Submarines and Ocean Life

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

Challenge Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Build a Ballast Tank Submarine: Drill / cut a hole in lid of water bottle. Thread a flexible tube or bendy straw through that. Seal around the opening with silly putty or tape. Punch two or three holes in one side of the water bottle. Add weights. The weight wants to be enough that the sub will sink as it takes on water. (IMG_20160604_122447127The first year we did this, we put several marbles inside the bottle to be weights. This year, we taped five nickels together and five quarters together to make two weights. We rubber banded the quarters near the bottom of the bottle, and the nickels near the top. Put them near the holes. This keeps that side facing down in the water.) Place the “sub” in a tub of water – let it sink, but keep the end of the straw above the water. Once it sinks, blow air through the straw – this forces the water out, so the sub will float back to the surface.

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

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

Other Science Activities

Science Observation: I purchased two Toysmith Diving Subs. These are toy submarines, based on toys that were distributed in cereal box or through cereal box mail-aways in the 1950’s. (Read all about them here: It’s a small plastic sub,  where you lift the top off and fill a chamber with baking powder. Then you put the lid back on, place the sub in the water and swish it back and forth. It is heavy enough to sink to the bottom. But when the water hits the baking powder and reacts, it creates a carbon dioxide bubble under the sub, which brings the sub to the surface. When the bubble escapes, the sub sinks back down. Once you get it started, it will go up and down every minute or two for 15 minutes until the baking powder has all reacted. (Here’s a video of one in action: There’s more about them on In Lieu of Preschool.)

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Note: baking soda will not react with water (though it would react if you put it in a container of vinegar.) The baking powder contains both baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) which is a base and cream of tartar, an acid. When the water reaches the powder, it activates the reaction.

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

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

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

periscope1 periscope2

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

Art Projects

Playdough Sculpting. The illustrations in the book Over in the Ocean are photographs of amazing Sculpy art by Jeanette Canyon. We put the book, samples of the art, white play-dough and blue play-dough on the table and encouraged the children (and parents) to try to recreate Canyon’s style.

Fingerprint Fish. I put out blue paper, ink pads for rubber stamps, and markers. Kids could make fingerprints, then turn them into fish by decorating with markers. I used a picture from as inspiration.


Watercolor Resist Fish. We put out white paper, oil pastels, and paint brushes. We mixed liquid watercolor, warm water, and Epsom salt to make a diluted blue paint, with some sparkly-ness. Kids could draw fish with the pastels, then paint over with the blue “water.”

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



Math skills:

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


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


Imaginary Play: One year, we had an ocean theme rug and brown mats, so we set up a “beach” and “ocean” and put out sea life puppets – some on the shore and some in the ocean. Another time we set up the climber to be a submarine, and added a steering wheel, and “portholes” (plastic hoops) that they could look through to see the coral reef (the mural.)


Free Play Activities

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

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Sensory Table IdeasWe could have done sand with shells mixed in, but we’d done that the previous week, so we used rock salt and mixed in shells.

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


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



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

Opening Circle:

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

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

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

Book: Papa’s Mechanical Fish (see below)

Discussion: Ask who lives under the water. Ask: can they breathe water or do they have to breathe air? If have to breathe air, then can’t dive very deep, because they have to keep coming up for air. Human beings can do this. Or, if we want to be able to keep looking under the water while we swim, we can wear a mask and a snorkel. (Show picture.) If we want to go under the water for a long time, what can we do? (Show picture of scuba diver, talk about oxygen tanks. Show picture of sub.)

When you’re in a submarine under the water, what can you use to look under the water (demo a “porthole” using a plastic hoop). What could you use to look at what’s up above the water?

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

Song: Over in the Ocean – read the book (see below) and sing the song. Other options are: All the Fish are swimming in the water ( or or Slippery Fish ( and hand motions here:

Closing Circle

BookThe Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.

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

Book recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sink or Float

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

Science Exploration

We wanted the kids to be able to test lots of variables to learn more about what kinds of things float and what  things sink. Here’s our key ideas, then activities for exploring them…

  • lighter things generally float better than heavier things, but it’s not just about weight
  • some shapes float better than others,
  • some materials float better than others, and
  • containers filled with air float better than if filled with anything denser than air.

Weight Matters: Do heavy things always sink?  Can you make heavy things float?

Loading Up a Boat: We had a tub of water, and placed next to it a container of glass weights, and miscellaneous boat-like items like toy boats, dixie cups, plastic bowls, styrofoam trays. Kids saw that if they just dropped in heavy glass weights, they sank to the bottom, but if you put them on a broad platform, they wouldn’t sink. UNLESS you put on too many weights for the boat to carry….


Sidebar Math Activity: Kids count the number of glass marbles that their boat can hold before it sinks.   We had tally sheets where they could keep count and compare which vessel could hold the most glass weights. They can see that each type of boat has its maximum capacity – you can load and load till you reach that tipping point, then it sinks under the surface of water, fills with water and sinks to the bottom.

Shape Matters: What we did: We had sheets of aluminum foil. I’d read in a book or online that if you ball up a sheet of foil, it would sink. So, the plan was to show them this, then show them how you could take the same size piece of foil, mold it into a boat shape, and it would float just fine, and even hold lots more weight inside of it. What was successful: the boat that floats part. Kids had a great time folding foil boats, and filling them with glass weights. What didn’t work as well: the ball of foil floated! In order to get the foil to sink, you have to fold it in half, compress it as flat as you can, and repeat till it’s the absolute tightest densest square of foil you can make.

What we’ll do differently next time. Play-test the project at home before doing in class. Always play-test first! (I know that rule, but failed to follow it this week.) We’ll still fold foil boats, because that’s fun, but for our “shape matters” project, I plan to give them modeling clay. You give them a ball of clay – they drop it in the water and it sinks. Then they have to figure out how to make it into a shape that will float. Play Dough to Plato has a great description of how to do this process with kids. (Find more details at Teach Engineering and Mr. Williams 6th grade science blog.)

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

Materials Matter: We put out a container of miscellaneous materials – a cork, foam leaf, plastic bottle cap, wax crayon, wood popsicle stick, metal lid, a shell, a rock, and more next to a tub of water. Kids could predict whether it would sink or float, then put it in the water to test it. We had them think which ones floated the best. The ideal examples would all be similar sizes and shapes (wood block, plastic block eraser, and so on) so the only variable here is material.

What’s Inside the Container Matters: 

Have three identical containers that are airtight. Leave one empty, fill one halfway with water, and one all the way with water and test which floats best. You could use water bottles, clear plastic containers, or balloons. (Note: filling a balloon halfway with water and halfway with air is tricky. First, make a water balloon and an air balloon so you know what the size is your aiming for. Then fill a balloon with about half that much water, then insert a straw, pinch the opening of the balloon tightly around the straw and use the straw to blow in air till it’s a little bigger than you want it. Pull the straw out, keeping the opening pinched tight to hold in the air, then tie it off.)

If you’re reading What Floats in a Moat (see below), you can re-create the experiment from the story by having three identical plastic containers, ideally barrel shaped – one filled with buttermilk (or water mixed with some white paint so it looks like milk), one half-full, and one empty so kids can test what happens.

Does it Matter What They’re Floating On? Exploring Buoyancy: We put out three tubs – one filled with fresh water, one with salt water, and one with carbonated soda / seltzer water. Kids were encouraged to test one item (their boat, or a cup of stones) in each of the three tubs to see which kind of liquid best floats their boat. You need to use a LOT of salt to notice the difference in buoyancy.

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Challenge Activity / Invention: Engineer a Boat that Floats.

We created a “ship building factory.” We put out various materials, including Popsicle sticks, straws, corks, paper, aluminum foil, clay, rubber bands, water-bottle bottoms, etc. Plus tape and glue. After the kids had explored the key ideas at the stations described above, they were encouraged to create a “something” that will float. We had a water table next to the work table where they could test their creations, then bring them back to the table to tinker with, then return to the water for another test. Here’s pictures of some “boats” in progress. Click on any photo for a larger image.

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

Egg Float. Provide a hard boiled egg, a cup of warm water, a dish of salt and a spoon. Let kids discover that if they place the egg in the water it sinks. Encourage them to stir in a spoonful of salt, then test it again. How many spoonfuls of salt do they need to add to make the egg float? (Answer… it takes a LOT of salt… close to 1/4 cup) Every time a child finished this experiment, we’d dump their results into our tub of salt water (see above) so it got a lot saltier as the day went on.

Art Activities and Take Home Projects

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

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


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

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Other Art Ideas: You could try Floating Chalk Art, where a child scrapes chalk dust onto the surface of a tray of water then takes a print of it. Or you could try paper marbling.

Sensory Experiences and Observations

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

Shell observation and sorting: We put out a wide variety of shells to explore, plus magnifying glasses for a close look. Kids were encouraged to sort them, looking for commonalities and differences between the various shells. On the table, we had the book Seashells by the Seashore. (Read about it here with our Books about the Beach)


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


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

Beach Reading – We set up a beach umbrella, some towels, and some beach chairs in the reading nook. I have one student who even after two years in my class tends to hang close to his dad and not be open to hanging out with me and my co-teacher that much. But, he LOVED the beach reading zone, and we laid on our tummies on the towel and read book after book together.

Fishing: Partway through the morning class, I had a flash of inspiration, and threw together a couple fishing poles (dowels with magnet wands tied on) and threw out a bunch of “magnet ball fish” to catch. Next year, with planning ahead, I’ll make fish shapes and add magnets or paper clips to them.


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


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

Opening circle

Rhythm Activity: A Sailor went to Sea, Sea, Sea. Teach rhythm first: clap-lap-clap-lap-clap. Then add to that hands-hands-hands. Practice alternating those patterns several times, then add words. Here’s a tutorial:, and here are kids doing it full speed:

Question of the Week:  What floats and what sinks?

We asked kids to share their observations from discovery time. One of the first answers that will come up is that heavy things float and lightweight things float. But through the discussion, you can guide them toward the realization that it’s not really about the weight – it’s about the shape of the part that’s touching the surface of the water. (Example: Even though ferry boats are very heavy, they float great even when loaded up with cars, as long as the water-tight broad flat bottom is facing down. If you flipped the boat over, it wouldn’t float well at all!) You could also discuss that some things float if they are filled with air (use a balloon as an example.) Explain that even something as big as a blue whale can float because it has air inside of it.

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

We brought in a clear tub full of water, and a clear bowl filled with water colored blue so it was easy to see. (And a bucket to dump the blue water into when we needed an empty bowl.) We used this to demo a variety of ideas about what shapes float, and whether it floats better when filled with water or air, etc.

Book: Who Sank the Boat?

Closing Circle

Gathering Song: Row Row Row Your Boat

Discussion of Key Points – We asked them to discuss what they learned about what floats and what sinks. Summarize what we’ve learned into these key points:

  • Weight matters…. Lightweight things are more likely to float than heavy things
  • Shape matters… flat shapes are best. ( Ask them to use their bodies to show you a shape that would float and a shape that would sink.)
  • Materials matter… glass, stone, metal are very dense – usually sink. Wood, plastic, cork usually float.
  • What’s inside the container also matters: Things with holes that let water in are worst. Things that hold air are good.

Book: What Floats in a Moat.


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

Who Sank the Boat? by Allen. A great book for even very young audiences (age 3 – 7.) One by one, a cow, a pig, a donkey, and a sheep climb into a boat. Will it sink? When will it sink? The suspense builds and builds. Then the final creature steps in – a tiny mouse. And the boat sinks. Fun read, and interesting examination about the cumulative effects of things. (Like the straw that broke the camel’s back.) You could also re-create this in class with a container and plastic animals… how many can fit before it sinks. Make sure they understand that it’s not that the mouse was heavy… it was about all the animals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gravity – Science for Kids


At this week’s class we talked about Force, Magnets, and Gravity.

Hands-On Exploration of Gravity

Slide: We set up our climber and slide. The slide is a great way to learn about gravity! It’s really easy to slide down, and sliding up just doesn’t work.

Pulley: We mounted a pulley on the slide, a callback to when we studied Simple Machines last quarter. They could clearly see that if they filled the basket up top, and then let go of the rope, gravity would carry it down to the ground with no effort on their part. If they wanted to raise the basket back up, they had to work (use force) to haul it back up.

Gravitational Impact Testing: Next to the slide, we placed a tub full of Kinetic Sand. (Last year, we had it in a tub on a drop cloth. This year, we put the sand inside a gallon ziplock… but, of course, we had a child open the ziplock, so we probably had the same amount of spillage with both methods.) We put out a wide variety of light and heavy objects. Kids climbed to the slide platform, then dropped an object into the sand to see if it left a mark, what shape the mark was, and how deep the impact crater was. (Safety pointer: kids on the ground love to look at the craters, and lean over for close examination – it’s important that the kids on the platform know to wait for all heads to be clear before they drop the next object! None of our objects were heavy enough to injure, but they might have stung if they hit someone.)

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Marble mazeIMG_20151212_131922536These building toys offer great tinkering opportunities. Kids build, notice problems, re-build, test, decide to re-build to make it taller, and so on. I especially like our set, which is from Discovery Toys, because it includes a gravity well, a launch track where you can load 6 – 12 marbles, then dump them in all at once, and other fun details.

I did learn something important – I’d originally put this on a table top so it would be easy to build and watch the marbles roll down. But, what I hadn’t taken into account was that for small children, it was then hard to reach the top to drop a marble in. So, the kids climbed on the table to reach the top! (OK, it was my kid was doing that… )  So, we moved it to the floor.

This year, we moved the marble maze into the water tub, and let kids pour water beads and water through it. They’ve played with the marble maze before, and played with water beads, so it was fun to combine the two.

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Magnetic ball wall: Based on that standard children’s museum activity, this marble maze is a DIY project (learn how here) using PVC pipes mounted on magnets, stuck to metal oil drip pans, and shooter marbles to run through it. Again, it’s a great tinkering toy – especially because after you finally get everything lined up just right, you’ll run three or four marbles through successfully, then marble #5 bumps something just slightly out of alignment and a marble gets stuck, or marble #6 really knocks it out of line and marbles fall and you have to re-build. We also set up the maze pieces on our metal slide (see photo in magnet post.)


Gravity well: At many science museums and children’s museums and such, they have a donation bucket where you drop a coin in and it circles around and around and around before finally spiraling down. (The gravity pulls the ball down, but the momentum of the spin slows that fall.) This is an example of centripetal force, as it spins in toward the center.

We invented a mini gravity well with a colander and a shooter marble. You could just use those two items – we added a rubber mat into the center to make it more obvious when it reached the center (because the sound stops as well as the motion). Kids have to learn how to hold it and move it just right to get the ball to spin, so it’s also a chance to learn a new motor skill. Check it out:

Art – Salad Spinner. Prep – cut circles of paper, fill squirt bottles with paint. In class: kids place paper in bottom of spinner basket. Squirt some paint in the middle of the paper. Put the lid on and spin it! Centrifugal force pushes the paint toward the outside of the paper.

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Building Project: Centrifugal Force Air Ship

Materials: paper bowls or plastic cups, string, scissors, hole punch, and optional materials to decorate ship with. Plus small “passengers” for the ship – could use pompoms or small plastic animals, or whatever you have.

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  1. Punch holes in the cups or bowls, attach 3–4 lengths of yarn and tie them together.
  2. Fill the ‘ship’ with 5-7 objects as ‘passengers’
  3. Start swinging the ‘ship’ around until it can go over your head and see if you’re able to keep passengers in your Centrifugal Force Ship – “CFS

Note: again, kids are also learning a motor skill with this activity. They had to learn how to start swinging the ship slowly, then faster, then up over their head to keep the pompom in. If you don’t want to have kids build these as a project, it would also be easy to make up a couple before class just for them to play with at outside time.

Learn about the science:

Pendulum painting: I want to do pendulum painting, as described on Handmade Kids Art, Martha Stewart, Growing a Jeweled Rose, Teach Preschool and Science World. I thought it would be a good fit for gravity week, as it ties into centrifugal and centripetal force.

Last week, I made a seismograph for earthquake week. I had an inspiration – could I re-purpose this for pendulum painting this week??

I unfortunately didn’t have time to test the idea before class. When I tested it in class, it failed. I tried to tape over the hole on the bottle while I filled it, and then take off the tape to spin it. At first, the paint was too thick, and wouldn’t come through the hole. But then when I watered it down, it was too thin, and ran out even when the tape was supposedly covering the hole.

I’ll try again next time, when I have time to test it. I think I will build a frame with PVC pipe. I think I will follow Jeweled Rose’s lead and will use a Gatorade bottle or water bottle with a sipping lid – the kind that you can push closed and pull open. Then I can cut the bottom off the bottle, mount it on the pendulum, and refill it as we go along.

Circle Time

After the children have had time to explore all the activities, we gather for circle to give them the conceptual framework of the day, then we send them out to explore all the activities again, with these new ideas.

Big Idea: The key ideas I wanted to convey were that gravity is an invisible force. You can’t see it, but you can see how it affects other things. Gravity pulls toward the center of the earth, so when you drop things, they fall down. You can use energy to jump into the air, but then gravity pulls you back to the ground. (In the Next Generation Science Standards, gravity appears in third grade, under 3-PS2-1, where it simply notes “assessment is limited to gravity… as a force that pulls objects down.”)

Song: We had sung a fun song to the tune of Have you Ever Seen a Lassie for Magnet week, so I wrote a gravity song to that tune. On Magnets, we swayed left and right when singing the words “this way and that way.” For this song, we stood up. When it said “pull this way” we crouched down, and when it says “not that way”, we stood on our toes.

Well, you’ll never see gravity, gravity, gravity
But you can see gravity pull this way, not that.
Chorus: Pull this way, not that way, pull this way, not that way.
You can see gravity pull this way, not that.
You toss up a ball, gravity makes it fall
Oh, you can see gravity pull things to the ground.
You throw up a gown, gravity brings it back down
Oh, you can see gravity pull things to the ground.

There’s an alternate gravity song here.

Discussion: I started this circle with the discussion described in the Force post, where I set a block on the table, and asked if I could move it with my mind, or order it to move. The kids guided me through applying force by pushing and pulling. Then, I asked “What if I want to move the block to the ground? Do I have to hold it in my hand and PUSH it down to the ground? Now? I can just nudge it over the edge and it will fall down?? Why? Yes, there’s an invisible force called gravity that pulls things to the ground, or as close to the ground as it can get. When the block was on the table, it was trying hard to get to the ground, but it couldn’t pass through the table, so it laid on the table. When I hold it up in the air like this, then let go, it can pass through the air, so it falls down to the ground.

Book: Then I read I Fall Down (see below) which includes several demos like tossing balls, keys, and more up in the air and watching them fall back down, having a dropping race, first with a penny and a block, then with the block and a feather, then using a bar of soap and a dry sponge to show that things fall at the same rate, but that heavier things fall harder and you feel that harder impact on your hand.

Optional demo: You could tie a whiteboard eraser (or other soft object with a little mass) to a string, and spin it over your head. Explain that you’re the earth, the eraser is the moon, and the string is the force of gravity that prevents the moon from escaping earth’s orbit.


    • I Fall Down is another fabulous book by Vicki Cobb. It does a great job of clearly explaining to 3 – 6 year olds the basics of gravity with lots of hands-on examples of experiments they can do with materials they have at home.
    • Gravity Is a Mystery by Branley. A good option for 6 – 8 year olds. It has enough detail that it might be better to use as a second or third book about gravity, not the first introduction. It goes into details like that gravity pulls you toward the center of the earth, what would happen if you dug a hole through the earth, and about how much gravity there is on other planets.
    • What Is Gravity? by Trumbauer. Ages 3 to 5, good photographs, situations that are relatable for kids like going on a swing or sliding down a slide or apples falling from trees. Conveys basic concept that things that go up come back down because of gravity and that heavier things are pulled on more by gravity. Does not address pull toward earth.  A really solid read-aloud non-fiction for preschool – just not as good as I Fall Down.
    • Why Can’t I Jump Very High? A Book About Gravity by Prasad. Best for 8 – 10 year olds. Really wordy, and covers a LOT of concepts: starts with kids asking why they can’t jump higher in basketball. Covers gravity on earth, gravity on the moon, Aristotle and Newton, drop tests, air resistance and friction.
    • Gravity by Chin. This is a picture book. It has beautiful illustrations and really sets a tone and mood. There are just a few words on each page – the complete words in the main text of the book are: “Gravity makes objects fall to Earth. Without gravity, everything would float away. The moon would drift away from the Earth. The Earth would drift away from the sun. Luckily, everything has gravity. Massive things have a lot of gravity and their gravity pulls on some other things. Gravity keeps the earth near the sun, the moon near the earth, and makes objects fall to earth.” Then on the last two pages of the book, there’s additional info on gravity, mass, weight, and that gravity is weaker with distance.

Preview or Review Videos: Intro to force and gravity: Schoolhouse Rock on gravity: Search on YouTube for Bill Nye gravity. There’s also a Sid the Science Kid on gravity… find the transcript here – just click on “full text” –

Follow-Ups: For “homework” – here are some things parents could do with their kids to reinforce the ideas learned in class.

  • Talk about what would happen if there was no gravity.
  • Perhaps watch videos that show astronauts floating in space, and talk about what that would be like. (Go to YouTube and search for “NASA zero gravity”).
  • Play with dropping objects to show that they fall at the same rate… if kids notice that feathers or flat pieces of paper fall slowly, then discuss that this is due to them being caught on air currents, not because gravity works differently for them.
  • Look for more gravity ideas here:



Magnets – Science for Kids


This week at Inventors’ Lab, we studied force, gravity, and magnets. All of these are easy to explore hands-on, and AFTER the kids have had a chance to explore them, we talk about the theory behind what they’ve observed, then give them more chances to test it.

Hands-On Exploration of Magnets

Simple magnets in action: On a table, we had magnets and metal washers where they could play with the bare bones concept of: magnets pick up metal objects.

Magnetic and non-magnetic objects: We had this really cool makeup case with clear plastic walls, which we filled with magnetic and non-magnetic items. Kids could use magnet wands up the side of the case to see which materials a magnet will pick up. If you don’t have the case, water bottles work just fine! Fill them with objects like beans, rice, washers, paper clips, and plastic toys. These were out on a table with magnetic wands.

(Since we had younger kids, we stuck to a simplistic idea that magnets stick to metal. If you have older kids, you might have aluminum cans and steel cans and explain that magnets only stick to some metals – iron, nickel, cobalt, etc.)

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You could also include magnetic and non-magnetic surfaces and decorative magnets to put on them. For example, a magnetized white board, a cork bulletin board, a wood plank, a steel can and a plastic bottle.

Sorting: We had a pie pan full of objects that they could test and then sort into magnetic or non-magnetic.

What materials can magnetic force reach through? Put out paper clips and several containers, made of paper, glass, plastic, ceramic, wood, and so on. If you put a paper clip inside that container, can the magnet still attract it?

Using magnets to attract hidden objects: We filled the sensory tub with rice or lentils, then buried lots of plastic discs with metal rims, mini clothes pins and other objects that magnets would pick up. Kids could stir a magnet wand around in the rice, then lift it up to see what it had attracted.


Exploring magnetic poles: We had a container filled with mineral oil and shredded steel wool. Kids could use a bar magnet with it to observe where the metal lined up – this shows where the poles are on the ends of the magnet. This wasn’t as effective as we’d hoped. You can also buy containers filled with iron filings or with iron filings and sand that allow kids to explore how magnetic fields can move pieces of metal.

More on magnetic poles: Have various magnets that will attract and repel each other, and have a “push-pull” table. Challenge them to find ways to use the magnets to pull toward each other (attract) or push away (repel.) We had one pair of magnets that if you held the round magnet one way, it would pull itself down onto the square magnet, but if you held it the other way, the square magnet would push it away. You can put out two Wooden Train Cars and show that if you push them together one way, they connect… if you push them together the other way, they repel. I also like these science toys where there are disc magnets you mount on a post, and the magnets can “float” above each other. (Note: it’s fun to use the magnet balls with the posts from this toy – they’ll roll in circles around the base, or if you have two of them, they’ll chase each other in circles around the base.)

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Magnet Marbles: We had a big collection of Magnetic Marbles for them to chain together and explore.

Magna-tiles: These clear magnetic building blocks are lots of fun to play with. We often use them on the light table.

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Magnetic poetry – you can put out kids’ magnetic poetry sets for some literacy play.


Art project: You could easily make any art project and mount on a magnet for them to take home and stick on fridge.

You could also make a project where you draw a picture on a paper plate, make a small drawing and put a paper clip or metal brad on it, then use a magnet wand below the plate to pull the object around…. examples of this include making a paper car to drive around a track or make paper ants to move around a plate of “food.” Or make a paper fish, put a magnet strip on it, set it on a piece of blue paper, then use a magnet underneath the paper to move it around.

Experiment exploring magnetic poles – Make Your Own Magnet and/or Compass

Although most of our class’ activity stations are intended for kids to be able to do independently; however, we often have one where we station an adult there to walk kids through a more complicated project or concept exploration. This was our process for this class to help them explore magnets and compasses.

Materials needed: a strong magnet (a weak one like the bar magnet shown in the picture below won’t work to magnetize a paperclip), paperclips, cork rafts like we made in wind week (or other floating object), compass, container of water

  1. Test your magnet: Is it magnetic—will it attract a paper clip?
  2. Test your paper clip: Is it magnetic—will it attract another paper clip?
  3. (optional: Unfold your paperclip.) Take the magnet, rub it down the length of the paperclip, always moving in the same direction, for 40 or 50 strokes. Count out loud to keep track. (This helps all the iron particles in the paper clip line up in the same direction.)
  4. Test your paper clip: Now is it magnetic—now will it attract another clip?
  5. Test your magnet as a compass. Set it on the raft, then spin the raft, and wait for it to stop spinning. Is the north end of the magnet facing north? (Check the compass to see what direction is north.)
  6. Now, test your magnetized paper clip as a compass. Set it on the small raft, then spin the raft. Wait for it to stop spinning. Is the magnetized end pointing north? If not, try rubbing the magnet on it again to recharge the magnetism.

Circle Time

Grounding in Experience: Ask “Before class today, who had used a magnet? Where? What for?” They may talk about refrigerator magnets, magnetic toys, etc. “What do magnets stick to? What won’t they stick to?”

You can also use a magnet and ask them – will it stick to the white board? Will it stick to this wooden desk? Will it stick to the lamp?

Demo: Show two bar magnets that are clearly marked with north and south poles. Show how if you put opposite ends next to each other, they attract – they pull together. If you put matching ends together, they repel, or push away. (You can also demo this with other magnets – it’s great if you have one that’s has a strong enough magnetic field that you don’t even have to touch them together… it can lift another magnet up in the air (levitate it) to pull them together. This relates to Next Generation Science Standard 3-PS2.3Emphasize that magnets can push or pull other magnets.

Song: From To the tune of Did you ever see a Lassie? Have them lean side to side when singing “this way and that”

  1. Did you ever see a magnet, a magnet, a magnet? Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that?
    Chorus: Pull this way and that way, and this way and that way. Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that?
  2. On iron and steel, its pull is unreal! Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that? Chorus
  3. A magnet has action, it’s called an attraction! Did you ever see a magnet pull this way and that? Chorus

Alternate song:

Magnets push, magnets pull
Magnets stick to certain metals – like iron
Magnets can stick to each other
And push each other away
Push and pull, push and pull
That’s what magnets do
Push and pull, push and pull
That’s what magnets do


  • Magnets by Nelson. An easy read-aloud non-fiction book appropriate for preschool kids, age 3 – 5. Clear photographs of items that would be familiar to a young child.
  • Magnets by Royston and Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by Weakland. Nice basic non-fiction overviews, with nice photos and clear examples, appropriate for ages 5 – 7. I prefer Royston, just because Weakland gives some examples (like motors, speakers, and MRI machines) that would be hard for young kids to grasp how they relate to the basics of magnetism we’re talking about in class.
  • What Makes a Magnet? by Branley. For ages 6 – 8. Nice overview, but if you read it, the kids will want to do all the activities described, so be prepared. They include: making a box of miscellaneous items, then tying a magnet on a string and going “fishing”, magnetizing a needle, building a floating compass with the needle and two corks, and a magnetic technology scavenger hunt checklist.
  • Science Experiments With Magnets by Kuskowski, Experiments with Magnets and Metals by Taylor-Butler, and Step-by-Step Experiments with Magnets by Hagler are all aimed at 1st-3rd graders, and all include a good collection of experiment ideas with clear photographic instructions. Any would be fine supplements to class. Kuskowski is my favorite and includes a few experiments that I have not described here.

Demo: If you have recently studied Gravity, this is a fun demo to do, from Buggy and Buddy. Prep: Tie a paper clip to a string, then tie the string to a wood dowel. Make two towers of Duplos as tall as the string is long. Stick a strong magnet to a metal ruler and “bridge” it between the Duplo towers.

Then, in class: hold up the dowel. Ask “where does the paper clip hang?” (Straight down.) “Why?” (Gravity.) Tilt the dowel – “which way does the clip hang?” (Down.) “Can anything pull it back up? I can pull it up with my fingers – that’s using force. Could another force lift it? Magnets can.” Use a magnet to catch the clip and lift it up. Then set the dowel under the Duplo towers. Lift the clip up and hold it under the magnet. The trick here is to make sure your string is exactly long enough that you can hold the clip at a place where the magnet will help it levitate… float in the air without touching the magnet. Explain that magnetic force is holding it up, because when we move the magnet close enough to the clip, its pull is stronger than the pull of gravity.

Optional Group Activities: We poured some items on the floor, then had kids collect them with magnet wands, then sorted and counted what they’d collected.

Then we played with the DIY marble run pieces on the slide. IMG_20151212_160029689

(One of the kids had discovered that they could stick magnets to the slide, which would have never occurred to us!) This was fun for the little ones and the parents who were there, because the kids could climb up the slide and drop marbles down, and the parents could tinker and keep re-adjusting the pipes so the kids would be successful in getting a marble all the way from the top of the maze to the bottom.

We played a magnet game in which we would “switch their poles”. If the teacher said “south pole” they were all attracted toward her and would run toward her, if she said “north pole” they were repelled and moved away. It’s basically red light, green light with a twist….

Follow-Ups: For “homework” – here are some things parents could do with their kids to reinforce the ideas learned in class.

  • Have the child go around the house with a magnet or magnet wand. What does it stick to? What doesn’t it stick to? Why?
  • Sorting games: miscellaneous small items in a dish (or bury in a sensory material like rice or beans). Use a magnet wand to sort into magnetic and non-magnetic.
  • Use magnet wands and jingle bells to make jingle wands.


Community Resources for Science has a nice lesson plan on magnets, which includes tie-ins to the Next Generation Science Standards for third graders.

Magnets first appear in the Next Generation Science Standards in third grade:

3-PS2-3. Ask questions to determine cause and effect relationships of electric or magnetic interactions between two objects not in contact with each other. [… examples of a magnetic force could include the force between two permanent magnets, the force between an electromagnet and steel paperclips, and the force exerted by one magnet versus the force exerted by two magnets. …. how the orientation of magnets affects the direction of the magnetic force.]
3-PS2-4. Define a simple design problem that can be solved by applying scientific ideas about magnets. [… examples include constructing a latch to keep a door shut and creating a device to keep two moving objects from touching each other.]

In my mind, the key ideas I hope my 5 – 7 year old students will leave class with are: Magnetism is an invisible force. We can’t see it, but we can see how it affects other things. Magnets attract ferrous materials (materials containing iron.) Magnets have two poles (north-seeking pole and south); opposite poles attract, same poles repel (push away). A magnetic field can reach beyond a magnet, so a magnet can affect things that are nearby but not touching the magnet.

Safety notes:

Magnets can be hazardous if swallowed. If a child has swallowed multiple magnets, they may need surgery to prevent internal damage. If you are working with young children who might put things in their mouths, use only large magnets, like magnet wands – nothing that could possibly be swallowed.

Very strong magnets can snap together suddenly and pinch skin between them, which is quite painful.

Force – Science for Kindergarten


Amongst the Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten is K-PS2 Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions. Here is the text for that standard:

K-PS2-1: Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object. 

K-PS2-2: Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.

These are the Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • Pushes and pulls can have different strengths and directions.
  • Pushing or pulling on an object can change the speed or direction of its motion and can start or stop it.
  • When objects touch or collide, they push on one another and can change motion.
  • A bigger push or pull makes things speed up or slow down more quickly.

Every kindergartener already knows all these things. Especially kindergarteners who have been given lots of free play time exploring objects hands-on. They know that they can either push or pull their friends on a wagon. They know that the faster they pull, the faster the wagon goes. They know that when they crash one toy car into another, it shoves the car out of the way. They know that if they want to swing really high, their parent needs to give lots of big strong pushes. They know that they can try to slow down their dog by pulling back on the leash. They know they can close a door gently or push it hard and fast so it slams closed. They know that how well something moves after a push depends on its size, shape, and weight. They have plenty of hands-on experience with these ideas. When we “teach” these ideas, we’re just helping give them vocabulary, and helping them to notice and define what they already know.

The way I structure a science lesson is to first have “discovery time”. I put out multiple activities that allow them to experience the science first. Then I do the formal teaching of the concept and vocabulary. Then, I offer “tinkering time” where they get to explore the idea again, reinforcing the theory they’ve just been taught with the concrete hands-on experience that helps them to understand it and remember it.

We have taught Force as part of our Simple Machines unit, and we have also taught it in conjunction with Gravity and Magnets. Here are a collection of ideas for teaching Force.

For K-PS2-1: compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object

  • Attach a string / rope to items and let children pull them around a room. Even better, give them a rope to try tying on to things and seeing what all they can pull.
  • Put out items kids can push – the bigger the better – small kids love moving big things.
  • Sit in a circle. Have one child push a ball to another child. They stop it, then push it to someone else.
  • Play soccer or any other ball game that’s about “pushing” the ball to each other, stopping it, and pushing it back.
  • Put out items kids can crash into each other. For example, set up a ramp and toy cars for a demolition derby, where cars rush down the ramp and crash into whatever is at the bottom of the ramp
  • Tell kids to move around the room and find things that they can push or pull (could be almost any object, but can also be a door, a window shade, zipper, socks, etc.)
  • On the playground: encourage the children to experiment with pushes. On the swings, do they move faster by themselves, or with a few light pushes or with some strong pushes? On the merry-go-round, do they move faster if they push themselves, if one person pushes, or if three kids push? (Option: you can time how long it takes to make a full rotation with each method – see details here.)
  • Play tug of war. First have one side pull while others do not – what happens? Then have both sides pull gently, then both sides pull hard, and so on.
  • Play tether ball, pushing the ball back and forth.
  • Use pipettes or eye droppers to pull liquid in, then push it out.
  • Bowling: set up pins and give them a ball to knock them over. (You don’t need an official bowling pin set – toilet paper roll bowling works just fine.) For a fun bowling variation, try pendulum bowling. Or create a wrecking ball to knock over towers.
  • Scooters: if you have those little Scooter Boards, then have kids pull each other around the room, then push each other, then have two kids sit on scooters right next to each other and push each other. See it:
  • You could also have kids bring their wheeled ride-upons from home: bikes, trikes, scooters, etc. They move their friends around. Friends need to describe whether they are being pulled or pushed.
  • Have pushing races. Have four types of objects and a track with distances marked (could just be a flattened cardboard box with distances marked on it. They can test each of the objects: if they push gently, how far does it travel? What if they push hard? Which object travels the farthest?
  • Offer a worksheet where children can describe whether the illustration shows someone pushing or pulling.

Note: although this standard explicitly says that “assessment does not include non-contact pushes or pulls such as those produced by magnets”, when we teach Force in our magnets class, we do demonstrate and play with these non-contact pushes and pulls. Children as young as 3 are easily able to grasp the idea of pushing and pulling with magnets.

For K-PS2-2: Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.

  • Use a marble maze toy or a ball wall where kids line up pipes and tracks just right to give the ball a path through the maze.
  • Use a cardboard box lid, craft sticks and a glue gun to make marble mazes where kids tilt the box lid back and forth. As gravity pushes the ball, the sticks change its direction of motion.
  • Set up a ramp to roll balls down. At the bottom of the ramp, place various objects – see if the stop or re-direct the ball’s motion when it hit. Directions here.
  • Set up domino chains and knock them down or create other Rube Goldbergs.
  • Use catapults – push on one end to launch items in the air.

Note: although the standard says “assessment does not include friction as a mechanism for change in speed”, we do end up discussing friction during our Simple Machines unit. We cover it when talking about Wheels and Axles. Our 3-4 years olds experience friction but can’t articulate an understanding of it, but our 5 year olds certainly can.

If you’re teaching force as part of a simple machines unit, you want to convey that all simple machines transfer force. They may change the direction and/or the strength of the force. Most simple machines make things easier by allowing you to use less force to do the same amount of work.

Optional Extensions

Michigan’s Grade Level Content Expectations add:

  • describe the position of an object in relation to other objects (above, below, etc.)
  • describe the direction of movement (away, toward)
  • when the motion of an object is changed by a force, the amount of change is related to the mass of the object; when an object does not move in response to a force, it’s because another force is being applied to it

There’s a lot you could do with learning the vocabulary of positions and direction of movement: play games where you ask kids to go behind, above, into, and so on; read books and ask them to describe the positions in the pictures; play Simon Says – “run away from the wall,” “run toward the swings”, “run around the tree.” Give each child a toy, and have them place it in front of them, then behind them, above, etc. Shake the shaker above your head, behind your back, and so on.

Challenge kids to push a wide variety of objects, including some they will not be able to push – a desk that is too heavy for them to move, or a tree that is rooted to the ground. Ask them to make observations about why it won’t move.

Circle Time – Explaining the Theory

I love starting with this idea from Mrs. Meyer’s Kindergarten: Brainstorm all the different ways kids can move: jump, roll, run, fall, etc. Then put out a bucket of items and ask the kids: can those things move by themselves? Kids quickly say that no, those things need help to move. Ask how they would move them: push, pull, throw, drop, etc. Tell them that when we push or pull on something to move it, we are using “force.”

Set a block on the ground in front of you: ask – “can I move it with my mind?” (they all shout no). “Can I move it by just telling it to move?” (No) “How do I move it?” (Use your hand.) Set your hand on it, but don’t push. “How come it’s not moving?” (You have to push it!) “Now it’s too far away from me – how do I get it back?” (Pull it!) Now I want to push it to [name a child]. How do I do that?” (Push it!) Push it gently. “It didn’t go far enough. What do I do?” (Push it harder.) Push it to the child, and have them push it back.

Then ask them “What if it’s really icky, and I want to move it, but I don’t want to touch it?” Talk them through helping you find a stick to push it with, or another solution.

Ask what the difference is between push and pull – push moves an object away from you (where the force is being exerted) and pull brings it toward you.

Sing a song, or read a book.


Here’s a really simple song: and here’s a video which shows it in action, with hand gestures, in a classroom setting:

Try this Push and Pull song to the tune of Row Your Boat… it starts Push, push, push your cart, gently through the store. Fill it full with lots of things, then let’s add some more.

There’s also this song:


And Everyone Shouted, “Pull!” by Claire Llewellyn. Described as a ‘first look at forces and motion’, this is a great read-aloud for ages 3 to 5. It engages them in the story of animals trying to get items to market, and loading up and pulling the wagon.

Give It a Push! Give It a Pull!: A Look at Forces by Boothroyd. For ages 4 – 6. The text is quite good – the graphic design a little cluttery. The big picture ideas it addresses are: A force is a push or a pull. Sometimes the cause of a force is invisible [wind, gravity, magnets]. Forces put things in motion. Stronger forces can make things move farther or faster. Friction is a force that slows things down. Force can change the shape of things.

We have also used Forces Make Things Move by Bradley and Move It!: Motion, Forces and You by Stille.

Here are other books that are recommended for teaching force:

  • Motion, by Darlene R. Stille
  • How Things Move, by Don L. Curry
  • Push and Pull, by Lola M. Schaefer
  • Push and Pull, by Patricia Murphy
  • Push and Pull, by Charlotte Guillain
  • Move it!: Motion, Forces and You, by Adrienne Mason


There is a great full curriculum on forces and motion for kindergarteners at

And another nice lesson plan here:

If you’re teaching older kids about force, inertia, Newton’s laws of motion, there’s lots of great activity ideas in this lesson plan from Lakeshore.

Rainbow Spectroscope Kit


In last year’s Rainbows class, we made our own spectroscopes from paper towel tubes, tape, and CD’s. (Learn how here.) The original idea was from Buggy and Buddy. They were a pretty easy project, with pretty good results. Using cardboard tubes from the recycle bin fits in with our style, but scaring up 30 used CD’s each time we do the project can be a pain. (Yes, I know I could buy blank CD’s, but that somehow feels like it’s violating the goal of trying to use recycled items when possible.)

This year, we discovered the Rainbow-Scope Science Kit on Amazon. (You can also order direct from Nature Watch.) They run about $1.75 per scope, once you count for shipping. It looked like they would produce a nice looking result, with maybe more consistent spectroscopic images than the DIY ones. We decided to give them a try.

Here’s what comes in the package: cardboard tubes (the size of toilet paper tubes, but much sturdier, purple foam disks for one end, with slits cut in them, red foam “donut” shape disks for the other end, diffraction lenses, glue, tube wrappers to decorate, a prism, instructions, and handouts with additional scientific background on spectroscopes and light, and ideas for extension activities.


To assemble:scope

1. Put a little glue around the inner rim of the red foam circle, then set a diffraction lens on it, centered over the hole. (Important to emphasize to the child to use as little glue as possible. If there’s too much, it oozes onto the lens and blocks your view.)

2. Have the child decorate the wrapper, coloring in each band with the appropriate color marker.

3. The child smears glue stick all over the tube, then you help align and glue on the wrapper.img_20170109_195729318

4. Glue the purple foam circle on one end. (Near the “violet” band on the wrapper.)

5. Hold the tube up so you can look through it up at the light. Hold the red circle on the open end (the one you’re looking through.) Rotate the red circle till you see horizontal bands of color next to the light. Then glue it on.

The materials were good quality. It produces a nice result for a “take home project.” (See photo at top.) Our three to four year olds were able to decorate their wrappers themselves, but needed an adult to do all the assembly. Our six and seven year olds could do most of it, but you really need an adult for step 5.

Here’s what you see when you look through the spectroscope (click on any image for a larger view)

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These are, from left to right: light reflected off a desk, computer screen, moving toward a ceiling light, hanging kitchen light, Christmas lights, and ceiling light.

Overall, this is a good project for our class.

Light and Shadow Experiments for Kids


This week, we got to play with light and shadows!

Book / Big Picture light-and-shadow-book

I wrote a book for this week’s class, which covers all the key ideas about light and shadow. It includes lots of easy experiments to try. You can read it (or print a copy) here.

As always, the class structure was that we began with “discovery time”, where the kids had an opportunity to explore all the activities hands-on, and start discovering how things work, testing theories, having questions arise, and making observations. Then we had opening circle, where we read the book, which explains the phenomena they’d observed. We also did several of the demos included in the book during circle, and then encouraged them to try out all those same experiments during our “tinkering time” where they return to exploring all the activities, this time with a theoretical framework for what they’re seeing.

Note: the book is a bit long and packed with a lot of ideas for one circle time for this age group, so in our afternoon class, we read pages 1 – 10 and 21 – 22 during opening circle. We saved pages 11 – 18 about daytime and night-time shadows, and pages 19 and 20 which introduce the terms opaque, translucent, and transparent for closing circle.


Shadow-making Screen. My co-teacher built a fabulous screen of a white sheet supported by a PVC frame. It was held up by two very heavy umbrella stands so even with a fair amount of rough-housing, it never came close to tipping over. (If you don’t have umbrella stands, you might be able to build PVC legs and duct tape them to the ground?)


Behind the screen, we had an LED Work Light, which was very bright, but cool to the touch. (PLEASE don’t use an incandescent bulb or halogen shop light as they can get very hot!!) We happen to have an interior room with no windows, so it was easy to get the room dark enough to get good shadow effects – it might be harder in a window-filled room.

Shadow Play: Experiment with shadow-making screen. This was a free play station.  We had posters showing diagrams of hand positions for shadow puppets to inspire them to play with hand shadows. I made a poster showing how to do the 7 shadow puppets that appear in the book Shadow Night which we would read in closing circle. (see below)

We had stuffed animals and shadow puppets that they could use to make shadows.

They could also make their own shadow puppets to test, or bring in other items from the classroom to see what shadows they would cast. (For example, in the photo of the shadow of the stuffed horse, you’ll notice some rainbow colors – those were the result of putting rainbow colored transparent “Legos” in front of the light source. In the 5th picture, you’ll see a Duplo sculpture a Dad made.)

Or they could just do crazy dances behind the screen! (Often kids on the “audience” side of the screen would mimic the motions of the child behind the screen.)

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Art Project – Shadow Puppets. We had cardstock, markers, scissors, tape, and popsicle sticks so they could make their own shadow puppets. The first year, we made the mistake of putting out white paper and no examples, and there were some puppets that were lovely stick puppets (see the top picture below). But all those marker decorations on the dragon will never show up in a shadow. What we needed to communicate better was that the point of a shadow puppet is the outline / silhouette.

This year we had some sample puppets, and we put up a poster with more sample puppets to give kids a better sense of what kinds of designs to make. (We had parents who did some great TMNTurtles and a great Darth Vader mask I didn’t get a picture of.)

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Flashlight Play: In the center room, we also had lots of flashlights, mirrors and toys, so kids could freely play with reflecting light, and with playing with how they can change the size and shape of a toy’s shadow depending on how close or far away they hold the flashlight, and what angle they hold the flashlight at related to the toy. (This was a direct echo of some experiments from our book.)

Laser Maze. We own a great board game called Laser Maze Junior. It’s a Think Fun game, where there are a series of puzzles of increasing difficulty. The child sets up the board as shown on the card, then turns on a laser, sees where it’s shining, and adds mirrors and obstacles to the board to re-direct the light into the goal for the puzzle. Teaches not only the idea of reflecting light, but also a good logic puzzle. Our little kids just dinked around with the pieces, but kids age 5 and up became totally absorbed in working their way through the puzzles.

Reflection – Mirror Boxes. We also built simple mirror boxes (taping together three square mirrors in a half-a-cube shape, and gave kids materials to arrange in there to make symmetrical patterns. Learn more about mirror boxes at Imagination Tree.


Challenge of the Week – Engineering Project: Sundial. Create a sundial with a paper plate, straw or pencil, tape, glue and glass globules.

If you’re with your kids / students all day on a sunny day, here’s the process: Poke a hole in the center of the plate. Tape a pencil or straw upright in the hole. On an hour mark (at 9:00 exactly or 10:00 or whatever), take the plate outside, and tape it in place in the sun. Mark a line where the shadow falls, and write the time. An hour later, come check the shadow and mark a line for the time again. Repeat on the hour all day long till your sundial is complete. The next day, check it again to show that it’s still working. You can pick up and move the sundial as long as every time you set it down, you orient it the same way. (More info on this project at: or

Since we only have our students for a couple hours, and since the weather forecast was gray skies and rain, my co-teacher prepped a template a few days ahead of time (on a beautiful sunny day) and we did a slightly different process. We put the pencil in the center of a plate, then slid on the paper template, which was smaller in diameter than the plates, then the child could mark off all the times. Then we removed the templates and they decorated their sundials. Then we used a flashlight to illustrate how as the sun moved through the sky, the shadow would shift to indicate the time of day.

As you can see from the third photo, sometimes we put out the supplies for one project (a sundial) and children do something completely different than we had expected… we’re OK with that. We still showed this child how the shadow would shift as the day went on, landing on different Shopkin drawings at 8 am than it did at 1 pm.

img_20170107_142136428  img_20170107_142142613  img_20170107_183904030

Optional Outside Activity, if the sun is shining: Students set-up their sundials in the sunshine and see where the shadow falls – and check whether it’s correct about the time.

Art Project: Paint Shadows 
(Source for idea:

Basic idea: A child lays their hand on a piece of paper, with fingers spread wide, and you spray paint on to it. (Tell them this is like sunshine shining on their hand – the light rays will spread outward and continue till they run into something that blocks them, and that makes a shadow.) When they lift their hands off, a shadow is left behind. Here’s a poster to explain the idea… the poster also include photos of several ancient cave paintings of paint shadow hands, including some from Indonesia believed to be 40,000 years old.

Logistics: We filled a spray bottle with white kid-safe / easy clean-up paint mixed with water… the goal was to thin it enough that it would spray easily, but not so thin that it would run. The first year, we tried it on the easel, using black cardstock for one handprint per paper take-home project. We had planned for the kids to do the spraying themselves (good fine motor practice) but with our sprayer, if you were too close to the paper (i.e. kid’s arm-length away), the paint stream was too focused. You had to stand back a few feet to get a nice spread-out spray of paint – and no kid could stand that far back and not make a big mess!

This year, we put brown paper on a table, and did a collaborative cave painting, where kids put their hands on the paper and an adult sprayed. It’s very important to have a tub of soapy water and a towel right next to this project so they can wash their hands right away.

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Both years, we’ve really struggled with the spray bottle getting all clogged up with paint and not spraying well. Next year, we may try a different spray bottle, or a different paint, or maybe we’ll get some Body Spray paint.

Sculptural-Engineering Activity:  Kids sculpted a shape or cut a shape from aluminum foil, then taped it to a cardstock square. Then they placed it in front of a bright lamp and traced the shadow then colored in the shadow. (Source of idea:


This activity is best for 6 – 7 year olds. The younger ones had a harder time figuring out how to make a three dimensional sculpture. If you’re working only with little ones, you might find it better to just use plastic toys / action figures and have them trace and color in their shadows on paper. I prefer the sculpture activity where they go home with BOTH the shadow tracing AND the sculpture it’s based on, but for little ones, it was just too tricky.  If you use toys, be sure to choose ones that make fun shadows!

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STEAM Activity: Exploring Light Refraction: Fill several different sizes and shapes of glass jars with water and seal. Put them out with paper and marker pens. Have kids draw arrows or other pictures and look at them through the water filled jars to see how the images change. Some jars will distort images, some will flip them – some have very little effect. Have kids experiment with the different size jars, with different size drawings and moving the image closer or further away. (Idea:  Here’s a poster to go with this activity.


Building Activity: We had translucent “Duplos.” The kids built towers with them, then shone a flashlight to see the colorful shadows. Key to the success of this activity was to just leave the flashlight on, shining through whatever tower was currently there… as kids looked over and noticed that colorful shadow, it intrigued them enough to come and explore. If the flashlight wasn’t on, they were more likely to pass the table by as a familiar “it’s just Duplos” activity.


Projector Shadows: We have an overhead projector, so set it out with some opaque items (blocks, etc.) and some glass tile samples that make really cool shadows. Here’s a picture of the items on the projector surface and then their image on the wall.

IMG_20160423_124526883  IMG_20160423_124534777

Light Table and Water Table: Last year, we had the light table out with a variety of translucent items for free exploration. We had the water table filled with colorful water beads floating in water, and a couple flashlights to shine on them, to shine up through the bottom of the table, etc. This year, we put the light table under the water table to shine up through there. and put all the translucent items in the water.

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Optional Indoor Activity #1: Mural of kids’ shadows. You could tape a big piece of paper on the wall. Then shine a big light or projector at it. Have kids stand by the wall so their shadows fall on the paper. Trace their shadows.

Optional Indoor #2: Silhouettes. Put paper on wall. Have the child sit sideways in front of the table. Shine a bright light on them and trace their silhouette.

Optional Indoor #3: Hanging shadows. You could hang a clothesline across a room and hang a lot of items on it. Hand the child a flashlight and turn off the lights – they can walk up and down the line, shining the flashlight at all angles, finding the shadow in the room.

Optional Outdoor Activity: Sunprints. You can purchase special photo-sensitive paper (called sun prints, or sun art paper.) You set it outside in the sunshine, with various items on it for a period of 15 minutes to a few hours (depending on the product and how bright the sun is), then you remove the items. and you’ve capture the image / shadow permanently. (See example here.)  They’re really VERY cool – I love them. BUT… in the Pacific Northwest, I find that they don’t tend to work most of the year – our winter sunlight just isn’t intense enough. I have gotten them to work on hot sunny summer days.

Opening Circle – the no-book option:

This is how we did it last year, before I wrote the book we used this year.

We asked the kids what makes light – what light sources could they think of. As they suggested them, we drew them up on the board to reinforce what was said.


We demonstrated a few light sources, including a flashlight that created a very diffuse light and a laser pointer which created a very focused light.

We then talked about shadows and when they see them, and what makes them, and so on. We demo’ed some hand shadow puppets on the screen. We did a little mini puppet show with some paper shadow puppets.

We talked about the difference between Opaque Shadows = No light getting through and Translucent shadows = Some light shining through, and demo’ed this with some colorful scarves and the translucent Duplos.


Song – We’re still looking for a great sing-along about light or shadows for circle. A couple options, both to the tune of Frere Jacques:  (Source 1; Source 2)

See my shadow, see my shadow
Move this way, move that way.
See it do what I do, see it do what I do,
It follows me, it follows me.

I see shadows,  I see shadows,
On the wall,  On the wall.
Some are short and scary,
Some are short and scary,
Some are tall, Some are tall.

Closing Circle

We read the book Shadow Night (see below) and acted out the puppet show with hand puppets at the shadow screen. One of my favorite circle times of the year!

Books (contains affiliate links)

Stories about Shadows

  • Shadow Night by Chorao. A boy sees shadows on his wall and is afraid that they are monsters. He yells for his parents, who come to reassure him, and end up showing him how to make shadow puppets with their hands, and then they tell a story with shadow puppets. The great part is that the book is also a tutorial in how to make those hand shadows yourself!! So, one teacher read the book where the kids could see it, and the other made the shadows on the screen for everyone to see. The book ends with the boy making shadows on the wall, including a shadow monster. Ages 3 – 7. Although it’s long for a read-aloud, it works, when used in conjunction with the shadow screen.

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  • Moonbear’s Shadow by Asch. When Bear is fishing, his shadow scares away the fish. So, he tries to run away from his shadow and tries to trap his shadow, but with no success. At noontime his shadow disappears so he takes a nap, but in the late afternoon, it’s back! But when he goes fishing, his shadow no longer falls over the water. So, he catches a fish – and so does his shadow! A cute story for ages 3 – 5 that also discusses how shadows change as the sun moves through the daytime sky.
  • The Dark, Dark Night by Butler and Chapman. Frog is headed home to his pond after dark and borrows a lantern. When he gets to the pond, he sees a huge black Pond Monster! (The kids in our class were delighted that they all knew this was Frog’s shadow, even though Frog didn’t know that.) He goes and gets friend after friend. They see bigger and scarier Pond Monsters and get more and more worked up. Then at the end, they realize that it’s just their shadows and laugh and laugh. A nice story about shadows and also about how sometimes a misunderstanding can lead to fear and then when we learn more it becomes less scary. Fun for ages 3 – 6.
  • Lights Out by Medearis and Tadgell. Part of the Just for You series featuring African American families. Nice illustrations, good rhythm and rhyme to the text. “‘Good night, sleep tight!’ Daddy tucks me in. Out go the lights. Now the fun begins!” Sweet story of a daddy tucking a child in to bed, then her sneaking out to look at the city lights and make hand shadow puppets and then sneak back into bed. Nice preschool read-aloud or easy read for a new reader.
  • Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow by Tompert and Munsinger. Age 5 – 7 – a much longer book than I would read at story-time, but might work well one on one at home or as a naptime read at a preschool. Fun, silly story about a rabbit who tries lots of ways to escape his shadow – leaping away, sweeping it away, pulling it off, cutting it off….
  • My Shadow by Stevenson. This is a poem from the late 1800’s by Robert Louis Stevenson, and many illustrated versions exist. Some of the words are dated: “he stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see. I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!” but overall, still appealing to modern preschool-aged children if the illustrations appeal.

Non-Fiction Books on Light and Shadow

  • Oscar and the Moth: A Book About Light and Dark by Waring. This book is a conversation between a cat and a moth that explains how the earth rotates and that causes day and night, explains that light can come from the sun, the stars, electric light, and animals that emit light. It also explains that shadows happen when something blocks the light. A nice overview of lots of scientific ideas, told in a way that not only makes sense to preschool age children, but is engaging as well.
  • Follow It!: Learn About Shadows by Hall. Non-fiction, covers all the basic ideas about shadows. Does a great job of gathering the key ideas about shadows, but the writing isn’t very engaging. Good resource for ages 4 – 6.
  • Guess Whose Shadow? by Swinburne. Pros – the book includes a basic introduction to the idea of shadows, with photos to illustrate the text, then it has a guessing game, where you see the shadow on one page and it asks you to guess whose shadow it is, then reveals the answer on the next page. The kids in our class (age 3 – 7) were definitely engaged in the guessing game during circle. Cons: the photos are a little dated, and not that great, and there’s just a grammatical incorrectness to showing a picture of a shadow of a swing-set and saying “guess whose shadow.” It’s almost tempting to write / photograph our own version of this guessing game.
  • Shadows and Reflections by Hoban. Like all Tana Hoban books, this is a wordless collection of photographs on a theme. Like all Tana Hoban books, I think this one is fine, and I get it to put on the bookshelf for kids to look at it, but I can’t say I love it.
  • What Makes a Shadow? by Bulla and Otani. A really nice non-fiction overview of everything having to do with shadows. Great for 5 – 7 year olds, or to read one-on-one to a younger child, but too long for a group time with preschoolers.
  • Day Light, Night Light: Where Light Comes From by Branley and Schuett. Branley worked at the Hayden planetarium and has written many kids’ science books. Like his other books, this is a really good summary of the scientific facts, for kids 5 – 8. We don’t read his books in class because they’re too long and over the heads of half our kids, but they’re quite good.
  • Science Chapters: All About Light by Halpern. The description says it’s for ages 6 – 9. I think it’s most appropriate for the older edge of that – it’s over the head of the kids in our class (age 3 – 7.)
  • More ideas for demos and activities here:

Videos and Apps

Optional Arts Extension – Shadow Puppet Theatre