruise ships. Ages 3 – 6.

Float by Miyares. Like nothing else on this list. For ages 4 – 8. A wordless book with lovely, quiet, contemplative illustrations. A boy folds a newspaper into a boat. He goes for a long walk in the rain by himself (may appeal to those who like a more nature-based, free range style childhood) and sails the boat on many puddles. Eventually the boat is destroyed. He is sad and his father comforts him (nice depiction of emotions and support) and then helps him fold a new boat which he goes out to enjoy on a now beautiful sunny day. It’s a lovely wordless book, but whether it would work for your audience all depends on how you “read it”. If you’re going to read a wordless book to a group of kids, first practice it out loud several times by yourself or with one or two kids listening so you can figure out what to say to capture the magic of the book.

Next year, I’ll check out Busy Boats by Mitton and Parker. I like their Roaring Rockets and Super Submarines for the 3 – 5 year olds. They’re all part of the Amazing Machines series.

Also check out this post on books about the beach and this one on books about the ocean and fish.

Addendum: Next year, we’ll add in this Duplo raft project.



There is an updated version of this post at

We studied Insects, Arachnids, and Myriapods. (Note, the word bug has a scientific meaning (below) but we used it like kids use it – to mean any little creepy crawly things.)

The Bug Factory


On our biggest table we set out samples of multiple different kinds of bugs kids could make, and all the materials to make those bugs or any other bug they wanted to create. It included a poster that showed anatomy of an ant and a spider and examples of a few other kinds of bugs. Our samples included:

Model Magic bugs:


Using Model Magic clay (see more at end of post), kids could roll three balls, squish them together till they stick, and then push in 6 pipe cleaner legs for the insect of their choice, or two balls with 8 legs for a spider or lots of balls and some antenna for a caterpillar. They could use sharpies to draw in details, or could add googly eyes. The air drying clay shrinks just a tiny bit as it dries, and I found the legs stayed attached to the ladybug with no problem, but as you can see a few of the spider legs got loose enough to fall out. So parents might need to glue some legs back in at home after the bug dries.

Fold Out Butterfly: This craft starts with making a caterpillar by gluing pompoms to a craft stick, then twisting on pipe cleaner antennas. Then you tape on craft sticks so they can accordion fold up against the caterpillars sides. So your caterpillar can grow, then spread its wings. This idea came from Danielle’s Place, where she has a great description of the steps for making it. We only suggested this one to our oldest kids (age 6 and 7) because it was over the head of our littlest ones (age 3 and 4).

My co-teacher made this sample at home, where she only had blue masking tape. She used oil pastels to cover that with the drawing. Beige or white tape would work better.


Paper Plate Roly Poly. Another idea from Danielle’s Place – check there for full directions. She recommends making it with triangles of cardboard, but we just cut a paper plate into triangles. Then you fasten with a brad, and add legs, antenna and a smile. This rolls up into a full circle like a roly poly bug does when you poke at it.


These bugs (which are not insects – they’re crustaceans) are very easy to find in many regions – just flip over an old piece of wood or a log and you may find some. You can learn more about them at Preschool Powol Packets. (Trivia: They’re also an interesting study in language variations in the US. Depending on where you’re from, you might call them a roly poly, a potato bug, wood louse, pill bug, or something else – see language map here:

Next year, I want to at least bring pictures of one in with me, or I may capture some live ones to bring in for the bug zoo.

Magnetic Ants: Cut an ant shape from black paper. Add three brads, and fold them out to make 6 legs. These are to use with our picnic plate project below.


Water strider: This are the bugs that “walk” on water. I really wanted to make a water strider that would float / stand on the surface of the water to play with in the water table. (This also ties into next week’s theme, which is Sink/Float, and where we may walk around a pond with water striders on it.) I made one with Styrofoam (from a takeout container) – I didn’t get a picture of it, but it was a bug body of Styrofoam, with pipe cleaner legs taped on the bottom, then 6 little Styrofoam feet glued on to the pipe cleaners (having big feet is not scientifically accurate…. water striders have little hairs on their legs that help them stay on the surface – the hairs capture air bubbles and repel the water). It floated fine… until a kid played with it and dunked it under the water… once the pipe cleaners got wet, they were heavy and it no longer floated. We tried making one with wine corks and toothpicks. We had hoped to cut up the cork to make feet, but that didn’t work – it might work with corkboard feet. Getting all the feet to line up on the same plane would also be important for making it float. This is our next challenge.


Egg Carton Bugs: Another great project, if you have egg cartons saved up. Kids can use one segment of the carton and pipe cleaners to make a daddy long legs, or two to make a spider, three to make an ant, 4 – 6 to make a caterpillar. You can paint them if desired.

Butterfly Ideas: You could easily make the coffee filter butterflies that we did in rainbow week. If you’ve got kids for multiple days, you could also make clothespin caterpillars early in the week, and add the coffee filter wings a few days later. Another option for wings would be to iron crayon shavings between layers of waxed paper for a stained glass look. There are more butterfly crafts here: and here

Arts and Crafts

Butterfly Life Cycle: We often do more process oriented art, but I also like to occasionally put out a product oriented project. Ironically, this one was the least chosen activity of our class day. 🙂   I still think it’s a good project: I think it was just crowded on the table and not laid out in a way that made it appealing and invited kids to try it out. There were four stages: cut out a green leaf. Add glue and some rice to be the eggs. Then cut out more green leaves, punch holes in them to be a chewed up leaf, then make a caterpillar with a craft stick, glue, pipe cleaners and pompoms. Then tape on a toilet paper tube to be the cocoon. (Or if you’re ambitious, make a paper mache or decoupage cocoon.) Then, go to the easel, paint on one half of the butterfly paper, then fold it in half to make your butterfly. Note: do not glue down the caterpillar. My five year old liked playing with this project interactively – he’d make the caterpillar nibble the leaves, then climb into the cocoon, then come out and be the center of the butterfly.

IMG_20160514_132736688  IMG_20160514_101952755  IMG_20160514_102050491

Bug antenna: We got Plastic Headbands – 36 for $7! Then kids used pipe cleaners and beads to make antenna.


Paper Plate Picnics: Decorate a paper plate by drawing your favorite food. Then put on a magnetic ant from the bug factory. Hold a Magnetic Wand under the plate and make the ant run around on the food.


Other Activities

Sensory Table: Bug Sort: We buried plastic bugs in the sand (could also use soil). Kids would unbury, then sort them into three dishes: insect – 6 legs, arachnid – 8 legs, or myriapod – lots of legs.


Spider Web: This is a simple big motor activity. Take a hula hoop or smaller plastic ring. Use tape to make a spider web. The spokes of the spider web should use the not sticky side of the tape facing out, the rings should have the sticky side facing out. (You can point this out to the kids… the spokes of a web and the center are generally made of a non-adhesive spider silk so the spider can walk on the web without getting stuck.)

Then throw cotton balls at it, pretending they’re flies who are flying around and get caught in the web. If a child throws and misses you say “hurray, the fly got away.” We’ve tried this in the past with pompoms, and they would often hit and not stick which was discouraging. (If you’re working with 5 – 7 year olds, you might get a good ratio of hits and misses, but with our little ones who don’t have great aim, we needed to make this easier.) Cotton balls stuck much better, although over time, they left fluff all over the tape which would eventually make it less sticky.


Bug puppet show: We set up the puppet theatre and a variety of bug puppets. We have found that if we set up imaginary play stations but don’t provide any guidance, often they are ignored. But if one of the adults gets something started, the kids will then join in and then run with it and have a great time putting on their own plays and watching other kids’ performances. (Also, if you put a rug or pillows out in front of the stage, kids are more likely to sit and be an audience.)


Bug Zoo: We brought in crickets and meal worms. (My daughter has a pet gecko that we care for while she’s at college – sigh, the long life expectancy of childhood pets…. so we always have these bugs at home.) You can also easily gather worms, snails, and maybe slugs (if it’s rained recently), or ants, or water bugs. Put them out with magnifying glasses, questions to guide observations, and books that let the kids learn more. You can also ask kids to gather and bring in specimens, but remind them to handle them humanely, put them in a container with air holes and a food source, and release them back into their habitat after class.


Other theme related activities: We’re blessed to share a classroom with a preschool art program that’s had about 20 years to accumulate fun puzzles, games, and building toys, so we put some out each week. This time, we had the bug eye lenses Bug Eye lenses, Cooties, Butterfly Puzzle and Bug Dominoes

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Snack: You could do a dirt cup (chocolate pudding, crushed oreos, and gummy worms) or bugs on a log (use pretzels or celery as the log, spread on cream cheese or peanut butter or sunflower butter, then sprinkle on chocolate chips or raisins or dried cranberries to be the bugs.) Or pasta – see notes under more ideas below.


We hid plastic butterflies and dragonflies out in the playground and went on a bug hunt. If you had butterfly nets, it would be even better.

You can do a real bug hunt by flipping over rocks and pieces of wood, looking in trees and so on. Try a tree shake – lay out a white sheet under a tree, then shake the branch for a few minutes and see what all falls out of the tree and onto the sheet.

More Ideas: As always, I have more ideas than we use….  Check out:

  • Ants on a picnic: make a red and white checkered tablecloth of paper. Put a black ink pad next to it and a fine point marker. Then kids can make ants with fingerprints, and add smiley faces with the marker.
  • Marble painting spider webs: Take a cake pan. Cut black paper to put in the bottom. Dip a marble in white paint. Roll it to make a spider web.
  • Alphabet caterpillar: Cut out 26 circles of rainbow colors of paper. Write one letter on each. Cut out one more to be the caterpillar’s head with a face and antenna. Kids assemble the caterpillar pieces in alphabetical order.
  • Cricket noises. Put on a recording of cricket noises. Then explain how crickets make that noise and have kids try to replicate. The two methods I’ve see recommended are to rasp a nail file over the edge of a piece of cardstock, or rasp a comb over a stick.
  • A really simple butterfly life cycle is to use pasta for the stages: orzo or acine di pepe for the egg, rotini or penne for the caterpillar, conchiglie (shell pasta) for the chrysalis, and bowtie for the butterfly. You could also use these shapes to make a fun lunch.
  • Make beeswax candles.

Opening Circle

Demo: As kids slowly come in to circle room, we demonstrate some of the activities that they’ll find in the classroom. If you find there’s an activity which hasn’t quite caught kids’ attention during discovery time, this is a great time to show it to them and talk about it to encourage them to check it out after circle.

Gathering: We always have a song, book, or rhythm activity to get kids’ attention focused and help them settle down. We read The Very Hungry Caterpillar (see below), which many of them were familiar with and loved seeing at class.

Discussion: We talked about the life cycle of a butterfly. I explained that butterflies don’t actually spin cocoons, even though many things (like today’s book and today’s song) say that they do. Moths spin silk cocoons. Butterfly caterpillars shed their skins / exoskeletons as they grow like many (all?) insects. When they are ready to become butterflies, they spin some silk to help them hang from a branch, split their skin, and then some gelatinous stuff forms, then hardens into a jewel like chrysalis. (For a good illustration and discussion of this, see Rockwell’s Becoming Butterflies (details below). Some butterflies make a pouch of leaves and form their chrysalis inside there.

Big motor game: We pretended to be butterflies… first, curled up in little balls on the floor to be eggs, then popped out of our eggs, then crawled around on the floor, eating apples, strawberries, chocolate cake, and watermelon. Then we curled up again as a chrysalis. Then broke free, spreading our wings slowly, fluttering them till they dried, then flying around the room. (Search on YouTube for “butterfly emerging” and you’ll find lots of videos of this process.)

Song: I found this song on  but I revised some of the words a little so they scanned better to the music. Done to the tune of Frere Jacques / Are You Sleeping.

Caterpillar, caterpillar, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawling on a green leaf, crawling on a green leaf crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl, crawl.
Caterpillar, caterpillar eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eating leaves all day, eating leaves all night, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.
Caterpillar, caterpillar, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin a silk cocoon, spin a silk cocoon, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin, spin.
[the scientifically accurate one would be something like: shed shed shed… shed your skin the chrysalis…]
Caterpillar, caterpillar, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep in your cocoon, sleep until you bloom, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep.
Caterpillar, caterpillar, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm from your cocoon, squirm from your cocoon squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm, squirm,
Caterpillar, caterpillar, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, you are not a caterpillar, you’re a big butterfly,  fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly

Book: This was already a long circle, and we don’t usually read two books, but I couldn’t resist reading Waiting For Wings.

Closing Circle

Gathering: We sang just a couple verses of Caterpillar song

Book: We read (with feeling!) Argh Spider!

Discussion: We talked about (and drew on the board) how many body parts and legs insects, arachnids, and myriapods have.

Game: How Many Legs? I would write a number on the board, then ask them for examples of what has that many legs. 6 – insects (their examples included ladybugs, ants, grasshoppers, etc.). 8 – spiders. 4 – their examples were all mammals – dogs, cats, cows, and so on. I added some reptiles and amphibians (lizards, frogs, etc.)  2 – they said humans (I pointed out we have four limbs like mammals) and birds. 0 – snakes, fish and various aquatic creatures, worms; 14 – roly poly, more than 20 – myriapods, and the stumper… 1 – clams and geoducks (from the family Pelecypoda) and snails. And, as my students all pointed out – Teacher Janelle. (That’s me. I’m an amputee and do in fact have one foot.)

In our morning class, where we have multiple vocal kids over age 5, this game worked well. In our afternoon class, where our over-5 kids are our quiet ones, it was harder to get them to participate.

Discussion: We labelled the body parts of the bugs we’d drawn. Insects have a head, thorax, and abdomen. Arachnids (spiders) have a cephalothorax (use this word with the kids, then explain that cephalo means head, and thorax means chest, so this is their head to chest part of the body) and an abdomen (belly). A very common misconception is that the legs are attached to the abdomen (which humans tend to think of as “the body” of the spider.) The legs are actually attached to the cephalothorax (what looks like the head to a human.) You will notice that MOST drawings of spiders and most plastic spiders get this wrong. Many drawings and plastic spiders actually only have one body part with all the legs coming out of it, daddy long legs style. (FYI, daddy long legs are not spiders, but they are arachnids – their cephalothorax and abdomen are fused together.)

Song: From Growing Up Wild book. to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

Head, Thorax, Abdomen; [touch head, chest, belly]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen.
Six legs, some wings, and an exoskeleton. [Touch legs, back, and then sweep your hands around your body]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen

Head, Thorax, Abdomen; Head, Thorax, Abdomen.
Big eyes, small size and two antennae too. [Point to eyes, then use fingers to show a small something, then wiggle fingers over your head as antenna]
Head, Thorax, Abdomen

Recommended Books (contain affiliate links)

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Carle. An egg hatches, a caterpillar eats and eats, then spins a cocoon, then emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Just one of my favorite children’s books ever. The illustrations are nice, it’s fun and engaging, and somehow the pacing of it is absolutely perfect for a read-aloud children’s book. Aimed at ages 3 – 5, but the 6 and 7 year olds will have some nostalgia for it. Note, if your child loves this book, you may also want to check out Carle’s whole collection of “Very” bug books. Here’s how a book cover describes a few of them: “Caterpillar teaches the days of the week, counting and metamorphosis…  The Very Busy Spider is about barnyard animals and sounds, how a spider builds a web,… and about useful work and its reward. Very Quiet Cricket is about a cricket finding its voice, and about love and survival.”
  • Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Monks. A lonely spider wants to be a pet, and does its best job to win over a family, who keep saying “argh! spider!” then “Out you Go!” Then the spider wins them over – there’s a lovely page with sparkly webs the spider has woven – and is a happy pet – until s/he brings over too many friends to play! It’s a really fun read-aloud. Also, at my parent education session that day, I had talked about emotional intelligence, and one suggestion I’d made to the parents is that when reading books, talk about the emotions of the characters – ask kids to notice expressions in the illustrations – ask “how do you think this character feels now?” And Argh Spider is a great book for illustrating just how this emotional literacy can be pulled into reading almost any great kids book. Good for ages 3 – 7.
  • Waiting for Wings by Ehlert. Big book with big bold illustrations makes it great for circle time reading. Nice engaging words, with a good rhyme and rhythm. Tells the story of caterpillars hatching, eating, making a case (chrysalis), and becoming butterflies. On the final pages, we see pictures of several different species, where it shows what food they eat, what the caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly look like. Good for ages 3 – 6.
  • Bug Safari by Barner. A child goes on a safari through a “bug-infested jungle”. He follows a trail of ants, and they pass by many other insects like dung beetles, green mantis, and spiders. The ants lead him back to his own base camp, where they’ve discovered the family picnic! Engaging story, fun illustrations, and good info. At the back of the book, there’s more details about each of the bugs seen. Recommended read-aloud for ages 5 – 7.
  • Ten Little Caterpillars by Martin and Ehlert. Another book featuring Lois Ehlert’s fabulous, vibrant illustrations – while not detailed naturalistic drawings, they definitely capture the essence of natural objects. I have to confess that when I read this, my first impression was that many of the caterpillars met a bad ending, and that maybe only number ten survived. I re-read it, and one through five were fine. Number 6 was carried off to school, number 7 met a hungry wren, the eighth was frightened by a hen, the ninth falls into the sea, right in front of a big hungry looking fish. I’m not sure whether or not these caterpillars survive those encounters – a kid might not have this question, but I notice it as an adult. Number 10 turns into a butterfly. And again at the back, there’s pictures of various caterpillars, butterflies and moths. Ages 3 – 5.
  • Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! by Barton.  Very bright, cheery illustrations. This could be a good book to put on the table at the bug factory, because if shows simplified versions of ladybugs, grasshoppers, bees and more. Fun circle time read-aloud for three year olds. The bonus  is the “bug-o-meter” chart in the back, which has 8 columns for 8 types of bugs, then 4 rows for “can it fly, where does it live, how man legs, and does it sting.” This was a great introduction to charts for my five year old, who figured them out quickly as I asked: “Can you tell me all the bugs that sting” and other questions.
  • Inch by Inch by Lionni. A story about an inchworm who saves himself from being eaten by a robin by saying “I am useful. I measure things.” And he goes on to measure the robin’s tail, flamingo’s neck, toucan’s beak, and onward, until the nightingale demands he measure her song. He inches away. Nice illustrations, nice engaging story. Would also be fun to include in a class on measuring. Ages 3 – 6, nice read-aloud.
  • Becoming Butterflies by Rockwell and Halsey. If you’re planning to get a Live Butterfly Kit, then I would absolutely get this book. It tells the story of a preschool teacher bringing caterpillars into the classroom and the children watching them through the process of hungry caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly and then releasing them. Ages 5- 7, unless you’ve got your own live caterpillars, in which case I think 3 – 4 year olds would engage in this book even though it’s longer than their typical attention span.
  • Life Story of a Ladybug by Guillain. A non-fiction book – the words are best for ages 5 – 7. But the photos are great for any age. Great colorful up close photos. I like that this shows the life cycle of a ladybug from egg to larva to pupa to adult . I think almost all preschool kids learn about the life cycle of the butterfly (and sometimes moths) but we rarely teach them that other insects go through a similar series of changes.
  • Those Amazing Ants by Demuth and Schindler. Ages 6 – 7. A non-fiction book about ants, which summarizes lots of good information in an engaging, story-telling way. Great “up close” illustrations of ants. Shows life cycle of ant, from egg to worm to adult.
  • Bugs Are Insects by Rockwell. A detailed non-fiction, for ages 6 – 7. Discusses anatomy of insects and how to tell insects from arachnids. It defines bug, saying “we sometimes call insects bugs.. a bug is an insect with a mouth like a beak and a head that forms a triangle” like stinkbugs, bedbugs and water striders.
  • Chirping Crickets by Berger and Lloyd. A non-fiction book which tells the science of crickets in an engaging way. Ages 6 – 7.

More about Model Magic: if you’re not familiar with Model Magic, I have to say it’s one of my favorite materials to work with. Not unpleasant to touch (like Sculpey) or to smell (like Play-Doh), extremely malleable. Really easy to mix colors (tip: put two colors together then twist then fold. Repeat till mixed. The twisting really mixes them well). It’s a very forgiving material when you’re working with it. It doesn’t start getting dry and crumbly while you work, it doesn’t stick to or stain your hands. It takes about 24 hours for creations to dry, and has to be handled carefully during this time so it doesn’t get squished flat, but after that, it’s pretty durable. I also used Model Magic to make a model of the Earth’s layers and a model of the solar system to use in class demos.

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It is much cheaper in bulk. If you buy a small package small package with 6 half-ounce packets, it’s $6 – that’s $2 an ounce. I bought 75 one-ounce packs 75 one-ounce packs for $39. That’s 52 cents an ounce. (It also comes in several other sizes.)

You need to make your items pretty small for them to dry effectively. This is not a good product for big sculptures, but fine for little things – like bugs. The balls for the spider were about the size of shooter marbles, the balls on the caterpillars were smaller than marbles, but bigger than peas. I didn’t keep track of how many bugs we could make with one ounce of clay, but I’d guess four?

Videos and Apps

  • Caterpillar Shoes: Ok, the caterpillar is sharing its shoes with all the other bugs, so that part is completely scientifically inaccurate. But this is a terribly cute video and does introduce lots of different kinds of bugs.
  • What is an Insect is a nice 2 minute video about the basic science of insects explained at a preschool level.
  • Crickets, Insects and Reptiles. Good if you can stand the perky host…
  • All About Bugs is another nice video, though the speaking style is a little slow and overly enunciated. But the nice thing is that it has captions. If you have a child who reads, I like captions they can read along with as literacy practice.

Most bug apps are about smashing bugs, killing bugs, and wars on bugs. There’s a Very Hungry Caterpillar app – a free version and a $3.99 version. I’ve only spent a few minutes with it, but it’s a nice educational game with a quiet peaceful tone – appears good for a 3 or 4 year old. I’m testing out Bug Village, which is about building bug villages.

What Sticks?

In the days since class, my 5 year old has been very aware of the insects in our life… last night he spent 15 minutes watching the anthills outside our garage, and this morning, he wanted to walk to the “bee bush”, a flowering bush near our house that bees are always surrounding this time of year.

Seeds and Plants

An updated version of this post is available at:

As part of our Biology and Life Sciences theme, we studied seeds, plants, and flowers.

Question of the Week: What 4 things does a plant need in order to grow?


Terrarium: Our Engineering project of the week was to build a small environment/terrarium for growing plants. We used clear plastic bottles such as 2 liter soda bottles or large juice jugs. We cut them in half, then put in layers of rocks, horticultural charcoal (to prevent mold), moss, soil, then live herbs, ivy and other plant starts. We also sprayed in a little water and gave instructions about taking it home and putting it in a sunny spot so we could talk to kids about the fact that plants need soil, air, water, and sun to grow.


Take Home Project #2: Seed Bombs. Take construction paper – shred it with your hands (if you cut it with scissors, it won’t work as well at absorbing water and later bonding back together). Pour hot water over it and soak for 15 – 20 minutes, then whir it in a blender or food processor till it’s pulp. Squeeze out some of the water (you want it about as wet as applesauce.) Have the child take a small handful of pulp – push some seeds deep inside it. Squeeze out most of the extra water, making a ball. (If you squeeze out too little, it’s too wet and will fall apart – if you squeeze out too much, it’s too dry and will fall apart – just add a little water back in…)  Then put in a plastic baggie to take home. At home, you can plant right away, or take it out of the plastic baggie to dry, and then use it later. Can plant in your yard, or a planter, or chuck it over a fence into a vacant lot to add some pretty flowers to the weeds growing there. (Note, if you don’t like the connotation of “bombs”, you could just call these paper seed pods.)  Learn more about a similar project at Twig & Toadstool.

Note: medium sized seeds work best. Itty bitty seeds like chamomile are hard to see and easy to drop. Big seeds like squash and pumpkin are hard to fit inside the bombs.


Art: Celery Rose Prints: Cut the base off a stalk of celery. Use it and paint to make prints. You can also use cut bell peppers and other fruits and veggies for interesting prints.

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Art: Cupcake Paper Flower: On a piece of paper, we glued strips of green paper to be stems, and paper leaves. At the top of the stems, we glued flattened out cupcake papers, then glued seeds into the center of the papers. (Option: could have kids plant this artwork in the ground when they’re ready to dispose of it.)  Results were similar to this photo from (Hannah’s Art Club has photos of prettier results of a similar project.)


Art: Flower Bookmark: Take a popsicle stick. Color it. Tape yarn fringe on one end to be roots and tape paper flower on the other end.


Science Observation 1: We planted a variety of seeds in an egg carton five days before class so kids could see the sprouts. They just barely sprouted – none were big enough to be able to see what type of plant they were. Next time, we’ll try picking one type of seed, planting some 14 days before class, some 10 days before class, some 6 days and some 2 or 3 days, so kids can see how they have grown over a period of time. The sprouts were on a table to look at with magnifying glasses, plus during circle time, they were used to illustrate places in the book where it talked about plant sprouts starting to emerge from the ground.


Science observation 2: We wanted to show wicking action in a plant / capillary action – how they pull water up through a stem or leaf. We’ve tried it in the past with celery and carnations and this time used a cabbage leaf, but we never get enough wicking action in the two hour class to be a good demo… with the cabbage leaf, at the end of the full day, the bottom edge was bright red, with hints of red in the bottom inch. Read more about these types of experiments at TinkerLab, Outlaw Mom, and PBS.


Plant Parts Puzzle: Make a puzzle with a picture of a flower with leaves, stem, and roots – cut into four puzzle pieces for kids to assemble. There’s one at L is for Learning. Here’s the PDF we designed, and a photo of it.


Math Activity: Bean Sort: Put a bowl of beans and/or seeds out with several empty containers. Kids sort beans/seeds by type, then can count how many of each, compare which they have the most / least of and so on. They can also learn vocabulary by learning the names of each bean.


Sensory Table: We used cloud dough (flour, oil and cocoa powder) but you could also use real dirt. Add gardening tools (trowels, rakes) and plastic plants.


Water Table: Watering cans to pour with. We also threw in some clear glass stones, which look like odd bubbles in the water till you touch them and discover they’re solid.

Imaginary Play: We had big mats covered in brown fabric to be a gardening plot. We put out gardening gloves, hats, gardening tools, plant pots, fake flowers, and bug puppets. (We had a suggestion that another fun game would be to mark out a tic tac toe board on the mats, and have toys carrots and lettuces or other veggies to play tic tac toe with.)


Motor Play: The other class we share our space with happened to have a fishing pond activity where kids could use fishing poles (dowels with magnets tied on) to fish for paper flowers with paper clips attached.


Other projects to consider:

  • Germinate seeds in a plastic baggie, with either cotton balls to hold the water as in this post from Teach Preschool or with paper towels, like Mad in Crafts.
  • You could make tissue paper flowers with pipe cleaner stems. Just search Pinterest for a hundred examples.
  • Make a collage with seeds.
  • Make a musical shaker by filling a small container with beans or seeds.
  • Dissect a flower. Learn more at Gift of Curiosity or Montessori in Bloom.
  • For snack, serve fruit. First guess how many seeds will be inside, then cut it open and count the seeds.
  • Paint using carnations as your paint brush.


Opening Circle:

The Big Idea: We drew a picture of a flower growing (with roots) on the board. We asked kids what plants need to grow, and wrote the answers on the board as they came up with them: Sun, Water / Rain, Dirt / Soil, and Air. We talked about what humans need and how that’s similar and different.

Song: We taught a simple song, to the tune of Row Your Boat:

Grow, grow, grow your plants
Grow them tall and green
Soil and water, sun and air
All seeds depend on these

An alternative would be this, inspired by Preschool Education.

Dig, dig, dig the earth
Then you plant your seeds
A gentle rain and bright sunshine
Is all that they will need

Book: we read Two Old Potatoes and Me by Coy. A boy finds two old potatoes with sprouting eyes at his dad’s house. He is about to throw them away, but his dad suggests they plant them. They cut them into pieces, plant them, water them, and wait… eventually ending up with over 60 potatoes. Great story about growing process and patience.

We talked about the day’s activities, and sent them back out to explore some more.

Closing Circle

Rhythm: We often begin circle with a clapping game – it helps get all the kids sitting down, paying attention and in the rhythm. (Rhythm is also great for brain development and future math skills.) This day, I asked them to say the word watermelon, then say it and clap the syllables. 4 claps. We played with that, then I asked them to do the same with dandelion. It’s the same! Then I told them to do black-eyed pea. Then pumpkin seed. Those are both three syllables. Then we practiced watermelon black eyed pea. Then we did the clapping rhythm without saying the words out loud. 4 – 3 – 4 – 3.

Book: We read If You Hold a Seed by MacKay. This is a beautiful quiet story where a boy makes a wish, plants a seed, and then we see the seasons and years pass by until the tree and the boy are fully grown. And then the man takes his son to the tree and they plant a new seed. Just a gentle way to examine life’s seasons.

Another nice option for closing circle would be the Garden from Frog and Toad Are Friends by Lobel. Frog gives Toad a few seeds to plant. Toad wants them to grow RIGHT NOW!! A nice story for kids to empathize with, and laugh at, about the frustration of waiting for something. (See videos below, and check out this post about using this story to Teach Children Philosophy.)

Song: the Garden Song. (Here’s a video with John Denver and the Muppets. You can also find versions by Pete Seeger; Arlo Guthrie; Peter, Paul and Mary; and my favorite recording by Priscilla Herdman – which accompanies lots of other lovely songs on her album Daydreamer. There are also books featuring the words of the song and illustrations, such as Inch by Inch: The Garden Song (Trophy Picture Books (Paperback))
with illustrations by Eitan.)

Inch by inch, row by row
I’m gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and hoe and piece of fertile ground.

Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna help these seeds I sow
Soil will warm them from below
Till the rain comes tumbling down

More recommended Books (contain affiliate links or check your local library)


  • One Bean by Rockwell. This would be a FABULOUS book to accompany a class project where you plant lima beans and take them home because it’s the story of a boy doing just that, and each of the steps in its development, from planting the seed to harvesting the beans. I might not read it if I wasn’t planting beans. Ages 3 – 8.
  • The Surprise Garden by Hall and Halpern. Tells the story of children planting a garden. Their mother has given them a variety of seeds that they look at, then dig the dirt, plant the seeds, water, and wait for them to grow. They’re excited to see peas, beans, squash, and more start to reveal themselves. All summer long, they pick and eat their produce. At the end, there’s a summary of the seeds they planted and what grew from them. Fun illustrations. Nice simple read-aloud. Age 3 – 6.
  • The Carrot Seed by Krauss and Johnson. This 60 year old classic tells a story of a boy who plants a seed and has high hopes (that others don’t share) that it will grow to something wonderful.
  • Jack’s Garden by Cole. This is a cumulative story. The first page says “This is the garden that Jack planted.” Then on each page, it adds a new sentence and repeats what has come before, so by the end it’s “These are the birds that chased the insects that sipped nectar fro the flowers that blossomed from the buds that formed on the plants that grew from the seedlings that sprouted with the rain that wet the seeds that fell on the soil that made up the garden that Jack planted.” Full of detailed naturalistic drawings of birds, eggs, insects, plants, and gardening tools. If you prefer a more serious, less silly book, this is a nice one.
  • Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Fleming and Karas. On the other hand, if you prefer silly – this is a good one. It’s the story of Mr. McGreely who finally plants the vegetable garden he has long dreamed of, but the bunnies keep appearing and “muncha muncha” – there go the plants. Mr. McGreely builds a small fence, then a big fence, then a moat, then stone fortifications… and still… muncha muncha…
  • From Seed to Plant by Gibbons. I can’t count how many Gail Gibbons books we’ve checked out for class this year! And they’re always good non-fiction books – nice illustrations, good writing, clear explanations of scientific ideas. I can’t say I ever fall in loved with one, and we don’t read them aloud at circle, but absolutely worth having on the bookshelf for kids who want to learn more! Best for 5 – 7 year olds.
  • The Curious Garden by Brown. A nice story of urban transformation… what if in a dreary city with no greenery of any kind, a curious boy went walking on an abandoned elevated railroad track and found wildflowers and plants? What if he tended a garden there? What if new gardeners popped up all over town? Nice read-aloud for 4 – 7, but may be a little wordy for 3 – 4 year olds.
  • What’s in the Garden? by Berkes and Arbo. A page offers a rhyming riddle: “The part that you eat is way in the ground, so how can this fabulous food be found? Look for the feathery leaves on its top. It’s long and it’s orange – a real healthy crop.” The illustration shows the plant and an insect or bird. Kids guess what the plant is, and on the next page, there’s a recipe for something using that plant: blueberry pie, tomato sauce, French onion soup… At the back of the book, there’s adult-level info on each of the fruits and veggies, a discussion of what plants need to grow, plant anatomy, a glossary of cooking terms, and useful websites. Best for kids age 6 – 8. Best if used in conjunction with a gardening project or a trip to a farm.
  • A Seed Is Sleepy by Aston and Long – the author and illustrator of The Egg is Quiet we had for our Eggs theme. A book that can be read aloud at different depths… you could just read the big words on each page (A seed is secretive). Or you can add the note that ties to that (It does not reveal itself too quickly). Or, there’s the full details (Most seeds sleep through a season of two, waiting for the warmer temperatures of spring. But some take their time. Ten years might pass before the bright red-orange seed of the Texas mountain laurel shows its purple blooms.) Each page has very detailed, beautiful, naturalistic paintings. I honestly don’t read these aloud – I put them out at an observation station… next to eggs and magnifying glasses, or next to some growing plants to encourage the child to look deeply at both the book and the items.
  • The Dandelion Seed’s Big Dream by Anthony and Arbo. Nice illustrations, nice story of a dandelion seed’s journey. My 5 year old liked it for the story and got engaged by the challenges the seed had on its way to finding a home. My co-teacher wasn’t a fan of the anthropomorphized seed: “still it held onto its dream of becoming a flower like its parents and their parents before.”
  • Growing Vegetable Soup by Ehlert. If you want a good basic book for 3 – 4 year olds about the process of growing a seed, and what it needs to grow, this is great. Too simple for older kids.
  • The Tiny Seed by Carle. About seeds being blown across the world. The tiny seed is lucky not to land on the icy mountain, or in the ocean, or the desert or get eaten by a bird or a mouse or get picked before it produces seeds of its own. Nice story, but this is one where I wonder how one seed traveled so very far through so many climates… kids won’t wonder that, but I do.
    Pick, Pull, Snap!: Where Once a Flower Bloomed by Schaefer and George. I love the illustrations. Love the fold out flaps. The words are not as engaging for young children as I wish they were. “In the field, wind waves golden tassels high above heads, and pollen floats through the air to the silks of a flower.” It’s good to have on the shelf, but I don’t read aloud at circle.
  • Flip, Float, Fly!: Seeds on the Move by Macken and Paparone. Nice illustrations and nice text talking about all the ways seeds move through the world: maple seeds fly like shiny green helicopters, tumbleweeds scatter their seeds as they roll, roll, roll; locust tree pods skitter and skate on slippery ice. If we had more time in circle or discussed seeds in more detail, this would be a great read-aloud.
  • How a Seed Grows by Jordan and Krupinski. Ages 5 – 7. Offers a basic introduction to seeds and how they grow, then the majority of the book is a detailed description of project where you plant bean seeds in eggshells,  care for them over the weeks, then transfer them to the garden and care for them till they yield beans. If you want to do the project described in this book, it’s a great book! If you don’t want to do it, I wouldn’t get the book – I find that if I get a project-based book and then don’t do the project, it just makes my kid cranky at me.
  • Another good book is Planting a Rainbow by Ehlert. We read it during Rainbow week.


  • I LOVE the story of the garden from the book Frog and Toad are Friends. Check out this video – sure to please any five year old:
  • If you can find Watermelon Magic, it’s great!
  • There’s lots of great videos on YouTube of timelapse photography of plants growing. But if you watch them, you’ll need to explain timelapse to your child and explain plants don’t really grow that fast.
  • I’m sure there are plenty more great stories of characters planting seeds and having a hard time being patient waiting for them to grow, then enjoying the harvest. If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments!

Rainbows, take 2

There’s an updated version of this post at


At today’s Family Inventors Lab, our theme was Rainbows. We also did this theme last year, so this post is a combination of ideas from last year and this year.

Group Art: Last year, 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. (see photo above)  This year, we offered a drawing of a rainbow and colorful post-it flags to fill it in. (They’re a good small motor skill. Buy them at a dollar store, don’t pay office supply prices!) It was easier set-up and clean-up, but not as satisfying a project, so next time we’ll go back to painting.


Challenge Activity: Build a spectroscope. This idea, and the photo below are from Check their post for the details.

Prep: Cut 45 degree slits at the bottom of each paper towel tube and cut a small peephole in each, opposite the lowest point on the slit.
Kids make: Kids decorate tubes with washi tape. Insert CD with shiny side pointing up.
Kids use: Look through the peephole – aim top of tube toward light, adjust till you see rainbows. It was interesting, because the effect was a little different in different tubes, presumably depending on the exact angle of the CD’s tilt, and the exact placement of the peephole. Some were clearer rainbows, some were spots of the 6 colors.

(Note, in the original post, they taped cardboard circles with slits cut in them onto the top of the tube. I didn’t find this made a big difference in results, so we skipped this step.)

Rainbow Science for Kids: Homemade Spectroscope using a paper towel roll and a CD. Such a fun way to explore light! ~

After class, I discovered these Rainbow-Scope Kits. We’ll try them out the next time we do this topic.

Exploration of Colors and Light: We had an overhead projector, so we set it up with our screen from last week’s Shadows class. We put out a wide variety of colorful items that could be set on the projector and seen up on the screen. We also had a top that kids could spin on the projector and see the spinning shadow. This activity was the big hit of morning class with three kids virtually never walking away from it. (Sadly, the projector bulb died at the end of morning class, so our afternoon class didn’t get to try this one out.)

IMG_20160430_104907063  IMG_20160430_104940846  IMG_20160430_110828373  IMG_20160430_104914997

Exploration / Art: 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… ambient light may create spread out rainbow colors. Looking at a ceiling light, you might see circular rainbows, an LED flashlight on a cell phone, can create six rays of rainbows radiating out. Learn more about diffraction lenses.) We had crayons / markers and paper out so the kids could draw what they saw. We also put out some kaleidoscopes and some prism viewers for them to look through. This photo is a view of our overhead projector image from above, seen through the diffraction grating:


Exploration / Small Motor Skills: We “made it rain” by filling a big vase with water, spraying shaving cream on top, and using pipettes to drip diluted liquid watercolor on the shaving cream clouds. It slowly drips through, creating swirling “rainfall” below. For more pictures and thoughts on talking to kids about the science of rain, check out this post.


Art: We used eye droppers to drip liquid watercolor onto coffee filters, which creates some beautiful color mixing. (Don’t dilute the liquid watercolor – use it straight.) Then we used clothespins to turn the coffee filters into butterflies. I didn’t get a picture of our butterflies, but here’s a sample of what they could look like. (Source for idea)

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

More Color and Light Exploration: We had jars of colored water and a bright light to shine through them. We rigged up a “mirror” with foil to reflect the light to “mix” colors.

IMG_20160430_101130244  IMG_20160430_104750580

We put colorful translucent items on the light table.


Pattern-Making / Art: We had pipe cleaners and beads out and kids could choose to make a patterned bracelet, or choose to make rainbows on Styrofoam bases.


Writing tool: We made a rainbow tray, like in this Nurture store activity, with the intention of filling it with salt for kids to practice drawing letters in. But, we discovered we didn’t have salt in the classroom. We tried flour, which I’ve used successfully with one toddler but in the classroom setting with multiple kids, it was too messy. We tried white plastic beads (like you fill beanbags with) but they were too messy. We tried rock salt, but you couldn’t effectively trace letters in it. So, we’ll try again next time.


Rainbow Songs: There are so many songs about rainbows! I made a playlist of rainbow songs and we just had it playing in one room while kids played.

Other Ideas: Other activities this year and last were rainbow crayons, rainbow colored blocks, and color your own playdough. (Last year we used liquid watercolor for this, which was not a good idea as it made the playdough too wet. We may try again in the future with gel or powdered color.) We had blocks of ice that they could sprinkle salt onto and pour water onto, and drip liquid watercolor on to help it melt. Even better would be to make rainbow colored blocks of ice. We also a rainbow colored tumbling mat with colored hoops to jump into for some big motor play. We played a little spontaneous Twister on the mats: Put your left hand on the red part, put your right foot on the blue part, and so on.

Circle Time

Gathering Song: For our gathering activity, I gave all the kids colorful scarves, and told them that when I called their color, they should wave their scarf, and when I said “rainbow”, everyone should wave their scarves. We practiced that, then I put on this song, and we waved our scarves. Note: it was hard for our little ones to keep up with the speed of this song, so another one from the playlist might work better if you’re working with 3 – 4 year olds. Try:

Understanding the Big Idea: You could choose to show a simple video, such as this one or this one:

I just talked about rainbows, asking the kids questions – the older ones knew these answers: “To see a rainbow outside, you have to have a specific type of weather – what do you need?” We discussed sunlight and rain. Then I showed them the flashlight on my phone and asked what color the light was – white. I told them it was made of many colors, and if we could bend the light, we could see all those colors. We turned out the light, I held up a glass of water, and shone the flashlight through it to make a rainbow. (Note: be sure to test out a variety of glasses to see which gives the best rainbow effect – I had the best luck with a stemless wine glass, and shining my light through the curve at the bottom.) I also showed how the reflection off a CD can create a rainbow.

I asked the kids what colors are in a rainbow, and some could recite them easily, so we wrote those up on the board, and talk about the ROY G. BIV mnemonic.

Book: We read A Rainbow of My Own by Freeman. It’s a nice story of a boy who imagines having a rainbow follow him and play with him, but then his imaginary rainbow disappears, but when he goes home, he finds a “rainbow of his own” in his room as the sunlight shines through the goldfish bowl, creating a rainbow. It’s a sweet story, and our kids totally got that real rainbows don’t behave like his pretend one did, and they liked that it ended with the rainbow and the goldfish bowl, which echoes the demonstration we just did.

Song: Barney’s Rainbow Song:

Oh, I like red, it’s the color of an apple. Orange, it’s the color of an orange.
Yellow, it’s a lemon, and a wonderful sun, sun, sun.
Green, is the color of the color of the trees, and lots of things that grow.
And then there’s blue for the sky, And purple, that’s a color that’s fun, fun, fun.
And when we put those colors side by side, Now, what do you think we’ve done? We’ve made a rainbow, and it’s a really beautiful one, one, one.

There’s some other nice song options on Preschool Express and on Perpetual Preschool, or on the YouTube playlist I mentioned earlier.

Closing Circle: We read Planting a Rainbow by Ehlert, about planting a colorful garden. It tied in nicely to this week’s rainbow theme and next week’s Seeds and Plants theme.

Then we got out the parachute (it’s rainbow colored) and played the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. We waved the parachute up and down gently with kids under it. We put balls on top of it and bounced it wildly, and we played Red Rover under it.

Rainbow Books (contains affiliate links)

      • Rainbow by Bauer and Wallace.  A simple non-fiction read-aloud that overviews the basic science of rainbows. Good for a preschool STEM class.
      • Take a Walk on a Rainbow: A First Look at Colour – a fine non-fiction book about science, rainbows and colors.
      • A Rainbow All Around Me by Pinkney. What I like: photos of kids painting rainbows, brightly colored photos for each color. What I don’t like – I find it doesn’t flow well for me to read out loud. We do some colors, yellow, blue, red, then a little refrain of “colors are you. Colors are me.” Then orange, purple, black (not in the rainbow). Refrain. Green, pink, brown. Refrain. White, tan, ending page… it’s fine, but I don’t love it.
      • I Am a Rainbow by Dolly Parton. A feelings book. Talks about when we’re tickled pink, seeing red, feeling blue, green with jealousy, scared yellow and when everything is rosy. Nice little book about emotions but my 5 year old wanted to know why it it didn’t include orange if it’s called a rainbow book.
      •   Rainbows Never End: and other fun facts by DiSiena and Eliot. A science trivia book for ages 6 – 7. A couple pages on rainbows, and more on snow, rain cycle, thunder and lightning, tornadoes, solstice, the North and South pole, deserts. and so on. A good general purpose collection of “fun facts”.
      • Rainbow Shoes by Stone and Czernecki. A collection of silly poems, each tied into a color. Do Robots wear red rubber boots? Orange socks. Purple pants poem, my underwear is dingy and so on. Fine for a poetry unit, not really for a STEM class.
      • Elmer and the Rainbow by McKee. There’s a rainbow in the sky that has lost its colors. Elmer goes on a quest, and then shares his colors with the rainbow. I’m all for fantasy (see “A Rainbow of My Own” that was my favorite for this week) but this book managed to just be too scientifically inaccurate for my taste.
      • Curious George Discovers the Rainbow adapted by Cherrix from the TV episode. Really wordy in the main text – maybe suited for 6 – 7 year olds, plus lots of wordy side bars of additional facts. The content is good – there’s just a lot of it.
      • Weaving the Rainbow by Lyon and Anderson. Pretty watercolor illustrations, and a story about raising lambs to adulthood, shearing the sheep, spinning the wool, dyeing it with goldenrod and madder, and weaving a pastoral picture. Would be a good book to accompany a class in the traditional arts.
      • Maisy’s Rainbow Dream by Cousins. If you have a Maisy fan, they’ll love this book, which is full of lots of big, bright, colorful illustrations. I don’t love it. The page says something like “Maisy dreams about an orange fish.” And there’s a picture of an orange fish with a panda bear / mermaid and an alligator on an airplane, a squirrel in a boat and a ladybug. Who knows why. Ages 3 – 4.

Rain Books. If you’re talking about rain as well as raindrops, here are some good options.

  • Raindrops Roll by Sayre. Absolutely gorgeous nature photography combined with a nice read-aloud about rain for preschoolers. Lovely.
  • Who Likes the Rain by Etta Kaner. Nice non-fiction.
  • What is the Water Cycle by Ellen Lawrence

Videos: There’s a Sid the Science Kid episode on Rainbows. It’s available to Sid the Science Kid: What Is a Rainbow?“>stream for a fee on Amazon, but I have not found a free version.

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: