S.T.E.A.M. Fun!


The Summer Reading Program at our local library (Commerce Township Community Library) was based on S.T.E.A.M. – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math!   Along with many other fun activities, they offered a different program one evening each week through July.  The last one we attended was based on experiments!  Don’t my little scientists look great – and protected – in their safety glasses?

As always the evening was well organized and lots of fun.  We began with the Elephant Toothpaste experiment.


Each child took a paper plate containing dish soap, water, and yeast.  I love how they have everything measured out and easy to use.  Of course, if you did this at home it would be a great time to practice measuring too!


They each got to choose which food color to add, our kids all chose different colors.


Lily is looking a bit frightened because the librarians demonstrated the final experiment for the group and it made a loud noise inside the room, so she was a little worried this was going to POP!


They loved watching it foam and fill up the plate!

A scientific explanation was provided too!



Our next experiment was trying to blow up a balloon without using our mouths.



The kids loved using the funnel and pouring the baking soda into the balloon.  After an adult pulled the balloon over the bottle they helped shake the soda into the vinegar – and then they watched it inflate!




We went outside for the last 2 experiments.  The kids loved using the eye droppers!  The straws were standing up in a pile of baking soda on a paper plate.




The last experiment was my favorite.  I used to do this with my Kindergarten families at Parent/Child Activity Nights.

Each child received a small film canister that contained a small amount of watered down tempera paint and a half tablet of Alka Seltzer.  They were instructed to break the Alka Seltzer tablet and put it into the water.  Then they securely snapped the lid onto the film canister.  Finally they set the film canister UPSIDE DOWN on a piece of paper, and backed away.  This was the experiment that the librarians demonstrated at the beginning so they could emphasize the importance of safety glasses, and backing away from this experiment.  When the tablet dissolves in the liquid it expands and pops the film canister way up in the air!  If you do this experiment inside (as I did with my classes, you must use plain water and leave the canister right side up so it doesn’t go quite as high!



The canister shot high into the air, leaving a neat design on the paper.  Hey!  I just had an idea of using this as a sequential writing activity – First – Next – Last!  A fun way to integrate science and writing!

By the way – if you have trouble collecting film canisters, they are available online through Steve Spangler Science materials!  Lots of fun things for sale on that site!

This was such a wonderful family evening.  It was so great that we used common kitchen ingredients like baking soda, vinegar and yeast because now when we use these materials in the kitchen we can talk about the chemical reactions!  Being a Nana is so much fun!





I was very excited to have a chance to visit Owen’s preschool classroom last week.  They will be visiting a local farm later this month, and since Owen’s favorite animals  (and stuffed animals) are sheep, I decided to read a sheep story and share some facts about sheep with his class.

In my classroom, and now in my basement, I kept my teaching puppets in a castle that my husband built for me.  So I decided to make a traveling castle to carry my puppets into school.


I always try to bring my puppets out “alive,” already on my hand and ready to interact with children.  I love how effective puppets are at capturing children’s interest and attention, and I have fun too!

I started out telling the class how much Owen loves sheep and so I decided to bring my sheep puppet to visit with them.  But when I opened up the castle box (from the back) and brought out the puppet they all laughed.


I had a conversation with my puppet, Critter, and he tried to convince me that he was a sheep because he had a furry coat, but then he remembered that it is really called wool – not fur.

Then he told me that he really was a sheep because sheep only have teeth on the bottom, and he opened his mouth to show us.


He also said that sheep have 2 toes on each foot.


Then he shared the fact that sheep can see almost all the way around, and that he could see me, sitting behind him, without even turning his head!  I loved how engaged all the children were listening to these facts about sheep.  Then he told me that sheep are really good at smelling and he sniffed a few kids.  He asked them if they had been eating grass or flowers or clover, because those are his favorite foods and he was really hungry.  Then I told him that I was sure he could not be a sheep because sheep have 4 stomachs.  Critter insisted that he does have 4 stomachs, and opened up his wooly coat (telling us that sheep get their coats taken off in the springtime) to show his 4 stomachs underneath.


Then Critter told the children that sheep’s favorite game is Follow the Leader.  Whenever one sheep starts going somewhere the whole group (flock) follows after him.  Then I put Critter back into the castle box, and brought out Roxy Heart.


Roxy talked to me and asked who the children were, and if they were smart.  I told her that they were very smart and Roxy noticed what a great job they were doing all sitting on their bottoms.  She asked the class if they liked her dress, and told them that her mama had just made it for her.  The children noticed that it has sheep on it and Roxy told them it was because she was an expert about sheep and knows more than anyone!  She told them that sheep have a special coat and it’s called … and the children shouted out “wool!”  She turned around and stared at them and told them that they are really smart!  She continued starting to tell the kids facts about sheep that they had just heard from Critter, and she was amazed at all they knew.   So it was a review about 2 toes on each foot, teeth only on the bottom, 4 stomachs, etc.   Her mouth dropped open, she jumped up and down, and she almost fainted when they knew the facts she was trying to share!

Then she told them that she had something special in her purse and pulled out a small bottle of perfume.  She told them that she had perfume because sheep smell good.  I stopped her and said “Roxy, sheep live on a farm and they get really dirty!  I don’t think they smell good!”  Then I pretended to figure out that she meant that sheep are good at smelling.  We talked about how they CAN smell well, but they don’t smell good!  Then she said she wanted to go to the farm and play the sheep’s favorite game, and all the kids yelled “Follow the Leader!”  Roxy went back into the box after being amazed at the smartest preschoolers in the whole world.

I showed the class the book Where is the Green Sheep by Mem Fox, but instead of reading it, I enlarged the pictures on cardstock and told it as a magnet story.  Some of the children noticed that there are many opposites in this book.


It lent itself very well to a magnet story because of the structure of the words.  It begins “Here is the blue sheep.  And here is the red sheep.  Here is the bath sheep, and here is the bed sheep.  But where is the green sheep?”  So it worked very well to put out the first 4 pictures, and then take them off as I asked the question.  This was the pattern throughout the book, and the children quickly chimed in with some of the opposites and asking the question “Where is the green sheep?”


After the story I passed out a sheep stick puppet to each child and we acted out some of the motions – here is the high sheep, and here is the low sheep.  Here is the jumping sheep and here is the still sheep.  After leading the children this way for a few minutes I chose a child (okay – I shamelessly chose Owen!) to take a turn leading the group with motions.  I encouraged him to do 3 motions that we would repeat and follow – using the patterned words from the book “here is the _______ sheep” and then he chose another child to lead.  The preschoolers did a wonderful job listening and participating, and did not get upset when we didn’t have time for everyone to have a turn!  It was a fun time, I have missed sharing the wonderful combination of puppets and stories with children.



Simple Machines

Last week our family experienced another STEM storytime at the Commerce Community Library.  This time we were learning about simple machines, I love how these evenings always tie in literature, hands on exploration, and a take home activity.  At first our librarian discussed what simple machines are, she defined them as “something that makes work easier.”   We learned there are 6 types of simple machines:  pulley, lever, wheel and axle, screw, wedge and inclined plane.  We spent the evening concentrating on 4 of them:  inclined plane, wheel and axle, lever, and pulley.

Here is a sampling of some of the great books available about simple machines:



After reading about inclined planes, levers, wheel and axles and pulleys we were free to experiment and try out these simple machines.

Here are the directions for our experiments with inclined planes.

inclined plane directions

There was a basket with a sturdy handle, filled with books.  First the children tried to lift the basket, then they pulled it up the ramp.  The ramp was simply a board with blocks stacked under one end.


The children agreed it was easier to pull the basket up the ramp than lift it.

Next they made the ramp more steep by adding more blocks under the end.


Then they tried to pull it up the ramp that was more steep.


There was also a sign showing where we might see inclined planes in daily life.

Inclined planes examples 

Next we experimented with wheels and axles.

wheel directions

This was such a simple idea and it worked very well.  The kids tried to push the heavy container, then we lined up dowels and set the container on top of them – it rolled great!




Then we put the container on a big cart and talked about how the wheels on the cart were bigger than the dowels – the kids loved pushing the cart!

Here are examples of wheels and axles:

wheel examples

Our next experiment was with levers.

lever directions 

First the children put a large plastic dinosaur on one end of the board, and stacked bean bags on the opposite side.


Then they tried out a tiny dinosaur


Later we moved the board so the stack of blocks (fulcrum) was close to one end of the board.   We saw how it made it much harder to lift the dinosaurs.



Here are examples of levers:

levers examples

Our final machine was a pulley.

pulley directions 

The pulley we used was a simple wheel attached to a wire coat hanger, hung from the hinge of a door.


The children filled the  pumpkin buckets with different materials and experimented with lifting them using the pulley.  The hangers were taped to the door hinge so it wouldn’t come off with the force of pulling.






My son, the engineer, told me that a pulley system really doesn’t make it easier to lift weight unless there are at least 2 pulleys.  But I noticed that the children could lift the weight much higher using this one pulley than they could have lifted it without the pulley and rope.

Here are examples of pulleys:

pulley examples

Warning!  If you take an engineer with you (like my son), be prepared to hear the intricacies of how these systems are really supposed to work.   These activities did a great job demonstrating how simple machines are used to make work easier!  It was another fun evening at the library!

The children were given this take home activity.   These pictures would be great for sorting, or you could even make a Go Fish type of game by trying to collect a set of pictures of levers, or a set of pulleys, etc.

Inclined Planes

Wheel and Axle



Now it’s fun for me to point out examples of these simple machines to my grandchildren when we are out and about!  If I were still in a classroom I would try to take some photographs of things around school that use show these simple machines in action!






This year our local library (Commerce Township Community Library) is offering special children’s programs that emphasize Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, they use the acronym STEM for these story times.   Our family had a great time at the first program which was based on BUBBLES!  This enriching evening made me think about how well bubble experiments could fit into science units about states of matter.

Miss Betsy, one of the children’s librarians, started out by discussing a few characteristics of fiction, and read a fun story that went with the Bubbles theme!


Later she talked about non-fiction and read another great book.


She also shared a cute poem about bubbles, using the flannelboard.


Betsy used round felt circles, to represent the bubbles.  When she put them on the flannelboard she gave the children a chance to count along with her, reinforcing one to one correspondence and left to right tracking.  The children also practiced counting backward as she removed the bubbles while they recited the poem together.

Next the children went to the tables where materials were set out for them to experiment with bubble blowing.  Each child was given a small aluminum pan containing bubble solution, and a cone rolled out of regular xerox type paper and fastened with tape.

She told them to dip the large end of the cone into the solution quickly (so it wouldn’t get too wet) and blow into the smaller end.  It was so fun to watch them try it out, they worked great!  I had never tried a bubble blower like this!



One of the challenges of a library program like this is the wide variety of the children’s ages and abilities.  Also, even though they require preregistration, they never know for sure how many children will actually show up.   They stated that the program was developed for pre-K to 1st graders, but all ages were welcome, the children who came ranged in age from 2 to about 8.  All the children were able to use this cone and blow great bubbles!   My grandchildren are 3 and 5, and they loved it!

After the children played for awhile Betsy asked them to touch a bubble with their finger and notice what happened.  As expected, the bubbles popped.  Then she asked them to try poking a small (coffee stirrer type) straw into the bubble.


Okay, so I am no scientist, but I did not know you could poke a straw into a bubble without breaking it!  It works best if the straw is dipped into the bubble solution first!

Next each child was given a recording sheet and asked to predict what kind of bubbles they would make by using bubble blowers of different shapes.  They drew their predictions on their chart.


After predicting, she passed out bubble blowers made from pipe cleaners that were twisted into the shapes on the chart.


The kids had so much fun trying them out!


Then Miss Betsy read an excerpt from a book about bubbles that explained why all the bubbles were round, regardless of the shape of the blower.

books2 - Version 2

It was such a fun evening!  I loved the relaxed atmosphere, the children could take their time playing with the materials and making their own discoveries!  Owen had fun making a bubble land back in the bowl of bubble solution.


Here are a few more books about bubbles.



books - Version 2

Each family was offered a recipe for Bubble solution to make at home.

bubble recipe

We are looking forward to another fun STEM story time soon!