Stars and Constellations – Astronomy for Kids

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Our class theme this week was Astronomy – Stars and Constellations.

The big question for our preschool age kids was: What’s a star? (And what star is nearest to your home?) For older kids, we asked them “what’s a constellation”?

Science Projects

Make a constellation viewer. Cut out a constellation pattern, glue it to some black paper, tape that over the end of a toilet paper tube, then use a thumb tack to punch holes everywhere there’s a star. Voila – you’ve made a viewer that when you look through it, you see the constellation. You can shine a flashlight through the tube to project the constellation on the wall. More how-to details / tutorial here.

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Make a constellation projector. Kids took a large margarine tub (or a cardboard snack tray) and placed it bottom up on the table. Then they taped a constellation pattern on the tub. img_20170225_094641943They then used either thumb tacks or nails and hammers to poke holes in the tub everywhere a star appeared on the star chart. (The thumb tacks were plenty strong to poke the holes, but kids enjoyed using the nails and hammers.) When finished, they could place the tub over a flashlight or lantern and project the constellations on the ceiling.

Why do stars twinkle: Kids can trace star templates onto foil, cut out the stars and glue them to black paper. Then take them to a dark room. When you shine a flashlight on the stars, what do you see? Now place a small glass bowl of water on top of the star and shine a light through. Now jiggle the water and look again. Or hold the water up by your eye, and look through it at the foil. You may see that looking through moving water makes the stars look like they’re twinkling, like when we look through our atmosphere the stars twinkle. The Educated Preschooler and M.A.R.S. Astronomy Club talk about this experiment. It was not as clear an illustration of the idea as I was hoping for.

Art Projects

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

Alternatively, you could just make one large felt board and stars for them to play with.

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Collaborative Collage: We put out black foam core, white crayons, glue, cotton balls, legumes, and other items to represent stars, and encouraged kids to create a “night sky.” Mrs. Myer’s Kindergarten has a really nice example of one of these.

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

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Pocket star: In closing circle, we would sing a song about putting a star in your pocket, and read a book about that too, so we wanted to make pocket stars. img_20170225_092310527I had to think of something small, but sturdy, that had a star shape yet didn’t have a lot of poky edges. We bought  Wood Stars and Wood Disks, which we decorated with Chalk Markers and glued together with Tacky Glue. We had 3/4″ stars and 1″ wood disks, which were really pretty small – you could go a little bigger.

I should note: chalk markers are designed for writing on non-porous surfaces, like chalkboards or glass, then washing off with water. When you use them on wood, they soak into the wood as well as a paint marker or a Sharpie does, but they wash off kids’ hands, so they’re perfect for a project like this.

Glow in the Dark Sticker Constellations. We had black paper (we put out half sheets, but learned full sheets would have been better), Glow in The Dark Sticker Stars, and these constellation cards and chalk. I got this idea from Artsy Momma. You could do this with gold stars if you already have those, as they do on Gift of Curiosity.

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There are lots of materials you could use to make constellations – glue gems on paper, or marshmallows, or stick together marshmallow and toothpick constellations, etc.

Art / Engineering Challenge: Star Mobile. Last year, we had cardstock they could glue aluminum foil to and then cut out stars. (That’s the art / small motor practice part.) Then, they moved to another table to assemble a mobile. Figuring out how to balance the arms of a mobile is definitely an engineering challenge – deciding how long the strings should be, how many items to put on each arm so it balances, and so on. This project was aimed at our 5 – 7 year olds and was definitely a challenge for them and their parents. Both parts (making the stars and making the mobile) were too challenging for our little ones, so we didn’t do this project this year. It would be great for 8 – 10 year olds.

Math / Science Skills: Sorting: Sorting is one of the core science skills, so we do it a lot. This week we just printed paper stars in 6 colors and four sizes. We suggested that they first sort by color, then by size, then find “the smallest yellow and biggest purple.”

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Tinker / Free Play

Tinker toy constellations: We put out tinker toys and constellation cards for kids to explore:

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Giant Tinker Toy Constellations: We have a set of giant tinker toys. We drew three constellations on the board, and encouraged kids to replicate them, using the “hub” pieces of tinker toys as stars, and the “tubes” to connect them into constellations. To be honest, the kids used the tinker toys as construction toys, and built blasters, light sabers, lawn mowers, chairs, etc. But one of the dads built a great model of the Orion constellation!

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Sensory Table: We had purple sand with “gems” and “coins” mixed in, and star shaped containers to fill and pour.

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Sewing Stars: We found these cards on Kids Activities Blog. We printed, laminated, punched holes with our 2″ reach Hole Punch that punches an “equals sign” shape that is great for running ribbons through. We put this out with plastic lanyard string. One thing I discovered: the best constellations for this project are things like Cassiopeia or Andromeda where you’re always moving in one direction. Constellations like Canis Major have “dead ends” that mean you have to double back on the lacing which is hard.

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

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

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

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Opening Circle

Song: We told them that they all know a song about a star. We asked what it was. Most shouted “Twinkle Twinkle!” and then we sang it. You could sing it again, and show them sign language words they could use to say the words of the song with their hands. (See a video of the signs here.)

Book: A good introduction to astronomy is Our Stars by Rockwell. (See below) Or, if you’re doing a planetarium trip, you could read Fancy Nancy Sees Stars. (See below)

We explained the basic concepts of stars and constellations, and showed a telescope and talked about how it could be used to study the stars.

We asked them when you could see stars. They all say at night. But then we say “hmmm… is there a star we can see in the daytime?” Someone will know that yes, we see the sun in the daytime and it is a star. We talk about how it’s not the biggest or the brightest star, but it is by far the closest star to us, which makes it look big and bright. And it’s so bright in the daytime that it drowns out the light of the other stars. We told them to imagine the lamp was the sun. Then we used a “starry night” lantern (similar to this one) – when we first turned it on, you couldn’t see any stars… but then we turned off the lamp to represent night time and they could see that the lantern was projecting stars on the wall. (You could also use a flashlight and your DIY star projectors for this illustration.)

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

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

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

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Closing Circle

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

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

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Song – Catch a Falling Star: We taught the chorus of “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day. Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away.” Then, we put on the music (using this YouTube video), and blew bubbles, pretending the bubbles were falling stars they were trying to catch. (A couple minutes of catching bubbles is always a hit with this age group!) You could also make “comet streamers” by tying plastic ribbon onto wooden rings, and dance around with those.

Pin the star on the sky – If we had more time with the kids, we’d play this game: With eyes closed, have kids stick stars onto a piece of paper, then draw lines connecting them into a picture and create a story for their constellation. (Source)

Oral History: If you’re home schooling, or teaching a program where you see children several times during one theme, this would be a great activity: Read child(ren) a constellation story. Then have child(ren) tell the story back to you. Or have a group of children make up a constellation story. During the week, have children re-tell it over and over. At the end of the week, see how the current tale relates to the original. Idea: http://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/space_days/activities/constellations/storytelling.pdf.

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

Recommended Books

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

Resources

Make a Constellation Viewer

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An easy and cheap science project for preschool – first grade kids (age 4 – 7) is to make a constellation viewer with a toilet paper tube. I’ll describe and illustrate our method here, but add notes below about my sources and about variations you could try.

Prep: print out these constellations: https://inventorsoftomorrowdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/ccf58-viewerfile.png. Note: they’re a little smaller than you want, so what I did was copy the image, paste it into a document and made it as big as I possibly could while still having them fit on the paper (i.e. 9.7 x 8.1 inches)

  1. On a black piece of paper (yellow in these pictures): Trace a circle around the fat end of a plastic cup.
  2. Cut out the black paper circle.
  3. Choose and cut out a constellation.
  4. Glue the constellation to the paper.
  5. Optional: cut slashes in paper to help it fold down better.
  6. Use a thumbtack to poke holes where stars are. (It helps to put the paper on top of cardboard or Styrofoam so you can poke through the paper into that surface.)
  7. Put disc on top of tube, fold paper down, hold with rubber band
  8. Tape paper down and tape label on.
  9. Look through viewer at light.
  10. You can also shine a flashlight through the viewer to project the constellation image on the wall.

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Last year, we used a slightly different method. We taped squares of black paper onto the tube, then laid the constellation pattern on top of that, punched holes through the black paper, and removed the pattern.

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Sources consulted:

Ours are pretty similar to Momma Owl’s. I like that they made a collection of tubes with a variety of constellations and kept them together in a shoe box for later use.

Kids Activities Blog just had square constellation cards to hold in front of the tube. disk

I think you could make black disks with handles shaped like this that you could hold in front of the tube or use on a flashlight for interchangeable constellations. Then you could keep them together on a string or keychain like this constellation keychain from Nature Watch.

On Inna’s Creations, they made a telescope and stand with toilet paper tubes. Rather than mounting a constellation permanently, they made caps that can be taken on and off the viewer. I loved that idea. They glued a photo of a planet on the cap but you could easily do the punched out constellations instead.

I bet you could also make a homemade version of this constellation viewer kit that has multiple constellations on a rotating disk.

A key thing to remember when making constellation viewers. For the projection to be accurate when you look through the tube at the bottom of the paper, you need to punch the holes so that when you look at it from the top, you see a mirror image of the constellation. So, either use constellation patterns that are reversed (as the ones I linked to above are… they are a mirror-imaged version of these constellation patterns)

If for some reason you want to use constellation patterns that are not mirror imaged, then just tape them onto the tube with the white constellation pattern facing down, and the black paper facing up.

Planets and Space Travel – Science for Kids

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We’ve learned about Gravity, our planet, Earth, and on our field trip to the Bellevue College planetarium, we learned about stars and constellations that we observe from Earth. This week we learned about the planets in our solar system and about space travel.

Crafts – Building Scientific Models

Orbital Models: We wanted the kids to create a model where they could see how the earth orbits the sun, and the moon independently orbits the earth. We had three ideas for how to do this, and ended up putting out the supplies for all three options on the table, and some kids / parents got creative and came up with even more ways to model this.

You could:

  1. print this template, color in the earth and sun, cut it apart, assemble it with brads
  2. Use a large paper plate for the sun, a small paper plate for the earth, and the bottom of a Dixie cup or a small circle of paper to represent the moon. Decorate them, then cut two long strips of cardstock. Connect the earth to the sun, the sun to the moon.
  3. Use a CD for the sun, a juice can lid for the moon, and a bottle cap for the moon.

Once you’ve assembled the model, kids can explore how the earth orbits the sun, and the moon orbits the earth.

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(Note: I don’t know the original source of this idea – it appears all over Pinterest – just search for “sun moon earth model” to see several samples.)

Orbital Mechanics Wand

Supplies needed:

  • big Styrofoam or soft rubber ball, to represent a planet
  • small Styrofoam ball, rubber ball, or Christmas ornament, to represent a moon
  • string to represent the pull of gravity
  • dowel, skewer or pencil
  • tape and scissors.
  1. Poke the skewer (or pencil) into a large ball.
  2. Tie a string to the smaller ball.
  3. Then tie the string firmly to the skewer – slide it up close to the planet. Tape in place so it can’t rotate.

You have created a model of a simple planetary system like Earth’s – with one planet and one satellite moon. Try twirling the small ‘Moon’ around the larger Planet on your wand. Observe how, as it draws closer, the moon travels faster around the planet. This is one of the basic principles of Gravity and Orbital Mechanics that every astronaut knows and is an example of Centripetal Force.

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Science Inspired Art Projects

Martian surface. Kids could trace around a lid from a large tub to make a circle on cardstock, then paint it with Mars goo – paint mixed with flour. They could sculpt mountains and craters in the goo. We placed a photo of Mars on the table as inspiration.

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Phases of the Moon: Kids could also use textured paint (paint mixed with flour) to paint the phases of the moon on cardstock (include a poster at the station to illustrate the phases). They can use the end of a straw to make “craters.”

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I also really like the idea from Mrs. Myer’s kindergarten, to have the kids work collaboratively on BIG paintings of the phases of the moon.

Jet Packs: Search online for home-made jetpacks and you’ll find lots of ideas. Our basic design was: take a clean, dry plastic bottle (juice bottle, 2 liter soda, whatever) or two (if two, you’ll want to strap them together). Fill with bits of Poly-Fil. Put the lid on, then tape crepe paper flames (or felt flames) to the bottom of it. Take bias tape or other strings. Lay them on one side of the bottle in an X shape and tape it on. Decorate, adding buttons and such. Then tie on by putting it on the child’s back, and crossing the ties across the chest.

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You could also make jet packs or walkie talkies or other “space gear” by covering cardboard boxes with foil and decorating.

Solar System Crowns. Cut long strips of black card stock. Measure them to fit around a child’s head with a small gap in the back. Have kids cut out paper suns to glue in the center. Then glue 8 (or so… ) glass “stones” on to represent the planets. After the glue dries, punch holes in the ends of the band, and tie a string between them so the child can wear it as a crown. We used tacky glue for this project, which works but takes a long time to dry. A hot glue gun would be faster. (Read Teacher Tom’s thoughts on allowing young children to use hot glue guns.) Note that we had a poster of the solar system and a diagram of the solar system out for information and inspiration.

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Solar system: this year, we couldn’t find the large heavy black cardstock to make these into crowns, so we just had out big blue paper and stones… kids made some great solar systems with parent’s help.

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Comet Streamers: We put out wooden rings and plastic ribbon so they could tie on streamers and make a fun toy to run and play with.

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Rockets: We made rockets with card stock. (Click here for a printable rocket template to cut out and assemble. PDF also includes a pattern for making a rocket with craft foam)

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You shape these rockets around a film canister, but then take the film canister out. Note: you can use these paper rockets with Alka-Seltzer rockets and launch these up 10 – 20 feet in the sky, but it will soak / ruin your paper rocket in the process… see details here.

Creation Station: We always have a collage station available in the corner with lots of fun recycled materials, tape, and glue where kids can build anything they want. Here’s one student’s rocket ship that she created on a whim.

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Melted Crayon Art: Cover a griddle with foil, lay paper on top of the heated griddle, and draw with crayon – the wax melts on to the paper. The art inspiration is the book Going Around the Sun: Some Planetary Fun, which I review here. Ideally, we’d make space backgrounds, like in the book, then make colorful planets to place on those backgrounds.

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Model Magic Planets – another project we considered was http://www.3dinosaurs.com/wordpress/index.php/model-magic-planets/

Science Activity: How much would you weigh on the moon: Kids were encouraged to weigh themselves on a bathroom scale, then look up on the chart how heavy they would be on the moon and on Mars. We also discussed this idea in circle. This was interesting to our older kids (6 and up) who have some grasp of what “5 pounds” feels like vs. what “60 pounds” feels like. But, way too abstract for little ones, really.

Sensory, Puzzles and Games – In the sensory tub, we had red Kinetic Sand for “the surface of Mars.” We just put in toy cars with good treads to leave marks. Even better would be Mars Rovers, like these from Hot Wheels or LEGO, though it might take a lot of work to clean all the sand out of the Lego. We put out multiple Solar System jigsaw puzzles, And the Goodnight Moon Game which is a simple preschool level ‘match the card to the picture on the board’ game.

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Snack – Kids make something that looks like planets. You could use English muffins split in half that they spread on whipped cream cheese and swirl in food colors. Or make pizza planets on the English muffin. Or decorate round sugar cookies with frosting.

Or just serve the rocket shaped cheddar crackers and the star shaped yogurt-covered cookies from Trader Joe’s.

Opening Circle

Song: Zoom Zoom Zoom (here’s a video of librarians teaching the song)

Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon.
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon.
If you want to take a trip, climb aboard my rocket ship.
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon.
In 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1, Blast Off!

Verse 2: Fun Fun Fun, we’re going to the sun

Verse 3: Far, Far, Far, we’re going to the stars

Question of the Week: Each week, we post a Question of the Week (or more than one) on the board. I define the question this way: When the youngest child in the class walks out today, they should be able to answer this question in at least a basic way. Our questions this week were: What is a planet? What is a moon? What is a solar system? The very simple answers are: Planets are worlds that orbit (go around) a star, like our Sun. A moon is like a mini planet that orbits around other planets, like our moon orbits the Earth. A solar system is made up of all the planets and other things (moons, asteroids, comets and such) that go around a star.

Tool of the Week – Models: Each week we have a featured tool. This is often something we’re using in activities, such as a screwdriver, a hammer, or a magnifying glass. This week, in circle we wanted to talk about the idea of Models, and how scientists build models to better understand things:

  • If something is too small to see (or to see well), we may make a model of it. (We reminded them of how we used Duplo blocks and our bodies to symbolize molecules in our states of matter lesson a few weeks ago.)
  • If something is very big or very far away it may be hard to conceptualize it and how it relates to other objects. Having a model can help.
  • When we want to build something complicated and expensive, we may first build a small “scale model” – a miniature version. This lets us test our ideas and problem-solve before we spend a lot of time and expensive materials on building the full-size version. (You could mention that there were lots of models built of spaceships as they worked on the design of what would eventually be launched into space.)

We demo’ed our orbital model, and our orbital mechanics model (see above.)

Night and Day: We turned on a lamp, and said it was the sun. We told them Teacher Cym was the earth, and we were all little people standing on her nose. She rotated to show them when the people saw the sun it’s daylight, but when she turns around, her nose is in her shadow, and it’s night-time for the people standing on her nose. After she demo’ed a few rotations, we had the kids do it. I think our 5 – 7 year olds understood the concept. Our 4 year olds had fun turning around, our 3 year olds didn’t get it at all.

Lunar phases: You could use a flashlight, a large Styrofoam ball and a small Styrofoam ball to demonstrate how the sun’s light (the flashlight) shines on the moon and what we can see from Earth. If you do this, here’s some recommendations: one – put a pushpin or something on the Earth to represent “where we’re standing.” First have a child just hold the flashlight shining at the earth. Rotate the Earth around to show whether it’s day or night where we’re standing. Then have another adult hold the moon and move that around the earth, and talk about what the moon looks like from where we’re standing. This is a tricky demo to manage the physical logistics of, so practice it in advance.

Or you could use the exercise described in the online teacher’s guide for Faces of the Moon. (See below.)

We talked some about space travel, and we ended by reading Roaring Rockets. (see below) Something for us older teachers to remember… most of the parents in our classes weren’t alive for the lunar landings, and most of our students weren’t alive when the space shuttle was flying. I’d love a young kids book on the Space Station or some of the private programs that are now working on space flight.

Pretend Play / Large Motor Activity

Rocket Ship: We set up a climber to be a rocket ship. (You could cover the mats in fabric to look more like a planet surface and less like blue gym mats.)

Mission Control: We had a variety of equipment set out on tables: joysticks, steering wheel and pedals from a driving video game, headphones, phones, keyboards, etc. We explained that some kids could pretend to be Mission Control on Earth while others went to space in the spaceship. (Click on the picture for a bigger image.)

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Dress-Up Items: We set next to the climber a collection Space Helmets and a couple space suits (tabards with flattened aluminum pans on them.) They could also wear their jet packs they had made.

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Moon Walking: We had large sponges (like you use to wash a car.) Rubber band them onto kids’ feet, then have them walk – it feels odd – maybe like ‘walking on the moon.’

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Closing Circle

Solar System: We showed them an orrery – a 3-D model of the Solar system that shows relative sizes and orbits of the planets. Ours was this inexpensive kit from Amazon – the dime is in the picture to give you a sense of scale (note: if you get one of these, be sure to pay very careful attention to which length of metal pin each planet gets mounted on – if you get it wrong, it’s hard for them to orbit past it each other properly.)  This is for display only, as it tends to fall apart if three year olds pick it up and turn it upside down.

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Planet Models: I have some model planets I made of Model Magic long ago. I brought them along for hands-on experiences during closing circle. They’re little (notice the dime for scale) and squishable so I had to tell the kids to be careful holding them and modeled how to hold them in their open palms, not squeezing them between fingers.

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Book: We read Space Walk by Yoon, a nice simple lift-the-flap overview of the solar system with basic rhymes about each planet. In the morning class, we had some kids missing due to illness, so we happened to have exactly 8 kids. I gave each a clay planet. When it came to “their page” in the book, they showed everyone their clay planet, then gave it to me, then lifted the flap to learn about the planet. (In the afternoon class, we had more kids than planets, so did NOT hand out planets to anyone.)

Planet exploration: We used the orrery and the clay planets to talk about each planet – which is biggest – which is smallest – which is closest to the sun – which would be hottest – or coldest – which have rings. This is just to practice observation and categorization.

Dance Party: We got the comet streamers we’d made out (and we had extras for anyone who didn’t make one). We put on this YouTube video of Zoom Zoom and danced around, singing along and waving our comet streamers.  The video adds in this chorus: We can have a party on the stars with Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Jupiter might just sing a tune, with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

More Books

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As always, I’ll give affiliate links for the books I recommend – the link allows you to easily go to Amazon, learn more and read reviews. (If you buy anything, I receive a small referral fee. But really, I recommend that you get books from your local library whenever possible!)

Space Travel:

  • Roaring Rockets by Mitton. A nice circle time book for ages 2 – 5, with simple rhyming text and a very basic intro to space travel.
  • I Want to Be an Astronaut by Barton. Another simple preschool book on space travel – frankly I like Roaring Rockets better because there’s a rhyme and rhythm to that book, which is lacking in Barton’s text. But again, another good illustration of the very basics of space travel.
  • Floating in Space by Branley – of the Hayden Planetarium. If you have a 5 – 8 year old who really wants to learn more about space travel, this is a good book for reading one-on-one, but way too long and detailed for use in class.
  • Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle is a lovely bedtime book with Carle’s great trademark art style but it’s definitely fantasy not science.
  • Happy Birthday, Moon by Asch. Another gentle “bedtime-style” book where Bear imagines having conversations with the moon (really an echo). I read both these books to my son when he was three and again when he was five. At five he gets that you can’t climb a ladder and reach the moon and that the moon doesn’t talk to you and give you presents. But he still enjoyed these books, partially due to his delight in understanding that he has a more sophisticated understanding of how the universe works than these characters do.
  • Mousetronaut by astronaut Mark Kelly starts with a true story of mice aboard the space shuttle, but then moves into fiction. Fine read.

Solar System: There are many series of non-fiction books about planets, all of which have 8 books, with titles like “The Moon” or “Jump to Jupiter” or “Ringed Giant – the planet Saturn.” Go to your library, flip through them – see which series is best for your audience.

Books on Day and Night and Moon Phases

  •  Day and Night by Storad. Really nice explanation for 3 – 5 year olds. “Did you know we live on a moving planet? As the earth turns, it changes from day to night. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west…. Night is here. The moon rises. Some night we see a half moon…” Simple text, clear ideas, good photos.
  • Faces of the Moon by Crelin, ill. by Evans. Poetic text: “The moon’s first phase, we call it NEW – when Moon’s between the Sun and you. Her sunlit side is turned away, and we can’t see her, night or day” followed by a brief timing note: “New Moon rises and sets with the sun.” Illustrations are great, with a graphic design where cut-outs in each page show the phase of the moon. (See below.) The text is best for age 5 – 8, but I can see using the illustrations with younger children. Would be a great companion to a moon journal project. Includes an online teachers’ guide with a really nice group activity that models the phases of the moon by having a lamp in the center of the room to represent the sun and a Styrofoam ball on a stick to represent the moon. The child’s face is where they are on Earth. The child holds the moon in front of them, then they turn around (as the Earth does) and see how the light shining on the moon changes.

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Take-Home Activity: We sent home a copy of this solar system mobile that kids could decorate, cut out and put together with parents’ help. (Note: making a mobile that balances is kind of an advanced engineering skill… )  It would be best to copy it on 11×17 card stock if that’s possible for you. There’s another solar system mobile here.

Follow-Up / Homework: If you’re homeschooling, and want to follow the Next Generation Science standards, 1-ESS1-1 is “Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted. [Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include that the sun and moon appear to rise in one part of the sky, move across the sky, and set; and stars other than our sun are visible at night but not during the day.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of star patterns is limited to stars being seen at night and not during the day.]”

A nice way to work on this would be with a Moon Journal: using a worksheet, each night (or most nights), take your child outside to observe the moon and draw it out. Over the course of four weeks, they’ll have a very “hands-on” experience of the way the moon changes. During this month, re-read a book on Moon Phases multiple times to help them integrate their new learning. Buggy and Buddy has a nice moon journal here. You may also ask an older child to notice that the details of the moon’s surface are more visible at some points in the moon phase than others. Learn more here: https://stardate.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/teachers/ObservingTheMoon.pdf

An Astronaut Birthday Party: Many of these activities could be adapted to a kids’ birthday party. I’d do the pretend play (make a “spaceship”, mission control, and some simple costumes), make jetpacks and paper rockets, then launch a few Alka-Seltzer rockets. With the cake, be sure to serve Astronaut Ice Cream.

Videos and Apps

You would think there would be good planet-themed apps. I haven’t searched recently, but two years ago, when I had a three year old who was wild about the solar system, I searched and searched and didn’t find anything worth bothering with. If you have one you like, add a comment!

Videos are a whole different matter! There’s lots of good ones. My son loved:

And more… these are all toddler / preschool friendly songs about planets:

Geology for Kids – Learn About Rocks

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Our theme this week was the Earth, Earthquakes and Rocks. We had so many ideas, I’ve separated them into two posts. This one is on Rocks, click for ideas for Earth Science and Earthquakes.

Observation Table – Rocks. One of the key skills we need to build in a young scientist is observation – learning how to look at an object in depth, describe it, and sort it by multiple criteria. Rocks are a great opportunity for this. We put out a collection of rocks, magnifying glasses, and a book to help them learn more: We used Rocks by Rosinsky (see below for more info). The older kids were actively using the book as a resource for their exploration – especially the chart at the end of the book.

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Note: you can click on any picture for a bigger image…

Other things you could add to this station: a sensitive digital scale to weigh the rocks, a tape measure, a copy of the MOHS hardness scale, a nail to see if you can scratch the rock, a streak board or a test plate to see if rock will scratch it. A worksheet for tracking observations and illustrating the rock. An identification guide, or a laptop with an interactive tool, such as this.

Kids can interact with the rock station in lots of ways: they can just look at rocks, or can fill out worksheets, including doing nail test and scratch test. Or they can sort into categories: sort by size, then mix back together, then sort by color, then put in order smallest to biggest and so on. Read a really nice description of this process at Rhythms of Play. Can look at identification guide to figure out what rock it is.

Rock Sifting: In the sensory table, we put sand, then tossed in some pebbles and bigger rocks, then added scoops and sifters. They could fill the sifter with sand, shake it till all the sand fell out, and see the pebbles and rocks.

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For our three year olds, this is mostly just a sensory experience, though we did point out to them that the little rocks would fall through the big holes in the white strainer basket though it still caught the big rocks, and the other strainers caught all the rocks. For the 4 – 5 year olds, we talked about the idea that big rocks get broken down over time into smaller rocks, and small rocks get broken up into sand, and sand breaks up into dust. I made a poster to illustrate this. (Here’s a printable PDF)

rock-cycle.)

For 6 – 7 year olds, you can also talk about rock formation with this… here’s a site that discusses erosion, transport, deposition and cementation: http://education.usgs.gov/lessons/schoolyard/RockSedimentary.html

Craft: Terrarium

As well as being a fun process, this also produces a nice product – worthy of gift giving, so you could choose to do this project right before a holiday and make them as gifts.

Students were asked to bring a clean glass jar from home. I told them it should be a big jar with a wide mouth, such as a peanut butter jar or a canning jar. (We’ve also used  spaghetti sauce or applesauce jars, plastic tubs, and plastic cups.) We explained that the earth was made of layers of different kinds of rocks, and this layering activity was a way to experience that. (You can also tie it in to the ideas from above about how mountains break into boulders into rocks, etc.)

We set it up assembly line style, where kids went down the line, and put in first sand (this is an optional layer – it’s an inexpensive way to fill a little space at the bottom of the jar), then rocks and pebbles (important for drainage), then charcoal (to reduce odors and mold), then cactus soil, then the plant. (We used cacti and succulents.) When you remove the plant from its little pot, you do need to shake off some of the extra soil to expose the roots and make it easier to nest down into your soil. You should pack plenty of soil in a little around the plant, or water it to compress it a bit – otherwise, the first time they water it at home, the soil compresses and leaves the plant poking up out of it a bit.

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Note: This project is more expensive to do than most of the projects I discuss on this site. (Especially if you buy all the products at a specialty garden store two days before the class, which I mistakenly did my first year.) As an FYI, here’s the products / quantities we used to make 20 terrariums.

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Horticultural Sand – 1 quart ~ $6. (If you have clean play sand, that may be a cheaper option.) Decorative garden rocks – 2 pounds of pebbles, 1 quart of larger rocks ~ $9 on Amazon, cheaper craft rocks at Michael’s. (Again, you could probably “wild gather” your rocks, but you’d want to clean them so the terrarium is a pretty clean system.) Horticultural Charcoal – 1 quart – $10. Cactus Soil – 3 quarts ~ $9. (Note: those are approximate costs you’ll pay in a store – if you buy from Amazon, you may have additional shipping costs.) Succulents – $37. (The $37 is if you order a week in advance from Amazon – I paid $60 buying them at the garden store just before the event.)  So, it works out to $4.50 or more per kid.

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Art – Pet Rocks. Gather some nice round rocks that are around the size of a child’s fist. Put out with Chalk Markers if you want markers the child can wash off their hands and clothes or paint markers if you want the paint on the rock to be waterproof – the chalk marker will wash off it left in the rain, glue, googly eyes, and other décor items of your choice – pipe cleaners, feathers, jewels, pompoms, etc. You could also make nests for your pet rock with various craft materials or recyclable items.

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Snack Demo – Starburst Rock Cycle Use Starburst minis.

Have a collection of rocks that show sedimentary layers, conglomerate rocks, metamorphic rocks, and igneous rocks. Try to find examples that look as similar to the Starburst (SB) Demo as possible, like those in the picture below. Also, have a picture of molten lava.

Clockwise from top left: sedimentary, conglomerate, metamorphic, igneous, lava

Clockwise from top left: sedimentary, conglomerate, metamorphic, igneous, lava

Show the kids the layered rock. Then stack three Starburst (SB) in layers – squash together into a sedimentary rock. Then show them a conglomerate rock – then tear up the SB and wad them into a ball. Show them the metamorphic rock – explain that you’ll apply heat and pressure to make a metamorphic rock (i.e. you’ll roll the SB candy in your hand to form a smooth ball) Then show them the picture of molten lava. Put the candy on a napkin and microwave it for about 30 seconds till it’s molten. Show it to them. (Warn them that it’s too hot to touch!!) As it cools, show them the igneous rock. Once the candy has completely cooled, it becomes hard and brittle.

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After you’ve done the demo, make sure they’ve all got clean hands, then give them all 3 candies, and let them do the sedimentary, conglomerate and metamorphic levels for themselves. Then they can eat it. (I didn’t melt their candies.) Note: I thought this demo would make your hands terribly sticky with sugar, but they weren’t sticky at all when I finished it.

Soil Exploration from “Dirt” by Lawrence

  • What is soil made of? Dig up some dirt. Empty a cup of it on white paper. Look closely at it with a magnifying glass. Separate types of items (rocks and stones from plant matter from bugs.) Place 2 inches of soil in a jar. Describe it. Add water till jar is 3/4 full. Shake for 30 seconds. After an hour, examine with a magnifying glass. Describe.
  • How do rocks become soil? Collect 10 different kinds of rock. Put in a metal container with a lid. Add water to cover. Shake 1000 times (get 9 friends to help so you each just shake 100 times. Then take the rocks out of the water. Pour the water through a coffee filter. What do you observe in the filter?
  • Are dead plants in soil? Put leaves and grass in a mesh bag. Tie a string to it. Bury it ten inches deep, leaving the string above ground. Mark where you buried it. Once a week for a month, dig up the bag, examine its contents. Then pour a cup of water in the hole and re-bury it.
  • What type of soil holds water best / is best for plants? Get 3 – 4 types of soil, such as potting soil, soil from a garden where plants are growing, soil from an area where plants don’t grow, potting soil mixed with sand. Put in flowerpots with holes in the bottom, set pots in a bowl, and pour a cup of water over each. After 30 minutes, check the bowls, and measure how much water is in the bowl – then subtract that from 1 cup to determine how much water the soil retained. Which soil holds water best? Now plant 2 bean seeds in each pot. Put near a sunny window, and water as needed. Predict which will grow plants best, and track your results.

Opening Circle

Rhythm Activity: We always start circle with a rhythm activity of some sort. Not only is rhythm a good brain-building musical-skill-building activity, it also serves to gather all the kids’ attention, and get them all focused on the teacher before starting circle. Today, we taught the rhythm for Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” (Clap thighs twice, clap hands once.) We played the music from this video about the rock cycle and clapped along.

Book: If your students are 3 – 5, I’d read Rocks by Nelson. If they’re 5 – 7, I’d read Rocks by Rosinsky. (See below.)

Then do Starburst demo.

Closing Circle

Rhythm Activity: We reminded them of our “We Will Rock You” rhythm, but had them try it standing, where they go stomp-stomp-clap. This time we played a different song about the rock cycle: www.youtube.com/watch?v=r68iEwYdbh4. Note: there are two other (written) versions of lyrics for a rock cycle song set to this music. They can be found on Beakers and Bumble Bees, and on the National Park Service website.

Book: If You Find a Rock by Christian. Talks in an engaging way about all the rocks a kid can find. “If you find a rock – a big rock – by the edge of the water, then you have found a splashing rock. When it hits the surface, the water jumps out of the way… the bigger the rock, the wetter you get. If you find a rock – a great rock – that towers over you, then you have found a climbing rock. Hold on with your toes and fingers, grip hard as  you stretch and pull until you reach the top, where you feel much grander than you did on the ground.”

If you can’t find this book, a nice alternative is  Everybody Needs a Rock by Baylor. This is a lovely book about finding a very special rock to carry with you. “Don’t get a rock that is too big. It won’t fit your hand right and it won’t fit in your pocket. A rock as big as an apple is too big. A rock as big as a horse is MUCH too big. Don’t choose a rock that is too small. It will only be easy to lost, or a mouse might eat it, thinking that it is a seed…”

(Either book would also be a great read before a hike to somewhere your child could find a special rock. They both do a nice job of making rocks feel special and uniquely important to a child.)

Rock Exploration: We brought in the rocks from the exploration table, and discussed as a group their colors, we found the biggest and smallest ones, we picked out all the rough ones from the smooth ones, and so on. This is great pre-academic skill building. Another activity you could add here is to ask each child to pick out one rock to study in detail and talk over with their parent or another child. Then put all those rocks into a basket of rocks, pour it out on the floor, and ask them to find their own rock again. This is a good test of their observation skills, and teaches visual discernment of details.

Books

  • If You Find a Rock by Christian. (See above.)
  • Everybody Needs a Rock (See above.)
  • Rocks: Hard, Soft, Smooth, and Rough by Rosinsky. Great non-fiction for ages 4 – 6. Engaging writing, kid-friendly illustrations, a chart at the end which describes 5 rocks (e.g. obsidian, quartz) by kind of rock, colors, what it feels like, and uses. “A lot of things can happen to rocks. They can crack. They can break into a million tiny pieces. They can be pressed or squeezed together. Rocks can even melt.”
  • Let’s Go Rock Collecting by Gans. Age 6 – 8. Describes rock collecting, types of rocks, differences between rocks, some historical uses of rock (Roman roads, Egyptian pyramids). Includes both illustrations of kids exploring rocks, and photographs of many types of rocks.
  • Dave’s Down-to-Earth Rock Shop by Murphy. This has been recommended to me by a geology professor mom, but I haven’t read it yet. It’s for ages 6 – 10. It includes info about rocks, and also focuses on classification, which is a key science skill.
  • Rocks by Nelson. A nice intro to rocks for 3 – 5 year olds, with simple words and good photos. “We live on Earth. Earth is made of different things. Earth is made of water, gases, soil, and rocks. Most of earth is made of rock. Rocks are hard. Rocks can be different sizes… shapes… colors….” Ends with a page about igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks and some rock facts for little ones who want to learn more after reading the main book.
  • Rocks by Walker. For 6 – 9 year olds, so above the level of our students. But parents and teachers might like reading it before teaching these topics, because it’s a good basic overview that’s one level above what they’ll be teaching.
  • The Rock Factory: The Story About the Rock Cycle by Bailey. I haven’t read it yet, but I liked Bailey’s Fossil book which we used in Dinosaur week.
  • Rocks and Soil: Real Size Science. Preschool age book, Amazon description: “Instead of using words alone to explain the appearance and composition of different types of rocks and soil, this book conveys information with accurately-sized photographs.”
  • Jump into Science: Dirt by Tomecek. Good for 6 – 9 year olds, so too old for my students. Talks both about the geology side: earth’s layers, rock cycle, and so on. Also talks a lot about plants and soil, so would be a nice part of a gardening unit.
  • Dirt: The Scoop on Soil by Rosinsky. Rosinsky’s book on Rocks is great, so I look forward to checking out her take on dirt.
  • Dirt by Lawrence. From the Fundamental Experiments series. Writing is best for 6 and up, but includes lots of fun, easy experiments, some of which I reference above.
  • Other good online resources on rocks for older kids are: School Yard Geology and Every Pebble Tells a Story.

Videos

For a good 3 minute overview of the rock cycle for 5 – 7 year olds, check out this video. For a 25 minute episode, check out Bill Nye on Rocks and Soil.

Earth and Earthquake Science for Kids

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Our theme this week was the Earth, Earthquakes and Rocks. We had so many ideas that I have separated them into two posts. This one covers Earth and Earthquakes, the other focuses on Rocks.

As always, we began class with Discovery Time, where we let kids explore all our activities hands-on (activities are described later in this post), before we talk to them about the day’s concept or the scientific theories we’ll be discussing. This raises their curiosity, allows for a-ha moments of independent learning, and raises questions which helps them engage more with the answers we give. Then we have opening circle, then tinkering time to explore more.

Weekly Engineering Challenge – Every week, we have a challenge activity which encourages kids to build something, test it, re-build it…

Shake Tables: I built shake tables (earthquake simulators). What the pictures below show: For the first, I took two duplo base plates (green and yellow) and rubber-banded together, back to back. Then inserted four rubber bouncy balls in between them, one at each corner. For the second, I cut the cover off an old three ring binder to get two stiff “boards.” Then I placed two dowels between them for them to roll back and forth on, then rubber banded that together, and taped a Duplo base board to it. The third one was the binder covers, rubber bands, and balls, but no Duplo base board. On each of these shake tables, if you bump a corner or pull back then let go of one side, it would jiggle and shake.

We also had a wobbly lazy Susan in our cabinet and it was a great earthquake simulator.

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We had Duplos out, so they could build Duplo towers. If they built a very tall tower, the “earthquake” would knock it down. Unfortunately, Duplos are pretty sturdy (especially when you attach them to the base plate!), and it was easy to build towers that could withstand the shake.

The wooden blocks were a more effective demo. For our little kids (age 3 – 5), we just had them build with the wood and knock it down. We had our oldest kids (age 6 – 7) try building with Duplos too to see the difference that materials make in earthquake safety.

For detailed instructions on building shake tables, and related activities / discussions, see www.scientificamerican.com/article/bring-science-home-earthquake-proof-engineering/ or www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/kqed07.sci.ess.earthsys.lpquakes/living-with-earthquakes/ or the video here: www.raftbayarea.org/ideas/Shake%20Table.pdf#)

Science Exploration Activities

Earthquake on Sand: Last year, we filled a large pan with sand, then placed nearby plastic fences and trees and some flat rocks. We also put a back massager tool next to it that could be used to create a vibration. If you held the back massager to the side of the pan, the sand would start to jiggle, then shift and move, knocking over the trees and fences, carrying the rocks across the pan – flowing almost like water. Clear evidence for why not to build on loose soil in an earthquake zone!

With the pan, you had to hold the massager just right to get a response, and we worried about a big spill. This year, we used a big plastic tub that was half full of sand and other sensory materials. The tall edge was much easier to place the massager on, so worked better for our little ones. If you try this experiment, definitely try a variety of containers to find the best effect!

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Seismograph: On the table with the back massager activity, we placed our home-made seismograph which could be used to track the vibration of the “earthquake.”

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The seismograph on the left is built with a cereal box, a plastic champagne glass, string, pennies for weights, and a marker. You feed adding machine paper through slots, and the marker tracks the vibration. The one on the right (version 2.0) was made with a sturdier cardboard box, a pencil, a pill bottle with a lid to hold the pencil upright and weighted with marbles. It worked better, but the pencil marks were very pale. (I couldn’t find a marker that was long enough to extend through the pill bottle from top to bottom. That will be next year’s improvement… )

Here’s the sign I made to go with the seismograph. Find directions to make your own seismograph here: https://www.mrsec.psu.edu/sites/mrsec.psu.edu/files/education-outreach/make_a_working_seismograph.pdf and www.iris.edu/hq/files/programs/education_and_outreach/aotm/8/1.SeismographModel-Lahr.pdf and http://science-mattersblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Earthquakes

Note: building the seismograph is a lot of work, and so far I haven’t got one to work well enough to really engage the kids, but I want to play with it more, because I think they could really love seeing the difference between little shocks that create squiggly lines and big shocks that really jerk the pen back and forth. Plus, it’s good for me to challenge myself just like we try to challenge the kids to take a design, test it, improve it, test it again, and improve it again.

Understanding Earth’s Layers. We put out 4 ways to illustrate earth’s layers – an illustration, nesting easter eggs, a model of the earth, and a puzzle of nesting rings. The model was made with Model Magic  – on Monday, I made a ball of white clay for the inner core and let it dry overnight. On Tuesday, I covered that with a layer of red for the outer core – you’ll see that my proportions are off – I need less white or more red. On Wednesday I added the yellow “mantle” and let it dry. On Thursday, I painted it – the paint layer is the Earth’s crust. On Friday, I very carefully cut it in half with a bread knife.

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Understanding Tectonic Plates – a jigsaw puzzle. This is easy – just find an illustration online of a world map with the plates shown. Print it, laminate it, cut it along the fault lines.

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Make a Tsunami Wave – we filled the water table with water and some glitter. We made sailboats like we did for Wind week. We added anchors to two of the boats – we wrapped up pennies in electrical tape, and tied them to the boat with string.

You can create a wave by simultaneously lifting and pushing one end of the table. (The kids can also drop the koosh ball to make waves, of can just splash in the water.) There is more you can do with this idea… just go to YouTube and search for tsunami science fair.

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Art Activities (Process-focused – not beautiful products!)

Puffy Paint Earth: We mixed shaving cream, Elmer’s glue, and liquid watercolor to make puffy paint to paint on to blue cardstock circles. (Later in the day, we switched to using big easel paper, and drawing a big circle in the center for them to paint – this was easier than trying to keep all the pain on the circle.) We had a photo of the Earth posted next to the table for inspiration. You could do more with this by having cotton balls to pull apart to make clouds, and pebbles to build mountain ranges on your continents.

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Coffee Filter Earths: Last year, we put out coffee filters, liquid watercolors and pipettes, plus pictures of the Earth for inspiration. Kids could drip on watercolors. With little ones, they tend to use a LOT of watercolor when working with pipettes, and soak the trays, so after they finish with a coffee filter, you need to use paper towels to mop up their extra color. You could reduce this issue by using eye droppers with a slow flow rather than pipettes. If it’s warm out, you can hang coffee filters on a string, and let kids spray them with spray bottles of diluted colors.

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Craft: Terrarium We made a terrarium, where we used layers of sand, rock, charcoal and dirt, and talked about how this is similar to how Earth is made of layers. These are described in detail in my post about rocks.

Snack – Layers. You can either do a yogurt parfait where kids layer together yogurt, fruit and granola, or a mud cup where they layer together chocolate pudding, bananas, crumbled graham crackers, and a gummy worm.

Opening Circle

Today’s question / Big Picture Ideas: What causes an earthquake?

To answer the question, we have to step back a little and talk about the plates of the earth’s crust. Before we do that, we have to step back and explain what the earth is and what it’s composed of. (When working with young children, it’s important to do this stepping back – don’t assume they already know science basics – be sure to cover them!)

So, the order of ideas we wanted to express were:

  1. Earth is the planet that we live on.
  2. It’s shaped like a ball, but the ball is made up of many layers.
  3. We live on the top layer, the crust.
  4. The crust is made of several big plates that fit together like a puzzle.
  5. When those plates bump up against each other, or rub against each other, they cause earthquakes. Little earthquakes happen all the time, and mostly don’t cause damage.
  6. But, a big earthquake can knock over trees and buildings, so we do need to know what to do to stay safe if we feel an earthquake.

We read Earthquake! by Bauer, which covered all the ideas we wanted to cover in simple-to-understand terms. It had pictures of buildings that had fallen over or been damaged in earthquakes, but they were not frightening (many kids’ books about earthquakes have pictures or words that could cause a lot of fear and anxiety.)

When reading through the book, you can incorporate hands-on visual aids. There was a picture of a globe, and if you have one, you could pause a moment there to explain what a globe is. When it discussed the layers of the Earth, we showed our model magic sphere  – we could have also used the rainbow puzzle (see above). We then passed around the sphere for them to touch. We also talked about our terrarium project, where we put rocks down in layers.

When the book talked about how the crust is broken into pieces that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, we showed our tectonic plate jigsaw (see above). When it talked about plates bumping up against each other, we demo’ed that with tumbling mats. (You could also demo it with crackers, as described on Mad Sci Network. There’s a more complicated graham cracker demo on Homeschool Den.) The book also showed a picture of a seismograph, so we reminded them to check out our DIY seismograph in the other room.

Tumbling Mat Demo of Tectonic Plates: We had set up the mats on the floor in advance for the kids to sit on during circle. At this time, we had them get off the mats, and told them to imagine that the blue mat and the rainbow mat were two tectonic plates bumping up against each other… we pushed each one toward the other… The rainbow mat buckled up to relieve the pressure – creating a mountain! Sometimes the rainbow mat will slip and land on top, with the blue mat going under, which can also happen in earthquakes.

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Earthquake Drill: We talked about how today we’re playing with the idea of earthquakes, and having fun knocking over Duplo houses and plastic trees with fake earthquakes. But, we said, real earthquakes can be scary when they happen and can be dangerous, and you need to know what to do. We explained that when the ground shakes it can knock you over, and also things can fall on you, and you could get hurt. So, if the ground starts shaking, you need to drop, cover and hold on. We practiced doing this together during circle (in a room with no tables) and then practiced again later in the day while the kids were in a room with tables.

I have a post where I discuss all the details of the current recommendations on earthquake safety (note: if you’re still teaching to hide in a doorway, or to move across the room to an interior wall, then you’re not following current recommendations.) That post also includes a book that you can download to read to your child(ren) and use when practicing earthquake drills – it’s called “Rabbits in a Hole”.

Click here: for all the information about earthquake preparedness for preschool.

Closing Circle

Book: You could read Round Like a Ball, a nice book about the Earth, or Roslyn Rutabaga and the Biggest Hole on Earth! by Gay – a silly little book about digging a hole to the center of the earth.

Slinky Waves: You can use a slinky to illustrate two kinds of earthquake waves. For a p-wave, you stretch it out, then give a quick push-pull on one end – the wave travels to the other end and back again. For an s-wave, you swing it side to side – this works better if the slinky is laid on a table or on the ground than if it’s held in the air. Here’s two detailed discussions of this activity: http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~braile/edumod/slinky/slinky.htm and http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/RockShakeyGround.pdf  (Note: this second link is also just a great overall resource about earthquakes.

The Human Wave: This is good IF the kids have recently studied States of Matter. Have the kids put their arms over each other’s shoulders, chorus line style. (They’re solid matter.) Put one teacher on each end of the line. Push on the shoulder of the kid on the end – they all rock toward the other teacher – she pushes back… this is how a P wave moves through solid. Then have the last person in line bend forward at the waist, then straighten up again – that spreads down the line – this is an S wave moving through solids. Then have kids stand shoulder to shoulder but without linking up – they’re now a liquid. The p-wave will still travel through them, but the S wave will not. Learn more here: www.iris.edu/hq/files/programs/education_and_outreach/aotm/6/Activity-HumanWaves.pdf)

Parachute earthquake: Get out a parachute. Throw a soft ball or other object in it. Make an earthquake, shaking and shaking till the object flies out. Repeat endlessly. 🙂

Books

  • Earthquake! by Bauer. (see under Opening Circle)
  • Earthquakes by Schuh. I strongly prefer Bauer, because Schuh has several photos of collapsed buildings and bridges which might be concerning to some children. The tone of the words is reasonably reassuring.
  • Pandas’ Earthquake Escape by Perry is about a mama panda and her babies escaping an earthquake. The nice thing is that it’s an engaging story about a mother and her children (the kids really enjoyed listening to it), but I think it’s a bit long for circle, and it also shows animals running away in an earthquake to try to find safety, when we’ve just taught that the best thing is to drop, cover and hold. So, I cannot recommend this book.
  • Round Like a Ball by Ernst. “Let’s play a guessing game! I’m thinking of something that is… round like a ball. ‘I love balls’ barked the dog.” Nice illustrations and graphic design elements. Appealing and engaging read-aloud.
  • Our Earth by Rockwell. A nice simple book about the Earth. Appealing to animal lovers, as there are animals pictured on almost every page.
  • Earth by Taylor-Butler, Earth by Roumanis, and Earth by Bloom are all early-reader non-fiction books that are part of series that cover each of the planets of the solar system. I like Roumanis best, because it has a section at the back for parents/teachers that gives more detail about the basic facts on each page. All these books are fine, none are great.

 

Dinosaurs – Science Fun for Kids

dinosaur-science-activities-for-kids

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

This was our week to cover this topic – a perennial favorite class topic for preschool and elementary age kids. (Most of these activities are also great for a dinosaur themed birthday party!)

Here’s what we have done in our class over the past three years. Note: There are more activities in this blog post than you can fit into one two hour class!

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

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

Science Exploration

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

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Fossils or “Dino Bones” in the Sensory Tub: Last year, we buried dried pasta in sand in the sensory tub and gave them paint brushes to clean the “bones” with and sort them into a dish. (Note on the picture below… we put in too many noodles – they were too easy for the kids to find – it would have been more fun if they’d had to hunt for them. Also, they were a lot of work to get OUT of the sand when it was time for clean-up.)  This is a cheap, easy, fun activity.

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You can also purchase real fossils for less than $20 – read all about the fossil kit here. We used those this year. Again, we placed them in the sensory table with sand and paint brushes and had an identification guide nearby.

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Making fossil impressions: You can make play-dough or use an air dry clay like Model Magic for making impressions. You can press noodles, or shells, or leaves, or pine needles, or fossils into it to make an impression. Interestingly, we had planned this as a take home project, and kids ended up turning it into a process play activity instead. They would roll a ball of clay, press in an object, admire it for a moment, then roll the clay back into a ball, and do it again.

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Building: A Dino Skeleton from TP Rolls. Give them a large box of toilet paper and paper towel rolls, and a poster with a few sample ideas. See what they build. Sample ideas from: A Day in First Grade and Your Modern Family. We had multiple attempts, including one attempt at a three dimensional T-rex.

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Building / Art: A Dino Skeleton from Pasta. Give them cardstock, lots of shapes of noodles, glue, and pictures of dinosaur skeletons and pasta dino skeletons for inspiration.

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Make salt dough bones: For an ambitious project, try making your own set of dinosaur bones out of salt dough. Children can use them to assemble skeletons. We haven’t tried this. http://kitchenfloorcrafts.blogspot.com/2014/07/homemade-dinosaur-bones.html

Art Projects

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

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

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Rubbings: We’ve used plastic rubbing plates that kids lay paper over and use crayons to make rubbings of birds and reptiles. You can also find Dinosaur Rubbing Plates.

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

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Color a Dinosaur Mask: There are LOTS of free printable dinosaur masks online. You can get some that are already colored in, and some that are black and white line drawings the kids can color in. Then they cut them out, add elastic ties, and wear. Here are some options: Mother Natured, Itsy Bitsy Fun, DIY Fashion, and Mask Spot. Interestingly, in the morning class, this station was pretty much ignored – one child made a half-hearted attempt at it. But in the afternoon class, with a sample mask on the table to try on, we had a lot more interest.

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I also really like this 3-D dinosaur mask based on Paul Strickland’s art in the book Dinosaur Roar – it would be too difficult for this age group to assemble one, but I made one for them to try on.

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

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Other Activities

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

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Flying Pterodactyl: Just for the fun of it, we tied a string up near the ceiling with a straw mounted on it, then taped a plastic pterodactyl to it. We could hold the kids up and let them push the toy to make it fly.

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Excavate a dinosaur from ice: Freeze big blocks of ice with plastic dinos embedded in them. Use ice, water, and tools to excavate. We didn’t do this activity in our dinosaur class because we had a similar project in States of Matter week.

Tar Pits: You could use “non Newtonian fluid” colored black, to sink dinosaurs in the “tar pit” (see quicksand idea in States of Matter week.)

Science Display

We had multiple displays to illustrate how big some dinosaurs were.

Walking Footprints: We took the stegosaurus feet illustration from this image then blew each one up to fill a full sheet of paper (i.e. about 11″ long) and printed several pairs. Then we taped them on the floor from the front door to the table, to show the stride length of a stegosaurus – 6 feet. (source)

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Big Footprint: Draw a t-rex footprint that is 3 feet long. Ask kids to guess how many kids’ footprints fit inside a T-rex footprint. Then have them take off their shoes and set them on the big footprint to compare. (Idea from Mrs. Lee and 4.bp.blogspot)

Rope to show length: Take a long rope and stretch it across the room. Tell kids it’s as long as [pick a dinosaur that’s about the length of the rope you happen to have.]

Posters: I printed a collection of posters – some about how big a footprint was, how big dinosaurs were, and one showing a life-size picture of how big a t-rex tooth was. You can see the posters here.

Nature Activity – Tracking: Print this puzzle on 11 x 17 paper and laminate it, then let children use white board markers to trace the path of footprints to see which dinosaur made the tracks. Note: children of all ages (3 and up) enjoyed this activity. But it was only the 6 – 8 year olds who were able to trace all the lines back accurately.

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Outdoor Activity: Search for Signs of Wildlife: Once a month, our class meets at a park with nature trails, and we do a nature-based activity. This month, we talked about how you could tell an animal had been in the woods: if you saw tracks, scat, signs that animals had been eating (like stripped bark or chewed leaves), homes (spider webs, nests, etc.) and eggs. We looked for signs of real animals (mostly dogs and rodents in this suburban park, although we did find a tree stripped of bark, so it’s possible a deer has also been there – I’ve seen them a mile away from this park), but also “signs that a dinosaur had been in our woods”.

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

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

Big Ideas

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

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

Circle Time:

Rhythm Game: We asked kids to tell us the name of a kind of dinosaur, then we clapped the syllables, from t-rex to pach-y-ceph-a-lo-saur-us.

We talked about the big ideas (above) and read Digging Up Dinosaurs (see below)

In closing circle, we read When Dinosaurs Came with Everything.

Books

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

Here’s photos of just a few dinosaur books.

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

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

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

Digging Up Dinosaurs by Aliki. A nice overview of both dinosaurs and paleontology: now how bones are excavated and transported to museums. We’ve used it as a read-aloud for ages 3 – 7, but we skip over or shorten parts of it. (And it’s probably over the heads of our youngest kids.)

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

Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Bailey and Lilly. Good for 5 – 7 year old. Begins with a dino dying and sinking to the bottom of the river. Covers the fossilization process in detail, then the discovery, the dig process led by the paleontologist and preparing the skeleton for display. I may like this better than Aliki’s Digging Up, but it’s even longer – I would only read it aloud to first grade and up.

Fossils Tell of Long Ago by Aliki. Similar quality to Aliki’s other book – talks more about the fossilization process than Digging Up does.

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

Videos

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

There are also countless videos on YouTube if you search for “dinosaur songs for kids.” I have some of the ones we liked on a playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsMLXfBPSxoH237JM_1fC_VKrMgwNVqLf

Rainbow – Science for Kids

rainbow-science-for-kids

At this week’s Family Inventors Lab, our theme was Rainbows. This followed last week’s session on Light and Shadow and we were able to reflect back on what we learned there about light reflection and refraction, and extend it here.

Challenge Activity: Build a spectroscope.
Last year, we built  spectroscopes from paper towel tubes, tapes, and old CD’s. (Read here about what we did, or go to my source for the idea – Buggy and Buddy.)

This year, we used these Rainbow-Scope Kits. You can read all about them in my review of Rainbow-Scopes. It was a fun, do-able project for all our kids, with nice results.

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Exploration of Colors and Light: We had an overhead projector, so we set it up with our screen from last week’s Shadows class. We put out a wide variety of colorful items that could be set on the projector and seen up on the screen. We also had a top that kids could spin on the projector and see the spinning shadow. This activity was a big hit.

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This projector idea was from a children’s museum we visited somewhere on our travels. They also had x-rays that kids could project on the wall, and these cool wood blocks with translucent shapes.

Exploration / Art: We had diffraction grating peepholes. When you hold these up to your eye, then look at a light, the light is broken up into rainbows. Different lights produce different patterns… ambient light may create spread out rainbow colors. Looking at a ceiling light, you might see circular rainbows; an LED flashlight on a cell phone can create six rays of rainbows radiating out. (Learn more about diffraction lenses here. Sorry that it’s a marketing post where they’re trying to sell a product… but the site does do a nice job of describing how these lenses work.) This photo is a view of our overhead projector image from above, seen through the diffraction grating:

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We also put out kaleidoscopes, spectroscopes, and prism viewers for them to look through. We had crayons / markers and paper out so the kids could draw what they saw. It might also be fun to give kids a camera and let them take pictures of what they can see. You’d need a camera with a small lens (like a cell phone) to line up with viewing holes on things like kaleidoscopes.

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Group Art – Mural: The first year, we had a painting of a rainbow on the wall, then had a black and white line drawing of a rainbow below that they painted in to match the one on the top. The second year, we offered a drawing of a rainbow and colorful post-it flags to fill it in. (Post-it flags are a good small motor skill builder. Buy them at a dollar store, don’t pay office supply prices!) It was easier to set-up and clean-up, but not as satisfying a project, so this time we went back to painting, just drawing an outline of a rainbow and adding a color dot and a label onto each stripe so they knew the color to paint that stripe. We also had the easel next to it for anyone who wanted to paint their own rainbow to take home.

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mural rainbowmural

Science Exploration / Small Motor: We “made it rain” by filling a big vase with water, spraying shaving cream on top, and using pipettes to drip diluted liquid watercolor on the shaving cream clouds. It slowly drips through, creating swirling “rainfall” below. For more pictures and thoughts on talking to kids about the science of rain, check out this post. Be sure to get shaving cream, not gel. One can was enough for 20 kids worth of experiments, but I always buy two cans, just in case. If there’s leftovers, it’s great for puffy paint. (Mix equal parts glue and shaving cream for a fun 3-d paint – great for collages!)

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butterflyArt: We used eye droppers to drip liquid watercolor onto coffee filters, which creates some beautiful color mixing. (Don’t dilute the liquid watercolor – use it straight.) Then we used clothespins to turn the coffee filters into butterflies. (I like the old-fashioned Clothespins a little better than the spring-loaded ones for this project.) Add googly eyes (or draw on eyes) and pipe cleaners to finish the project.

I didn’t get a picture of our butterflies, but here’s a sample of what they could look like. (Source for idea)

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

Picture from Thoughtful Spot Day Care

More Color and Light Exploration: We had jars of colored water and a bright light to shine through them. We used a mirror to reflect the light to “mix” colors. This experiment was not yet a success. We needed a flashlight with a really tight, bright beam, not a broad angle shop light, and we needed a darker space with less ambient light.

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We put colorful translucent items on the light table. After I took the picture, we added Color Paddles which are fun for color mixing.

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

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

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

Other Ideas: Other activities we’ve used for this theme were magna-tilesrainbow crayons, rainbow colored blocks, rainbow puzzle stacker, and a sensory table or water table full of anything colorful.

blocks  sensory-bin

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

Circle Time

Gathering Song: For our gathering activity, I gave all the kids colorful scarves, and told them that when I called their color, they should wave their scarf, and when I said “rainbow”, everyone should wave their scarves. We practiced that, then I put on this song, and we waved our scarves. Note: it was hard for our little ones to keep up with the speed of this song, so another one from the playlist might work better if you’re working with 3 – 4 year olds. I prefer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQGA1_PR4Aw

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

I just talked about rainbows, asking questions – the older kids knew these answers:

  • “To see a rainbow outside, you have to have a specific type of weather – what do you need?” We discussed sunlight and rain. I explained that you see a rainbow when the sun is behind you, shining on water droplets in front of you. (This ties into what we learned last week about how when the sun is behind you, your shadow is in front.)
  • “What are the colors of the rainbow?” We wrote them on the board, and I explained that all rainbows always have the color in that order. (I told them about Roy G. Biv mnemonic.)
  • I reminded them that last week we learned that if light shines straight at a mirror, it bounces straight back (reflects). But we also learned that light can bend (refract) when it passes through water. I drew diagrams on the board showing this. (Note: this would also be a good opportunity to read another great Vicki Cobb book called I See Myself which is all about light reflecting.)
  • Then I showed them the flashlight on my phone and asked what color the light was – white. I told them it was made of many colors, and if we could bend the light, we could see all those colors.
  • We turned out the light, I held up a glass of water, and shone the flashlight through it to make a rainbow. (Note: be sure to test out a variety of glasses to see which gives the best rainbow effect – I had the best luck with a stemless wine glass, and shining my light through the curve at the bottom.) I also showed how the reflection off a CD can create a rainbow, and how a prism creates a rainbow. (With each, I pointed out the order of the colors.)
  • Sunlight (and most lights) are made up of several colors of light. When a ray of sunlight hits a droplet of water it bends. Each wavelength bends at a slightly different angle, so they separate out by color. (I add this to my diagram on the board.)

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

Song: Barney’s Rainbow Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbF3-vk1s6s

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

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

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

Then we got out the parachute (it’s rainbow colored) and played the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. We waved the parachute up and down gently with kids under it. We put balls on top of it and bounced it wildly, and we played a variation of Red Rover under it. (When I called Red, everyone holding onto a red part of the parachute had to let go, run under the parachute to another red handle.)

Rainbow Books (contains affiliate links)

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

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

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

Videos: There’s a Sid the Science Kid episode called What is a Rainbow. It’s available to stream for a fee on Amazon, but I have not found a free version. Also, check out the links above in the opening circle section.

We always have more ideas than we have time and space for, but if you’d like more ideas for rainbow-themed activities, look on our Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/bcparented/rain-and-rainbows/

Affiliate Links: In my posts, you’ll see lots of links to products on Amazon. I do get a “kickback” – a referral fee if you click through and buy these products. However, my primary goal is to make it easier for you to find the materials, or sometimes just to illustrate what I used. For example, in my post, I don’t want to spend a lot of time describing the best brand of shaving cream to buy at your local drugstore. It’s easier to put an affiliate link to the Barbasol on Amazon so you can see what I used, and you can know whether that’s something that’s easy / cheap for you to pick up at a local store.