Make a Splash: Water Science for Preschoolers

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Photo by Amy Koester.

Summer is a wonderful time for playing with water. Kids can swim at the pool, run in a sprinkler, or just enjoy some outside time with a bucket of water and some cups. Having fun with water is refreshing–and, by offering a Water Science preschool STEM program, it can be sneakily educational, too! Go ahead, take advantage of the warm summer season and play with water at your library. Steal this program. Here’s what we did:

First, we shared a story. I opted to read Frank Asch’s brightly-illustrated Water, which takes readers on an exploration of all the places and things that water can be. Rivers, oceans, pools, dew, plant food… There are lots of ways that water exists on our planet.

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Photo by Amy Koester.

Next, we retold our story. Since Water is pretty loose in terms of narrative, we didn’t have a story to retell, per se. We did, however, have a topic to discuss, and so the children and I talked about places that they find water in their lives. As they volunteered ideas, I wrote them in large letters on our dry erase board. This strategy acknowledges each child’s contributions and also demonstrates that spoken words have print equivalents. We came up with a good-sized list, and even the usually shy kids got involved.

We danced to a song. I don’t always have a song or music component in my Preschool Science programs, but the topic of water was just begging for a musical interlude. I played “I Like to Swim” by The Kerplunks, and we all danced around making swimming motions.

We got hands-on with water science at a series of activity stations. I had set up three distinct tables, each with a different water-based activity, before families arrived. I put down lots of towels on each table since we were using containers of water. Let me emphasize that: you want to have lots of towels. I taped activity instructions and conversation starters on each table for caregivers, who did the activities with their children. Our three activities to increase knowledge about the science of water were:

  • A “Sink or Float” station — I set out a variety of objects for kids to test for buoyancy: rubber ducks, paper clips, clothespins, washers, popsicle sticks, and other small things I had in my storage room. The object of this activity is for children to choose an object, make a guess as to whether it will sink or float, and then test that guess by putting the object in a tub of water. The objects fit into three main categories: wood, which floats; plastic, which floats; and metal, which sinks. As kids tested more and more objects and the concept knowledge increased, their guesses got better.

    Sink or Float

    Photo by Amy Koester.

  • A “Make a Boat” station — I had a small dollar-store container of play dough for each child, and kids were invited to drop the dough into a container of water to see if it would float (hint: it does not). Then, as a second step, they were encouraged to try to shape the dough into a shape that would make it float–essentially, they needed to shape it into a boat. I was interested to observe that this activity was significantly more difficult for young preschoolers than it was for the 5 and 6 year olds. They all eventually succeeded, though.
  • A “Porosity” station — To understand how water runs through objects, we had a station to explore porosity. At each water container, there were three vessels for water: a cup; a cup with holes poked in it; and a sponge. Children were invited to submerge the vessel in the water, then see what happened when said vessel was held in the air above the bucket. I overheard caregivers asking great questions to reinforce this concept; for example, one asked which vessel would be best for drinking out of, which would be best for taking a bath, etc.

Everyone gets to take something home to reinforce our STEM topic. A volunteer had helped me pull a bunch of books about water from our stacks, both fiction and non-fiction titles. I also had take-home activity sheets available with instructions for 3 additional activities to do at home on the topic of water science. These take-home activities included an experiment for absorption; an activity about volume in which children pour water into different sized containers; and a coloring activity in which kids identify where they might find water. I took a survey of program attendees, and those who had attended a Preschool Science program before said that they do use these activity sheets at home to extend learning. I always put any leftover copies at the check-out desk for interested families to pick up.

Have you offered a program that explores the science of water at your library? What activities were most successful?

Don’t forget to check out the other Preschool Science programs I’ve shared here on the ALSC Blog: Body Science, Color Science, Weather Science, and Strength and Materials Science.

This entry was posted in Blogger Amy Koester, Programming Ideas, STEM/STEAM and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Make a Splash: Water Science for Preschoolers

  1. Kary Henry says:

    Another great post, Amy! When the SRP theme was “Make a Splash, Read!” my colleague and I did a water science demonstration. The kids’ favorite was when we started pouring water along a really long piece of yarn that was held taut and ended in a measuring cup. Because of the attraction of water molecules, the water eventually starts “following” the yarn and ends up in the measuring cup, instead of all over the table where you begin pouring it. Magic!

  2. Abby Johnson says:

    Love it! We’re launching a preschool science program this fall, so I am definitely going to borrow your program ideas. I love the idea of having stations set up around the room that caregivers can go through with their kids. Thanks for this post!

  3. Vicki Kouchnerkavich says:

    I hold my Family Story Times (3-8 years old) outside during the summer here in Michigan. It would be great to create a “story time” with these types of interactive activities, you wouldn’t have to worry about messes and spills. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Nieci says:

    Where is your technology and engineering? Can you give examples please?

    • Amy Koester says:

      This particular program, Water Science, incorporates engineering concepts in the “Make a Boat” station; the children have materials and, after exploring how they work, try to design a structure that will float like a boat. That problem-solving and building is engineering. As far as technology goes, I’ve found that what is most developmentally appropriate for the wide age range of kids in my preschool science programs (2-6) is basic skills that will provide a foundation for greater technology interactions later; coming up with and sorting into categories (e.g., “items that sink” versus “items that float”) is a basic math skill that is foundational to the problem-solving and critical thinking that is integral in so many technology tasks (coding, manipulating technology to achieve a goal, etc.).

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