Cultivate Wonder

Exploring Science with Children

Exploring Bridges with the Three Billy Goats Gruff

IMG_8484(2)We began with The Three Billy Goats Gruff, illustrated by Janet Stevens.  Check out the eldest of the Gruff brothers, one of the hippest, toughest brothers I’ve seen in a picture book!

IMG_8487We tapped the “trip-trap” sound of the goats hooves on the bridge, getting louder as the brothers grow in size, finally hitting the floor to make the loudest “trip-trap” sounds with the biggest brother. The children enjoyed repeating the sounds when we acted the story out after reading the book.

Next I read part of Ken Robbins Bridges (Dial, 1991), a lovely nonfiction picture book with evocative hand-colored photographs and short and very informative explanations for why bridges are built different ways. The book includes London’s famous Tower Bridge, which features a drawbridge (bascule) that goves up to allow boats to pass underneath.  We watched a simple animation of a drawbridge, and then built our own drawbridges out of cereal boxes. It is a fairly simple project, but cutting cardboard, punching holes, and measuring the yarn required adult assistance.




It was great to see the interactions taking place — lots of scaffolding here, with parents guiding little hands to thread the yarn through, having them help measure the length, etc. And when it’s over, pull the yarn to lift the bridge and put it over your shoulder to carry home. One child used his portable bridge to carry a library book safely home!

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Bones, Bones, Bones

One of my favorite science storytimes is all about bones. (See:“The Foot Bone’s Connected to the Ankle Bone”) Partly because I just love S.D. Schindler’s outrageously funny illustrations for Skeleton Hiccups. bodybonesThis year I added a new find: Body Bones by Shelly Rotner and David A. White (Holiday House , 2014), with stunning illustrations that allow children to literally see inside people and animals — to see how bones support and structure living things.

The follow up activity is one I remember from my own childhood: lying down on a huge sheet a paper (huge from my childhood memory) and having someone draw around you so there is an outline of your body.  Accompanying adults are encouraged to participate in Wonderworks, and activities like this require it.

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I love the interaction that you can see going on in the photographs below. I provided a basic outline of a skeleton, and many children and parents chose to use these as a reference, to draw in the bones where they go.



I overheard great conversations like, “yes, that’s where your ribs go, but I think they are a little longer than that. Can you make them longer?”


I think the Body Bones book encouraged more children in the past to try this. One child did bones on one side of the paper, then flipped it over and drew their clothes!


As in the past, I was delighted by the range and variety of their creativity.



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Would you like to live in a treehouse?

At the Books & Blocks program at Westerville Library, we explored treehouses.

jackjilltreehouseWe read Jack and Jill’s Treehouse by Pamela Duncan Edwards (HarperCollins, 2008), which is written in a cumulative “house that Jack built” style.


Then we read part of Adventure Homes by Gerry Bailey (Crabtree, 2013) which has a great outline of the structure of a treehouse, and includes information and photographs of the Korawai and Kombai people of Papua New Guinea, who are known as “the tree people” because they build their houses high in the forest trees.

Afterwards, the children built with a variety of materials: wooden blocks, legos, magnetic blocks and large cardboard bricks.





They also used ramps and balls, envisioning having slides to descend from the treehouse.



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Books & Blocks: Castles

The Books & Blocks program at Westerville Public Library is fun, simple, and engaging. We start by reading a book or two, singing a song and moving around, and then build! With wooden blocks, legos, or other materials. Last week we explored castles (though children are free to build anything they want.)

Book: Mr. King’s Castle by Geneviève Côté


Book: Castle: How it Works by David Macaulay


Song: “Up Goes the Castle”, from Sesame Street

In the photos below, you can see one child building a castle with an outer wall, central keep, and four watchtowers, just as Macaulay describes in Castle.

“Up Goes the Castle” is a wonderful, quiet (and silly) song where the castle is on your stomach! The children are lying down with their hands making the castle on their stomach — as the breath out, the castle goes down; breathe in, the castle goes up. Great for a program like yoga tales as well. I was delighted at how well a quiet song worked in a preschool storytime.

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Under the Kapok Tree

Or, what happens after a children’s librarian visits the rainforest?

robinI first explored a trees theme in Wonderworks in the Spring of 2013:

Yesterday we revisited the theme with a different twist. On a trip to Costa Rica the previous week, I saw a kapok (ceiba) tree. Of course I’m familiar with Lynne Cherry’s The Great Kapok Tree (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990).greatkapok

But after seeing a 400 year old kapok tree in person, it took on new meaning. To say it was impressive is an understatement. It was simply an amazing, awe inspiring, wondrous thing.

Here are some pictures that I shared with the children:

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kapokcanopyI left these picture BIG because the tree is just so big and majestic itself.

I also read Debbie Miller’s Are Trees Alive? (Walker, 2003) as an introduction to trees and used the songs mentioned in the earlier post about trees.

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Space, Rockets & Gravity


The morning of this storytime, Wednesday, March 11 at 11:30 a.m., I checked the NASA site looking for a good video clip to show to accompany the books I had chosen. Turns out, NASA was conducting a solid rocket booster test, broadcast live, at 11:30 a.m.! I couldn’t believe my luck! So I pulled up the link on the new SmartBoard, Internet was working beautifully, and had the NASA TV live broadcast playing as children entered the room (for once I opened the doors a bit early!) And it turns out that a solid rocket booster test is a pretty impressive thing to see — lots of fire and smoke! And it all began with a real countdown (10-9-8 . . .) and many of the children joined in. You can watch the replay here: and read more about it on the NASA site.

After this opening, we talked about rockets and travelling to space. I asked if anyone had ever been to Mars or the moon, and this group knew a surprising amount about space (no air, robots have been to Mars, but not people).gravity-cover

I read Jason Chin’s Gravity (Roaring Brook, 2014) and they were totally engrossed by the illustrations.

Then I conducted a mini-rocket launch (the reliable Alka-Seltzer in a film caster type), complete with safety glasses and countdown. After putting the glasses away, we watched/read Eight Days Gone by Linda McReynolds (Charlesbridge, 2012) in Tumblebook format.

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I also showed them the physical book afterwards and we talked about some of the images and travelling to the moon. I showed them the two-page spread below, and asked them what the blue green object was.


They all responded with “the earth!” So I asked, but isn’t the earth round? To which one said, “it’s night on the other part” and another said “it’s there — see how you can’t see any stars where the earth is?” I was amazed at how closely they were looking and observing and thinking about things.

This book is featured on RIF’s Multicultural STEAM Booklist for 2012-13 and their website offers suggested activities and handouts for parents.

Next, we danced and moved to “Rocketship Run” by Laurie Berkner, which featured even more counting backwards.

For the activity, kids made their own paper rockets, powering them with a straw.



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Rolling Along: Wheels & Gears

I opened with What Do Wheels Do All Day? by April Jones Prince, illustrated by Giles Laroche. (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) This was a great introduction for preschoolers. The children had fun talking about the many different objects with wheels in the various pictures. Sometimes only a very small part is pictured, and the kids debated whether one was a dump truck or a school bus (all that is pictured is a large, bumpy wheel with a bit of yellowy orange color around it.)


Then I talked about wheels being a tool; people had to invent them (they don’t just occur in nature). This was our main idea. Wheels were invented over 5,000 years ago.  Wheels make it easier to move things. You can move heavy things that you could not otherwise move and can travel faster with wheels, whether bikes or skates or wagons or buses or trains.

Preschoolers always need to move around, so we did Jim Gill’s “Sliding, Rolling and Jumping.”


Gears Go, Wheels Roll by Mark Weakland (Capstone Press, 2011). Another great introduction at the preschool level. There is a large two page spread of a girl pulling two other children in a wagon. I asked what if the wagon did not have wheels? Would she still be able to pull them? The immediate response was no! too heavy! so they understood the point of a wheel as a tool. A gear is a type of wheel that has teeth. Turning one gear can turn another, or even many others. It was important to understand a gear as several stations involved gears.

Wheels & Azles by Valerie Bodden (Simple Machines series, Creative Education, 2011) would be a good alternative/additional book.

Kids explored gears at several different stations, playing with how the teeth interlock, which way one gear moves when another touches it, etc. They also raced cars on ramps and constructed their own vehicles out of legos to try out the ramps. I set up three ramps at different heights to begin with and asked them to try them out to see which was the fastest. We talked about making predictions before they began. It wasn’t long before some began moving the supports for the ramps in order to make them even higher. This is just the sort of experimentation I like to see during the activity time.


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How do penguins stay warm in winter?

It’s all about the feathers . . .

I began by showing the children a globe and asking if they knew what it was. The verbal response was “the earth!” and I supplied the word “globe.” I asked where they lived and showed them Ohio on the globe and pointed out that Ohio is in the Northern Hemisphere, or top half, of the globe. Penguins live in the south, and though we usually think of the south as warm, penguins live soooo far south that it is cold. I pointed out the southern tips of Africa and South America where some penguins (like the one in today’s story live) before showing them Antarctica at the bottom.


Then I read the rhyming, nonfiction picture book Pierre the Penguin: A True Story by Jean Marzollo (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010). This story is full of a child appeal — a penguin who loses his feathers and so can’t swim and is shunned by other penguins, until a female biologist thinks of creating a wetsuit to help Pierre. There’s even a video of Pierre:

Next it was time for our experiment. We made a circle and then passed around a cube of ice — brrr! it was cold. Then I passed a cube of ice in a dish and a sandwich size plastic bag filled with feathers. They used the feather-filled bag to pick up the piece of ice . . . and discovered it wasn’t cold! So that’s how birds keep warm in the winter . . . feathers!

We hopped around to Johnette Downing’s “Rockhopper Penguin” song from Fins and Grins, with kids choosing to swim, glide, dive, or even slide on their bellies, in addition to much hopping.


Then we “read” Molly Idle’s Flora and the Penguin, a wordless book. Children took turns describing the action and the mood (very important in this one) of the story.

The art activity was creating penguins out of different shapes of construction paper I provided: black and white ovals, orange and black triangles. I also provided a sheet with different kinds of penguins — we talked about how small Pierre is (African penguins are 18″ tall) and compared his height to that of an Emperor Penguin (up to 48″ tall). We looked at how some penguins have a few distinctive feathers or markings — like the Rockhopper Penguin in the song. I love the variety of details that the children came up with, all starting with the same few materials:

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Pierre the Penguin is on the RIF’s STEAM Multicultural Booklist for 2012-13, which is a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, and librarians. Books on the list have activities suggested (including the ice one I did today) and great handouts for parents.

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Wild about Wombats

diaryofawombatEver since I read Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat (Clarion, 2003), I’ve been wild about wombats. On a recent visit to the Columbus Zoo, I discovered that they are now home to a wombat, Glen, one of very few zoos outside Australia to have one, as they are very closely regulated (rightly so.) And young Glen is just as adorable as Mothball, charmingly drawn by Bruce Whatley in French’s books. Though Wildlights is one of the main reasons people visit the zoo on a cold evening in December, another great bonus is that the animals in the nocturnal house are awake. Somehow we even lucked into arriving just before feeding time. IMG_2094

As the caretaker entered Glen’s enclosure with a handful of carrots, the little wombat stopped digging and gave all his attention to him, ears swiveling alertly forward. When the person stopped, Glen trotted over eagerly (wombats are actually pretty fast runners as it turns out!) So we saw Glen dig, scratch and roll in the dust, and eat carrots . . . just like the wombat of the book. You can see Glen in this video from the zoo:

All of this wombat fascination inspired a wombat storytime. I brought in a globe and began by showing the children where Ohio was and then where Australia is. We talked about the several unique animals that are found in Australia: kangaroos, koalas, and wombats.


In addition to Diary of a Wombat, I shared Carol Diggory Shields’ Wombat Walkabout (Dutton, 2009). with its’ whimsical illustrations by Sophie Blackall.


In adapting this program for a slightly younger audience, I’m planning to use one of Charles Fuge’s wombat stories.


Other books include Michael Morpugo’s Wombat Goes Walkabout (HarperCollins, 1999)

one-very-tired-wombat-by-renee-treml-soft-cover.jpgand Renee Treml’s One Very Tired Wombat (Random House, 2013).

Songs included “Here Comes a Bear” by the Wiggles, which does include a wombat in one of the verses. Other than the bear, the animals mentioned are Australian, and children can act out the motions with the song (the kangaroo hops, snake slithers, and wombat crawls).

We learned how wombats are called “nature’s bulldozers” because of their incredible capacity for digging and the large tunnels they dig (again, just like in French’s book, where the wombat digs several holes, including one right up under the human’s house!) We watched a BBC video where the reporter actually goes into a wombat’s tunnel before designing our

own wombat tunnels.


This craft uses two paper plates and turns so that the tunnel below the ground can be revealed. Children had fun playing a hide and seek type game with the wombat.

wombatcovnRead more about the real Mothball, the inspiration for Diary of a Wombat, on Jackie French’s site:

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Let the Pumpkins Roll!

I began with one of my favorite pumpkin books, Wendell Minor’s Pumpkin Heads. The kids were especially giggly tonight, laughing throughout this one.pumpkin-heads
Action Rhyme: I’m a Little Pumpkin

I’m a little pumpkin
Short and stout
Packed full of seeds that you can scrape out.
When you’re all finished, then I’ll be
The cutest jack o’lantern you ever did see.

Next I read Ken Robbins Pumpkins, a nonfiction picture book illustrated with photographs showing the growth of a pumpkin from seed to sprout to vine to flower to fruit.


Counting Rhyme: Five Little Pumpkins

Five little pumpkins by the barn door
An owl took one,
And then there were four.
Four little pumpkins, as you can plainly see,
One became pumpkin pie,
And then there were three.
Three little pumpkins feeling very blue,
One rolled far away
And then there were two.
Two little pumpkins alone in the sun,
One said, “so long”
And then there was one.
One little pumpkin left all alone,
A little boy chose him
And then there were none.

Pumpkin Song
(tune: Clementine)

I saw a pumpkin, a big fat pumpkin
It was growing on vine,
______ came along and picked one
Took it home and said “It’s Mine!”

For this song, have each child come and pick a pumpkin off the “vine” (green yarn strung like a clothesline).


Song with Shakers: Pumpkin Patch Polka

Additional Books:

Esbaum, Jill. Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin, Pie.
Hall, Zoe. It’s Pumpkin Time.
Levenson, George. Pumpkin Circle. (a great video as well!)
McNamara, Margaret. How many seeds in a pumpkin?

Activities included:

Sink and float (Do pumpkins float?)


What does a pumpkin look like inside? I provided spoons and a dish to scoop out insides to get a closer look.


Pumpkin & gourd weighing and balancing


How fast do pumpkins roll?
Children tried out new ramps and chutes with small pumpkins.They extended the chutes in ways I didn’t expect and even tried to make the pumpkins roll up . . . and were pretty successful!


These materials were funded by a recent Target Community Grant and I anticipate they will get much use!

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