Scribble-Bots – STE(A)M Project for Kids

A scribble bot is basically an out-of-balance motor attached to some drawing utensil. As the motor rotates, it vibrates, causing the drawing utensil to jiggle across the paper, making scribble marks. There are a lot of ways you could build one. Here’s a tutorial on the method we used with our class of 3 – 7 year olds with parent helpers. (Click on any picture for a bigger image.)

  • Turn a plastic cup upside down.Tape three colored markers to the outside of the cup, making a stable tripod. Align the markers so that the lids are just below the rim of the cup, and make sure the legs are an equal length.
    • Options: you could use popsicle sticks or other sticks for two of the legs, and only have one marker. You could use colored pencils or crayons, but they just don’t draw very well – the plastic cup is not heavy enough to put on enough weight to get a good mark out of these things that require some pressure to draw. Washable markers are your best bet. (We got permanent markers, because that’s all they had at the dollar store, and we had to buy 60 markers for our class so we needed them to be cheap. But, we came to regret the permanent marker choice….. tip: Purell or rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes are great at getting permanent marker off tables, floors, and hands… not so good at getting it off clothes…)
  • Tape the battery pack on top. (Note, for most of this project, you can use masking tape, duct tape, scotch tape, glue gun – whatever you have. But if the tape might come in contact with electrical wires carrying current, use electrical tape there.)
  • Tape the motor on top so that the shaft on the motor is hanging off the edge of the cup.
  • Un-balance the motor. (This is necessary – if the motor is balanced and spins smoothly, the bot won’t wiggle around – it’ll just sit in place.) We used corks… use an icepick, nail, or something the right diameter to poke a hole into the cork about 1/3 of the way from the end on one side, then put the cork on the shaft of the motor.
  • Test for freedom of rotation… spin the cork around a few times. Can it rotate cleanly without banging into anything or getting blocked? If so, you’re good to go. If not, you need to adjust your design. (This project is a STEM engineering challenge, and often needs several steps of test something, re-do, test again to get it right.)
  • Decorate the bot as desired, with googly eyes, pompoms, pipe cleaners, etc.
  • Put down a BIG piece of paper (we covered a table in butcher paper). Take the lids off the markers. Set the bot on the paper, then connect the wires on the motor to the battery to complete the circuit, and off your bot goes!
  • Some bots work perfectly right away. Some don’t. (Remember, this is a STEM engineering challenge – it’s OK if it doesn’t work perfectly the first time – we learn from our mistakes and re-build!)
    • If it tips over on its side, you may need to spread out the legs a little more evenly to make the most stable tripod possible.
    • If it just stays in place and doesn’t wiggle around the paper, it’s because it’s too balanced. Take the cork off and re-mount it.
    • If bits fall off or the wires become disconnected by the jiggling, re-engineer a solution for the problem.
  • Here are videos of bots in action:

 

Where do you get your motor?

Some sources recommend taking apart an electric toothbrush, or a small fan. I wanted a 1.5 – 3 V motor and a single AA battery pack. Here’s what I found:

  • You could order a wiggle-bot kit from TeacherGeek. I was impressed with the high quality of the kit components, and also all the great downloads TeacherGeek offers, such as this overview, which includes Science Standards addressed with this project.
  • Teacher Geek also sells a small motor with leads, mount, and battery pack, which is quite nice quality with easy to use clips, for $3.00 each.
  • I ordered most of our supplies from Amazon. (Affiliate links follow.). I really liked these Motors with Alligator Clips, which were $18.95 for ten. (And Sci Supply offered great customer service. I’d accidentally placed a duplicate order, and they called me to check how many motors I wanted.) I used these Batteries and these Battery packs which were fine (cost 64 cents each), but had wire leads you had to clip the motor to. I preferred the battery packs from Teacher Geek which are 60 cents each, and have metal terminals you can easily clip the alligator clips to.

One note for clarification: A scribble bot does not meet our definition of a true robot (which we said has three parts – sensors, processor and actuator) or this definition on Galileo: essential characteristics include sensing, movement, energy, and intelligence, or even the Merriam-Webster definition of a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks. It’s really just a motorized toy.

Additional resources on how to build a scribble-bot:

  • Scribble-bots video
  • Robots that Draw from art4edu. Clear directions, a nice set of questions on “can scribble bots make ‘art'”, photos, and video. They use a 4-battery pack – I found one battery was plenty of power for our motor.
  • Science Sparks’ How to Make a Scribble Bot. Instead of using a battery pack, they use a rubber band to hold the motor’s metal leads onto the battery, and a glue-gun gluestick instead of a cork to unbalance it. The body is a Pringle’s container… we prefer the plastic cups – having the edges that spread outward helps set your markers at an angle that makes for a very stable tripod.
  • Lemon Lime Adventures’ DIY Scribble Bot tutorial shows taping the markers to the inside of the cup – we found it was easier for kids to tape them to the outside, uses a clothespin instead of a cork to unbalance it, and tapes the leads to the battery pack (they turn the bot on and off by taking out a battery or putting it back in.
  • Red Ted Art’s Mini Robot is a wiggle-bot; it doesn’t scribble. It uses three toothhbrush heads for the legs, the motor is the body, and the battery is the head.

Bugs – Science for Kids

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

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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 (learn more here), 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.

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Pom Pom caterpillars: Glue pompoms to a craft stick (or a clothespin). Add on googly eyes, or draw eyes, then twist on pipe cleaner antennas. (Instead of pompoms, you can also use glittery “jewels” or foam shapes.)

Fold Out Butterfly: This craft starts with a pom pom caterpillar. Then you tape on craft sticks so they can fold up against the caterpillars sides. So your caterpillar can grow, then spread its wings.

For the one of the left, 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). The wings accordion fold into a stack you can hide under the caterpillar. 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.

The one on the right is a simplified version. To get the accordion fold to work, you have to be pretty precise… this other is a little easier, and you just roll the wings up around the butterfly as shown in the small pictures, which let you tuck the butterfly into a “cocoon” toilet paper roll.

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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, add antenna and a smile, and tape on pipe cleaner legs. This rolls up into a full circle like a roly poly bug does when you poke at it. Tip for the antenna… I’d been gluing them on, which wasn’t working great, but one of my six year old students figured out it worked better to punch holes, and twist the antenna through them. I love getting ideas from my kids!

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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: www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_74.html)

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.

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Water strider: These 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.

strider

Egg Carton Bugs: 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. Just search Pinterest for “egg carton bugs” for lots of examples.

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 and pompom caterpillars early in the week, and add the coffee filter wings a few days later. Another option for wings would be to use an iron to melt crayon shavings between layers of waxed paper for a stained glass look. There are more butterfly crafts here: www.the-preschool-professor.com/butterfly-crafts.html and here http://www.preschooleducation.com/abug.shtml

Arts and Crafts

A Rorschach Butterfly: cut out paper butterfly shapes. Fold them in half. Have kids paint on one half, then fold it in half, press together to transfer paint and open it up again to reveal the symmetry of the two sides.

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For children age 5 and older, a great symmetry-learning project is to design a coloring sheet where on one side you have shapes that the child colors in. On the other side, they have to figure out where to draw the shapes so they’re symmetrical and then color them in to match. Here’s a printable coloring page for you.

 

Butterfly Life Cycle: We often do more process oriented art, but I like to occasionally put out a product oriented project. 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 go to the bug factory and make a pompom caterpillar. Set the caterpillar on the leaf, but don’t glue him down. 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, and make a Rorschach butterfly. Bring it back and glue it on, just gluing the center so the wings can “flap”. (My five year old liked playing with this project interactively – he’d make the caterpillar nibble the leaves, then climb into the cocoon, then the caterpillar would come out and be the center of the butterfly, flapping its wings.)

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Bug antenna: We got Plastic Headbands – 36 for $7! Kids used pipe cleaners and beads to make antenna. (If you do a bug themed birthday party, this is a nice take home favor.)

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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.

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Bugs at a Picnic: Print a picnic blanket design on a piece of paper. Put it out with a stamp pad and markers. Kids make fingerprint bugs all over the paper, using the markers to add features.

Other Activities

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

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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.

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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.)

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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. (This year I didn’t have the time or energy to catch real bugs, so I downloaded a bunch of good up-close insect videos from YouTube, and played them on a laptop on loop. I worried the kids would turn into screen zombies… but they’d all check it out for a little while and move on.)

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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.

Outdoors:

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:

  • 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 (like the Very Hungry Caterpillar). 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 https://kcls.org/content/caterpillar-caterpillar-crawl-crawl-crawl/  but I added the first verse and revised some of the words a little so they scanned better to the music. Done to the tune of Frere Jacques / Are You Sleeping. Optional: you could combine this with the movement game, and have the kids pretend to be each of these stages of the life cycle.

Caterpillar, caterpillar, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl up in your egg, curl up in your egg, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl, curl.

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

Closing Circle

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.)

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

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

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.

 

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. When a flying ant landed on our picnic table, he could name the body parts, counted the legs to verify there were six, and said “look, it has wings… remember how you said in class that most ants don’t have wings, but some do?”

Model Magic Clay

If you’re not familiar with Model Magic air dry clay, 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), and extremely malleable. 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. Really easy to mix colors – I find them one of the most effective ways to illustrate color mixing for kids… you’ll see in the picture below that the blue and yellow blend together completely to make a nice pure green. (Color mixing tip: put two colors together then twist then fold. Repeat till mixed. The twisting really mixes them well).

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Examples: I used Model Magic to make a model of the Earth’s layers and a model of the solar system to use in class demos. We use them for fossil impression in Dinosaur week or shell impressions in Sink or Float week, and to make insects in Bug week.

 

It is much cheaper in bulk. If you buy a 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?

Skeletons

We have done this topic as a stand-alone unit near Halloween, and also combined it with Bugs (and Exoskeletons).

Key concepts: The skeleton creates a structure for our body.
1) Having long, strong bones helps us to stand up and to carry things.
2) Our skull and ribcage help to protect our fragile organs.
3) Our joints allow us flexibility.

We don’t present these concepts to the children at the start of class. We first present them with activities to explore hands-on so they can discover ideas and make connections on their own. (See my post on class structure.)

So, in this post, I’ll first share our activities with you, then at the end, I’ll talk about how we discuss these concepts during opening circle and closing circle.

Engineering Projects

Build a Cardboard (Or Straws) Finger or Hand. Here’s a post describing this in a detailed tutorial.

  

Build an elbow joint. You can also make a paper or cardboard arm to show the lever action of the elbow joint, as seen in our Levers class.

Art Projects:

Pasta skeletons: We had drawings of simple stick figures, glue, and pasta (penne, elbow macaroni and bow ties). You can see some of the results on the right. We discovered it would have been better to do these on cardboard, or at least cardstock, as the pasta is very heavy, and it’s hard to carry a piece of floppy paper with pasta glued all over it. Instead of doing the stick figures, another option would be to have pictures of various skeletons or x-rays (snakes, dogs, people) and let children design whichever skeleton they want. (We do a similar project in our Dinosaurs class.)

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Hand x-rays: We had black paper hands, Q-tips we’d cut into halves (or straws cut short), and glue. Children glued on bones. Make a sample for kids to copy, but also have an x-ray of a hand so children really see what they are creating.

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Almost Unschoolers has a fun idea of helping the children feel where the bones are on their hands, then painting their hands where they can feel the bones, then pressing their hand onto the black paper, making a handprint of their bones that looks a lot like an x-ray.

Build skeletons to support a salt dough body: The idea was: Using salt dough and toothpicks (you could also use wooden coffee stirrers cut short), build a skeleton, then build the body on top of it. Children used the materials in a wide variety of ways, none were quite what we’d expected / planned. Would be worth trying again with a sturdier building material for the skeletal structure and a lighter weight substance to coat it with.

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Puzzles and Sorting Games:

Skeleton puzzle: We printed the skeleton found here: www.gamescraftscoloring.com/crafts/halloween_skeleton.htm then laminated it and cut it apart. Children could assemble it on the floor.

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Sorting: We put out two dishes labeled skeleton and exoskeleton, and a collection of plastic animals and insects and had the children sort them.

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Science experiment: We considered trying to dissolve chicken bones in Coca-Cola (search online for more discussion of this, or just look at one kids’ experiment: http://schools.dcsd.k12.nv.us/zces/kixmiller/class/dkixmiller/%602012/www/a/Gabriela/ScienceFair.htm. But, we were concerned about health issues of raw chicken bones.

There’s also the naked egg experiment we did for eggs week of dissolving an egg shell in vinegar (http://www.science-sparks.com/2012/12/24/how-to-get-an-egg-yolk-without-cracking-the-egg/). The idea behind both of these experiments is that acidic things (coke, vinegar) dissolve calcium. There’s a great description of how to do a week-long experiment with this with your kids at home: http://littlewondersdays.blogspot.com/2012/03/disappearing-egg.html

In class, we knew we wouldn’t see the full effects in a couple hours of class, but wanted to introduce the idea, so we had egg shells, vinegar, and pipettes and eye droppers. The kids placed eggshells in a cup and dripped vinegar on them. In the morning class, the vinegar fizzed all around the eggshells, so you could see a reaction happening. For some strange reason, in the afternoon class, we got no reaction at all… But the kids still enjoyed playing with pipettes and eye droppers.

Free Play:

ZOOB: We had a construction toy out, called ZOOB.  The connections are basically balls that pop into sockets – somewhat like a ball joint – like our shoulders and hips. We put them on a table with Wood Artist Manikins which kids could use to explore how joints work, then build joints with the Zoob. (I’d love to have a Manikin Hand too)

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A note about Zoob: I have to say that if I was buying construction toys for home and had limited space and budget, Zoob would not be my first choice construction toy, as I find they’ve got some big limitations on what you can do with them. But, if your child already has lots of experience with other building toys, these offer an intriguing new set of challenges.

Sensory tub: we buried plastic insects under lentils: “find the exoskeleton.”

Book Recommendations:

As always, we get several books from the library to put on the shelf, but only read a few of them in class. Here are some of this week’s books:

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  • Dem Bones by Barner has great illustrations, and the words of the song (a spiritual from about 100 years ago that’s very fun to sing) , but it also has information about each of the bones, like it talks about how the ankle bone helps us bend, flex, and climb stairs. When we read it in class, while I sing out the verse (“the foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone”), I point to that bone or joint on me and encourage them to examine their own bone or joint (like flexing and swiveling the ankle joint) as I read the additional facts about that bone. After we read all the way through, we sing the song as I flip through the book. It’s a fun and memorable way to learn about skeletons. Note, the lyrics in the book end with the traditional “Hear the Word of the Lord”. If that’s not appropriate for your setting, you can adapt to “Doing the Skeleton Dance.”bones
  • Bend and Stretch: Learning About Your Bones and Muscles by Nettleton is a nice non-fiction book, that would be a great educational book about how the body works for kids age 5 – 7 or so. Sample text: “Inside of your body, you have a skeleton made of bones. Bones are strong and hard. Bones help hold your body upright.” “Muscles attach to bones on each side of a joint. The muscles stretch and shrink as the joint is straightened and bent.”
  • Skelly the Skeleton Girl by Jimmy Pickering. Fiction, age 4 – 6. If you like the art style / humor of Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, you would like this book. Some might find it a little creepy. Tells the story of a girl who finds a bone and asks all her monsters if it’s theirs, then discovers it belongs to a skeleton dog.
  • My Spine by Rena. Non-fiction. Helps kids age 5 – 7 clearly understand what the spine is and what it does for us. Example text: “Why can my spine move so easily? It’s like beads on a string… the whole string of beads can move around a lot….. My spine is made of five parts. Each has its own job… the part by my chest keeps my ribs in place. The ribs in your rib cage protect your heart.”
  • The Skeletal System by Kay Manolis and Your Skeletal System Works! by Flora Brett are both good non-fiction with good images – for ages 7 – 9 Skeletal System by Sarah Tieck would be better for 6 year olds.
  • Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones by Judy Schachner. Here’s the Amazon review. “Holy guacamole! Skippyjon Jones is crazy-loco for dinosaurs! The kitty boy enters (via his closet) the land of dinosaurs in search of the fabled Skipposaurus. Instead he runs into his old amigos, the Chimichango gang. When a T-Mex threatens the pack, it’s El Skippito, the great sword fighter, to the rescue. With yips and yowls, he drives the big baddie away, so all the dino-dudes can rattle their bones another day.” Kids like it because it’s kind of wild and crazy. I don’t like it. My co-teacher feels like there are racial stereotypes some people may find offensive.

Opening Circle:

Reminder… our key concepts are:

1) Having long, strong bones helps us to stand up and to carry things.
2) Our skull and rib cage help to protect our fragile organs.
3) Our joints allow us flexibility.

What are bones? Especially for our little ones (age 2.5 – 4) we needed to ground them in what bones are and what a skeleton is. (I asked during little kids’ circle: “who here has a skeleton?” and one child raised her hand.) You can have them touch their cheek and feel how soft it is, then touch their jawbone or cheekbone and ask them to notice how hard it is. (If you have a skull model or picture of a skull, point out these bones.) Then have them feel their arms or hands and notice more bones.

Why are bones helpful – they help us stand and carry things. Talk about it, but also show it. One way to demo concept # 1 is to fill one glove with water or flour, and another glove with a “bony” hand made of popsicle sticks, and with water or flour. (As shown in this post on Pink and Green Mama.) I made our bony hand with a jar lid and five short colored pencils taped on, then tucked in a glove filled with kinetic sand. They can explore how floppy and useless the boneless hand is, then feel how sturdy the hand with “bones” is. Have them try holding a small book (or a wooden block) with the floppy fingers – the book falls to the ground. Then hold it with the firm fingers.

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How do bones protect us? You can talk about how the rib cage protects the heart and lungs, and the skull protects the brain (concept #2). We didn’t cover this specifically, but I bet you could do something with inflated balloons as the lungs. Have them blow air into a balloon (like the balloon is taking a deep breath). Easy, right? But what if you were out working, and something heavy fell on your chest? (Now lay a hand on the empty balloon, squishing it flat, and ask them to blow it up again. (Have the balloon take a breath.) It can’t inflate. Then protect the balloon inside a box or something to represent the rib cage. Now put the hand on the box… the box stays firm, the balloon isn’t squished… you can blow it up.

Note: After I wrote that, I noticed that in the Pink and Green Mama post I linked to above, she gives this intriguing, but low in detail description of how she explained this concept: “We saw how our lungs fill up with air and are protected by a ribcage. We saw how helmets protect our brains and heads. And we smashed stuff. Lots of balloons and also a giant ice alien brain.”

Exoskeletons You could also cover exoskeletons, and how insects and crabs have their hard skeletons on the outside to protect their soft squishy insides. (It would be great to have a crab shell or lobster claw or something for this discussion.) Talk about how exoskeletons inspired some human inventions. we showed pictures of armor from a variety of historical cultures, and we also showed modern invented “exoskeletons” that help people do hard labor or help people with physical disabilities walk or lift things. Learn more: www.infoniac.com/hi-tech/top-10-robotic-exoskeletons.html

Conclusions Circle

We first talked about all the things we had discovered and explored about bones and skeletons during discovery time, opening circle, and tinkering time. Then we added a new concept: joints.

How do joints help us? Go back to your hand made of pencils and sand/flour. It can hold up a book or a block. But, can it pick up a small object (like a cheerio)? No, because it has no joints. To help them further understand why joints matter, take long poster tubes or wrapping paper tubes, and slide them over the child’s arm (as shown in this post on Growing Little Scientists, which also has LOTS of other great ideas about teaching bones and joints). This locks their elbow joint straight. Now have them try to scratch their head.

If you’ve already talked about simple machines, and did the activity showing how the arm is a lever, you might remind them of that.

We had several wooden artists’ manikins, so we passed them around for kids to explore. I encouraged them to notice: how does the manikin’s elbow bend? Is this like your elbow? How does its shoulder move? Is this like your shoulder? Is it like the Zoob toys we played with? Then I posed a manikin and asked them to do the same thing with their body that the manikin was doing (lift one arm up, put both hands forward). Then we did it the other way… I did a motion and asked them to copy it with the manikin.

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We then sang Dry Bones as a fun wrap-up to the day.

photo credit: artist manikin Exuberance_6491 via photopin (license)  Zoob: http://www.myfreeproductsamples.com/free-kids-samples/building-modeling-with-zoob-event-at-barnes-noble/

Seeds and Plants

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?

Hands-On Science Activities:

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. You turn the top half upside down and nest it in the bottom half as shown below. Then put in layers of rocks, horticultural charcoal (to prevent mold), soil, then small plants. We gave instructions about taking it home and putting it in a sunny spot and then watering it every few days so we could talk to kids about the fact that plants need soil, air, water, and sun to grow.

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Seed Bombs.

Prep: 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.)

In class: Have the child take a small handful of pulp – push some seeds deep inside it. (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.) 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…)  Optional: press it into a mold to make the desired shape. 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.

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Bean Seeds: The night before class, we wrapped our dry lima beans in a wet paper towel to soften up the surface before planting.

Plant a Bean: Children filled a dixie cup with soil, poked a finger in to make a hole, pushed a seed into the hole, covered it up with dirt, and sprayed on a little water. (Next year, we may use eggshells left over from Eggs class instead of dixie cups… if we do, we’ll read How a Seed Grows (see below))

Germinate a Bean: Children folded a paper towel, sprayed it till it was wet, put it inside a ziplock, and added one bean seed.

Take Home Instructions: We told them that plants need soil, air, sun and water to grow. We told them that they should take their bean seeds home, and tape the baggie up in a window and put the cup on the window sill so they both get plenty of sun. Every few days they should water the seed in the cup, and if the paper towel has dried out, they should add water to the bag.

We showed kids a picture of how beans seed develop, pointing out that they develop under the ground, and at first it’s hard to see them growing. We said they would be able to see the seed in the plastic bag sprout and start to grow, and they will know that the other seed is growing under the soil. We let them know that once the bean seed in the cup pokes up a seedling above the ground, the seed in the bag will likely have roots. They will need to transfer the seed from the plastic bag to dirt. It can start to grow in the bag with just water and sun. But to get bigger it needs soil and fresh air.

Sequencing – How does a Plant Grow: We printed the sequencing cards from http://homeschoolcreations.com/files/Garden_Preschool_Pack_Part_1.pdf  so the kids could put in order the steps from a bean beginning to sprout and getting bigger and growing roots. We also printed a few examples from online of diagrams that show how a plant grows from seed to mature plant.

Observation: Display of Plant Growth.

Last year, 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. 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.

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Our plan for this year was to pick 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. However, we forgot this was the plan until 2 days before class – much too late to start this project! So, I went online and found pictures of a plant at one day, two days, and so on up to day 20, and compiled a poster of how plants grow day by day. Upside: it’s a great depiction of plant growth over time. Downside: the only plant I was able to find these type of photos of was cannabis. It’s illegal for an individual to grow marijuana in Washington state, unless they need it for medicinal purposes, so it’s not the ideal plant to show pictures of! (Kids won’t know or care, but I did put a little disclaimer on the poster for parents, to explain why I had pictures of pot plants.)

We did have a demo of growing plants. We share our classroom with another program, Creative Development Lab, which one month ago had a project where they had a bin full of soil, grass seeds, and “rakes” so kids could plant the seed. It’s been growing for the past month, so we put that out for kids to see.

Science observation – Wicking: IMG_20160507_104319251We wanted to show wicking / capillary action – how plants pull water up through a stem. We’ve tried in the past with celery and carnations and cabbage leaves, but never get enough wicking action in the two hour class to be a good demo… with cabbage, at the end of the full day, the bottom edge was bright red, with hints of red in the bottom inch. This year, we bought white carnations and celery, and the day before class, we placed these in colored water. By five hours later they had good color (first photo). Even better by class time, 15 hours later (second photo) and at 25 hours. (Click on photo for bigger image)

I also made a poster to show the progress over time. 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 last year, and a photo of it (on the left) – this one is better for preschool age kids. And, here’s the free printable PDF for this year’s version, and a photo of it. (on the right) This one is better for kids kindergarten through second grade or so.

IMG_20160507_104410860      plant parts worksheet

How Seeds Travel. The book Flip, Float, Fly has great illustrations of all the ways that plant seeds travel. We took photos and printed posters of these pages to put on the wall. We used these for a display and a large motor game. (See circle time.)

Art Process and Craft Projects

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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Water bottle flower prints. In my son’s kindergarten, they did a project where they used plastic water bottles, soda bottles, and juice bottles (use a variety of brands) to make flower prints. Just paint a thin layer of paint on the bottom of the bottle, and print. The yellow one was a 16 ounce Pepsi bottle. Red was Dasani water. Orange and pink were Kirkland water bottles. Later, after the paint has dried, you could add paint or paper stems or leaves.

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Paint with Flowers: at the easel, instead of brushes, children used carnation flowers and stems to paint with.

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 pre-kpages.com. (Hannah’s Art Club has photos of prettier results of a similar project.)

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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.

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Other Activities

Math / Science Skills: 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 of / least of and so on. They can also learn vocabulary by learning the names of each bean. I got a 15 bean soup mix, and really a 6 or 7 bean combination might be more appropriate at this age.

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Sensory Table: Last year, we used cloud dough (flour, oil and cocoa powder) and this year, we used real dirt. Add gardening tools (trowels, rakes) and plastic plants or bugs.

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Water Table: Watering cans to pour with plus spray bottles. 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. We also put in silk flowers.

Imaginary Play: We had big mats covered in brown fabric to be a gardening plot. (Or, this year we had a brown rug.) We put out gardening gloves, hats, gardening tools, plant pots, fake flowers, and bug puppets.

We also marked out a tic tac toe board on the mats, and had crocheted fruits and veggies plus the bug puppets so they could play plants vs. bugs tic tac toe.

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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.

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Other projects to consider:

  • 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.
  • Dissect fruits. You could work together to dissect a variety of fruits so they can see the range of seeds – cut open an avocado, peach, or cherry to show the one big pit. Cut open an apple or citrus fruit to see a few seeds distributed in a fruit. Cut open bell peppers or pomegranates for LOTS of seeds, and display how a strawberry keeps its seeds on the outside. This is a fun snack-time activity. You could also practice prediction (a key science skill): First guess how many seeds will be inside, then cut it open and count seeds.
  • For snack, make dirt cups: chocolate pudding, oreo crumbs, gummy worms…

Opening Circle:

Intro: We asked them to name some plants they can think of. Write them on the board, sorting into several columns. Then label the categories like vegetable, fruit, tree, flower…

Rhythm Game: 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.)

Play 1-2-3-plant. Ask a child to suggest a plant (e.g. tulip), and then you clap a rhythm, where you say 1-2-3-tulip, then point at the next kid for an idea, then clap 1-2-3-daffodil. And so on. (You can give the hint that they could say any of the plants we just talked about.)  OR

4-3 rhythm. Have them say watermelon. Clap the syllables. Count the syllables as you clap. Then do the same with dandelion. Then huckleberry. Then do black-eyed pea… huh… that’s only three syllables. Then try pumpkin seed. Then blackberry. Then do a 4-3 pattern, saying/clapping watermelon, black eyed pea. Then clap a 4-3 pattern without saying those words out loud.

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 animals and humans need (a review of idea from our Habitats and Adaptations classes) 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: Last year, 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. This year, our library no longer had the book, so we chose other options (see below).

Closing Circle

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“>Daydreamer. There are also books featuring the words of the song and illustrations, such as Inch by Inch: The Garden Song 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

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.)

Big Motor Activity – How Seeds Travel. We read the last page of Flip, Float, Fly book. Then I pointed out the pages I had printed, read them, and ask kids to act out each seed. Maple seeds twirl. Tumble weeds tumble. Coconuts float on the ocean. Touch me nots explode and fling their seeds. Bats eat figs and fly away. Squirrels hide acorns and forget about them.  Locust tree pods skitter along the ice. This was a really fun ending to class, especially if you end with “Burdock seeds cling to people…. so cling to your parent as they leave the room!”

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

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  • 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 because kids might be disappointed they didn’t get to try it. Ages 3 – 6.
  • 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. (Note, if you read this book, you could also do a project of planting a variety of “surprise seeds” in a bin, then watching them grow over the next several weeks to see what all comes up. I personally am not up to moving this out doors and seeing it through to plants you can harvest, but at least we could start the process.)
  • 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…
  • A Fruit Is a Suitcase for Seeds by Richards. Nicely illustrated book for kids age 4 – 7, which talks about a really nice metaphor: “many seeds travel inside fruits. The fruit is like a suitcase for seeds. It protects them on their trip. Fruits look beautiful and taste good, so animals and people eat them and drop the seeds in different places.” It illustrates fruits with pits, some small seeds, many tiny seeds inside, and seeds on the outside. This would be a great companion to the fruit dissection project.
  • 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.

Videos

  • 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-4FxBAbKd8
  • 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!

Egg Science for Kids

On this Saturday in spring, our class theme was eggs. (We do egg science around Easter time, because that’s when you can get plastic eggs in stores, and real eggs are on sale cheap. Plus, of course, it’s a natural spring time topic.)
Question of the Week: What kind of creatures lay eggs? (We want kids to really get that it’s not just birds!)
Challenge: Can you drop a hard-boiled egg from a height without cracking the shell?

Hands-On STEM Activities for Kids

Egg drop challenge. The ultimate goal is for kids to create a container that they can put a raw egg in and drop it from several feet and not have the egg break.

Do we start by giving the kids a raw egg? Of course not! We go through three stages of testing. First, they use a tester egg. (I’ve discovered that if you put a rubber bouncy ball inside of a plastic Easter egg, it has about the same degree of toughness / fragility as a raw egg. If you drop it from a few inches, it does fine. If you drop it from a few feet with no padding, it’s guaranteed to break open. But then it’s easily re-assembled for more tests.) Once they’ve successfully tested that several times, they can graduate up to a hard boiled egg – if it fails, it cracks and can’t be re-used, but at least it doesn’t make a big mess of their container. Once that’s proven, they can get a raw egg. They start each level of testing very cautiously… drop from a few inches up, then a couple feet, then more feet… in the end, you might be dropping off a balcony or throwing against a wall. (Or adult teams have been known to drop from a 6th story window…) The ending is pretty much always a container full of squashed egg goo. (Unless, of course, you pack your egg inside a plastic baggy.)

You can use a very wide variety of materials to make your container. (See below for more tips). In our class, for 3 – 7 year olds, we put out tester eggs (plastic eggs with a bouncy ball inside), quart size Ziplocs and gallon size and a variety of packing materials – Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, cloth, air, water, and so on. The kids would pack the bag with soft materials, nest the egg inside them, then drop the egg, then check it – is it still intact? If not, they put it back together (that’s why we’re using tester eggs!), re-engineer their container and try again. If it is still intact, they can re-seal it and drop it from a greater height. We also had a worksheet to encourage our older kids to make a prediction about what would happen, and track what they’ve tested. (here’s an even simpler worksheet: www.iheartcraftythings.com/2012/08/humpty-dumpty-science.html)

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This is a GREAT activity for teaching the Tinkering mindset. Come up with an idea. Build it. Test it. Refine it to make it better. Once you have a success, challenge yourself to take it to the next level.

This activity scales to a lot of different age groups. The preschool kids – three and four year olds – enjoy doing it for a while. They’ll do tester eggs and a few engineering revisions… maybe three or four tests, then they move on. Older kids (early elementary) will try more iterations, and want to earn the right to graduate up to a hard-boiled egg. A really committed kid could spend hours on this project, testing lots of different container options. It’s even fun for middle schoolers, high schoolers, or adults.

If you want LOTS more ideas for this, just do a google search or YouTube search for “egg drop challenge.” I like this video, by a former NASA engineer http://gizmodo.com/how-to-win-your-physics-class-egg-drop-competition-1707125282. He talks about these major design ideas, and explains the science of them:

  • “Popcorn ball” – really, any container filled with any type of soft packing materials – egg nestled in the middle.
  • Parachute. Tie on a plastic grocery bag or other item to slow the fall. This isn’t going to do much good when testing from a few feet up, but may work well at a height.
  • A crash cage from straws, cardboard, or other materials.
  • Martian airbags (balloons surrounding the egg).
  • Helium balloons to float the egg slowly to the ground. (Note: some egg drop competitions don’t allow helium balloons, so be sure to check your rules!)

What have you tried? Was it successful?

Science Display / Imaginative Play: We had a no-touch display of real eggs and real nests for kids to explore with magnifying glasses. Next to that, we had baskets shaped like nests, hardboiled eggs (chicken and quail) and bird toys. We set the book An Egg Is Quiet with them, and hung a poster comparing how big the eggs are for various species. We encouraged kids to make up a story or “puppet show” with the toy birds.

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Science Learning: We made a collection of photos (all taken from the ZooBorns website) and printed them so on the back of each picture, there was either an egg, or an egg with a circle/slash through it. Then we made two signs – “Hatched from an Egg” and “Live Born (did not hatch from an egg)”. I’ve attached the file PDF so you can get a better look at it – but I don’t have copyright on these images, so I encourage you to make your own set of cards rather than printing this one.

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Science Exploration: We made naked eggs in advance (see links at bottom of the post). The first year, we did it as a display: we had one out in a bowl for kids to *carefully* explore. Next to that, we had a jar with an egg in vinegar so they could see the process that led to the naked egg. This year we did it as a closing circle demo, and that was better.

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Discovery Activity: We filled plastic eggs with plastic animals – a wide variety of animals that hatch from eggs, including insects, amphibians, fish, and reptiles.

Animal Observation: Observe animals that come from eggs – we had a display area with a leopard gecko and crickets. This is a NO TOUCH display. (We had these hidden at the beginning of class and brought them out during opening circle.)

Arts and Crafts

Make a Hatching Animal. Here is a free printable activity. Kids choose an animal, cut it out and color it. Then they cut out a paper egg, cut it in half, join the halves together with a brad (paper fastener). They glue down the edge of the bottom half of the egg onto card stock, making a “pocket” to tuck the animal into. The top half opens and closes to reveal or hide the animal. (Idea sources: 1, 2, 3)

 

Egg shaker instruments. Put out plastic eggs. Dried beans to fill with, Sharpies to decorate with, and tape to seal them closed. (Or a hot glue gun to seal them closed.)

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Plastic egg animals. Put out plastic eggs, felt, glue, feathers, and googly eyes. They make whatever animal they want, ideally one that hatches from an egg, for science learning, but really, we let them do whatever they want. Option 1: they could make an egg shaker first, then turn it into an egg animal. Option 2: make a nest for the egg animal by taking a paper lunch bag, tearing off the top of the bag, and rolling it down. Fill it with “easter grass” or with shredded paper to nest the egg into.

Art Process: Gelatin eggs. Make clear gelatin in egg-shaped molds. Put out with pipettes, liquid water color.  Kids insert the pipette to make a hole, pull it out a little, then squirt in color. Ideas from: www.two-daloo.com/sensory-art-play-colorful-gelatin-castles/ and http://myiearlychildhoodreflections.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-is-there-gelatin-in-sensory-table.html

Last year, we did this in the sensory tub on a white tray. This year, we did it in a clear pie pan on the light table. Note: this year our eggs stuck to the molds… next time, I’ll try spraying molds with non-stick spray before pouring in the gelatin mix.

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Coloring Eggs – We don’t do this in class, because we’re a secular class with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and this activity is very closely associated with Easter. However, there’s LOTS of great ways to color eggs: marble them with shaving cream, melted crayon Easter eggs, tissue paper dyed eggs, wax resist eggs, and many more. At home this year, we used pipettes to drip liquid watercolor onto eggs. Put the eggs on a metal drying rack so the paint will drip through and not pool underneath (and set the drying rack on a cookie sheet or tray to catch the excess paint!) Mix 3 parts watercolor with one part vinegar (to increase the color-fastness of the paint). Use pipettes to drip it on. Note: liquid watercolor isn’t designed for food. If the egg shell is intact and no color reaches the egg, I think it’s fine, but if the egg was cracked and the egg was stained with color, I’m not sure I would eat it. These take 15 – 30 minutes to dry.

Other Activities

Big motor play: Egg Roll Race. http://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/plastic-easter-egg-races-exploring-ramps-gravity-motion-saturday-science/ Using cardboard “gutters”, roll a ball down the gutter, or roll an egg down, roll “wobbly eggs” down. Which rolls furthest? Which rolls smoothest? We only had three foot long gutters… I wished we’d had longer.

We made wobbly eggs for this: open a plastic Easter egg, glue one small rock inside, glue closed. Older kids and adults found these interesting, because they rolled in unexpected ways. For example, with one, no matter what position you set it down in, it would pop up on one end. Little kids didn’t find this intriguing at all – they don’t have any sense of how eggs “should” roll, so didn’t notice that they were behaving oddly. We also learned that when people see Easter eggs, the first thing they do is open them up to look inside – not just the kids but the adults would too, and then realize they’d broken the glue seal. Last year, by the end of class, kids had removed all the rocks from all the eggs. This year, we wrote on the eggs “Don’t open me!”

This was a great “busy boy” activity. Every class has some kids (boys or girls) who just love the big motor do it over and over activity. This group had four boys who played there together for easily 15 minutes saying “OK, let’s test this big one now”, “hey, what happens if we…” and so on, testing out all the ideas, and jumping up and down with excitement.

In the big motor area, we also put out spoons for a “carry the egg in a spoon” game, and a wooden egg for “toss the egg” practice.

Math Foundations: Pattern matching: Put out 6 plastic eggs, broken into their halves. Put up this printable poster of mix and match eggs (or make your own to match the eggs that you have!) – they need to match the patterns (blue on top, pink on bottom, etc.)

Literacy skills: We made word family plastic eggs – http://mamateaches.com/word-family-eggs/. We put out a tray of salt or flour for writing letters in so they could practice copying the words that they saw (www.playdoughtoplato.com/word-family-eggs/).

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Emotional Intelligence – Sorting activity: Pair up halves of toy eggs so that their facial expressions match. (It’s not a terribly exciting activity for this age group, but if you happen to have a set of these eggs, it’s easy to set them out for kids to explore.)

Water table: You could put red water beads in the tub to simulate fish eggs floating in water. Or, put in water and detergent, and let them use egg beaters and whisks to stir up some bubbles. (We use a wide variety of tools in this class, to teach tool skills and build fine motor development.)

Snack idea: Speaking of egg beaters, I think meringue cookies would be a great snack project. Learn more: www.livescience.com/44419-egg-science-experiments.html

Opening Circle:

Gathering the Students. We used this idea from: Storytime Planners. Say: Make a noise like a rooster. (Crow) Make a noise like a hen. (Cluck) Make a noise like a chick. (Peep) Make a noise like an unhatched egg. (Silence) Good!     And now you’re ready to listen!

Song: I’m a little chick – tune of I’m a Little Teapot.
Inspired by 3 songs on http://jeninthelibrary.com/tag/eggs/

I’m a little chickie, (crouch down inside your egg) Ready to hatch,
Pecking at my shell, (Pecking motion) Peck, peck, scratch! (scratching motion)
When I crack it open, Out I’ll leap. (Pop Up)
I’ll spread my wings (hands in armpits and flap) And cheep, cheep, cheep.

Intro to Theme: Ask them what kinds of creatures hatch out of eggs. Point to animal classification signs to remind them.

 

BookChoose one about all the different animals that lay eggs. Some to choose from, in order from my favorite to less preferred. (The first three are “guessing games” which is always fun in circle time. They cover several creatures with two page-spreads each: there’s a “teaser” page that shows a nice illustration and gives some clues, then it asks listeners to guess what is growing inside the egg. The next page reveals the answer.)

    • Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg  – “Their mother crawled from sea to land to bury these soft eggs in the sand. Can you guess what is growing inside these eggs? Sea turtles!” The reveal pages also have a paragraph of detailed info about that creature which 5 – 7 year olds might enjoy reading after circle. Age 4 – 7.
    • Eggs, 1, 2, 3: Who Will The Babies Be? This is a beautiful book with unique illustrations. It’s a counting book, which is always nice, and the lift the flap guessing game aspect of “who will the babies be” is great. I’d only give it 4 out of 5 stars because the rhythm of the text just doesn’t flow as nicely as I would wish. “Four eggs, of sky blue, in a nest of grass and mud on a branch in a backyard. Who will the babies be? 4 robin chicks, with beaks open wide.” Age 3 – 6
    • What Will Hatch? “Jelly, jiggly. What will hatch? Wiggly, squiggly tadpole.”
    • A teacher in my class recommended a lift-the-flap book called Something is Coming. Our library doesn’t have a copy but it sounds great.
    • An Egg Is Quiet. Gorgeous naturalistic illustrations! (The Amazon listing has a “look inside” that lets you look at a few of them.) Illustrates at least 100 different eggs, mostly at actual size, including birds, fish, insects and amphibians. Ends with illustrations of many of the creatures that hatch from eggs. “An egg is quiet. It sits there, under its mother’s feathers… on top of its fathers feet… buried beneath the sand. Warm. Cozy. An egg is colorful…” Beautiful and informative. Great to put out on a table to enjoy, but not as engaging an option for circle time as the others. Pictures great for any age – text is best for age 5 – 8.
    • Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones.  “Chickens aren’t the only ones. Most snakes lay eggs, and lizards too, and crocodiles and turtles do and dinosaurs who are extinct, but they were reptiles too.”

Lift the Flap or Felt Board: I printed out a poster with ten pictures on it, and covered each picture with a post it note, then shared this rhyme, which is adapted from one that Jen in the Library says came from Preschool Favorites by Diane Briggs. I changed a few verses, because I wanted to include more non-bird oviparous animals.

There are ten little eggs / And what do we see / They’re about to crack open / “My goodness me,” said Mother Hen.
The first egg cracks open. And what do we see? It’s a fuzzy, little duckling, looking at me.
The second egg cracks open. And what do we see? It’s a pretty little robin, looking at me.
The third egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a long-necked ostrich Looking at me.
The fourth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a hungry caterpillar Looking at me.
The fifth egg cracks open And what do we see An orange &white clownfish Looking at me.
The sixth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a snappy alligator Looking at me.
The seventh egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a wiggly tadpole Looking at me.
The eighth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a duck-billed platypus Looking at me.
The ninth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a little green dinosaur Looking at me.
The tenth egg cracks open And what do we see It’s a little yellow chicken Looking at me.
“My baby!” said the mother hen, as happy as can be.
“Mommy!” said the chick. “Did you meet all my sisters and brothers?” “What!” shrieked Mother Hen, “My goodness me.”

(My poster is here… some of these images are copyrighted, so you should consider making your own poster. This poster is 11 x 17, which is best, because the pictures are very easily covered by a standard size post-it, without them overlapping. This poster is 8.5 x 11, in case that’s all you can print, but you’ll probably have to lay the post-its on in reverse order, from the 10th first, down to #1 so that you uncover them in order.)

20 questions game: I did two brief games where I thought of an animal, and they had to guess what I was thinking of. (Read this post to learn all about what kids learn by playing guessing games, and how to start teaching them to little ones.) We used our animal classification posters to suggest the best questions to ask first: does it hatch from an egg, or is it born live? How many legs does it have? What kind of skin does it have? Can it live in the water? Can it fly?

The first animal was a cricket, and when they guessed what it was, I went in the back room and brought out the container of crickets and we talked about those for a while. The second animal was a leopard gecko, and after they guessed lizard, I brought one out. I told them they could not touch it, but I held the gecko in my hand so they could all get a good look at it. Then I put it back in its cage, and we fed it some crickets.

Outdoor Time:

Hike through the woods to observe spring time changes – buds, blossoms, flowers, new leaves…

You could easily do an egg hunt. Kids LOVE to do egg hunts. They’re usually happy to do them over and over and over, as many times as you want to hide the eggs. Learn more about the joys of egg hunts and all the things kids learn by doing them

End with egg toss game. First, the teachers demo’ed it. Take an egg, carefully pass from one to the other. Take a step back, gently toss and catch. Take another step back, toss and catch, and so on. Then have all the kids pair up and give them each an egg. We played on thick grass, and our eggs were VERY sturdy. Some teams probably dropped their egg 10 times before it broke. We picked up all the shells to compost, but left egg goo there – animals will eat it. If it was summer and there were lots of barefoot kids running in the park, clean up as much goo as you can.

Note: if you have to play on a harder surface, you may want to use hard-boiled eggs. Or, you can start with hard-boiled and once they build up their skills and confidence, switch them to raw eggs.

Optional songs to sing:

I Love Eggs (Tune: Frere Jacques) – (from: Storytime Source Page) I love eggs, I love eggs. Yum, yum, yum ; Yum, yum, yum. Scrambled, boiled or fried, any way I’ve tried. Yum, yum, yum ; Yum, yum, yum

If You Like Your Eggs Scrambled (Tune: Happy & You Know It) (Storytime Source Page) If you like your eggs scrambled, clap your hands If you like your eggs scrambled, clap your hands Yes, they’re yummy and they’re yellow So you’ll be a happy fellow If you like your eggs scrambled, clap your hands

If you like your eggs fried, jump up high… If you want bacon with your eggs, wiggle your legs… If you want toast instead, nod your head (Mmm-hmm)…

Group Activity: Chicken Dance – Play the music and have the children do the classic dance: Make your hands like talking four times, flap arms like wings four times, wiggle bottom four times, clap Four times, do it again faster!!

You can find lots more book recommendations, songs, and story-time felt board activities at https://jeninthelibrary.com/tag/eggs/

Closing Circle

Book: One of many great books about someone finding an egg with a mysterious occupant and the process of waiting for it to hatch or other silly stories about eggs – there’s a lot of them! Some options:

    • The Odd Egg. All the other birds have laid an egg except Duck. (The observant reader will notice it’s a male duck by its coloring.) Duck finds a very large egg he claims for his own, and waits for it to hatch. This is a very fun read-aloud, and the graphic design is really interesting… see my review on Amazon for a picture.
    • The Chick That Wouldn’t Hatch. There are 6 eggs in a nest. 5 chicks hatch. The other egg goes for a long roll through the barnyard, past the pond, over the ditch, with lots of animals chasing it. Then it finally hatches. A silly book that kids age 3 – 6 enjoy. Includes an idea for a craft at the end.
    • The Cow That Laid an Egg. Marjorie the cow doesn’t feel special because she can’t ride bicycles and do handstands like all the other cows. The chickens hide a cow-spotted egg near her and say she’s laid an egg. Everyone is astonished. Eventually the egg hatches into a chick…. that says MOO!!
    • An Extraordinary Egg. Too long for circle if you have kids under age 5, but it’s a fun story of an adventurous and curious frog who finds an egg. The other frogs declare it to be a chicken egg, and they continue to call it a chicken even after the animal hatches and has four legs and swims very well. They continue to think it’s a chicken even when its real mother refers to it as her “sweet little alligator.” Kids four and under will be confused by this book when they see pictures of an alligator and everyone calls it a chicken. A five or six year old understands the absurdity.
    • Egg Drop. This book delights me. Truly. I chuckled while reading it. But I didn’t read it at class. “The egg was young. It didn’t know much. We tried to tell it, but of course if didn’t listen. If only it had waited.” It wants to fly before hatching, and in the end jumps from a great height which doesn’t end well. In the end, our protagonist is a smiling sunny-side up egg next to some bacon waiting to be eaten. Again, I liked it. Many kids (including mine) would like it…. but some might find it disturbing.

Egg drop. We had the kids who had made the best egg drop container demonstrate it to the class.

Naked Egg Demo: I peeled one of the cracked hard-boiled eggs left over from the egg toss and showed that to them – the white and the yolk. Then I held up a raw egg that had survived the egg toss and we talked about how even those these eggs seem pretty fragile, they’re sturdier than you’d think. But then I cracked the egg open on the edge of the bowl to show how if you hit it just right, it’s easy to break. I broke it open and showed them the raw egg white and yolk. Then we brought out our naked egg, still soaking in vinegar. I explained that I had put a raw egg in the vinegar three days ago and that it bubbled and bubbled, and that the vinegar had dissolved away the shell, leaving the raw egg in a rubbery membrane. I poured the egg out in my hand (letting the vinegar pour into a bowl). Then I rinsed the egg in a bowl of water and rubbed off the last of the shell residue. Then I carefully bounced the egg in a bowl a few times. Then I held it up higher and dropped it. It broke, and you could see the membrane, the white and the yolk. We examined them all.

More recommended books for the classroom bookshelf

  • A Nest Full of Eggs. For kids age 6 – 7 (or younger if they have a long attention span), this is a nice engaging story of robins building a nest, laying eggs, hatching and flying away. It’s also a great non-fiction book about birds, that covers everything from diagrams showing how the chick develops inside the egg, to illustrations of the feathers of 23 different birds from hummingbird to pheasant, from where in the world birds are found, and the variety of habitats in which they live.
  • Where Do Chicks Come From? Even though this is supposedly the same reading level as the previous book, I find the scientific concepts are much more advanced, and more details than most of my kids would want. But if you have a scientifically minded kid who wants to know it all, check it out.
  • From Egg to Chicken. A non-fiction review of the chicken’s maturation. A fine reference for a 6-7 year old who wants to learn more of the details.
  • Egg: Nature’s Perfect Package by Jenkins and Page. Although the Amazon listing says it’s for preschool to age 7, I agree with the Library Journal review which rates it as second to fourth grade (i.e. 7 – 9 or so). Lots of great details, shown in an engaging, easy to understand way. Covers sizes of eggs, where they are laid, animals that eat eggs, how eggs are packaged, carried, incubated, and how they develop. An excellent book for older kids, I have it in my class for the pictures, but the words are beyond my 3 – 7 year olds.
  • Eggs. You might want this for Stevenson’s illustrations – beautiful naturalistic drawings. The words are over the head of this age group. (I teach kids 3 – 7.)
  • Hank Finds an Egg by Dudley. Sweet wordless story book about a teddy bear that finds an egg in the woods and tries several different ways to return it to its nest – jumping, standing on a tall stump. building a ladder, and finally wrapping it up in a bundle with a ribbon so the mama bird can pick it up with her beak. Very cute photographs in a fun tale of problem solving a difficult challenge. And the sweetness of the bear’s commitment to getting the bird home. The younger children in our class loved this story.
  • How to Make a Bouncing Egg (Hands-On Science Fun). A book that walks you through the process of making a naked egg (see below.) You don’t really learn anything you won’t learn by doing it. But, if you want a book about it, it’s available.

Additional Activities We Didn’t / Couldn’t Do in Class

Egg Trivia – Mostly for Grown-Ups: I just learned some fascinating new things about how birds hatch. A common story is that chicks hatch because they run out of food and they run out of room in the egg. Here’s what actually happens (written by Joy Berry): “A chick near to hatching is not starving. It is fuller than it’s ever been. The chick has just absorbed the yolk fully into its abdomen, and that yolk is all the food it needs for 2 – 3 days after it is fully hatched. That fullness increases the chick’s total body mass, but it isn’t ever too big for the egg. In fact, it only develops in about 75 – 80% of the egg’s capacity, because the egg itself has a built in extra portion, a room that doesn’t get opened till the end of incubation. It is the air sac, and the chick’s body gets big enough as it absorbs yolk to piece that membrane with its perfectly evolved egg tooth (a sharp little point on its beak that disappears after hatching) and then it starts breathing the air the egg has absorbed through the shell into that space. This puffs it up even more. As it’s getting “inspired” by breathing air and filling its lungs, it is getting bigger and also having room to kick down, against the bottom of the shell. And that air it is breathing means it can do something else for the first time…. PEEP. The headroom in the air sac means it can begin to peck at the inside of the shell, pipping a tiny air hole (more fresh air!) and then zipping all the way round. When that process happens, mama and it and the other chicks are talking to each other all during the hatch, from inside and outside the shell. Its hard work is often assisted by the mother hens and sometimes hatch mates, pecking at the openings to make it bigger and “talking” to one another and encouraging them.” After I learned that, I also found this great article on how animals breathe inside eggs, and how their chorioallantoic membrane and allantois relates to a mammal umbilical cord and placenta…. check it out: www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/29/how-does-chick-breathe-in-egg-allantois

A video… just for the goofiness of it: Check out this trifle.

Build a Cardboard Finger

Today we were in the Tinker Tank area of Pacific Science Center in Seattle, and they had an engineering project where kids could build a finger joint.

Here’s a tutorial for the simplest possible method:

Cut a piece of cardboard. Make sure the corrugated ribs are going across the strip, not up and down the length of the strip. Fold the strip every inch or so.

Cut short segments of plastic straw. Tape them lengthwise, one per section of the cardboard.

Thread a string through all the the straw segments. Tape it down at one end, and leave a loose end hanging out the other end. Pull on the loose string to bend the “finger joints.” Optional – add a handle to make it easier to hold on and pull the string.

 

Variations: Put straw segments on the front AND back of the cardboard. Run string in a loop – tape on the back, then run it through all the straws on the back, over the end, then through all the straws on the front, and leave the string hanging on the front. This led to a better / tighter curl when the string was pulled. (See photo of curled finger at top of post.)

Pincer grasp: take a flat square of cardboard (whoever made this one reinforced it with a couple popsicle sticks to make sure it couldn’t fold.) Then add a couple “spacer” pieces of cardboard. Then tape on your “finger” with the straw side DOWN toward the other cardboard. (First picture.) When you pull the string, the finger curves up against the lower cardboard, forming sort of a pincer grasp. (Second picture.) It can pick up small objects like this red Lego piece.

  

This is a fun, easy, hands-on project for kids that we may use in either our “Skeletons” class or our “Robots” class. And it fits both our tinkering aesthetic and our pulling materials from the recycling bin approach.

When we got home, I searched for other examples of similar projects online.

Kiwi Crate has a Straw Fingers project, where they just use straws and string – they cut notches in the straws to allow them to bend. You can choose to make five and tape them to cardboard for a hand.

On Carolina, to model a human hand, they take the notched straw idea, but then tape them onto a hand-shaped piece of cardboard, then score the cardboard so it will fold everywhere there is a joint.

RIT has a full lesson plan on bio-engineering, which includes a how-to on how to make a finger with wood, rubber bands, tape, string, straws, and cardboard.

Science Buddies has a fully detailed tutorial on how to make a robot hand from straws. Their directions include an evaluation of ways to improve the process. They use straws, string, polymer clay and plastic rings. Each finger has three rings, one for each joint so you can bend the joins separately. On Prezi, there’s a vaguer description (with no pictures) of something that sounds like a similar process… might be some tip you could glean from there.

Weird Science Kids uses a hand-shaped cardboard, bendy straws and string, and “glues” the straws down to the cardboard with clear silicone caulk (like you use to seal seams in a shower.) It looks complicated to me… and takes a couple days as you have to wait for the caulk to dry / cure.

PBS Kids has a “design a robotic arm” challenge.

All these examples inspire a lot of ideas for projects we could do. If working with younger children (preschool age – 3 – 4 or so), I would likely have them build just a single finger, either using the PacSci method I describe, or the straw from Kiwi Crate. For early elementary school age children (age 5 – 8), I would teach them a simple method for building a finger, then encourage them to figure out how to build a hand. For older children, I’d just show them this post, and let them decide how they wanted to build a hand.