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.

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