Science Sparks Experiment

This morning I spotted a very simple experiment on the ScienceSparks twitter feed which was ideal for my early risers –

Super simple surface tension
What you need
• Cocktail sticks or matches
• A Bowl
• Washing up Liquid /Dish soap
• A large bowl
• Fill the bowl with water and let it settle for a few minutes.
• Carefully place the cocktail sticks on the top, if you can, try and get them to form a triangle.
• Add a drop of washing up liquid, and watch what happens.

The Science Part
This activity is a simple demonstration of surface tension. When you have a container full of water, the water molecules below the surface are pulled together equally in all directions, but those on top are pulled together more tightly, as they don’t have water molecules above them, this draws them together to form a kind of ‘skin’ which we call surface tension. When we added washing up liquid we disrupted the arrangement of the water molecules which decreased the surface tension inside the triangle of sticks.
Water molecules move from areas of low surface tension to high surface tension and so the sticks moved.
Don’t worry if that explanation seems like too much for your child. I don’t always explain the full scientific principles to my children, but watching and taking part in activities like these really does encourage children start to question why things happen, and the concepts we introduce will become start to make more sense to them as time goes on.

Now for our version of the experiment:

My son happily set about making a triangle.


He missed the target on the first try and the washing up liquid went to the side of the triangle pushing it to the side. My son was still impressed with the movement. We fetched a new bowl and tried again. This time the sticks were pushed apart,
“Wow it explodes!” he commented.
My son decided to develop the experiment by first trying ‘a complicated shape’ and then making a tower in the water out of the sticks.
My son was very satisfied by the change in the complicated shape as the liquid exploded some parts and pushed together others.


After building the water tower my son was interested in how the construction kept its shape despite being part submerged and simply laid together.


My son was so inspired that he wrote his school holiday diary immediately afterwards talking with excitement about his ‘exploding science experiment’!

Thank you Science Sparks, we enjoyed this one and I loved the fact that my son took the experiment in his own direction. I always find that the most successful activities are the ones that the children develop in their own ways.

With thanks to Science Sparks –


Happy Mealtimes and Fun with Food

With so many mouths to feed mealtimes are an important part of our day and an entertaining social experience. Admittedly some days the children are overexcited and find it hard to sit down, others they argue, sometimes they try to build barricades to hide behind (cereal boxes are a great fortress) and occasionally they will put on music during the mealtime which can be fine as long as everyone agrees on the song!

The children who join us enjoy mealtimes as we try to engage everyone in conversation, even the little ones who can’t talk. One of the favourite mealtime games is to copy the youngest at the table. If they make a sound they are copied by the rest of the table. It usually ends up with quite a noisy round of table slapping and laughing. The babies love the fact that they are holding the attention of a large group. Engaging the toddlers in conversation is fun too. The toddlers listen to the older children with a keen ear and often repeat words that they recognise or sounds that they hear in the conversations. An example would be when our seven year olds were talking about a trip to a local environmental centre and one of our mindees heard the word ‘pig’. She immediately started snorting which made everyone laugh and immediately she won centre stage in performing a round of animal noises for the table. At a slightly older age the questions that pre-schoolers ask can be intriguing and the older children enjoy the fun they can have answering these. As an adult when we are asked implausible questions we are tempted to answer them with direct, no-nonsense answers; mealtimes in our house have maybe made me a little more playful as I follow the lead of my own children and see the vivacity it brings to conversation with younger children. An example would be a conversation we were having about holidays at the table last week. Our three-year-old mindee was quiet until he heard the word ‘aeroplane’. He suddenly joined in,
“I like aeroplanes and helicopters. Can I go in a helicopter?”
The question was answered with several questions and the children realised they could have fun with this conversation,
“Where would you go?”
“How fast would you go?”
“Wouldn’t you rather go in a spaceship?”
“Could I go with you?”
“Would you fly the helicopter?”
Again our little childmindee was swept into the conversation and happily explained with authority that he did like spaceships but would rather go in a helicopter or a steam train. He decided that he could be the driver and the imagination started to emerge as he suggested that the steam train would fly if it had propellers and he would be really fast. This impressed the older children no end!

Our older children are quickly drawn into conversation with our two regular playful questions,
“Who was naughty in school today?”
“What was the funniest thing that happened in school today?”
The former question invariably ends up with all the children putting up their hands and me saying ‘I hope you weren’t naughty’ and everyone laughing before they share stories about class mischief and meyhem.

The challenge of childminding mealtimes has been contending with the fussy eater and we have had a few. Over the few years I have been minding I have discovered that the best way to deal with the non-eaters is to let them enjoy the mealtime experience with no pressure. I serve the same food to all but try to have enough variety at the table to offer some choice. If the children won’t eat then I don’t pressure them. I have found that when they are hungry enough they will eat and it’s always a big moment when they will accept a new food even if it is just to hold it and put it on their plates and not eat it. Between mealtimes I try to help the fussy eaters to encounter new foods through food games. These are a few of the games we play.


Food mixing
You will need:
A large mixing bowl
A wooden spoon
several small bowls or containers
different foods to put in each container such as – flour, cereal, honey, banana, chopped tomatoes, chopped boiled egg, jam, sliced ham, cooked couscous, peas, cooked spaghetti, breadcrumbs – anything that you think will be easily transported into the mixing bowl using utensils or fingers.

You then show the children how to move the ingredients from the bowl to the mixing bowl and to stir. The foods may taste awful together but it doesn’t matter. The fussy eaters are reluctant to taste the food so they will be less worried if you are simply giving them something to feel, hold and play with. If they understand that the game is simply putting it all into a bowl to mix up they will soon learn to have fun and get stuck in. You will probably find that they will start with the food that they are most comfortable with and when that runs out they will start to play with the other foods. Some of the foods that they are least comfortable with may not be interacted with at all but that’s okay, it’s their choice entirely, it’s an exercise in letting them choose. I encourage the children to touch the food if possible but if they aren’t happy with that then spoons are wonderful. It’s great for children who have a transporting schema.

Pea Bobbing
You will need:
Semi-defrosted peas
A tub

Put the peas into the tub and fill the tub with water. The children should try to pick up the peas with the straw. The winner is the child with the most peas. Our most reluctant eaters usually end up eating a few peas and it’s a great way to get some vitamin C and iron down them.

Food Artwork
You will need:
several small bowls or containers
different foods to put in each container – a variety of colourful foods such as chopped tomatoes, chopped mixed peppers, spaghetti, cucumbers, shredded cheese, jam, peas etc.

I encourage the children to get stuck in with their fingers with this game. It probably takes a demonstration to show the children what to do. Usually the magic of making a simple face shape for the children is enough to get them creating. The non-threatening act of playing with the food to make pictures usually encourages them to lick their fingers and to try the foods.


I am a firm believer in letting younger children play with their food. The more comfortable they are with their food the more likely they are to put it closer to their mouths. The games have led to a few creative plates of food at our meal table and I do explain to parents that the children are likely to create some artwork at mealtimes at home.

I find that every child we look after is different and I am always interested in new ideas for helping fussy eaters to gain confidence with new foods so if anyone is looking in on this blog with ideas please feel free to add suggestions or experiences.

To Youtube or not?

Our children always exceed expectations in ICT at school. They were adept at using a mouse long before they could write their names and I do often wonder if the teachers think we leave our children playing computers all the time. The reality is that we don’t but like many parents we set times for access and wring our hands worrying whether or not we’re damaging the poor souls by exposing them to a world of overstimulation which could stop them appreciating their toys and using their imagination.

As I childminder I also have to be aware of the feelings of parents about computers and the internet. Recently I told a new parent that she needed to read my internet usage policy despite her baby being less than a year old. I explained to her how I use the internet and she was very supportive. I have found that Youtube has been a very valuable asset in enriching understanding of themes and literature. Recently we read ‘The Snail and The Whale and I set up a playlist of images of whales swimming in the sea, penguins jumping off icebergs, flying fish and volcanoes. The children were fascinated. When we drew pictures afterwards one of our young childmindees drew several lines to show a penguin jumping off an iceberg, he enjoyed the motion of the penguins, something you couldn’t learn from a book. When I was younger I relied on the library for images. Even as an illustration degree student I had to potter to the library to hunt through books for images that I needed. If I sound as though I’m anti-book I’m absolutely not. Our walls are covered in books and I enjoy extending internet research by pulling large encylopedias off the shelves. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a house equally wallpapered in books and blessed with the freedom to touch, hold and study them whenever I wanted and it made me grow up with a real passion for books.

I encourage my children and childmindees to have the same passion for books and literature but also to value the information that they can find under supervision on the internet. I want them to understand that there is more to using computers than sitting glued to the latest must-have game. We often search for writing or art competitions and enter them. When the children occasionally win something they are over the moon. It’s a lovely way to prepare them for working on creative commissions in later life. The children also look for research materials to support their maths, science experiments, literacy and artwork. When I was selling painted glasses in the past I set up a few Youtube videos and the children understand the creation of these videos and understand that anyone can set one up. They are very aware about the risks of clicking onto unknown videos and reading comments. I am careful to supervise the videos, the side-videos and comments onscreen when they do make their selections.

Today the children asked to go onto Youtube and showed me a channel set up to teach simple chibi drawing (small cute characters). This style of drawing is all the rage at our children’s primary school, I’m not sure if it’s as big elsewhere but I really enjoyed watching all the children take turns. The channel is called fun2draw and the artist continually adds simple pictures. There are plenty to choose from. She has the finished image on one side of the screen so the children can use this for guidance then on the right hand side of the screen she uses a sharpie to draw the outline to be copied. I was impressed that my 11-year-old daughter drew several pictures for the younger children to colour. They all loved colouring these in but eventually they wanted a turn as well and eventually even our five-year-old was having a go, as shown in this picture:


I was happy sitting back and observing the children with this activity, they were having such a lovely time that I only needed to join in occasionally when they wanted a little help with a more tricky line. Once the pictures were finished they decided jointly that they would cut the pictures out and play with them. Our younger children and mindee built lego houses and used our farm set as a stage set for the characters. They were so proud to be using their own creations and the game naturally led onto a puppet show. It was a lovely end to the day to sit on a cosy sofa with our excited two-year-old mindee laughing at various charaters popping out from behind a lego-table stage. Childminding is never predictable and I love that sometimes you can plan and the children will join in with gusto and other times they completely take things in an entirely different direction. I woke up planning a ‘mixing’ day engaging the children in baking or mixing different liquids for a small science experiment but I think it was simply too hot today. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to send our mindee home with the planned cheese scones but today I think that the children had a far better idea, supported by some creative ICT.


Treasure Day

I have been meaning to get round to starting a blog for the childminding.  The summer holidays are an ideal time because I have the additional challenge of keeping my five children entertained as well as our young childmindee additions to the family. 

Yesterday we did some ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’ activities.  The younger children were wildly excited and had a great time using their imaginations, collecting items from around the house to use as water, snow, grass etc.  My elder two children were less keen on the activities and escaped fairly quickly. 

Today I decided a treasure theme would span the age groups better as I could incorporate some jewellery making and box construction.  I planned for treasure hunts, treasure maps, coin rubbing and digging.  I had planned an outing to the sandpit at Ruxley Manor so the theme fit perfectly.  I find that children feel they have more ownership of a theme if you allow them to choose their angles on the activity.  When the children appeared I told them the choice of theme and made my suggestions and asked them to think of some ideas of their own.  My seven-year-olds were immediately off making a pirate ship out of cushions.  They decided to put on roller skates to be ‘time travellers’. 

Most of the children decided to join in the treasure map activity.  We used a dip pen and pot of ink to give the maps an authentic feel.  I supplied teabags to add some stain.  I helped our two-year-old mindee to wipe the teabag over the map and laughed as our five-year-old decided it was more fun to rip the teabag apart and to press the leaves into the picture.
‘it looks as though it has been dug up!’


Our next mission was to make a treasure chest.  The best template I could find was at this website:

 The box in this page is a ‘school box’ but I found that it made an excellent treasure chest.  The children taped them with masking tape and then painted them.  A few of the children threaded beads for jewellery to add the their treasure chests.  They added some sequins for sparkle too.


My 9-year-old daughter decided to make a minature map to fit inside her treasure chest.


Our seven-year-old was excited when we brought out the glitter and sequins and made a treasure inspired painting.


The next challenge I gave the children was to create a piece of ‘treasure’ related writing for a competition.  All entries would win a treasure prize.  Our two-year-old mindee joined in by doing some lightbox writing.  The lightbox was bought for my illustration work but it has been wonderful for my childminding. Children of all ages enjoy this equipment. Older children enjoy copying intricate images and younger children improve their fine motor skills by aiming their pen at specific areas of the page and adding marks over the top of images beneath. As they learn to draw boundary shapes they circle areas of interest and slowly begin to learn to follow the lines beneath.





Finally we set off for Ruxley Manor where the children did some digging in the sandpit.  Our seven-year-old even found a treasure in the sand – a small stone which he swore was precious and ‘it changes colour Mum!’