Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Playing IS Learning: WaterWays - Bubbles

Artists since the 18th century, such as Jean-Jacques de Boissieu, Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin and Sir John Everett Millais documented children's use of soap bubbles in play. Marketing techniques used by Pears Soap, featuring Millais' painting "Bubbles" popularized this concept. Inspiring and enchanting many for hundreds of years, bubbles are true natural wonders. Simple in the sense that many can be found in our everyday world, bubbles actually have a complex lifespan. The learning opportunities that bubbles provide are endless; and it is their visual appeal, the challenge they present and the sensory experience they provide that make learning FUN!

"Real science begins with childhood curiosity, which leads to discovery and exploration” with an adult’s help and encouragement (Conezio and French, 2002). In the Bubbles exhibits, children are encouraged to satisfy this curiosity and discover scientific concepts like surface tension, diffraction, light and color.

The following are some examples of how, amongst the exchange of giggles and awestruck expressions at one of the bubble tables, children of all ages play and learn:

A mother holds her 1-year-old boy near the tall bubble table. She uses a bubble wand as her child watches. He reaches for a bubble and pops it. He then reaches for the wand in her hand. “Do you want to make a bubble?” she asks. Hand over hand, they dip the wand in solution together. She sways her child back and forth as he and she hold the wand together and create bubbles. “Bubbles!” she says. He lets go of the wand and reaches for them as they float by.

Children, especially infants and toddlers, learn through sensory exploration. In this example, the mother models new vocabulary and encourages her son to feel different textures and experiment with cause and effect. These are some ways to help children understand the world around them. The following are a few additional ways you can nurture a young child’s understanding of the world in the Bubbles exhibits:

-Imitate to better understand. If you see your child is trying to make a bubble by waving the wand back and forth, do the same. What a great opportunity for you and your child to explore together and learn from one another!
-Model language for your child. As you both share a new experience, talk about what you see, what she sees and how it feels, etc. Modeling new language nurtures not only her understanding of new words’ meanings, but also how to use them in future experiences. Also, repeat any new vocabulary she uses back to her. For example, if your child says “Bubble” as she looks at the bubble table, you might say, “Bubbles—you’re right. There are lots of bubbles!”
-Observe your child as she plays. Is she already providing you clues? Watch as your child explores in the bubble solution, uses different wands or tries to catch a falling bubble. Is she reaching for a wand to try making a bubble herself? Does she look to you for reassurance that it's okay to dip her hand in the solution? Because young children are still learning to communicate, watch your child for gestures and looks that can guide you both as you play together.

A 3-year-old boy picks up a hula hoop from the round bubble table. His mother kneels beside him and watches as he lifts the hoop and a bubble emerges. The boy blows through the hoop and it pops. "Uh-oh!" says Mom. He drops the hoop and squeals with delight. He looks at his mother, who asks, "Did you make a bubble?" The boy begins to pick up the hoop again. This time, the mother says "1, 2, 3-Go!" before he lifts it out of the solution. Again, the boy blows at the bubble's surface through the hoop. This time a small bubble is released. "Bubble!" the mother says excitedly. Looking at the bubble, the child giggles loudly and he drops the hoop back into the solution. He then reaches for and follows the bubble he created.

-Provide meaningful feedback. If you notice your child is excited or intrigued by what he is experiencing, show some interest in the subject by providing meaningful feedback. Children take clues from others and will often spend more time extending their learning in an area where others are attending to their actions and providing positive responses. Saying things like, " Tell me about what you are doing with that hula hoop" or "How did you make that bubble? Can you show me again?" will encourage your child to continue taking the next step in his explorations.
-Model a different approach. Pick up the hula hoop and lift it straight up out of the solution or hold one end of the hula hoop and lift it over your or your child's head. After demonstrating one technique, allow your child the opportunity to explore these techniques independently. Because it is a new skill, he may look to you for support. By doing this, you extend your child's learning and help him understand yet another way to use the materials.
-Suggest challenges. Comments like, "I bet we could make an even bigger bubble! What should we do first?" will help children practice problem solving and rethink the sequence of actions they have already taken.

How Learning Comes in to Play - At-Home!
One of the most popular questions that floor staff receive by visitors in the Bubbles exhibits is: “Do you use a special bubble solution?” The answer is yes, and the recipe can be replicated for use in your own home.

DCM Bubble Solution:
1 gallon water
1 ¼ cup Dawn Dish Soap*
2 tbsp. Glycerin
*Palmolive or Ultra Joy can be substituted in emergency.

(Tip: Make sure to pour the soap into the water, not vice versa. This will prevent creating suds in the solution.)

Besides bubble wands, many everday objects can be used to create bubbles, including plastic berry baskets/cartons, pipe cleaners and strainers. Be creative and look around the house to find other materials you and your child can use to create different sized bubbles.

How does it work? The thin surface of a pure water bubble evaporates too quickly for it to create long-lasting bubbles for us to enjoy. Therefore, we add soap and/or glycerin to water to decrease the surface tension and increase its stability. "When air is blown into the solution, it can form an elastic film consisting of two layers of soap molecules with a layer of water in between" (Journal of Chemical Education, 2001). This "soap sandwich" stabilizes the molecules and protects the water from evaporating just long enough for us to enjoy the bubble.

The Bubble Booth gives visitors the opportunity to create extra large bubbles. Because of the movement involved in creating these large bubbles, the surface begins to move away from the metal ring as it is still being pulled. To strengthen the surface of these bubbles, the museum adds 2 tbsp. Karo Syrup to the solution. This enhanced solution then creates bubbles with a more viscous (thick and sticky) surface that may last a little longer.

Stay Tuned!

In our next post, we will take a closer look at DCM’s Build It neighborhood and discuss its connections to creativity and science concepts. We'll also talk about some at-home activities you and your child can try together.

Sources: Bubblesphere (; Conezio, K. & French, L. "Science in the Preschool Classroom: Capitalizing on Children's Fascination with the Everyday World to Foster Language and Literacy Development." Young Children September, 2002. "Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble." Journal of Chemical Education January, 2001.

Don’t Forget:

The next Just for Grown-Ups program, "Looking at Children with New Eyes" with Dr. Jennifer Rosinia is scheduled for Thursday, March 13th. Please call: (630) 637-8000 to register.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Playing IS Learning: WaterWays - Water Falls

Does your child delight in pulling the chain or using the handpump at the Water Falls table? Maybe she enjoys putting rubber duck after duck in the waterfall to see them each get pushed by the water’s flow. Or perhaps he likes to strategize how to best control the water flow and build a dam. For each way a child plays in the Water Falls exhibit, there are many opportunities for families to join in the fun and nurture the learning already taking place.

The following observations illustrate a few of the many ways children play and learn in the Water Falls exhibit:

If your child is….

* Motivated by movement

“Here it comes! Here it comes!” says a mother to her three-year-old son. They both wait for a rubber duck, sitting atop the exhibit, to fall down the waterfall. “Wee!” the mother says as it finally slides down and is carried by the water’s flow to the end of the exhibit. The child jumps up and down. He then follows the duck quickly to the end of the exhibit. “Where did the duck come from—water come from?” the mother asks. The child looks up at the top of the waterfall. The boy goes up the stairs to the top of the exhibit, looking up at the water tank. “Water!” the boy says looking down to his mother below. He then moves down the stairs, takes a duck from the water and again moves to the top of the falls. He reaches and places a duck in the tank and goes down the stairs near his mother. They look up at the top of the waterfall. “Let’s see if it will come down. I see it!” says the mother. “What’s up there?” says the mom. “Water,” says the child.

If your child seems to feed off of action or movement and enjoys physical play, here are some ways to support his exploration:

-Move along with your child! Look “up,” “over,” and “under” exhibits to check out the tubes, pipes, and pumps that help the exhibit function. Take a trip up the stairs in Water Falls to look at the water filter system and tank and see what’s inside.
-Talk about what your child sees and already knows. Ask your child if she has ever seen water flow like this before and have her describe where. Common examples might include: on a nature walk or at the Riverwalk, in the bathtub, maybe in the streets after it has rained.
-Model and discuss safety first! Children should be able to take the lead and move, explore and play to learn! However, the WaterWays exhibit can get slippery. Make sure to remind children to move at a safe speed to prevent falls.

* Creative and constructive

A young girl places a rubber duck near the bottom of the waterfall and watches it get carried to the end of the exhibit by the water's flow. She repeats this with a sandbag, but it moves only a short distance before sinking in the middle. The girl then retrieves the duck from the end of the table and holds it under the waterfall. With one tug on the chain beside her, the girl releases a large amount of water down the falls and the duck is pushed out of her other hand by the force. She watches the duck float down the table, over some sunken sandbags to the end of the falls. The girl then collects and lines up all of the ducks on the edge of the exhibit. She also places a sandbag on the edge and sits one of the ducks on top of it.

If your child explores and investigates the many uses for the materials found in Water Falls through experimentation or dramatic play, here are a few ideas on how to extend her learning even further:

-Follow your child's lead! Imitate how your child is using the materials (i.e. place another duck or toy in the water and watch it float down the exhibit).
-Offer your child some playful feedback on how she is using the materials! (i.e. "I see all of the rubber ducks are on the edge. Are they waiting to go into the water together?" or "What is the rubber duck sitting on? Do you think it will sink or float in the water?")
-Observe what is going on around you! Children often reference their peers to see how they are using the materials around them, and adults do the same. Even during the above mentioned observation, another mother watched how the child pulled on the chain to increase the water flow in the exhibit. She then in turn modeled this action for her child, who then joined in the water play.

* Goal-oriented and ready to go

A mother and her four-year-old boy watch as a Play Facilitator models how to prime the handpump in the exhibit. He uses a small cup to place water in the top of the pump and moves its lever up and down quickly to create a flow of water. Soon after the Play Facilitator leaves, the child approaches the pump and attempts to work it independently. He pumps up and down, but is unsuccessful. He then waves his mother over to assist him. She approaches the pump and models the procedure of the Play Facilitator. As she does so and the child watches, water begins to trickle from the pump. The child then puts his hands over his mother’s hands, and they pump the lever up and down together. The child lets go with one hand and puts it in the water flowing out of the pump. The mother says, “Feel the water?” The child then pushes away his mother’s hands from the pump. He looks and notices the water has stopped. Taking the hand pump’s lever, he pumps up and down on the lever independently. The water begins to trickle down and out of the pump. "I did it," the child says.

If your child approaches this exhibit with a plan (for example: successfully using the handpump, engineering a dam using the sandbags, etc.), here are some suggestions to extend the learning while also nurturing your child’s purposeful play:

-Talk about your child's plan. If you see your child working to achieve a certain goal, ask him questions like, "What would you like to happen?" and "What do you need to do to..." (i.e. get water to come out of the pump, stop the water flow, etc.).
-Provide problem-solving alternatives (i.e. "I like how you did....What would happen if you tried....").
-Suggest challenges and ask critical thinking questions! (i.e. "Where is the water coming from? Do you think it comes from the water we put in the top or somewhere else?")

Additional suggestions on how to facilitate scientific understanding in Water Falls include:

-Imitate your child's actions (i.e. if he puts his hands in the water and moves them back and forth, stir your hands in it as well).
-Model how to use materials in different ways (i.e. demonstrate using the handpump, pulling the chain, or piling sandbags).
-Offer feedback (i.e. "The water is pushing the ducks down the river." or "It looks like you've built a strong wall using the sandbags.").
-Provide problem-solving alternatives (i.e. "If you hold the duck, I will pull the chain." or place sandbags within your child's reach when a dam is leaking).
-Suggest challenges (i.e. "What will happen to the dam if we pull the chain?" or "How can we make the water go in a different direction?").

How Learning Comes in to Play - At-Home!
Take home the fun and extend your child's learning experience using the following Water Falls at-home activity ideas:

-Before bathtime even begins, place homemade boats in the tub and turn on the faucet. As water flows into the tub, encourage children to notice which direction the boats and floating items go. Safety Note: Make sure to supervise your child as he explores water at home.
-Experiment At-Home! Fill a heavy-duty sealable sandwich bag with water and invite your child to feel it, talk about what is inside and the properties of water (i.e. it is clear, how it feels, weight, etc.). With a dishpan or container underneath, ask your child the following questions:
"What would happen if I make a tiny hole in the bag?"
"What will happen if I make more holes? Will the water flow differently?"
(Source: "The Wonder of Sand & Water" Scholastic Early Childhood Today Summer, 2002. Volume 16, Number 8, Pgs 20-31).

Stay Tuned!
In our next post, we will take a closer look at DCM’s Bubbles exhibit in the WaterWays neighborhood. We will discuss the science hiding behind every bubble and the secret to great at-home bubble solution and activities!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Playing IS Learning: WaterWays - Water Flows

Because there is no “right” or “wrong” way to play with water, the opportunities to learn (and have FUN) are endless! Within the WaterWays neighborhood, one can truly follow the child’s lead and facilitate multiple skills from across the domains of development by capturing, redirecting, observing, and controlling water.


Inside WaterWays, the Water Flows exhibit was specifically designed to introduce children to and help them better understand the concepts of buoyancy, displacement, and volume and space.

-Buoyancy describes the force that makes an object float. When an object’s upward force (buoyancy) is equal to its own weight, it will float. If its own weight is more than the upward force, it will sink.

-Displacement is also related to whether an object will sink or float. It describes how if an object is placed in a cup of water, the water level will rise. If an object weighs more than the water it pushes away, it will sink; and if an object weighs less than the water it pushes away, it will float.

-Volume is the amount of space “matter” occupies.


The following is an observation made in the Water Flows exhibit. How does this child engage with the concepts mentioned above?

A three year-old uses a small pitcher to pour water into a small toy boat sitting on a ledge. He fills the boat with water. The child then puts the boat into the water—it starts to sink and finally turns over. He again picks up the boat, places it on the ledge, and fills it with water. However, this time before he places it into the water he pours the water out. He then places the empty boat onto the water—this time the boat floats upright. Later, the child pushes the boat back and forth and the boat begins to fill with water. The child notices this, picks the boat up and dumps the water out to empty it. He places the boat back in the water and watches as it floats again.

After initially placing more water (weight) into the boat and then watching it sink, this child may have asked himself, “Why does it do this?” While he probably didn’t understand the scientific concepts of buoyancy or displacement, he was discovering the foundations behind them. Through experimentation, the child observed that by removing the additional weight (water), the boat was able to float.

Here are some additional suggestions on how to facilitate scientific understanding in Water Flows:

-Observe how your child uses the materials in the water and join in the fun (i.e. if the child pours water into a water wheel, pour water into the water wheel).
-Model how to use materials or a specific concept
(i.e. using the water pump or inserting pipes into a water spout).
-Provide problem-solving alternatives (i.e. ask, "What would happen if you tried turning the funnel this way?")
-Suggest challenges (i.e. "Why did the boat sink?" "How many cups of water will fit in this container?" or "Which pipe do you think the shower water comes from?")


In addition to providing children with great opportunities to learn scientific concepts, Water Flows also provides children with multiple opportunities to create their own unique experiences within other areas of learning (math, creativity and arts, etc.).

The following observation illustrates one example of how a mother follows her child’s lead in Water Flows and facilitates play related to math.

A mother watches her child pick up a strainer at the tub and use it to pick up a small ball floating in the water. The child bounces the ball in the strainer a few times. The mother imitates the child, picking up another strainer and using it to pick up another small ball floating in the water. She shows her strainer and ball to her child and bounces her ball similarly. The child then bounces his ball into her strainer. “Now I have two,” the mother says. She tries to bounce one back into the child’s strainer. It falls in the water. The child picks it up with his strainer and begins bouncing it. The mother asks, “How many do you have?” The child answers, “one.” He bounces the ball into her strainer.

Here are some other ways to facilitate math experiences in Water Flows:

-Challenge your child to see how many of one kind of object she can find in the water! Children can sort objects (balls, boats, animals, cups, etc.) by size, color or shape.
-Similarly, suggest that you and your child together count how many of one kind of object he can find in the water (balls, boats, animals, cups, etc.). You might even count how many cups of water it takes to fill one of the shape buckets.
-Model math vocabulary! Make sure to use words like "empty," "full," "half," "whole," "more" and "less" as you explore Water Flows together.

How Learning Comes in to Play - At-Home!

Take home the fun and extend your child's learning experience using the following Water Flows at-home activity ideas:

-Create your own water tub at home! Fill a small plastic tub with water and add a few objects to manipulate and explore (soup ladle, turkey baster, strainers, funnels, empty butter tubs, small whisks, measuring cups/spoons, empty ketchup bottles, bath toys, corks, styrofoam pieces). Safety Note: Make sure to share and supervise your child as he/she explores water at home.
-Add salt to the water. How does this effect object's ability to float? sink?
-Punch holes in bottoms of empty milk cartons to make sieves for water play.
-Create your own boats using different kinds of materials (wood, aluminum foil, paper plates, styrofoam). Gather some pennies and see how many your child can place on his/her boat before it sinks! Try moving the pennies around on different locations of the boat for a different effect.
-Don't forget to save time for fun in the tub! What can your child find in the tub that sinks (i.e. full bottles of shampoo/conditioner)? floats (empty bottles of shampoo/conditioner, soap)?

Stay Tuned!

In our next entry, we will spotlight the Water Falls exhibit in WaterWays. We will look more closely at how children use this exhibit at DCM to learn more about controlling and changing the directional flow of water. We will also discuss some additional activities related to similar learning concepts that can extend learning at home.