Cultivate Wonder

Exploring Science with Children

The Three Little Pigs Variations

For our Books & Blocks program, we explored building with variations of the Three Little Pigs. I began by retelling the story of the Three Little Pigs with a magnet board, asking children to help me remember the story.  Along the way I asked them what kind of house did they live in — a straw house? no! a wood house? (a few yeses) a brick house? etc. Next I read The Three Little Pigs: an architectural tale by Steven Guarnaccia.

threepigsThen we acted out the story with Laurie Berkner’s “Lots of Little Pigs” song. I had used masking tape to make three squares on the floor to represent the pigs’ houses before storytime. Now I asked for volunteers to be pigs and pick a house, or to be a wolf and join me.

Then there was plenty of time for building their own houses . . . or whatever they wanted to create, with legos, wood blocks, or cardboard bricks.



One child built an apartment building.



There was also a cardboard house for them to re-enact the story, which many children did, taking turns looking out the window or knocking on the door pretending to be the wolf.


I’ve used other variations of the Three Little Pigs as well. For our Family Tales, I shared Claudia Rueda’s delightfully spare Huff & Puff


and Mark Teague’s potato chip and sody-pop version, The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf.


My all time favorite variation is Euguene Trivizas’ The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig with irresistible illustrations by Helen Oxenbury.


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Exploring Electricity with Squishy Circuits


In March both the Wonderworks preschool children and school age kids of Explorers Club explored electricity with squishy circuits, inspired by this post on Electric Dough from PBS Kids:

More directions for squishy circuits are available at:

With both age groups, I began by sharing the Schoolhouse Rock video “Electricity.” Many parents remembered this one!

Then we read Oscar and the Bird by Geoff Waring.


Next we listened to the song “Electricity Game” on Nancy Stewart’s Sing a Song of Science.  It plays a sound and then children guess what makes that sound, which was was the perfect followup to a recent sound storytime.

I also read parts of What is Electricity? By Lisa Trumbauer and we talked about static electricity, using a balloon rubbed on a person’s head as an example.

Then we talked about moving electricity, which is described in Oscar and the Bird, and how electricity moves through wires. “Circuit” was the main vocabulary word for the Wonderworks group. The word sounds like “circle” and electricity must have a circle to move. We used an energy stick to demonstrate this idea. Gather kids in a circle to show that electricity flows in a circle – if one of them drops their hands, it won’t work anymore. (they can take turns being the switch!) The switch makes the connection or drops the connection (turns things on/off).

Next we played and danced to the Hap Palmer song,  “Switch on the Music.”

We had two main activity stations: Static Jars and Squishy Circuits.

Static Jars

Kids explored static electricity with static jars and balloons. We had prepared the static jars ahead of time, but you could also have children make their own.

The idea for the static jars was found in “Static Electricity: The Shocking Truth” by Peggy Ashbrook in Science and Children magazine, from the National Science Teacher’s Association, March 2013, pp. 30-31 and a related blog post here:

To make static jars  you need: plastic jars (soda bottles), tissue paper, foam scraps, scissors, various types of cloth to rub on jars, also plastic wrap to rub. Tear little pieces of tissue paper, cut foam scraps, and put in jars. Rub the outside of the jar with various materials to see what happens – which make static electricity? Also try rubbing the balloon on the outside of the jar. Get the balloon charged up (by rubbing it on hair or cloth first) and then try to see if it makes a difference.

Squishy Circuits

All instructions for squishy circuits, for conducting dough and insulating dough, are clearly explained on the Squishy Circuits website: We had 5 battery packs and children worked in groups of 2, after we demonstrated the project for the group.


The green playdough is non-conducting and regular playdough with salt is the conducting playdough.




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Fabulous Frogs

Last week in Wonderworks, we learned about all things frog, including the froggy diet, the froggy life cycle, and the major differences between frogs and toads.

After stretching our bodies with our Energy song, by Nancy Stewart, we introduced our topic with some fact cards (from a power point that we created). What Are Frogs

Next, we all practiced our counting and singing skills, using our Five Speckled Frogs flannel board.


For our nonfiction book selection, we read The Trouble with Tadpoles : a First Look at the Life Cycle of a Frog, by Sam Godwin.  This book using cartoon-like illustrations to introduce the life cycle of a frog.


Our picture book selection was Curious George, Tadpole Trouble, adaptation by Mark London Williams, which also helped the children to understand the unique transformations that frogs undergo throughout their early lives.

After our non-fiction book, we did The Bossy Frog Song, a fun song with motions which we found on YouTube.



After our books, we did a fun facts activity about the differences between frogs and toads. Before this activity, we explained the primary differences between frogs and toads.  For example, frogs have long hind leg and toads have short hind legs;  frogs are smooth and toads are bumpy; etc. For this activity, each child got her own set of craft sticks with a frog and toad.  We then stated things about either the frog or the toad, and when we were describing a frog, the children raised their frog sticks; when we were describing toads, children raised their toad sticks.


Another fun activity that we’ve included in the past as an extension of our “frogs vs toads” lesson is to practice hopping like a toad versus leaping like a frog.  We did not have time for this activity last week, but it is definitely a fun way to help children to remember one of the key differences between frogs and toads.


For our activities last week, we created lily pads with numbers 1-10 and letters a-z that the children could hop on around the room.  The children also got to use their artistic abilities to create their own frog face.





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Opposites Attract: Magnets

Picture Book: Marta’s Magnets by Wendy Pfeffer (Silver Press, 1995) – Though this picture books is a little old, I really like the many ideas for playing with magnets incorporated into the text.


Informational Books: Push and Pull: Learn about Magnets
by Julia Vogel (Child’s World, 2011)Image

Or Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by Mark Weakland (Capstone, 2011)


After sharing the books, we experimented together. Each child took a turn fishing from a bin full of small objects to discover what was magnetic. They made predictions: would it pick up the spoon? the toy car? the coin? the marble? the nail? The fishing poles and objects were left out as a station that children could explore on their own.


We also used a magnet make a paper clip jump and tried to see how long a string of paper clips we could make with a wand-like magnet.

All children were able to make refrigerator magnets to take home.


Several sets of bar magnets were another station where kids could explore polarity. The ends were red and blue, and it was fun to have them try to match ends of the same color together and discover they really wouldn’t stick. In fact, they could push the other magnet around without touching it!


Another station was a train set, as magnets are how the cars stick together. The cars only attach one way to the engine. This station reinforced the idea of polarity — that opposites attract!

Magnets are part of so many toys! We provided building toys with magnets.


And then there are magnetic letters, which are pretty familiar to preschoolers.


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Senses and Sensibility

Most of us have five senses.  Some of us have six (if you happen to be one of those rare individuals, you already know what this blog is going to be about and need not read on).

In last week’s Wonderworks Storytime, we tested each of our five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling.

We read the nonfiction book Our Senses, by Janine Scott, which discussed each of the five senses. In order to keep the children engaged as we read, we asked them questions regarding each sense, such as, in the case of smell: “What are some things that smell bad?”  and “What are some things that smell good?” and so on.  The children all enjoyed sharing their favorite and least favorite smells, flavors, sights, sounds, and textures.


We passed out shakers and used Jim Gill’s song Alabama, Mississippi between books, explaining that we would be using our senses of hearing to note the parts where we sang loudly verses the parts where we sang quietly.

Our picture book was Ed Young’s Seven Blind Mice, the story of seven unseeing mice who have to use their sense of touch and their combined impressions to discover the identity of an unknown entity in their midst.


For our activities, we created many different stations to test each of the senses.  For smelling, we made smelling jars, using cotton balls, scented with a variety of essential oils – some not as pleasant as others (according to the children).

For sight, we printed off thaumatropes that the children could cut out and glue together on coffee stirs.

For sight, sound and touch we took pictures of a bunch of different items such as marbles, wooden beads, popcorn kernels, bells, coffee beans and oatmeal, and then we printed out these pictures on card stock.  Then, we placed these items in plastic eggs and balloons.  The children then had to try to match the image with what they believed to be the balloon (by sense of touch) and the egg (by sense of sound).

For taste, we popped served popcorn and lemonade.


We get many of our ideas from Pinterest, so feel free to visit our Pinterest page for additional ideas and instructions.

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Sink or Float

Will it sink or will it float?  This was the question that we asked during our Wonderworks program this week.

We opened our program with the picture book Who Sank the Boat?, by Pamela Allen.  In this story, which continually asks the listener, “Do you know who sank the boat?,” a group of animal friends all take turns boarding a row boat until it is finally so heavy that it sinks.  Which of the friends finally sank the boat?  Our storytime participants all had a fun time guessing until the very end.

who sank the boat

After our picture book, we all pretended to board our own row boats and sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat, adding a variety of different verses.

SongRow, Row, Row Your Boat

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream.

Bump, bump, bump your boat….

Sway, sway, sway your boat…

Row, Row, Row your boat underneath the steam

Haha I fooled you

I’m a submarine!

For our non-fiction book, we used the book Will It Float or Sink?, by Melissa Stewart.  The text of this  book discusses many different objects that will sink or float in water and why this is so.  As we read, we demonstrated to our storytime participants how each object mentioned in the book either floated or sank in water, using a clear plastic tub.



After our demonstration, it was time for the children to discover for themselves which objects would sink and which would float. We let them test out numerous items in our plastic tubs of water.

In addition to testing out which objects would sink or float in water, the children were given sheets of aluminum foil which they could use to fashion into small boats to float on the water.  They could then experiment to see how many pennies it would take to sink their boats.  Some of the children tried floating other items in their boats in addition to the pennies.

Our strongest boat held over 50 pennies!

sink or float

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Spiders are *not* Insects!

Spiders have eight legs. Insects have six.  Spiders are *not* insects. This is one of a variety of things we learned during our spider-themed Wonderworks.

We opened this storytime with a funny, yet educational, YouTube video from Sesame Street, which features actor Jim Parsons and a large spider-shaped muppet, both trying to explain the definition of “arachnid.”

Our nonfiction book selection was Spiders Are Not Insects, by Allan Fowler.  This Rookie Read-About Science book uses color photos and simple text to teach facts about spiders and to illustrate the differences between spiders and insects.  It also shows several popular varieties of spiders – large and small, poisonous and non-poisonous.  Although physically small, this book series rarely fails to keep the children interested and engaged.

spiders are not

After our book, we acted out the rhyme, Little  Miss Muffet a few times, hooking our thumbs together and wiggling our eight fingers around to make our spiders. We also discussed how spiders were not insects but rather arachnids.  To help us remember the word “arachnid,” we clapped out the each of the three syllables as pronounced it.

RhymeLittle Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet

Eating her curds and whey

Along came a spider

Who sat down beside her

And frightened Miss Muffet away!

After our rhyme, we read the picture book Aaaarrgghh! Spider!, by Lydia Monks, a fun story about a spider who wants to be a family pet.

aaarrg spider

Next, we sang Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s song, The Eensy Weensy Spider from their Great Big Hits cd.

For our activities, we made paper plate spider webs and Styrofoam egg carton spiders with eight little pipe cleaner legs.


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Apple Counting

If you’re ever looking for a great fall counting theme, this was a yummy one.

We read Ten Red Apples, by Pat Hutchins and Ten Apples Up on Top!, by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo LeSieg).

ten red apples

ten apples

We also did the participatory song/flannel board Farmer Brown Had Five Green Apples and jumped and froze to Jim Gill’s Jumping and Counting song.

For our activities, we did apple seed counting, for which the children had to count the number of seeds in each apple and match them to the corresponding numbered apple.

apple seed counting

They added dollops of whipped cream (cotton balls) to numbered apple pies.

whipped cream on pie

And finally, they got to make apple crowns to wear home.

apple crowns

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This past winter in Wonderworks, we decided it would be appropriate to do a theme on Igloos.

After opening with our Energy song, we asked the children what they knew about igloos.  We asked if they thought it would be easy or hard to make an igloo, if it would take a long time, where igloos were made.

We read the book Building an Igloo, by Ulli Stelzer and then showed them a brief YouTube video on the iPad of a man teaching his son how to make an igloo.

building igloo

When we’d finished reading the book and viewing the video, we asked the children the same questions that we had asked earlier to see if they had changed their opinions or learned anything new about the art of igloo building.

We then listened to and acted out the song, Let’s Play in the Snow, by Rachel Buchman. This is a wonderfully fun and imaginative (not to mention, silly) song about dressing up and going out to play in the snow.

Let’s Play in the Snow, by Rachel Buchman

Another good song/activity for this theme that we had in our plans but didn’t have time to do (but perhaps you might) is one that’s sung to the tune of All Around the Mulberry Bush.
Feel free to add as many verses as you’d like.

Song: This is the Way We Build an Igloo

This is the way we pack the snow

pack the snow, pack the snow,

this is the way we pack the snow,

when we build our igloo.

This is the way we cut the snow…

This is the way we lift the blocks…

This is the way we cut the door….


After our song, we read our picture book.  For this theme, we chose Jan Brett’s The Three Snow Bears, a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  The children loved Brett’s retelling of the familiar story of The Three Bears set in a polar igloo.

snow bears

Before moving on to our last activity, and because it’s one of the children’s favorites, we did Dr. Jean’s song, The Cool Bear Hunt.  This version of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt never fails to entertain our eager group.

For our activity, we constructed marshmallow igloos.  For this, we required a few bags of mini marshmallows, some tacky glue, some Styrofoam plates and some paper plates.  We passed out foam bowls (with openings that we had pre-cut) to the children upside down on paper plates with some tacky glue squirted on each child’s plate.  The children could then dip the marshmallows into the glue on their plate and add them to their bowls to make igloos. I am delighted to say each child completed his/her own igloo with little to no assistance whatsoever from accompanying adults.


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3,2,1 Blast Off!

3,2,1…Blast off!  A while back, when our Wonderworks program was still known as STEM Storytime, we explored the theme of rocket ship science, and we had (no pun intended) a blast.

As always, we began with our Energy song from Nancy Stewart’s Sing a Song of Science album.

For our non fiction title, we shared the Rookie Read-About Science book, Liftoff!, by Carmen Bredeson.  This book uses simple text and realistic images to clearly depict the journey of a space shuttle as it is moved to the launch pad and blasted off into space.


After discussing what we learned in our book, we watched a brief YouTube video on our iPad of a space shuttle launching into space.

Between books, we like to do a song, and Laurie Berkner’s Rocketship Run song was perfect for this week’s theme.  We all pretended to be rocket ships, following along with the actions of the song, blasting off into space, exploring the stars, sun, and moon and finally landing back on earth to listen to our next story.

Our picture book selection was Oliver Who Would Not Sleep, by Mara Bergman, a sweet tale about a little boy whose imagination flies him in a rocket ship to Mars.


For the activity portion of our storytime, we used old film containers, H2O and Alka Seltzer tablets to make high-shooting rockets.

Alka Seltzer Rockets

We sat far back and waited eagerly as the water dissolved tablet in the small plastic canister, creating many tiny air bubbles until suddenly….POP! the air bubbles forced the lid off the canister and blew our little rocket into the air!

alka selter

In addition to Alka Seltzer rockets, we also created balloon rockets, using yarn, a balloon, tape and a drinking straw.

Balloon Rockets

We experimented by raising and lowering the piece of yarn and by adding more and less air to the balloon. We made predictions about what we though would happen to the speed of the balloon each time we did something different.

balloon rocket

For our final song/activity, we did a version of Ring Around a Rosie, called Ring Around a Rocket Ship.

Ring around a rocket ship (all join hands in a circle)
Reach up and grab a star
(drop hands and reach up)
Star dust star dust
(sprinkle star dust)                                                                                                                                                                                  Fall where you are

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