Because planning a program doesn't just take 5 minutes

Fun with Science 2014

Just like last year, we did this as a drop-in program on a Saturday from 10:00-11:30.  We billed it as ages 3-6 with adult, although siblings from toddlers through second grade had a great time as well.  (If you like this, also check out our Fun with Math program from last spring.)

The program was arranged around 5 Activity Centers associated with the 5 ECRR2 practices: talk, sing, read, write, and play.  We also worked in a simple definition of the scientific method: ask, predict, try, observe, explain.  We tried to cover a range of sciences: physics at the read table, biology at the write table, and chemistry at the play table.

The activities were color coded.  We had signs (in the appropriate color) listing the ECRR2 practice hanging on the wall behind each table.  On the table, we had double sided signs with the activity instructions.  There was an extra table near the door for handouts.

We had 127 people total attending – kids ranging from toddlers through at least 2nd grade, plus parents and grandparents.  This was very staff-intensive; we had 2 adult and 2 youth volunteers and 3 to 4 staff members.  We learned from last year and had an extra person in the program at the beginning and an extra person in the department towards the end.  All of us stayed reasonably busy.  We were busiest from 10:15-11:00 or so.  Most families stayed 30-45 minutes.

TALK   (Red) 

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Activity: Sensory Balloons

Materials: Colored balloons filled with rice, corn, flour, lentils, and sand; laminated matching cards

Handout side 1– Extension activities for The 5 Senses:

  • Fill a set of paper cups with items such as cinnamon, mint, rose petals, a drop of vanilla on a cotton ball, etc. Cover the cups with foil and poke small holes in the foil. Can your child identify the contents by smell?
  • Create a “sound scavenger hunt.” Use your phone or a mini tape recorder to record different household sounds. See how many your child can identify.

Handout side 2 – early lit tips:

  • The process of asking and answering questions gives you and your child the opportunity to talk together. Conversation and interaction with you provide many chances for your child to learn.
  • The next time your child asks a question about how something works, you might say, “I’m not sure—let’s find out together.” In this way, you are helping your child use the scientific method and discover something for him or herself.

Comments: We had one volunteer at the table. This went really smoothly.  It was fun to watch the families work together to figure out which balloon was which.  The bigger kids moved through it pretty quickly, but the younger kids spent a long time exploring the tactile differences between the different balloons.  This has me wondering whether we shouldn’t pre-prep a few items at each table that requires assembly just so the very little ones can spend their time in exploration and not have to be frustrated by assembly.  Another bonus at this station – the balloons feel really good; I’m very tempted to keep them at my desk as stress balls now that the program is over.  Even though we set up 6 stations, I made 7 sets of balloons, just in case one exploded at the program.  Fortunately, the balloons were pretty sturdy.

A quick comment on setup here.  I used a cutoff water bottle as a funnel to fill the balloons.  This worked out really well, as a standard funnel was way too narrow for the corn and lentils to go through.  The balloons really worked best if you squeezed the air out of the balloon before tying it off – otherwise, it was really hard to feel the different items inside.  The flour was the hardest to do; every time I tried to squeeze the air out, I squeezed a bunch of flour with it.  I wasn’t able to find non-latex balloons, but fortunately we didn’t have any allergy issues.



SING   (Orange) 

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Activity: Rubber Band Harps

Materials: Small disposable plastic containers, rubber bands

Handout side 1– Extension activities with Music:

  • Make a drinking glass xylophone. Put ¼ cup water in the first glass, ½ cup in the next, and so on. Tap the glasses with a spoon to compose your own songs.
  • Stretch a balloon tightly over the top of an empty aluminum can to make your own drum.  Wooden chopsticks or pencils make great drumsticks!  Experiment with different sizes of cans.

Handout side 2 – early lit tips:

  • Singing slows language down and allows children to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words. Understanding that words can be broken into smaller pieces and then put back together helps children sound out words when they are ready to learn to read.
  • Listening to the patterns found in music can also help children identify other types of patterns, which may explain the “Mozart effect” – listening to music improves performance on certain math tasks requiring spatial-temporal reasoning.

Comments: We had one staff member at the table refilling containers and rubber bands. It was a little bit difficult for the kids to hear the different sounds once it got really loud, but they still had a good time.  I definitely heard some families talking about the different sounds the different rubber bands made and why.


READ   (Yellow) 

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Activity: Reading nonfiction and magnetic stacking rings

Materials: book display, floor chairs, magnetic stacking ring set with matching cards, index cards and markers for drawing your own magnet patterns

Handout side 1- Tips for reading nonfiction:

  • When your child asks a question that you can’t answer, go together to find a book on the topic.
  • Don’t worry about reading from cover to cover. Use the index or the table of contents to find the parts that interest your child.
  • Explore the pictures, diagrams, and charts as well as the text.
  • Interruptions are good! Ask and answer lots of questions.

Handout side 2 – early lit tips:

  • To become good readers, children need to have general knowledge about many things. Learning about science concepts helps develop this kind of knowledge. This makes it easier for children to understand books and stories when they learn to read.
  • The experience of asking a question and looking for an answer helps children learn new information and vocabulary. It helps them become more independent, and it motivates them to want to learn more.

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Comments:  Last year we just did the nonfiction reading.  This year, we added the magnetic stacking rings as well, and the table sign talked a little bit about reading as making sense of symbols.  Plus, floating magnets – so cool!  This one was pretty simple, so we kept it largely unstaffed. The magnet table was popular, and was a huge mess by the end. Sorting out the 20 different matching cards into each box was a disaster; next time, I’d just let the entire table share one set of cards. They matched one or two cards to start, but then moved fairly quickly to general exploration. The reading stage wasn’t the first place anyone went, but once it got busy, we saw lots of families stopping to read. It was unstaffed, but we tried to refresh the display as needed.

WRITE   (Green) 

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Activity: Make a nature journal and record observations of natural materials

Materials: paper, covers, string, stickers, magnifying glasses, colored pencils, leaves, pinecones, etc.

Handout side 1- Extension activities:

  • Take a nature walk and collect small objects. When you get home, record what you found in your journal: write, draw, try a crayon rubbing, or attach flat objects directly to the pages. You can also use a nature guide to identify the things you found.
  • Take the same walk in different weather. What is the same? What is different?  Record your observations in your journal.
  • For a varied fine motor experience, try different writing materials: crayons, colored pencils, markers, pens, chalk…

Handout side 2 – early lit tips:

  • Children love to observe things up close. Allow plenty of opportunities for your child to record some of their observations through drawings and simple writing.  Describing what they see is a good way to expand vocabulary.
  • Use your children’s natural curiosity to help them learn new words and increase their knowledge about the world around them.

04-Write-005-crop   nature-journal

Comments:  We had one staff member and one volunteer at this station. We used two tables because last year some kids wanted to spend a long time on the journals. We saw that again this year – there were kids who spent 20-30 minutes just at this station.  There was a nice range of writing activity including leaf rubbings, drawings, drawings with a little bit of writing, and fairly detailed written observations.


PLAY   (Blue) 

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Activity: Water bottle lava lamps

Materials: water bottles filled with 1/3 water, 2/3 vegetable oil; Alka Seltzer tablets; food coloring

Handout side 1- Extension activities for Science in a Bottle:

  • Fill a bottle with small pieces of colored tissue paper. Rub the bottle on your hair or clothes to see the effects of static electricity.
  • Cut different colored chenille stems (pipe cleaners) into very small pieces and place them in a water bottle. Run a magnet along the outside of the bottle to see how the metal bits move around.
  • Fill a water bottle with a layer of corn syrup, a layer of water, and a layer of oil. Drop small objects into the bottle to see what happens. Try to predict which objects will float on each layer.

Handout side 2 – early lit tips:

  • Children are natural scientists. They have a tremendous curiosity about what goes on around them. They love to explore, ask questions, predict, sort, classify, compare, and contrast.
  • Children learn best when they are having fun.  You can find opportunities every day to involve children in science. You do not have to be an expert to do this. Just give your children the chance to ask questions, look for answers, and talk about the experience.

05-Play-007-cropComments:  We had one staff member and one youth volunteer at this table.  The kids needed a fair amount of instruction.  Perhaps because it was so heavily staffed, we saw less parent-child interaction at this table than we did at some of the others.  Still, the kids had a great time coloring the water, watching it bubble with the Alka Seltzer tablets, and then mixing up the oil and water again and watching them separate.  The hardest part of this one was definitely the prep.  We wanted the kids to take these home, which meant collecting a lot of bottles.  We also pre-filled with water and oil to keep the mess down and make things run more smoothly at the actual event.  This was much less hectic than last year’s Play table, which involved a lot of material refills.  This time, we just needed to take out a new bottle and a new packet of Alka Seltzer for each kid, and we were good to go.  We did have to make a few more bottles during the event, but it wasn’t horrible.  We had some staff members who were afraid of bottles tipping and spilling oil all over the Auditorium carpet, but we actually didn’t have any spills.

HANDOUTS   (Purple) 


Activity: Compile and decorate handouts

Materials: Fun with Science cards : 5 double-sided cards (color-coded to match the tables, of course) with single-sided white front & back covers, crayons, binder rings

We also had a handout on local playspaces which included many outdoor options.

Comments:  The staff member who greeted people at the door also kept an eye on this one. It went fine; it was never particularly busy. We preassembled a few booklets and tried to make sure everyone got one on the way out – we put a lot of work into these!  The links above are editable versions of the cards using PowerPoint slides.  I couldn’t get these to print 4-up the way I wanted to, so I ended up copying and pasting into Publisher.  I’m sure there was a better way to do this, but it worked.  (Here’s a sample pdf file of the card for the Talk table.)  We had a local copy shop do the double-sided printing on colored cardstock, cut the cards out, and punch the holes.



Comments on: "Fun with Science 2014" (4)

  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing! What a fabulous program, lots of work, hopefully lots of fun too!

    • kjoshi1242 said:

      Thanks. It was a ton of fun! It was definitely less work the second time around, but it was still staff-intensive, both in the prep and the day of the event.

  2. Susan Parsons said:

    Thank you for generously sharing your successful program.

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