Shrinky Dinks from recycled plastic

I’ve heard that it works to do “Shrinky Dinks” from recycled plastic.

We’ve just made one attempt so far, but I thought I’d share my results.

Gather plastics labelled #1 or #6. Cut into desired shapes, decorate with sharpies as desired. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set them in and watch them. In a minute or so, they’ll suddenly curl up tight and then they’ll gradually uncurl. In another minute or so, they’re done.  (Note: I wondered if off-gassing would be a problem. I personally didn’t get any chemical smell in this process, and I tend to be quite sensitive to it.)

It’s actually a little hard to find #1 and #6 in flat trays that are easy to use for this craft. I’ve been collecting for a while, and the main thing I’ve found is take-out sushi trays. The three plastics I used looked and felt very similar before cooking, so my son expected them to behave in the same way, but they didn’t!

I made scuba divers (I was thinking about using them in a Cartesian diver bottle.) On the top, you see the drawing. The first batch, I didn’t note whether it was #1 or #6. They shrunk a little and thickened a little. I cooked them in a corrugated pie tin (I don’t know if cooking surface affected my results,)

The second batch was #1 plastics cooked on a silicone sheet on a metal pan. Disappointing. They barely shrunk, barely thickened, and several never uncurled.

Batch #3 was the best shrinky dink, in that they shrunk well, thickened well, and stayed flat. But they shrunk way more than the others and the end result was much smaller than I wanted. I plan to experiment more with time, but let me know what your results are!

This is a fun discovery of various results from similar products. If you really want reliable, consistent results, you’re best off using commercial Shrinky Dinks. At $6 for 10 sheets, they’re a cheap option.


Addendum: My son is really into Shopkins, and his new display case came with this packaging. It was #1 plastic, and I had high hopes that we could cut it apart into all the separate Shopkins, punch a hole in each one, shrink it and have small, hard plastic charms.


So, we decided to test it. We cut out the “60+ Shopkins” starburst, and the recycling symbol, and we also traced 4 pictures with a Sharpie, cut them apart, and used a hole punch to punch a hole in each hypothetical charm.


We heated the oven to 350. Popped them in for a few minutes, They curled up tightly (except the starburst, which just got all rumpled) and turned white and didn’t shrink. We ended up with 6 useless bits of curled plastic. Oh well, back to the drawing board….



Pine Cone Experiment

Whenever kids get interested in something, it’s fun to run a quick experiment. A few weeks ago in the park my five year old overheard other kids saying that if you get a pine cone wet it opens up. He told us that, and I said “I’ve never heard that. Let’s test it.”

So, we gathered three pine cones, in various stages of “open-ness.”


We took them home and put them in water for a few days. Here’s what happened.


They actually closed up. The opposite of what we’d been told they’d do.

So, we set them on a counter for a few days. Here’s what happened.


One just opened up a bit. The others opened all the way. So, pinecones close when they’re wet and open when they’re dry. Why?

Female pinecones open and close.  “The scales open when dry because their outer halves shrink more than their inner halves, and they pull away from the cone.” (Source)Before the seed is formed, it is thought that they open up so they can be pollinated. Pollen is wind-borne and can be spread more easily on dry, sunny days. After the seed is formed, they open up on warm sunny days to release their seeds.

More info at: San Diego Union Tribune, Davidson Institute of Science Education.

A fun extension of this experiment: soak pinecones till they close, then put them inside a clear bottle or jar with a narrow neck they just barely fit through. Then let them dry – they’ll open up, and it’s like a ship in a bottle – people won’t be able to figure out how you got the pinecones inside the bottle.

Kids’ Books about the Ocean


One of our themes was “Under the Sea” – submarines, fish, and coral reef. Here are some recommended books for preschool and elementary age kids about the ocean.

Coral Reefs, Fish and More

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon. This is an absolutely delightful book – perhaps one of my favorite kids’ non-fiction books ever. It’s so good that I wrote a whole post all about it and other books by the same author. There’s text set to a familiar tune you can sing, amazing illustrations, nice collection of facts, fun counting book. Highly recommended! Age 3 – 7.

Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!: Counting Round and Round by Suse MacDonald. A terribly clever design for a counting book. As you read forward in the book, it counts up from one to ten. Then when you reach the end, you flip it over and count down from ten to one. Nice illustration style, with cool see-thru die cuts that are intriguing in both directions. Age 3 – 7.

Ten Little Fish by Wood and Wood. Age 2 – 5. A counting book with cute illustrations, simple text. Nice rhythm and rhyme to text (it’s a classic counting game rhythm that goes as far back as Ten Little Injuns from 1868): “Ten little fish, swimming in a line. One dives down and now there are… ” and as you read it, the children will, of course, shout “nine!”  It counts down to one, then there’s an interesting twist at the end. “One little fish. What will he do? Along comes another fish, and that makes… two little fish in love with one another. Soon one is a father, and the other is a mother! But mother and father don’t count. Just ten little fish – swimming in a line.”

Coral Reefs by Chin. Ages 6 – 9. Non-fiction book with a touch of fantasy. In the illustrations, we see a girl reading in a library while the text tells us about coral and reef structure. As we move through the pages, learning more facts about coral, the illustrations show coral appearing in the library, then water rushes in, and the girl and her book are carried away into the ocean, where she swims around a reef and with the sea creatures as we continue to learn more about fish, eels, sea turtles, and more. At the end of the book, we see her on the steps of the library (NYPL) sharing the book with friends. The text is too high level for my class of 3 – 6 year olds, but for older kids, it’s an engaging presentation of lots of factual information. (The illustration at the top of this post is from this book.)

Swim Fish!: Explore the Coral Reef by Neuman, a National Geographic reader. Age 2  -5. Very simple pre-reader non-fiction with gorgeous photography. Worth getting from the library just for the pictures.

Coral Reefs by Gibbons. Age 6 – 9. Gibbons has written over 50 non-fiction books. They’re all full of great information, well organized, with colorful illustrations. It’s a reference book for the shelf more than it is something you’d sit and read in one sitting.

Coral Reef by Parker, from the Smart Kids series. Ages 5 – 8. Some people love the bright, dynamic graphic design. I personally find it visually overwhelming. It’s a little difficult to read when it highlights words in bright colors… sometimes they’re the most important words or vocabulary words – sometimes they seem chosen at random for highlighting. I might have it on the shelf to look at, but I’m not likely to read it to anyone.

Sponges and Puffer Fish by Rake. Sea Turtles by Lindeen. All part of the “Under the Sea” series. 3 – 6 years. Basic introduction to the facts about sponges (or puffer fish or sea turtles) with more great photos. I like having books about some of the other creatures that make up an ocean environment, to get kids thinking about all the things animals can look like / be like. Each include a glossary and recommended books / websites for more info.

Old Shell, New Shell by Ward. Ages 5 – 7. A story of a hermit crab who lives in a coral reef. He has outgrown his shell, and goes looking for a new one. Along the way, we see beautiful illustrations of coral reef life and he speaks with puffer fish, angelfish. clownfish, spiny lobsters, etc. Engaging story – I don’t love it, but it’s fine as a read-aloud. At the back of the book, in adult-level language, there are indexes to each and every page, where it shows a thumbnail of the illustration, with numbers on each fish, and below, there’s a description of each fish. “Coral rabbitfish (siganus corallinus). Despite their pretty colors, these fish have venomous spines within their fins that can inflict a nasty wound. They like to live among rocks in warm shallow waters.”

Sea Bones by Barner. Each page has a line of big text that’s written for 4 – 5 year olds, and also has a paragraph of information written at an upper elementary to grown-up level.. I don’t love the kids’ text as a read-aloud…. it’s fine, but not great… “…there are animals without bones that drift with the waves. Some creatures cling to plants, rocks, or caves, A skeleton helps a speedy shark swim, fish shine down deep where the light is dim. Skeletons or not, there is much life to see. They all live together in the salty sea.” I do like the illustrations, particularly the ones that show “x-rays” of the creature’s skeleton, and I do like the chart in the back (common to many of Barner’s books) where there are 8 columns (for jelly, rays, clown fish and more) and 4 rows of facts: is it a fish, does it have a backbone, what kind of skeleton, and what does it eat.

Diving Under the Sea / Deep Sea Life

The Berenstain Bears Under the Sea by Berenstain. Ages 5 – 8. Like all …Bears books, it’s pretty wordy for this age group, but the characters / illustrations are fun and engaging, so they keep kids’ interests for that longer read. (But too long for a group circle, I find.) The family goes to the aquarium, then out to sea. Their host first shows them the birds that fly above the water (illustrations include seagulls, osprey, terns, and cormorants) and flying fish. Then the submarine dives, and we first see shallow water creatures (sharks, marlins, sea mammals) and coral reef inhabitants. They dive to deeper waters: sperm whale and giant squid, deeper to angler fish and gulper eels, then down to bottom dwellers: tube worms, and more. Good, accessible book.

Mysteries of the Sea: How Divers Explore the Ocean Depths by Morrison. A National geographic chapter book, for ages 6 – 9. Great photos. A nice overview of the history of deep sea exploration covering diving helmets, aqualungs, bathyspheres and submersibles, with an engaging dramatic story to go with each. Note: the copyright is 2006, but the most recent invention / mission described was in 1986.

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Jenkins. The concept is very cool – we start above the surface of the water with a bird, then “out of the water” where sharks, dolphins and flying fish appear, then the sunlit zone (73 degrees, 10 feet down) with mackerel and krill, sea turtles and rays. Then deeper, and deeper… to the dark zone 3300 feet below the surface, with deep sea jellies and angler fish. Then as far as the Marianas Trench, over 35,000 feet below the surface and the creatures that live there. Both the text and the concept though are way over the head of my students. The product details on Amazon say it’s for kids 4 – 7… I would say 6 to 9. Maybe with an adult reading one-on-one it would appeal to a younger child with an interest in ocean life.

You can also find my recommendations for books about the beach, and books to go with a Sink-Float theme and a Submarines / Scuba theme.

Over in the Ocean book


I was working on a post about “Kids’ Books about the Ocean” and my review of this one book became so long that I’m making this its own post!

Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Berkes and Canyon is an absolutely delightful book – perhaps one of my favorite kids’ non-fiction books ever. What’s to love about it?

  • The text – great rhyme and rhythm you can sing – it’s based on the song “Over in the Meadow.” (In the back of the book, there’s sheet music and all verses on one page.)
  • The pictures are stunning. Beautiful at first glance, even better when you pay attention to all the fine details. The illustrator uses polymer clay (e.g. Sculpey or Fimo) to create these incredible illustrations. (see detailed illustrations below) There’s even a page in the back that describes how they were made. (I’m debating for next year’s class about putting out some play-dough and some close-ups like this one of the clown fish to encourage kids to try rolling snakes of play-dough and balls of play-dough to create something a little like the background of this picture.)

IMG_20160614_211820104 parrotfish

  • The factual information about sea life and how it’s offered. In some books, they have the main text for little ones on the page, then a box or sidebar with more detailed info for older kids on the same page. I find this visually distracting, and it’s odd when reading aloud to skip over these boxes, but if you read them, they interrupt the rhyme and rhtyhm of the story. This book has a better solution. The main page has the basic info: “squirt” says the mother octopus, “grind” says the parrotfish, and “stir” says the stingray. Then in the back, there’s a paragraph of info about octopi, that explains how they squirt dark ink, and a paragraph about parrotfish whose teeth are fused into a beak that grinds coral, and info about how rays use their fins to stir the sandy ocean floor to find mussels and small crustaceans. There is also a section on “how many babies do they really have” (the book says “a mother octopus and her octopus one” but really an octopus may lay thousands of eggs at a time) and on the coral reef community. So, a parent or older child can find lots more info, but it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the main picture book.
  • The fact that it’s a great counting book. For example, on the five page, not only are their five pufferfish in the picture, there’s also five pieces of coral, and five starfish with the text. And after we’ve reached ten, the final page says “over in the ocean where the sea creatures play while their parents all were resting, they up and swam away. ‘Find us’ said the children, ‘From ten to one!’ When you find all the creatures, then this rhyme is done.” It then shows a small picture of 10 seahorses, 9 grunts, 8 needlefish and so on next to an illustration of a coral reef where you can find all the creatures on the list who you have seen throughout the book, now all swimming together.
  • In the back, there’s tips from the author on how to use in circle time, suggesting the kids could make sea creature puppets to go with the book, and offering fingerplay gestures for each verse.
  • Finally, there is an app for IPad based on this book, a counting and musical app that has won multiple awards. The image at the top of this post is from the app. (I haven’t played it because we don’t own any Apple devices…)

The author has written several other books. So far, I’ve checked out:

Over in a River: Flowing Out to the Sea. It’s also to the tune of Over in a Meadow: “Over in a river, in the warm sunshine lived a mother tree frog and her froglets nine. Hop said the mother…”. Also a counting book. Each page includes a basic map of the United States, and shows the location of the river where the animals on that page could be found, and on the last page of the story, you find/count the creatures on a map that shows all the rivers. In the back of the book, there’s info about the rivers, the animals, suggested class activities, and recommended books. Also an excellent book. The illustrations made with cut paper, pastels and colored pencils are truly lovely, but not as unique.

IMG_20160614_232723761  IMG_20160614_232748723

Going Around the Sun: Some Planetary Fun. Same tune. Not really a counting book, though it does refer to the number of each planet in order out from the sun: “Up in outer space, many moons in its heaven, is the planet Uranus. This is planet number seven.” It also includes facts about each planet in the back, and ideas for classroom activities. So, a lot of strengths, but truthfully I don’t like it as much as the others. To fit the musical structure, she had to include commands that Mother Sun gives to the planets (my co-teacher hates anthropomorphized stars and planets…) and the commands are stretching things: She tells Neptune “‘Move’ said the Mother. ‘I move,’ said Eight. So it moved – oh, so slowly and the Sun had to wait.” The note on the page explains that “Neptune takes 165 Earth-years to go around the Sun – it needs to move!” For Mars: “‘Turn’ said the Mother. ‘I turn’ said Four. So it turned and we learned there was iron in its core.” It works, but it’s not great. However, the illustrations by Mason are beautiful. They’re done with melted crayon for the background – she covers a griddle with foil and heats it, then lays paper on it and draws with crayon, which melts as you draw. (We used this simple technique in our Chemistry Reactions week.) Then she uses acrylic paint, color pencils and computers to create the planets.


What’s in the Garden, which I review in the Seeds and Plants theme.

All these books are published by Dawn Publications, which is “dedicated to inspiring in children a deeper understanding and appreciation for all life on Earth.” At their website, they have a blog about their books, which includes class activities for each that meet Common Core standards. And, they have a huge collection of downloadable activities to connect kids and nature: I’ve only just begun to look at this, but it looks great!! It’s on my to-do list to explore this summer!

Our Ten Favorite Activities

For our last session of Family Inventor’s Lab for this year, we brought back several of our favorite activities from the year.

I have starred the ones that you can easily re-create at home or in a preschool or elementary classroom. The others are more complicated, but I’ve given links to how to do them as well.

1. A Jar of Bubbling Goo* – originally seen in Chemical Reactions week. A simple experiment with mesmerizing results! Take a jar, pour in some vinegar and color it, then pour in some oil, then add a baking soda ice cube, and sit back and watch the seething, roiling bubbles! See more here.

2. Kites* – originally seen in Flight week. We made kites with paper and straws (you can also use bamboo skewers), and flew them outside. Here the directions for the Kite, from the Interactive History Company, which is run by my co-teacher Cym.

3. Catapults*. Originally seen in Levers week. We offered the materials to make several types of popsicle stick catapults. We encouraged kids to design one that launches farthest and with the most accuracy. You can find directions here:  Teacher Cym also brought along a medieval pavilion for them to launch pompoms at (and play inside of.)

catapult IMG_20160611_103204935

4. Marble maze – originally seen in gravity and contraptions weeks. We have our own marble maze / ball run that we built. (Directions here.) This week in class, we used a store-bought maze. Both inspire playful tinkering: set something up, test it, adjust it, test it again, aiming for the coolest possible sequence of events. The fine-tuning needed for this teaches attention to detail.

IMG_20160312_133247981 IMG_20160312_133207102

5, Salad Spinner Art* – originally seen in Planets week. So easy – if you have a salad spinner you’re willing to use paint in. Take a paper plate – cut it to the right size to fit in your salad spinner. Have your child add paint to it. (We use mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles full of paint for this job.) Put it in the spinner and spin!


6. Balloon Inflate and Let Go*, seen in States of Matter week. Cheap and easy kid entertainment! Get a couple Balloon Pumps and a bag of balloons at the drug store. Even kids as young as three can do this if you help them mount the balloon on the pump. They pump up the balloon, let it go, and it flies wildly around the room, eliciting lots of giggles!

We also made a new project this week: Balloon Poppers / Marshmallow Shooters*. On Coffee Cups and Crayons, she describes doing this with a cake pop container, but it works just fine using a toilet paper tube or a plastic cup with the bottom cut off. Just tie a balloon (no need to inflate it), then cut off the rounded end and stretch that opening over your tube. Load it with a marshmallow, pompom or whatever, then pull back on the balloon knot and release to launch it. Optional: if you find your balloon is pulling off of the tube when you pull on it, just tape it in place.


7. Ice Melting* originally seen in Rainbows Week. We froze ice in a bundt pan, and placed it in the water tub with salt and small spoons, and diluted liquid watercolor with pipettes and a syringe. Easy, colorful, intriguing to kids, and good fine motor practice – especially learning to use the syringe.

8. Magnetic Sensory Bin* from Magnets week. We buried a bunch of metal washers, clothespins with metal springs, and magnetic balls in black beans and rice, and gave kids magnetic wands to sift them out with.

9. Plastic cup towers.* We brought back the red cups and the wrecking ball from Towers week. Stacking towers and knocking them down is always irresistible.

10. The Wind Tube – originally seen in Flight week: A fan powered wind tube where kids can put objects into the airstream (balloons, scarves, plastic lids, and so on) and see what flies. This is an activity that appeals to any age – from toddler to adult. It encourages playful exploration… “hey, what else can we try? What do you think this will do?” One dad in my class said that when he saw just this one activity, “I was sold on the whole idea of this class.” Learn how to make your own tube: or buy your own (lovely but pricey) one at

Bonus 11th activity: We weren’t able to include the activity at this session. But another absolute favorite activity was light and shadows play with an old-school overhead projector. Be sure to check out the post here.


Circle Time: We sang some of our favorite songs from the year (including When I Build My House), did the States of Matter dance party – pretending to be solid, liquid and gas, and blew some bubbles. We had lots of the books from our list of Recommended Books about Inventors and Makers on the shelf. We read aloud: Going Places and the Most Magnificent Thing.

Next Year: We’re taking the summer off, but if you’re in the Seattle area, and would like to join us next year, you can sign up now at

In the meantime, have a happy summer of inventing, free play, and outdoor time!

Cartesian Diver Bottles

As part of our study of Sink and Float and Submarines, we re-created a classic experiment: the Cartesian diver bottle. Here’s a video of our final product in action:

The basic idea: You take a large plastic bottle filled with water, then add a “diver” who floats. When you squeeze the bottle, he dives to the bottom. When you release pressure, he returns to the surface.

The science behind it: Why does it work? The diver has an air bubble trapped inside, making the density of the diver a little less than the water, so it floats (it’s positively buoyant). When you squeeze the bottle, it increases the pressure, water is forced up into the diver, and the air bubble trapped in the diver compresses (gets smaller). Water is denser than air, so this increases the mass and density of the diver, so it sinks. When you stop squeezing, the air bubble expands, forcing water out of the diver, and the diver rises. (Sources: Steve Spangler, Science

The history: In 250 BC, Archimedes described buoyancy

Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object.

In the 16th century, scientist and mathematician Rene Descartes is said to have invented this experiment which demonstrates buoyancy.

Options for the diver

Criteria: You need something that can contain some air or catch an air bubble underneath it. You need to be able to adjust the weight till you get it just right. It needs to fit through the bottle opening. It needs to just barely float.


Building, Testing and tinkering with the diver: Have a cup full of water to test in. Set the diver in. He should just barely float. If he sinks, remove some weight or add more air. If he tips over onto his side, add more weight to the bottom. Keep adjusting till you’ve got him just right. This is the hard part…

Assembling the bottle: IMG_20160604_122531899Use a plastic bottle, like a one-liter water bottle. Remove the labels to get a good view of the dive. Fill it almost all the way. (If you fill it all the way, then when you add the diver, he’ll displace some water, and it will spill out.) Gently add the diver. Screw lid on tight. Squeeze to test. (You’ll have to squeeze hard.)

Have fun tinkering!


Updated Version of this post at:

We had two weeks in a row of beach-themed activities. The first was Sink and Float, which included discussion about boats, and some activities with seashells that might wash on a beach. This week, we went “Under the Sea” and talked some about coral reefs, fish, scuba divers, and submarines.

Challenge Activities

Each week, at our STEM enrichment class, we issue one or more “challenges” – a “can you build it” test. We put out a variety of materials and kids try to create something that works. It usually involves lots of tinkering and trial and error. You build a sample, test it, adjust, test it again, and adjust again. I always test these at home in advance so I know it’s do-able, but sometimes, like this week, getting one to work takes a lot of repetition and patience. In our morning class, I worked on a diver bottle with an almost-five year old for 15 minutes, then handed off to a dad who worked with that boy for another ten minutes to get a working prototype to show in opening circle. I was so proud of this boy for how long he stuck with this project and how well he worked with two adults who were not-his-dad. This is big progress since the start of the year for this child. We were so excited when we got the diver to work!

Diver Bottles. I will cover the basic details here. There are lots more details in this post.


Build your diver: Cut a straw into short lengths. Take a bit of Silly Putty to cover/seal one end so air can’t escape. Put a paper clip on the other end to weigh it down. Now, set this in a cup of water to see if it floats. If it sinks, use a smaller paper clip (less weight) or longer straw (traps more air, making it more buoyant. If it floats too high and tips on its side, then use a bigger paper clip or shorter straw. Keep adjusting till the straw stays upright in the water, just barely floating.


Assembling the bottle: Fill a one liter bottle almost all the way.  Gently add the diver. It floats. Screw lid on tight. Squeeze bottle hard. The diver will descend to the bottom of the bottle. Here’s a video of our final product in action:

Build a Ballast Tank Submarine: Drill / cut a hole in lid of water bottle. Thread a flexible tube or bendy straw through that. Seal around the opening with silly putty or tape. Punch two or three holes in one side of the water bottle. Add weights. (Glue or rubber band coins or washers on the bottle near the holes to keep that side facing down in the water. Or put several marbles inside the bottle. The weight wants to be enough that the sub will sink as it takes on water.) Place the “sub” in a tub of water – let it sink, but keep the end of the straw above the water. Once it sinks, blow air through the straw – this forces the water out, so the sub will float back to the surface.


This experiment relates to how submarines work. When they want to dive, they fill ballast tanks with water to increase their density and sink. When they want to re-surface, they pump compressed air into the tanks, which forces the water out. Since air is less dense than water, the sub rises.  This experiment is not a perfect re-creation of that… since the water bottle has big holes in the side, the second you stop blowing on the straw, the water rushes back in and the sub sinks.

You can make a sealed submarine with a water bottle, balloons as air tanks, and syringes or pumps to fill the balloons. See the video at or the challenge here:

Build a watertight sub from an Easter egg: We did a variant of this activity last year. Read about it here:  Here’s how we did it this year:

We cut small people shapes from construction paper. I told the children that the person wanted to go under water in a sub and not get wet. I picked a Tupperware container I knew was watertight. We put the person inside, sealed it and held it under water and counted to ten. We took it out, dried it off, opened it and ta-da – it’s a dry paper person.

But then I took a plastic Easter egg, and said “let’s test this without a person yet.” We held the egg under the water, and immediately a stream of bubbles came up. I said “uh-oh, what does that mean?” They knew air was escaping because of experiments we did in the States of Matter week. I showed them the holes in the egg, then I said… “if water is going out, what’s going in?” Then I lifted it up out of the water, and the water poured out through the hole. Phew – thank goodness this was an unmanned test. So, then we figured out together how to plug the holes. (I made it easy, because the only useable hole-filler on the table was silly putty, which I knew would do the job. If you wanted to, you could also offer tape or glue or other substances to plug the holes.) We plugged the holes, put a little paper person in. Sealed the egg and held it under the water for ten seconds. Results – it “almost worked”. (Reference to the book we read – Papa’s Mechanical Fish.) The person may be dry, or just damp on one edge, but there will be a little standing water in the egg. We work out that the water is getting in through the seam between the two halves of the egg. We seal it with a ring of silly putty. Success! Dry paper people!

IMG_20160604_122513332  IMG_20160604_122503623

Other Activities

Science Observation: I purchased two Toysmith Diving Subs. These are toy submarines, based on toys that were distributed in cereal box or through cereal box mail-aways in the 1950’s. (Read all about them here: It’s a small plastic sub,  where you lift the top off, fill a chamber with baking powder. (NOT baking soda!) Then you put the lid back on, place the sub in the water and swish it back and forth. It is heavy enough to sink to the bottom. But when the water hits the baking powder and reacts, it creates a carbon dioxide bubble under the sub, which brings the sub to the surface. When the bubble escapes, the sub sinks back down. Once you get it started, it will go up and down every minute or two for 15 minutes until the baking powder has all reacted. (Here’s a video of one in action: There’s more about them on In Lieu of Preschool.)

sub  IMG_20160604_122424043

It’s a cool little experiment, but a couple caveats… the chamber for the baking powder is small – it’s hard to fill it using a spoon or funnel. I had good luck using a pipette at home, but it didn’t work as well at class. This is also slow… you have to wait probably 60 – 90 seconds before anything happens (the sub rising or sinking). This worked out fine for my five year old’s attention span when he was home eating a snack and watching it. It was harder in the class setting for kids to stand and pay attention long enough. And often they would wait 60 seconds, then turn away for one second and turn back, and discover it floated to the top when they weren’t looking.

If you don’t want to buy the toy, you could try making one….

Tool of the Week – the Periscope. I purchased two: the Backyard Safari Periscope and the Elenco Adjustable Periscope. The Elenco is much cooler because it’s much bigger, but the Backyard is more manageable for the three to five year old’s motor skills. See “circle time” below for how I introduced these.

periscope1 periscope2

You could choose to make periscopes. Here are some options:

Art Project – Fingerprint Fish. I put out blue paper, ink pads for rubber stamps, and markers. Kids could make fingerprints, then turn them into fish by decorating with markers.


Art Project – Watercolor Resist Fish. We put out white paper, oil pastels, diluted blue liquid watercolor and paint brushes. Kids could draw fish with the pastels, then paint over with the blue “water.”

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Art Project – Paint Waves. Add fish. At the easel, we had blue, green, and blue glitter paint. We encouraged kids to paint water. Then we had paper fish cut out and jewels to glue on to make a sea scape.

Art Project – Playdough Sculpting. Next year, I’m considering putting out play-dough so the kids can explore the art style shown in Over in the Ocean.

Math skills: Fish match and sort. I made cards with pictures of fish / sea life on them. (Two of each) Kids can sort into categories, or find the matching fish.


Observation/math: I used artwork to create a mural of a coral reef. Then I used this field guide to make counting sheet so they can tally how many of each fish they see.


Puzzles and Manipulatives: We used sea life related items from class supplies.

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Sensory Table Ideas: We could have done sand with shells mixed in.

Water Table: We filled it with plastic fish, fish nets.

Game: Somethin’ Fishy was a card game from Simply Fun. I can’t find it on their website, so it may be out of print, which is a shame, because it’s a great game for 4 – 6 year olds. You could make your own… here’s how it works: The cards have a picture of a fish on them. There are four species of fish. In each species there are big fish, little fish, and hungry fish. You draw a card and start a line of fish in front of you. Then draw again. If that card matches the last fish in your line (same color or size) you add it to the line and you continue your turn or, if you have more than three cards in your line, you can choose to collect your cards (i.e. pick up all the cards in your line, set them aside to score later.) If it’s a different color or size, hand it to the person on your left and your turn ends. If it’s a hungry fish… if it is the same species as the last fish in your line, your turn ends, but otherwise you’re safe. Hungry fish don’t eat their own species. But, if it’s a different species than the end of your line, it eats all the fish in your line till it gets to one of its own species. Your turn ends. At the end of the game, you count cards in your score pile.


Imaginative Play: We had an ocean theme rug and brown mats, so we set up a “beach” and “ocean” and put out sea life puppets – some on the shore and some in the ocean. We were hoping to add folding beach chairs and other beach accessories, but couldn’t find them in the closet.


Outside Play – Beachcombing: Print paper seashells and items to find on a beach. (I used these: Scatter them outside in sand play area.

Circle Times

Opening Circle:

Gathering: A Sailor went to sea sea sea clapping game. (clap right, clap left, clap both hands three times, and so on.) Here’s a tutorial:, and here are kids doing it full speed:

If all your students were 6 or 7, you could probably just teach this as it is. But our kids range in age from barely 3 to almost 8, so here’s how we did it: First, two adults demo it. Then pair up one grown-up with each kid. Level one – the child puts their hands up in front of them palms out and just holds them there. The adult claps against their upheld hands. If they master that, then on to level two – the adult holds their hands still and the kid claps against them. Then for those who can – on to level three, where both clap simultaneously. Level 4 – speed that up!

This game teaches rhythm, hand-eye coordination, singing and moving at the same time, and teamwork.

Book: Super Submarines (see below) or The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.

Activity Spotlight. We demo’ed some of the day’s activities: showing our successful diver bottle, a sample ballast sub, and presented the challenge for making a watertight easter egg sub (we didn’t show the solution.)

Song: All the Fish are swimming in the water ( or or Slippery Fish ( and hand motions here:

Periscopes. I talked about how periscopes are used on submarines. Then I told them they could also be used on land to spy on things. I hid behind a piece of furniture and asked “Can you see me?” No. “Can I see you? Nope…. all I see is the back of this bookcase. Oh wait, I brought my periscope. Now I see you! I see ____ and I see ____. Hey, Teacher Cym hold up 1 – 5 fingers so I can prove I see you… you’re holding up 3!” The kids LOVED it, so we then left them to play with those after circle.

Closing Circle

Book: Papa’s Mechanical Fish (see below).

Music: Hand out shakers, or scarves, or sea life puppets and dance to Under the Sea from Little Mermaid or Yellow Submarine by the Beatles.

Book recommendations

Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Fleming and Kulikov. On my list of Most Recommended Books about Inventors. What I like about it: nice story about a family – Papa, Mama, four kids, and a dog Rex. Papa is an inventor who has invented many (entertaining) things that “almost work.” Then on a family fishing trip he has a Eureka moment – he wants to build  mechanical fish he can ride underwater in. He attempts. And fails. Then makes a bigger bolder attempt. And fails. But he keeps trying, and in the end creates a sub that seats 7 in velvet upholstered chairs and the family has a delightful day under the water. Appeals to a broad age range, 4 – 8, with lots of giggling over the misadventures of Papa.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Yaccarino. This is one of my favorite books about inventors. Great illustrations, nice quotes from Cousteau, and a engaging story that begins with him as a child and then moves through his life of inventing and discovering.

Super Submarines by Mitton and Parker. I like their Amazing Machines series a lot, for ages 3 – 6. Nice rhyme and rhythm to the text, fun illustrations peopled with cute animals and bright colors, engaging non-fiction overviews of the theme. Some of the topics are a little over kids’ heads (like sonar, and when it says subs can be used to service oil rigs, which most little ones won’t know anything about) but the kids don’t seem to notice/mind.

Submarines (How Things Work) by Mattern. I love how this starts: “Imagine spending months inside a ship with no windows… now imagine that ship is sailing underwater. Usually people want a ship to stay on top of the water! Submarines can dive down underwater. How do they sail beneath the waves?” This engages kids, raises a real question in their mind, and leaves them in a state of curiosity and inquiry – ripe for learning. Good, kid-friendly non-fiction overview of submarines, with good photos. It covers similar content to Super Submarines, though in a little more detail, and without the cute illustrations or rhyming. If you have a kid who likes their science books to feel a little more serious, this is a good match. Also includes a timeline of sub history, and directions for making a ballast sub similar to ours. 4 – 8 years.

Submarines (My Favorite Machines) by Ruck. A fine non-fiction overview of subs, for ages 5 – 7. Like Bodden’s book (below), it has more emphasis on the weapons and military use than I like. If this doesn’t trouble you, it’s a fine option.

Submarines (Built for Battle) by Valerie Bodden. I didn’t notice that series sub-title of “Built for Battle” before I checked this out. Although it’s a good overview of subs, it focuses on their use in war: “the control room has everything crew members need to steer the sub and fire its weapons… It can protect warships from enemies. Subs can fire torpedoes or missiles at enemy ships… and toward targets on land too.” It’s too militaristic / jingoistic for my taste, but may really appeal to some. (A review of another book in the series says the series got a reluctant 8 year old motivated to try reading.) Ages 6 – 8.

Submarines UP CLOSE by Abramson. For ages 7 and up – and only kids who are really into machines. The text goes into a lot of detail about parts of the sub, there are lots of BIG photographs of subs – some modern, some dated some historical – but without captions that really explain what you’re seeing.

Yellow Submarine.. the Beatles. I should have read the description better. I thought it was just an illustrated version of the song lyrics. But instead, it’s the full story of the film Yellow Submarine, and much longer than I wanted to read.

Scuba Bunnies by Loomis and Eitan. For 3 – 5 year olds. Sweet little bedtime story about scuba diving bunnies. “Scuba bunnies long to see what’s beneath the deep blue sea. Kiss their mamas, check their gear, tanks are filled, masks are clear. Watches working, wet suits zipped. Snorkels on, flippers flipped.” And so on. I’m sure if you’re clever, you could find a way to make your Cartesian bottle divers look like Scuba bunnies. Maybe Shrinky dinks??

Scuba Diving by Teitelbaum. This was one of only two kids’ book on scuba diving my library had. It’s for older children, ages 7 and up, so it’s not something we read in class, but I did like it for the pictures. We put it on the table where we were building the diver bottle. Many of the kids hadn’t heard of scuba diving, so it was nice to be able to show them photos of divers both in and out of the water.

Don’t miss the other post on recommended books about the ocean and fish, especially Over in the Ocean.