Monday, December 20, 2010

Sense Safari

We went on safari with our five senses - playing with sound and smell matching, color hunts, and making a texture collage. If you want to play along here are some fun ideas:

Touch – Go on a texture hunt at home. Try and find matching textures or try dressing in as many textures as you can .

Sight – Use blocks or cut out shapes from paper in geometric shapes like squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, or rhombuses. Go on a shape hunt around your house.

Taste – Try eating foods while holding your nose. Does that change the way food tastes? Most, as much as 80% of the “taste” of food is the smell. What happens when you have a cold – does food taste as good?

Smell – Try making play dough with different smells.
• 1/2 cups flour
• 1/2 cup salt
• 2 (4 g) packages unsweetened Kool-Aid powdered drink mix
• 2 cups boiling water
• 3 tablespoons oil
1. Mix flour, salt, Kool-Aid until blended.
2. Add oil to boiling water, mix with spoon until cool enough to knead.
3. Continue kneading until color is blended.
4. Store in air tight bag or container in the refrigerator.

Sound – Stand with your eyes closed and have someone else ring a bell. Point to it with your finger. Move the bell around and see how easy or hard it is to find. After a few tries, cup your hands around your ears and try again. Is it easier to find the sound now?

Bad Blogger

Yikes - I have been such a bad blogger. For those who don't know me well, I participated in a special writing project in November and perhaps Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon were just too much for me! I haven 't been writing quite as prolifically since December 1. I think I am coming out of my writing fog and am ready to rejoin the blogging on a regular basis.
With great apologies!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Fun

While I was going to post about some experiments with air and tossing things off stairs, a lovely friend of mine reminded me that not everyone will be home for the holiday and not every one's in laws are open to traditional Messy Fingers activities! So I am listening to my wise friend and going to post a few fun experiments that have a low mess factor - even for mothers-in-law!

Dancing Raisins - you will need raisins, obviously and a clear carbonated beverage (ginger ale, club soda, champagne, etc.) of your choice and a clear uncarbonated beverage (like water). Make a prediction (guess) about what might happen and what might be different. Try dropping some raisins into each beverage. What happened? Were your guesses right?

Colored Celery - if you are visiting for a few days, snag a stalk of celery with leaves and place it in jar with colored water - try red or blue food coloring and make the water really dark. What is going to happen to the celery?

Friction - you will need straws, cotton balls, crumpled foil, marbles, etc. and an open space (like the table after it has been cleared). Start at one end of your space and try to blow the cotton ball across it. Was it hard or easy? Will a marble (or ping pong ball) be easier or harder? Try it! Generally smoother things have less friction and are easier to move, but a marble is a lot heavier than cotton.
This is a great activity when kids are getting a bit wild as it helps them breath deeply and calm themselves.

Water tension - in a glass or pie plate filled with water, sprinkle some pepper. Then drip a drop of dish soap in to the pepper. What happens? Soap breaks up the water tension on the top of the water.

Regardless of where you are and whose table you are at, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

December Dates

We are going to be doing some fun things in December. Take a science break from all the holiday mayhem and frolicking and join us!
December 5 - Sense Safari
December 21 - Birds in Winter
Call the library to sign up: 508 865 1181.
Hope to see you there!!

Liquids and solids

Last week we explored Liquids at the library. It was a great time to discuss what are some of the characterists of liquids and solids.
One of the easiest to understand differences between solids and liquids is that solids retain their shape and liquids will take on the shape of the container they are in. If you put a liquid in a round container, they will be round; in a square container they are square.
You can check out what did in this blog here. I would HIGHLY recommend everyone taking the time to make Oobleck with your kids. It is a messy project - one of the messiest (and consider the source!). It is a great way to talk about solids and liquids.
I will post later on what the science plans are in our house on Wednesday. Many schools have a half day of school and for others like us who are not traveling, it is a gift of some extra science time!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I love bats - they are so cool. Bats are a lot like people. Both people and bats eat fruit and other animals, take good care of their babies, and have different colors of hair like red, black, brown and gray. My favorite thing about bats is that they can two and a half times their body weight in insects every NIGHT! Go bats!

Bats have a spooky reputation in part because they are excellent fliers. They can swoop and dive in crazy patterns as they try to get their dinner. Vampire bats don't help the bad bat rep either. Vampire bats live in Central America and lick blood rather than suck it. They have sharp lips that make a small cut on the leg of an animal and they drink the blood.

Bats not only can eat loads of bugs, but many bats pollinate plants that we eat like mangos, peaches, and avocados.

Science words: mammal, insectivore, frugivorous, echolocation, nocturnal

Mammal – animals with fur, live young they nurse
Insectivore – an animal that eats insects
Frugivorous – an animal that only eats fruit
Echolocation – using sound waves to locate objects
Nocturnal – an animal that is active at night

Bat food – Bats pollinate lots of plants we eat. Some of them are figs, avocados, bananas, peaches, and mangos. They also pollinate chocolate! Eat a meal that was brought to you by a bat!

Bat headbands – bats have all sorts of ears. Look at pictures of bats and their ears. Make your own set of bat ears

StellalunaStellaluna gets separated from her mother. This is a good story to talk about a plan for what you might do if you were separated. What would you do if you were separated from your mother? Would you eat bugs if a stranger offered you food?

Bats Are Sleeping
(Tune: Frere Jacques)
Bats are sleeping,
Bats are sleeping,
Upside down,
Upside down.
Sleeping in the morning.
Waiting for the night to come.
To fly around.
To fly around.

Favorite Books on Bats
StellalunaJannell Cannon
Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats by Anne Earl

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Color Science

Rainbows and color mixing are lovely messy science and art blended together. Most of the work here is color mixing and this one can get nice and messy. You can use water color paints or bath tub tints to make different colors.

Color Mixing - using color bath tablets, make containers with three primary colors: red, blue and yellow. Primary colors cannot be made by mixing. Watch the tables. What happens when you put them in water? Pour some of the yellow into another container. What will happen if we add a few drops of red? (orange) Pour some of the red into another container. What will happen if we put in a few drops of blue? (purple) Pour some of the blue into another container. What will happen if we add a few drops of yellow? (green - tho this might be easier the other way around - add the drops of blue to yellow)

You can see how we did color last year here.

To take the lesson up to older students, we worked on tertiary colors - colors that blend one primary and one secondary color. While most color wheels have rather flat names for these like yellow orange and blue violet, you can make up lovely names for them like stormy ocean, or Arizona sunset.

Spectrometer - a spectrometer measures the changes in the spectrum and can be used to identify different materials. It is pretty simple to make one. Here are directions to making your own. You can use it to look at different types of light like flashlights and candles or try putting a bit of table salt in to a flame and see how the spectrum changes.

Why are rainbows curved? This is a great question to ask older students. On a sunny day, put a glass of water in a window and move it until you have a rainbow. You can also use a CD. Both of these will produce a straight spectrum -no curve. Why is a rainbow curved?

Light travels in a straight line. As it enters the raindrop (or any drop of water) it splits up into its color components (colors of a rainbow). Most of the light travels right thru the water drop. Some reflects or bounces back thru the drop. The sides of a water drop are curved so the resulting reflection is also curved. The CD and water glass are straight, so the resulting spectrum is also straight. (The light is reflected of the glass vertically so it isn't curved to the light. Knew you'd ask!!)

What have you been doing with color science? Post your thoughts and comments.

Monday, October 4, 2010


With all the rain we've had lately, anything having to do with the sun is especially welcome! Rainbows are such a fun phenomena to play with -there is weather in there, color mixing, and even a bit of physics. On top of all that, it a really beautiful experience. Now if you could only eat them, rainbows would be the most perfect topic of all!

Tuesday we are going to play with rainbows at Messy Fingers in the library starting at 10:30. Sign up at the library at 508 865 1181. There are only a few spots left.

I will make an early elementary science lesson on the same theme available tomorrow afternoon.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Science Night

We had a great time playing with magnets tonight. It didn't start out that way - they both complained until we actually got going and found our first surprise.

My kids are in first and third grade so we worked on all of the experiments I wrote up a couple of days ago. First we did a magnet hunt discovering that there were some kinds of metal that the magnet did not stick to.

Then we made some predictions about what a magnet would pick up. We had a pile of things like pom poms, cotter pins, washers, nuts, nails, tooth picks, pipe cleaners, and buttons. The surprising items turned out to be a button that looked plastic but wasn't and the cotter pins which are metal but not picked up by a magnet.
Then we looked at how much our magnets could pick up. We tested for sets of items: paper clips, washers, pom poms and tooth picks. We were pretty close on all of our predictions. We painted with paper clips.
We predicted that none of the coins would be picked up. Testing the prediction... we found that two of the three coins were picked up by the magnet: a Canadian quarter and a 50 centene piece from Costa Rica.

We wondered if there were other US coins that a magnet could pick up like an older nickel or a steel penny. In the end the kids had a great time and so did I!

Magnets again

I forgot one of the most fun things you can do with magnets! If you have a budding artist and want to encourage them to embrace creative science, try painting with magnets.

  • Grab your paint - I usually stick with two primary colors, but you go with as many as you like.
  • You will need a thin paper plate for those of you with a low mess threshold or paper set inside a box top (try a shoe box top) for those of you who don't mind a little extra clean up.
  • One paper clip per color of paint is a good place to start, but if you have more than one scientist working together, you might need more.
  • One magnet - button magnets are fine for this project.

Dip one end of the paper clip into the paint and from below the plate (or paper), move the clip around with the magnet. Remove that clip and try another color.

Can you blend the colors? If so, what new color do they make? Try making designs or letters. Can you move the clip really fast or does it work best slowly? Why? What could you do to make the paper clip move faster? What else could you paint with?

What else would you like to know about magnets? Can you write that as a hypothesis - a question that can be tested? Post your hypotheses here!

Monday, September 27, 2010

October Dates

We have some October dates:

Oct 5 - Rainbows

Oct 19 - Bats

If you can join us at the Millbury Public Library at 10:30am, please sign up at 508 865 1181.


PreK - 2 Magnets

Here are some ideas you can try at home with the whole family when you explore magnets. To record our observations, everyone should have a science notebook. If you are going to complete more than one experiment, use a notebook. If this is going to be your only exploration or young child, feel free to fold a piece of paper in half so it looks like a book.

In addition to your notebook/paper, you will need:
Crayons or pencils
Magnets - button magnets (round magnets avail at Michaels) are a must, bar magnets are even better
About a dozen things to test with - some that might stick to a magnet and some that won't (ideas are paper clips, washers, pom poms, tooth picks, rubber bands, beads, small toys, pipe cleaners)
A number of paper clips and washers
A number of tooth picks and rubber bands

Experiment 1
What does a magnet stick to?
Using a button magnet find some things that your magnet will stick to and things your magnet won't stick to. Record at least 5 of each category. What is the same about the things that your magnet sticks to? What is the same about the things your magnet won't stick to?

Experiment 2
At the top of one page in your book (or paper) write: I think the magnet will stick to...
At the top of the next page write: I think the magnet won't stick to ...

Now take your pile of goodies (pom poms, washers, paper clips, etc.) and divide into two piles - those you predict will stick and those you predict won't stick to your magnet. Record these in your notebook.

It is time to test. Grab your magnet and see if you were correct. (note: pipe cleaners and toys/beads that look like metal but are plastic are both great ways to really get discussions going as they will often get put in the wrong category.) Record your answers either by circling the ones that turned out to be in the wrong pile or writing them on a separate page.

What was the most surprising find?

Experiment 3

Make a small chart with pictures or words that looks like so:
Make a predition of how many of each object your magnet will pick up. When you are done predicting, you should test with your magnet. Write down the actual answer. Were you right?

Experiment 4
There are three kinds of metal that magnets will attract: steel, pure cobalt, and pure nickel. Test a U.S. five-cent coin to answer the question “Is a U.S. nickel coin made of pure nickel?” What about coins from other countries?

Monday, September 20, 2010


Tuesday we are going to play with magnets at the Millbury Public Library. If you can join us, call to register at 508 865 1181.

With some of the changes in curriculum at the local public school where they DROPPED science right off the schedule (insert a picture here of my long hair standing straight out!) - I will post some ways to complete a fun lesson on magnets appropriate for early elementary grade students. So grab a science notebook and stay tuned.

Science words: observation, prediction, force, magnet, attract, repel, none, graphs

Always take care to use magnets safely with young children. Be sure they cannot be swallowed or used around video equipment and cameras.

Magnet hunt – what magnets are in your house? Fridge magnets, some fridge doors, cabinet doors, wallets, toys, etc

What will a magnet stick to in the house? Can you take your magnet and find things it will stick to? Try everything that strikes your imagination. One sometimes unexpected metal spot is the door into your house.

Magnet Fishing – tie a magnet to a string and the string to a pole. Put paper clips on the end of paper fish. You can “fish” over and over. How many fish can you catch at once?

I'm a little magnet can't you see
Anything metal comes right to me.
If it is not metal you will see.
It just will not stick to me.

What can magnets do? By Allen Fowler
Marion Magnet’s First Mission by Sharon Hackleman

Thursday, September 2, 2010

September Dates

It has been AGES since I've posted - summer was just too much fun to be inside writing (and I spent time in Maine with no electricity or wi-fi).

I was still busy - as you can read on my beekeeping blog, I've been experimenting with baking brownies with only honey as a sweetener. I kept track of what I did and the results which influenced my next experiment each time. Baking is a really fun way to do science together - you get to make predictions about what will taste good, dive in an test your hypothesis, and then share your results.
I didn't share the results of my first batch of brownies with my families' taste buds, I just told them they were terrible. I was so surprised that there was such a thing as too much chocolate.
Food gives us so many ways to think critically and to do science. We've been growing two kinds of cherry tomatoes and we belong to a local CSA where we picked yet a third variety. We all had one of each color on our plates at dinner, made a prediction about which ones we'd like best, then tasted them. Yum. The three girls liked the orange sunburst the best and the two boys at the table liked the yellow pear tomatoes best.
This month, we will be hosting Messy Fingers at the Millbury Public Library at 10:30 am on
Sept 7 and 21. We will learn about apples and magnets. Please sign up at the library as space is limited 508 865 1181.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bread - one year later

Last June we explored Bread and I repeated the program again this past June. It was just too much fun not to play with. The original blog is here.

What I really loved about doing bread was that it inspired so many parents to try cooking with their kids. Cooking is just edible science. Baking is the most yummy chemistry you will ever try with your kids.

Bread is really not as intimidating as you might think. You can use the basic bread recipe to make pizza dough or turn it into bread sticks.

Have fun and get messy!

Bread Recipe

Here is my basic bread recipe:

1 pkg yeast
1 cup warm water
1-2 Tbls yeast food: sugar, honey or molasses (maple syrup would work, but I've never used it)

3-4 cups flour
2 Tbls olive oil

Mix the yeast, water and food together in a bowl. Let the yeast proof or get foamy. Add the flour and oil. Mix the flour in a cup or so at a time. Add enough that you can kneed the dough with your hands without wearing it. Kneed until dough is all mixed then kneed 10 more times.

Let the dough rise in a bowl placed in a warm area. The oven is fine if it is off. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel. When the dough has doubled, you can make it in to buns, pretzels or bread sticks. Bake at 400' for about 15 minutes or so. Watch carefully if you've done the shaping with the kids - sometimes the thinner spots can burn quickly. You can cover with foil or remove when that piece is done and bake the rest.

If you want bread, punch this down and shape in to a loaf or press into the bottom of a pan. Let rise again until loaf shaped. Bake at 400' for 20 minutes or until the smell makes you crazy and the bread is hollow sounding when tapped.

Monday, June 21, 2010

July Dates ** Updated

Time to plan for the summer! We have two dates in July for Messy Fingers - yay!

The theme for the summer reading program is Go Green! and that theme will underlie both our programs. Because it is summer, I am designing our programs for all ages and encourage families with kids of different ages to come join the fun!

July 1 - Birds - bring lots of toilet paper tubes and we will learn about our feathered friends
***This will be at 1pm

July 13 - Paper Airplanes - grab your junk mail and see what trash makes the best plane and glider
***This will be at 10:30am

All the programs will be at the Millbury Public Library.
***Mrs. V has asked for sign ups - so check with the librarian to sign up today!!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Paper Airplanes

My oldest got the great idea of making paper airplanes while we were stuck inside. The fun part about paper airplanes is that they are so manipulatable. We made them out of different papers, folded the wings in different spots, used paper clips, and launched them at our ceiling fan.

If you get inspired (or stuck inside), I would recommend checking out the website of Ken Blackburn, engineer and award winning paper airplane maker. Get it here.

What do you think flies better: copy paper or construction paper planes??

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Ok, so this is the last year I plant lettuce early in the spring! At 10:50pm last night we had a hail storm. Looks like there wasn't too much damage, but the lettuce is toast.

My past data is piling up!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Drawing Conclusions

While most of this blog is about preschoolers, this entry is more about me. All of us, preschoolers included, make future predictions based on past data. Normally this is a really useful way of learning about the world around us. We drop a ball and it bounces. So next time we drop a ball, we expect it to bounce.

My garden is exploding - which is pretty amazing since I live in New England and spring has been mixed up. We had the really hot weather first and cooler weather recently.

Now this is my stumbling block. Mere hours after my first harvest last year, we had a microburst hail storm. This is me in my garden about three hours after my first harvest. So you can imagine my ... hesitation at harvesting anything just yet.
I will get over my past data and get some lettuce and spinach out of the garden this weekend. But if it hails again ... well, that will be the last time I will ever plant spring spinach!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

June dates (and topics!)

I have about a dozen too many ideas floating around and choosing just TWO has been hard! Every has offered great suggestions with plants/seeds being the most popular (butterflies and flowers were up there too). While I love seeds and growing things - you should see my garden! - we really can't grown anything in a hour! Nonetheless, I am going to figure out something soon that we can do in an hour on growing.

So without further ado - here are the topics for June....

(drum roll please)

June 1 - Gliders and Kites

June 15 - The Chemistry of Cooking

Sign up at the Millbury Public Library 508 865-1181. And if you sign up - come!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Bubbles are a really fun way to introduce science to preschoolers. They all have experience with bubbles of some kind - either the kind you blow thru a straw or a bubble blower. So how do we turn something so common into WOW science?

Easy - come on and I'll show you.

Can you capture a bubble? I captured some bubbles with my friends this week. We learned a lot along the way. We captured bubbles with a LITTLE bit of water, paint and a squirt of soap. Mix this up - this is key. Most of my friends had gobs of paint on the bottom of their container that didn't get mix it. Then blow bubbles with a straw. The bubbles will be the color of the paint.Carefully place paper on top of the bubbles and you've captured bubbles!But let's not stop there! Can you make a square bubble? Grab a pipe cleaner and make it into a bubble wand with a square opening. Now try it in your favorite bubble solution. Does the bubble come out square?
** Science Content** Bubbles are only round - it is the least energetic shape and molecules are basically lazy. One of my favorite websites about bubbles is here.

But wait, there's more! One of my favorite ways to play with bubbles is to compare and contrast bubble solutions. Compare homemade bubbles to commercial bubbles (or any other kinds of bubbles you like) - which makes the most bubbles or the longest-lasting bubbles or the best-smelling bubbles?? There are lots of great questions kids can ask.

And just because I like to challenge you: What color do bubbles turn just before they pop?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tadpole Setup

I scooped up tadpoles and water a few weeks ago and here are some pictures. The tadpole here looks HUGE but it is just the water magnifying it. This is my tank - and my fancy stand! I like it a bit off the ground mostly because it causes the kids to look in it more often. I need to scoop a few more tadpoles into the tank - we can only find three.

I love the screened lid on the tank. That has kept some of the needles and leaves out of the tank but it still lets in plenty of rain and air. We are going to put a rock in the tank soon. My kids area convinced that one year, our tadpoles will turn into frogs unexpectedly and need to hop out. We've always put them back into the pond while they've had tails to give them time to readjust to the pond.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Simple Machines in New Hampshire

My kids and I just went to the SEE Science center in Manchester, NH and they had a really fun exhibit on Simple Machines. The hands-on exhibit was really well thought out and interactive. Here is the lever where you had to move the white lever to balance the heavy object on the right. Not as easy as it sounded - it took us more tries that we expected to balance it properly. Then we played with the pulleys. They had two pulleys that you sit in and pull yourself up. One pulley was a 1/5 ratio and the other a 1/7. This means that they reduced the amount of pull required by different amounts.

I was surprised they didn't use all six simple machines, but they were also tight on space. This museum is in an old mill. The also house the largest permanent LEGO exhibit - a replica of the mills in Manchester during the 1870s with approximately 3 million LEGOs.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April in National Frog Month

April is the perfect time to learn about frogs! Frogs are amphibians and undergo metamorphosis - or change - from egg to frog. Right now the easiest way to find frogs is to catch them as tadpoles.

Keeping tadpoles is pretty easy. I use a clear container so I can see them easily - I am just that kind of girl - I don't want to miss anything! I scoop water from the pond so that it includes some of the mucky stuff at the bottom and a few tadpoles. I put this in my tank - that I got from a generous freecycler ( and keep it in the shade. The muck has plenty of algae - the green slime that the tadpoles eat. Yum!

Over the next few months they will turn in to polliwogs - getting front legs followed by back legs and finally absorbing their tail and turning in to real frogs. I always get them back to their home pond before their tail is totally absorbed so they learn the smell of home. This will help them next year when they are frogs ready to lay eggs.

This is a rite of spring in our house. My 6 year old got her first turn to actually walk in to the pond and scoop this year. We call this tiny pond Three Tire Pond - and sadly that should be changed to Five Tire Pond with new trash showing up this year. We will go in this fall and pull them out and send them to the recyclers.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Marker Fairy

The Marker Fairy left some lovely washable markers for MF at the library!


Now, if there are any other goodie fairies out there, here's a short wish list:

Paper towel tubes
Real Cork
Clear egg cartons

Thank you!!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Simple Machines

There are six classic simple machines:
  1. Lever
  2. Inclined Plane
  3. Screw
  4. Pulley
  5. Wheel and Axel
  6. Wedge
Now when most of us think about machines we think more about a car than a ramp, but at the heart of both machines is laziness! Machines are things that make work easier - it is easier to carry a load up an inclined plane than it is to lift it straight up.

It was with some trepidation that I chose this topic for our most recent workshop at the library. Generally teaching about simple machines involves history, math and moving large loads - none appropriate for preschoolers!
I settled on two simple machines that the kids would be a bit familiar with: inclined plane and wheel/axle. The inclined planes we used were fabric bolts (thanks to Denise who owns Close to Home Sewing Store in Worcester!) and we used them to roll balls down to play with some ideas. We found many ways to help the balls roll farther. While this is not the actual way that an inclined plane helps make work easier, it was a great way to compare and contrast different inclines.
We used non-standard measures to figure out how far the ball rolled. Below one of my participants is using her shoe to measure distance. This was a lot of fun! One kid used herself as her measure!

Wheels and axles were fun to play with. We first tried rolling plastic eggs and found them wiggly. Then we tried toy cars and that worked really well - they rolled straight down and went really far.
If you liked these ideas, here are some ways to jump in and try some physics with your preschoolers.
Playgrounds are a great place to explore physics. A seesaw is an example of a classic lever. If you can find one that moves freely, can you balance a parent on one side and kids on the other? What happens if you move closer to the center?
Slides offer a great opportunity to play with inclined planes. You can move things up the slide with a jump rope. You can also measure the slides' height and length to compare slides. Can you determine what height and length are the most fun?
Michael Dahl has written a number of books on each one of the simple machines. Check them out!
The pictures today are courtesy of Kristen Graffeo. Check out her blog!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

April Dates

April 7 - Simple Machines

April 27 - Frogs (moved from the third Tuesday because of school vacation)

This program is offered at the Millbury Public Library starting at 10:30am and is for preschoolers 3 and up.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dinos in the library

I had a great time today learning about dinosaurs. While I am not sure everyone had fun the whole time, I am sure everyone had some fun. Must have been the wrong phase of the moon, but we had a lot of unhappiness among the participants today.

We learned that dinosaurs are studied by scientists called paleontologists. Some dinosaurs walked on all four feet and the were plant eaters or herbivores. Some dinosaurs walked on two feet and they could have been herbivores or carnivores - meat eaters.

Dinosaurs weren't as big as we thought. Some dinosaurs were smaller than people. We measured out a string to be as a long as an apatasaurus or 80 feet long. T. Rex was smaller! T. Rex was only about 40 feet long.
Paleontologists use fossils to learn about dinosaurs. We pretended to be paleontologist by excavating fossils from sand.

We made a graph of our favorite dinosaur and T. Rex had the most votes.

Mrs. V, the Library Director is going to leave our string up for tonight's Library Trustee meeting.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I had a great time at the Massachusetts Environmental Educators Conference. I presented a hands on workshop: the Dirt Lab. I did this with kids last year and we had a great time. With the theme of Bringing Environmental Education Home - I figured a nice muddy hands-on, active workshop would be fun. Thankfully I was not alone! The conference organizers agreed and I had 15 new buddies to play in the dirt with.
The conference was a Holy Cross in Worcester. They have a lovely conference center. Needless to say I was a bit agog when I walked in to the room I was presenting in and found WHITE table clothes. Yep, WHITE. Clearly these people didn't read the sign on the door: DIRT LAB.

Almost all the participants brought dirt from home and not surprising we observed that most samples were muddy. Two were dug from indoor locations so they were much drier. Three had critters: spiders, a worm, and one sow bug.
We made a dirt soup: Everyone put a bit of their dirt in to a jar with water. We shook it up and then let it settle. At the end of the workshop, we took a core sample of the dirt soup and found many layers to the sample.

We stretched our comparing and contrasting muscles while we examined two special kinds of dirt: sand and clay. Finally came the fun: Which dirt would make the best mud! We measured the amount of water two samples would accept before puddling.
The discussion among the participants was rich and filled with laughter. We talked about why teaching science to preschoolers is so vital. Many of the participants provide direct services to preschoolers or plan too in the near future. I was heartening to hear so many people who believe as I do that preschoolers are capable of doing science in an authentic manner.
I am so glad I was able to participate. I'll tell you more about the workshops I attended tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Playing with new friends

I am heading the Massachusetts Environmental Educator's Society Annual Conference tomorrow to present the Dirt Lab. I am really excited to be teaching about science to other educators and having the chance to learn new things too. (Yes, I loved school as a kid!)

The theme this is is about bringing Environmental Education home. I cannot emphasis enough just how important it is for kids to have an interested adult in their lives with whom they can share discoveries and explore. Enjoying science and asking questions are so important to inspire kids - as we all know - they learn what they see.

All of the participants have been asked to collect a dirt sample from their home and we are going to compare and contrast the samples. Then, just to mix it up a bit, we are going to see if different kinds of dirt, including some special dirt I am bringing, absorbs water different.y - or in Messy Finger's language - which dirt will make the best mud!

Check out the conference here.

I am off to collect some dirt - think of me tomorrow and wish me luck!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

March Dates

Messy Fingers is a preschool science program currently held at the Millbury (MA) Public Library. If your nearby library or preschool program is interesting in hosting their own Messy Fingers program, please contact me at

In Millbury, our March programs and dates are:

March 2 - Wind and Weather
March 16 - Dinosaurs

Both start at 10:30 am.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

We are on!

While there is a bit of snow falling from the sky, the roads are fairly clear! So come on down to the Millbury Public Library at 10:30 and learn about birds!

Friday, February 5, 2010


One of our intrepid young scientists tried some of the suggestions made after our Floating and Sinking program. She learned about "fish" and jello. Jello is loads of fun for many reasons and can be a delicious science material.

D and her mom grabbed some jello and candy fish to see if the fish float and how long the jello takes to solidify.

I am very proud of D and her family for making predictions before starting their project and that they learned new things as they went.

Check out the fish bowl experiment here.

Nice job!!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Scientist in the house...

I was chatting with one of the moms of a frequent participant in Messy Fingers about Sid the Science Kid. Her son adored watching Sid. He was telling me about decomposition and how much he loved Sid.

Me too!

I love Sid. I have always been impressed with how well the show organizes a topic so that preschoolers are not just interested but excited about science.

The show's science and teaching methods are based on solid scientific research. I've been completely, pleasantly, delightedly impressed with the research on preschool science. As many of us already know, preschoolers are wicked smart! Now there is a growing body of peer-reviewed, hard science on how preschoolers learn and express scientific thinking.

I hope that I am as enthusiastic, creative and knowledgeable as Miss Susie, the teacher.

Just don't expect me to sing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Float my boat...

What things float and what things sink is such a natural question for kids - even at very young ages. This presents a wonderful opportunity to practice being a scientist at bath time. Take a second and ask you kids to make a prediction about what floats and what sinks. Test your predictions and follow up with seeing if you were right.

During our Messy Fingers session yesterday, we made predictions about floaters and sinkers. We had a few surprises. A few objects floated at first on the surface of the water and then sank. They were held up by the surface tension of the water. Crayons were another surprise. I expected that since they are made of wax that they would float, but regular crayons sank. Fat crayons, even more surprisingly, neither sank or floated but hovered in the middle. One end floated more than the other. Cool.

We made boats out of tin foil and modeling clay. Our foil boats were modified by reshaping and adding floaties so they were strong enough to hold a ball of clay. This was quite a production. Both rectangular and canoe-shaped boats worked really well for this.

One mom wondered why I chose to use modeling clay rather than play dough to use in the water. I gave her some play dough to test out and it falls apart in the water (so it is washable!).

If you want to play with some other floating and sinking ideas, check out the ideas below:

Make a soap boat – cut a small boat from cardboard or foam. Leave a notch in the end. Float this in a pan of water. Does the boat float? Can you make it move? Put a tiny sliver of soap or a dot of liquid soap in the notch. What happens? Does this work in the tub? [This won’t work in the tub if you’ve used any soap. The boat floats on the surface tension of the water. Soap breaks up the tension.]

Flinkers – can you find an object that neither floats or sinks?

Fish – check out some fish. Either in your own aquarium or visit a local pet shop. How do they move? What shapes are they? Does their shape affect how they move? Can you move like the fish?

Jello - Make your own aquarium – make up some blue jello and as it solidifies, add some gummy sharks or fish. Make a prediction about how long it will take to solidify. Why don’t they float up to the top? Watch the jello as it solidifies. How long does it take?

For some other great boat activities, click here.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bubble Results

It is about 16' here on my porch and I took out the bubbles as I challenged everyone to do.
It was tricky to use the tiny bubble wand with gloves but here's a bubble I grabbed.

Then, I let it sit on my wand for a few seconds. First the bubble shrank, then if froze!

Finally, it broke.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bubble Challenge

I am going to set out a challenge for you all. I want you to grab some bubbles - yes the kind we usually reserve for sultry summer days and noisy playgrounds. Try blowing some bubbles today. How do you think bubbles will behave in cooler weather?

Blow and then catch them on your wand. What happened?

Now, it looks like Friday around central Massachusetts is going to be a cold day with a predicted high of about 21' F. So, Friday morning do the same thing - blow a few bubbles, catch one on your wand, and watch. What do you *think* might happen? What is different?

What did happened?

Post here and tell us about your experience.

Monday, January 25, 2010

February Dates

Feb 2 - Sink or Float - bring an object you think might sink or float

Feb 16 - Birds - this will be during Feb School Vacation so bring other family members to join in the fun!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Today we learned about ice! Each child got two ice cubes (that were really cylinders). One they placed in a spot where it would stay frozen.

The second ice cube was put in a place they thought it would melt.

They found a small puddle and lots of kids used the puddle. The secret of the puddle was not just that it was water, but it was water with lots of ice melt in it! This was just next to the door the custodian uses for his outdoor equipment and he'd dropped some ice melt when he was working this morning.

We tested this out with two more cubes - one with ice melt poured on it and the other with nothing. The cube on the right has the ice melt on it and is making quite a puddle.

We lucked out that it was snowing today. We grabbed some small rectangles of black paper and magnifying glasses. We checked out some of the snow flakes we saw. Most just looked like clumps of ice, but some had a bit of crystalline look to them.

If you want to do some further explorations with ice, here are some ideas:

Science words: bigger, smaller, colder, warmer, freeze, melt, absorb, crystal

Juice Pops – have kids mix frozen juice concentrate with warm water. Mix it until it is no longer frozen. Pour in to cups, add a Popsicle stick, and pop into the freezer. Check on them every 15 minutes or so and describe what you see.

When it is completely frozen, peel off the paper cup and look at the ice crystals. What do they look like? How do they taste?

If you liked this, try freezing other edible things like grapes and bananas. Try some frozen and at room temperature.

Watercolor Snow
Grab your water color paints and go out to the snow. You can use melted snow for the water or wet the paint before going out. As you paint on the snow, the water will meld the colors and wick the paint away. After a few minutes, you will have a new canvas. You can also do with food colored water in a spray bottle or regular water bottle.

Ice Balloons
Fill balloons with water and freeze. Only fill so the balloon is about six inches in diameter. Suspend with a close pin from a shelf in the freezer so the balloon will freeze round. Remove the latex and you have an ice ball. Put the round ice balls in a bath tub or wash tub and see how they move around. You can have races with ice balls.

Snow Flakes
Put a black piece of paper in the freezer. Next time it snows, take the black paper out and catch snow flakes. You can use a magnifying glass to observe them closely.

Fun winter books:
The Mitten by Jan Brett – discuss how different animals live in the winter, use ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.), and repeating patterns. Check out for more mitten activities and pictures of the animals that you can use to make patterns or reenact the story.

February Dates

Feb 2 - Sink and Float - bring an object from home that you think will either sink or float

Feb 16 - Birds - this will be during school vacation week and folks are welcome to bring school aged siblings to participate - you will still need to sign up all the kids so I know about supplies

Friday, January 15, 2010

Precshool Science?

Recently I was asked why I am doing Messy Fingers - can preschoolers really do science?

YES! While we often hear that kids are little sponges absorbing knowledge like crazy (and I agree it this is true), science is not just about a collection of facts. Science is a process, a method of learning about the world. When we use science we are thinking critically about the world and figuring out how things work.

Messy Fingers teaches kids a process of observation, predicting, collecting data, and revisiting predictions. Ok, I don't always talk about in those terms with 4 year olds, but we ask a lot of questions and look for the messiest way to collect the data to answer those questions. We always revisit our question and see what we learned.

Many books are on the market right now and there is quite the hubbub in education about how to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering, and math courses and careers. Millions of dollars are spent by government agencies to support ways to get school and university students to take more of these classes and go into these careers.

American students are falling behind their counter parts world wide in math and science at a steady rate. This has been going on for years.

So how is our little Messy Fingers going to stem the tide of falling math scores and tumbling science grades?

If we KEEP kids interested in science, engineering, math and technology, then we don't have to RE-interested, or inspire them, or RE-introduce them. Kids are naturally interested in the world around them, and if we provide them with the methods to explore it and the tools to think about it critically, they will STAY interested.

Parents are the first and best teachers for kids. If we are interested, ask questions, find out how/why/which etc, and then see if we answered our questions - don't your suppose our kids will too...?

Next time your child asks, "What would happen if...?" don't just tell them, ask them, "What do you think would happen?" and explore the answer together.

Messy Fingers is but a seed. Parents have to tend it and we will all see how it grows.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Build More!

We worked on learning some engineering today. Our first experiment tested the idea that layers make a stronger structure. We used tissues (Quilted Northern) that we'd separated into layers. Using a rubber band, we put a single ply over a small container. Most of the kids were able to get nearly 100 pennies on the tissue before it tore.

Then we did the same thing with the 2-ply tissue. We were able to get 130 pennies on the tissue before it broke.

Our next idea we explored was zigzags. We made a bridge with two cups and a flat piece of paper. This could hold around 5 pennies. Then we folded it a fan shape to create zigzags lengthwise on the paper. Now we could hold around 15 pennies. This reminded us of corrugated cardboard.

Our final, and perhaps most fun exploration was finding a strong shape. We made cubes out of 8 mini marshmallows and 12 two-inch pieces of pasta. We placed a small piece of paper on top and added pennies until they slipped. Then we added 4 three-inch pieces of pasta as cross supports creating triangles. This helped us support way more pennies.

Photo credits: Kristin Graffeo

Monday, January 4, 2010

Build It!

Science Words:
Structure: Objects made of parts
Layers, folds, weight, heavy, light, strong, weak

How high can you go…
Grab a pile of boxes, blocks or even paper cups. How tall can you make a structure? What did you learn from the first attempt? Try again and see if you can make a taller tower.

House of Cards
Make a house of cards together using standard playing cards. If you put them edge to edge your house your house won’t be stable. If you build your house with each card edge touching the middle of another card, it will stay up longer. So each junction of cards would look like a T. Try it out!

Graham Cracker Houses
Make a graham cracker house using peanut butter as the glue between crackers. What sorts of structures work best? How tall can you build? If you hurry, you can still find after Christmas gingerbread house kits. This would be a fun way to play with structures you can eat!

Favorite Books:
Building a House by Byron Barton
Two Bad Ants by Carl Van Allsburg
Bridges by Carol Johnmann – for the advanced preschooler or a family with older kids – build and test different bridge structures.

Resources on the Web:
→Check out the toothpick city and the windmill pattern you can make at home:
→You can’t forget LEGO when talking about building – they have some fun games for preschoolers:
→Peep and the Big Wide World has some geometry games for preschoolers: