Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Slipping Ladder: Exploring Ladder Heights (Angles) and a Lubricant

Continuing on our slippery themed activities {here, here and here}, we explored when a ladder will slip and fall to the ground.  We, as adults, consider the angle of the ladder when tackling a project, furthermore we take into account the properties of the ground.  One may feel more comfortable with a ladder at a certain angle on rocks compared to on pine needles.

To help our little ones develop this intuition we setup the ladder activity.  The goal of this activity is to adjust the angle of the ladder to determine when the angle that the ladder will fall.  We then changed the surface of the "ground" and repeated the activity to explore if that angle/height changed.

We leaned a ladder (designed for pet birds) against a wooden box.  We began when the ladder was at 90 degrees or straight up and marked the level of the top rung on the box.

We then moved the ladder down a little bit (resulting in a smaller angle with the ground).  It did not slip and fall so we marked this level on the box as well.

We continued until the ladder could not stay up against the box and slipped and fell.

Now the fun started!  We put a small amount of dishsoap on the foil and poured a bit of water and spread it all around.  The whole surface was nice and slippery.  We spoke about how the surface felt and what we thought might happen to the ladder this time around.

We put the ladder back vertically against the box and repeated the steps trying to match the levels of the ladder before.

This time the ladder slipped at a higher location (larger angle) than before.  The slippery surface had reduced the friction and resulted in the ladder slipping at a higher height.

We hope you enjoy this activity. There are so many ways to expand up on it: putting different lubricants on the surface, making the surface sticky, putting sand or pineneedles on the ground.  You could also have an older child measure the angles with a protractor or calculate the angle after measuring the height.  One more fun idea would be to put a weight (like a person) at the top and see if that makes a difference as well.



  • foil
  • detergent
  • water
  • ladder (or equivalent)
  • paper to mark the heights of the ladder
  • tape to stick down the foil
  • markers 
  1. Place paper for marking the height of the ladder on the wall or on a box.
  2. Tape the foil down in front of it.
  3. Stand the ladder vertically against the paper and mark the height of the top rung.
  4. Move the ladder out at the bottom marking the height each time until the ladder slips and falls down.
  5. Cover your foil with soapy water (mix a small amount of dishsoap with a tablespoon of water and spread over the surface.
  6. Repeat step 3 and 4 until the ladder falls.
  7. Note if the last recorded height was above or below the un-lubricated surface.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sliding Discs: Making a Surface Slippery

Friction can be a difficult concept to explain (even to adults).  The best we can do in these early years is help kids develop an intuition about how you can change a surface and therefore change how something will interact with it.  One fun way to do this is by looking at how far an object travels and then observe what happens after the application of a lubricant, such as oil or soapy water.  The kids can compare changes in the distance an object travels.

One fun way to investigate what happens when you make a surface slippery is with a sliding game!

On your marks... get set... GO!!

Today was our first day of really nice weather for the year so we decided to take our scientific quest outside.  Our race tracks were long sheets of foil raised on the sides and our race cars were plastic discs.

Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean are racing little discs down a foil track by giving them an initial push.  The foil track does not have anything on it, and they still slid the discs pretty far.  Jumping Bean looks pretty competitive trying to slide her disc.

A little teamwork was used as the girls measured how far each of the discs slid down the track.

Next, we sprayed a combination of hand soap and water to create a lubricant which we thought would reduce the friction between the foil and disc.  We are hoping the disc will slide even further than on the dry foil.

It's off the track!  Jumping Bean's track was so slippery that the disc slid right off.  The lubricant worked!  The soapy surface made for a slippery track for our discs, and they went much further than on the dry foil.     

Not only did the girls have fun creating a slippery, soapy track, but they also made a great connection.  Jelly Bean said, "Yep, and that's why we don't run at the pool.  The slippery water will make you slip right off the side."  I just smile when I know they have learned something, and they can relate it to our everyday life!


  • foil
  • something to slide, we used a disc from a game but coins could work as an option
  • water
  • hand soap
  • ruler or measuring tape

  1. Create a track using foil.  Fold the sides up to help prevent the disc from sliding off the side.
  2. Place the disc at the top of the track and slide it by giving an initial push.
  3. Measure the distance the disc travelled.
  4. Premix equal parts of water and hand soap and pour onto the track.  Spread by hand to ensure the whole surface is covered.
  5. Place the disc at the top of the track and slide it again. 
  6. Notice how much further the disc travelled when there was a lubricant (soapy water) on the track.
  7. Measure the distance again.  
    As an advanced activity with an older child you could find the difference between the first slide and the second slide.  (We did not find the difference.  The girls were more excited about how far off the track they could make the disc go.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Importance of Sensory Play in Early Education

Children (especially young children) are hands on learners who explore, collaborate and solve problems through direct interaction with the environment around them.  By exploring their surroundings using their senses they continually refine their knowledge of the world.

All human experiences are determined by sensing the world around us.  This sensory learning, whether it be through sight, smell, hearing, touch or taste allows us to take in information about what is happening in our immediate environment.   This form of learning is particularly acute in babies and young children.  Think about how your baby begins to explore the world using as many senses as possible:  their eyes will be drawn to the bright patterns and colors on your clothes;  they will put everything in their mouth to taste and feel; they touch everything they can reach.  All of these are opportunities for them to discover what makes up the world around them.   If you think about it, people are born into this world as natural scientists and explorers.

Young children especially need sensory learning as they live in a different world than older children. They don't need worksheets to learn but instead require opportunities to learn through play and exploration.  Early education needs to be less like school and more like a choose your own adventure story, allowing young children to direct their exploration and experimentation, sometimes having to take a step back and follow a new path.

By playing and experiencing young children lay the foundation of their understanding of their world around them.  Without stacking blocks, how will they understand the fundamentals of balance or spatial reasoning?  Even with stacking blocks, multiple senses are engaged.  They are hearing the blocks fall, feeling the pieces lock into place and seeing the patterns or colors.  Furthermore, they have the opportunity to expand beyond the simple tower and develop their imaginations as they develop cities with people and stories.    All the while this allows them to learn about what is possible and what is actual.

Many of our blog entries on this site introduce simple ideas for children to begin to explore.  They are topics that range from something as simple as patterns and to as complex as the idea of blubber.   You might read them and think "That is a cool experiment" but we hope that you see it as more than simply an activity.  It is an opportunity for them to learn by engaging multiple senses.  For example, the activity in which we examine if vinegar and water mix, engages their sense of sight as they watch colors mix, sense of hearing and touch by hearing and feeling the bubbles as you add the baking soda.   By allowing them to engage their senses they have increased the inputs into their brain making a stronger connection.

Young children have an abundance of dendrites (the branches on neurons that receive inputs) and these connections are continually rearranging as they develop.  They can either be reinforced or pruned depending on the stimulation (or lack thereof) that they receive.  By increasing the number of inputs during learning, you will increase the number of inputs being transmitted to the dendrites and therefore the connections are more likely to be reinforced.  Dynamic multi-sensory play and experimentation allows for this increase in input and reinforcement.  Furthermore, it engages multiple portions of the brain creating increased possible connections across sections of the brain.

Given all the benefits of sensory play it can still be something parents dread.  After all sensory play can get pretty messy.

However, approaching sensory play with the right mindset will allow for activities that can be controlled but still allow for exploration.   After all, how can you resist when you see how much fun they are having!

Girls laughing and building

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sticky in the Kitchen - Applying Lubricant Activities to a Baking Problem

Tasty Tuesday is a weekly tradition in our house, and it means we spend a little time in the kitchen.  Usually, we bake cakes or cookies, but today, we are not baking anything at all.  We are going to make No-Bake Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Breakfast Bars.  They are easy to make and taste yummy!  I started thinking about the three ingredients (yes, only three) and realized how sticky they are.  Peanut butter is sticky, and honey is VERY sticky.  So, I thought this would be a great opportunity to show Jumping Bean and Jelly Bean how we can apply the ideas that we learn with our science activities (such as the slippery Jello in the lubricant BLAST) to a real life problem.   In this case, how we could efficiently get sticky ingredients out of our measuring cups or measuring spoons while baking.

Jelly Bean and Jumping Bean love to help measure out the ingredients- sometimes it makes some of our cakes and cookies a little too sweet or a little to dry, but it's all fun and a sneaky math lesson!

We started by having the girls add half the peanut butter and honey in unprepared measuring cups.  This gave the girls a chance to really see how sticky some ingredients can be!  The honey in particular was slow and difficult to get out of the measuring cup.

 To help the honey come out more smoothly, Jelly Bean poured some oil on a paper towel and wiped it all around the inside of our measuring cup.

We filled one measuring cup with the second half of the honey and another with peanut butter.  Then, it was poured into the pan.  It was easier!  The oil made the honey come out smoothly and quickly!  The peanut butter came out a little easier as well, but some was still sticking to the sides of the cups.  Unfortunately, there wasn't any extra honey for us to lick out, but we did get a little peanut butter.


  • 3 cups oatmeal
  • 1 cup honey- divided
  • 1 cup peanut butter- divided
  • measuring cups
  • bowls
  • sauce pan
  • 9x9 pan

  1. Measure out 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup peanut butter in clean measuring cups.  Pour into the sauce pan.
  2. Put oil around the inside of the 1/2 cup measuring cups.
  3. Measure the remaining 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup peanut butter into the oiled cups.  Pour into the sauce pan and notice how easily it comes out.
  4. Heat the honey and peanut butter until well combined.
  5. Add 3 cups oatmeal and stir until well incorporated. 
  6. Press into a 9x9 pan and let sit over night.

This recipe was adapted from The Joy of Cooking Everyday.  Additional steps were added to demonstrate how science can be used in real life problems.