Sunday, February 28, 2010

Science Playdate

I belong to an international club called MOMS Club. MOMS stands for Moms Offering Moms Support. Even though I sometimes feel like the other mothers in our local chapter aren't quite my usual crowd, it has really become a valuable resource for me and Jonah. It has been a great way to meet other stay at home moms in our new area, and even though we don't always agree on lifestyle choices, I have made quite a few good friends. I'm sure they all think that I'm weird, but they accept my weirdness and that is the best I could ask for from any friend. If you are interested in this group, go to their website You might have a chapter near you, or be able to start one!

One of the things that we do as a local chapter is play group. There are often several playgroups in a month, and one person hosts a very over the top themed playgroup. Last month, it was Winter Wonderland. The mother had paper plate ice skating, an indoor "snowball" fight, and they built marshmallow snowmen for a snack.

This month, they were having trouble finding someone to host the play group. I was hesitant, because every time I take Jonah to play group, the children are all very much older than him and we typically have to leave early because of his behavior towards the other children or the property of the hostess.

But, no one else volunteered and I did have some really fun ideas. So I decided to host a Science themed play group! I am really, very glad that I did. Some people are asking me how in the world I planned this, so I thought I'd blog about it. It really didn't take me long at all, and the materials that I used are extremely easy to get. Most of them, you probably already have around your house!

Crafts (we called them experiments for this playgroup!): There's always at least one craft at the big playgroup, sometimes two. I decided to do two, because one is very quick and easy, and the other one can be done by younger children as well as older children. The first craft was Flubber.
No one knows why, but kids love this stuff! They love making it too. I can't describe the moment of wonder that comes across their face when they suddenly realize that the contents in their cup has become this gooey little treasure. Making flubber is incredibly easy. I mix a solution of 1/2 water and 1/2 Elmer's school glue (I find that brand does make a difference here!) in a water bottle or a washed out soda bottle. When I have a lot of kids, I mix it it 2 liter bottles. I also mix a solution (okay, technically it's a suspension...) of water and Borax. I just keep adding borax to the water until it no longer dissolves. I use an empty water bottle for this, too. Borax is a laundry additive and is usually between the Oxyclean and bleach at the store. When it is time to do our experiment, each child gets a dixie cup and popsicle stick (or whatever stirring device you have handy- spoons work well too) I put a bit of the glue solution in each cup and give them a choice of two colors. If you have more than two choices, it can get chaotic. For coloring, I use poster paint. You can water it down in one of those travel toiletries bottles, you don't need a whole lot. Paint works much better than food coloring. I add the paint of choice to the child's glue and tell them to stir it, so the glue becomes colored. Then I add the borax solution, just a few drops at a time, and tell them to keep stirring. Voila. Flubber is born. If it is too gooey, then you need more borax, if it is too wet/watery then just let it sit and dry for a few minutes. The longer you play with it, the more flubbery it becomes! I like to encourage the kids to figure out if it bounces, what happens if you let it "drip" and then what happens if you pull it apart quickly. They love this stuff! For more on the science behind it, do a quick google on "Flubber" or "Borax Silly Putty" or any of these combos. When the children are done, place the flubber in a ziploc baggie and label it with their name.

The second craft/experiment we did was chromatography butterflies, or tie die butterflies.I chose this one because even the older babies and young toddlers could do it, and I knew we'd have a mix of ages. The child colors on a coffee filter with washable magic marker. It has to be washable, both for cleaning purposes as well as for best results on the "experiment." I gave each child a paper plate to put under their filter, so that the marker didn't get anywhere. When the children are done coloring, they use q-tips to paint water onto the filter. The filter will draw the water in, and spread the dyes around. For older kids, I encourage them to look at the colors around the edges of the spreading. Black markers tend to spread purples and blues. Then you let the kids go and do hands on activities, or eat snack, while the filters are drying. When they are dry, bunch the filter up in the middle and use a pipe cleaner to create the body and hold the wings in place.

Activities: We provided a lot of hands on activity centers for the children to explore with our guidance. There were going to be a lot of younger children here as well as the older children, so I wanted to make sure there were activities for all of the age groups. Ages ranged from 6 months to 6 years!

For the babies, I set out a few different board books and picture cards. I also had our shaker bottles.

Everyone enjoyed the bubbles, and a huge favorite were the Nuudles. The kids across the age board loved these things!
They are made of corn starch, and when you wet the edges, they stick to eachother! Some brands of packing peanuts are the same exact thing, but they are not colorful. I got a huge box of these colored peanuts for only $5 at Hobby Lobby and put them in baking pans on the floor. The older kids enjoyed building structures, while the littler guys liked to just dig in them, hold them, throw them... and yes, lick them.

Here are the only structures that survived until the end of playgroup.Another favorite across the age groups was the balloons table. I put some racecars that use a balloon as a "motor" and the kids had races with them. I also had some rocket balloons that fly across the room with a screeching sound when they are blown up and released, and good old fashioned balloons for the kids to create static in eachother's hair!

I also did a little demonstration using dry ice. You can find tons of experiments with dry ice on the web. If you want to see the demos that I did, google "boo bubbles" "dry ice crystal ball" and "dry ice bubbles" I chose the demos that use bubbles, because I knew that the babies could enjoy that too. The kids loved it, and we spent almost an hour popping cloudy bubbles!

Snack: The snack was probably the hardest thing for me to plan. I wanted it to fit with the theme. After doing some searching on the internet, I decided to create a "Snack Lab"I set out items that the kids could use to make their own party mix style snack. I invited them to mix and measure the ingredients as if they were in a science lab, making a chemical experiment. The kids loved the dramatic play! I set out regular items, but labeled them with new science names. We had: Science Squares- cheezits; Proton Pretzel Rays-mini pretzel sticks; Sugar Modules-mini marshmallows; Galactic Chocolate Discs-mini chips ahoy; Whole Grain Particle-O's- whole grain cheerios; and Apple Particle O's-apple jacks.

The finale was the Atomic Punch. We used dry ice, left over from the demo, to turn the punch into "soda." I gathered the kids around the snack table, and placed one large solid piece of dry ice into the bottom of the punch bowl. This makes for a really neat effect in the punch, especially if you use a cool color of punch such as blue or green. The dry ice creates a fog around the surface of the bowl, makes the punch icy cold, and gives it a little carbonation (a nice alternative to that old 7-up punch that everyone's mom makes!)
Please note that dry ice can be very dangerous. It is -109 degrees F. That is extremely cold and could seriously burn any wandering hands that come into contact with it. If you choose to have it at your play group, BE VIGILANT and let the other parents know that they must, also. Never leave dry ice unattended or where children can reach it. For the punch, make sure that you place just one solid piece into the bowl, so no one gets any stray pieces in their drink. Instruct parents to ladle only from the top of the bowl, don't dip down to the bottom, and don't let any kids stick their hands into the bowl (trust me, it's enticing for them to do so!)

If you want to get dry ice, it is actually very easy an fairly cheap. Most refrigeration or coolant places will have it. If you search "dry ice + your city name" a vendor will come up. Take a cooler and some newspaper to pack it in, and keep it in a cool dry area. DON'T put it in your freezer, but keep it in the cooler and place the cooler in your garage, basement, or outside if it is cold.

I am very pleased with how the play group went! I know it looks like a lot of work, but most of the preparation was setting things out that I already had around the house. This was the first playgroup that Jonah and I have hosted at our house, and we're looking forward to having friends over for playdates and play groups more often!


  1. Oh the science playdate looks neat.

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  2. sure thing! I enjoy your blog on JM. Thanks for reading!