Cultivate Wonder

Exploring Science with Children

Celebrating Jupiter

junoThe Juno spacecraft continues to send back amazing photographs of Jupiter on its’ regular flybys. Pictured above is one of the stunning images of Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. Take a look at more of the spectacular images here. (Warning! It’s easy to get lost in time browsing these.)

Does anyone remember the initial excitement around Juno? The Juno spacecraft arrived near Jupiter on July 4, 2016. This was a big deal (in pre-solar eclipse times).

As the library was closed on July 4th, we celebrated on July 5 with a “Jump to Jupiter” program based on Star_Net libraries‘ program of the same name, Jump to Jupiter, available at their STEM Activity Clearinghouse. I saw this program demonstrated at ALA Midwinter, during a Deep Dive session offered by Star_Net Libraries: Creating Out-Of-This World Children’s Science Programming with Free NASA Resources, and was excited to try it in the library. starnet-logo-206x80

The big idea for this program was that “Space is big.” Of course it is — you know that! – but creating a scale model of the solar system really helps to convey this idea in concrete, physical terms. It definitely helped me to more fully appreciate the distances between and sizes of planets.

Maker:S,Date:2017-10-24,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-veThe model is to scale — both in terms of the planets relative size and their relationship to one another. To begin with, the sun is a grapefruit. This means Mercury is a barely visible speck, and the earth is a sea salt crystal. The inner planets were attached to a card so that a volunteer could hold them.

After an introduction in the meeting rooms, children began their planetary journey at the sun, just outside the door. The inner planets were able to be placed in the main hallway, within the sightline of the sun. That way you could explain to the children that they could see how big the sun would look if they were actually standing on the surface of that planet.


After Mars, the course got a bit more irregular, heading up the staircase to the adult section to find Jupiter (a wooden pony bead), then winding back down the stairs, across the atrium, past the media and teen sections and all the way to the back of the youth department and then reversing course to reach Saturn.


From there, the journey reversed back  through the hallway to Uranus. Neptune and Pluto were outside the library — down the sidewalk and then several blocks toward Uptown Westerville. A sign (and a volunteer during the busiest time) asked children not to leave the library without a grownup!

Teen volunteers manned each planetary station, equipped with fun facts about their planet and a sticker for each participant’s bookmark.

Completed bookmarks were turned in and children could choose a Juno Mission Patch button at the end of their journey.




Read about how another library adapted this program for their library:

Planet Hoppers (

and you can too!

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Talking STEAM

Here is the presentation for the Franklin County Head Start STEAM Conference, presented March 20, 2017:


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Polar Bears!

I’m Annamarie, another youth librarian at Westerville Library, guest-blogging on Cultivate Wonder! I presented Wonderworks while Robin was at ALA Midwinter. We talked about Polar Bears!


This topic was particularly pertinent because our local zoo recently hand-raised an adorable polar bear cub named Nora. This background information was a great starting point for conversation about polar bears.

After kicking off storytime with “Energy” from Nancy Stewart’s Sing a Song of Science, we talked about polar bears, particularly Nora from the Columbus Zoo. After talking about how Nora moved to the Oregon Zoo, I showed a video of the three new polar bear cubs at the Columbus Zoo (not yet available for viewing).

This led to our first book, Kali’s Story: An Orphaned Polar Bear Rescue by Jennifer Keats Curtis and photographed by John Gomes. This true story chronicles a baby polar bear that was rescued in Alaska after his mother died. We watched another quick video of the real-life, grown-up Kali playing at his new home at the St. Louis Zoo.


We got up and stretched with a music break. We swam around the room while the music played and jumped on an iceberg as soon as the music stopped.

After getting some wiggles out, we talked about the color of a polar bear. Polar bears are not white—their fur is clear and reflects all colors of light (making it appear white). This led to a discussion about a new vocabulary word—camouflage. We looked at six different animals on a white background and recognized that the polar bear was the hardest to see.

Then, I projected the iPad onto our Smartboard to show the Endless Alphabet app. This app shows vocabulary words and scrambles the letters across the screen for the user to drag back to the main word one at a time, helping practice letter recognition and phonological awareness. After attendees correctly identified each letter and found it on the screen, a short animated video played, displaying the definition of camouflage visually before a definition was also spoken aloud. This was my first time using this app with a group, and I was thrilled at how much the group seemed to enjoy this unique activity.


Sample screenshot of Endless Alphabet from iTunes App Store

After a quick stretch break (Polar Bear, Polar Bear Turn Around), we talked about where polar bears live using a globe. Since Kali, the polar bear in our book, was from Alaska, we quickly recognized that Alaska was a polar bear habitat. We talked a little about north and south and identified some other animals that call the Arctic Circle home. We also talked about how penguins do not live with polar bears and why that might be.

jacket-1As a last literacy activity, I used the discussion of other Arctic animals to transition into my second book, Polar Bear, Arctic Hare: Poems of the Frozen North by Eileen Spinelli. I read aloud a few poems from this book, including “Polar Bear Family.”

After that, it was time to break up into our stations:

  • Size Comparisons: I displayed a life-sized polar bear (10 feet long) and four life-sized polar bear paw prints (12 inches long). Attendees compared their size to a real polar bear and used rulers to practice measuring skills.
  • Craft: Attendees practiced their cutting and gluing skills while making a polar bear craft. Many attendees decorated their polar bear and its habitat during this process.
  • Blubber Experiment: Small groups of 3-5 preschoolers at a time visited me at the blubber water station. We put our hands in a big tub of ice water. As expected it was very cold! No one could keep their hand in the water very long. We then tested three pre-packaged insulators: Styrofoam packing chips, cotton balls, and shortening. When we put our hands in these bags, and then put the bags in the water, our hands stayed warm—similar to how blubber keeps a polar bear warm in freezing temperatures. You can find instructions for this experiment here.

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Freezing & Melting

Ideas: States of matter, reversible change – water to ice & vice versa (reversible change)

Materials: popsicles, labels, crayons, cups or bowls, spoons

As children come in, they choose a popsicle, unwrap it and put in a cup, write their name on the cup and leave the cup on a table in the window, then come back to the center for stories and songs.

Opening song: “Energy” from Nancy Stewart’s Sing a Song of Sciencewhatistheworld

Book: What is the World Made Of?  All About Solids, Liquids and Gases by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld (selections) and/or Freezing and Melting by Robin Nelson -we passed an ice cube around and talked about how it felt holding it (cold!!) and how our hands felt after we passed it to the next person (wet — why? because it melted a little).

Talk about solids, liquids, gases & have children demonstrate each (being perfectly still, moving a little—waving arms, slowly, then excitedly for gas)

Video/Song: “Solid, Liquid, Gas” by They Might be Giants from Here Comes Science tmbg

Book: Why Did My Ice Pop Melt?  By Susan Korman

Talk about liquid vs. solid

— what else melts? (chocolate . . .)

–how can you make things melt? (warm it up, put it in the sun); some things melt, others burn (reversible change vs. not reversible: paper, wood burn)

Pass around ice cube!

Song: “Rock & Roll Freeze Dance” from Hap Palmer’s So Big: Activity Songs for Little Ones

Take a bite ( or a drink) of popsicle – has it melted??

How could you make it melt faster??

Suggestions included warming it up with a hairdryer and putting it in the microwave.

shareBook: Should I Share my Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

Song: “Ice Cream” by Asheba from Putumayo’s Picnic Playground:
Musical Treats from Around the World

   –Free dance with scarves

After all this waiting, it’s time to eat popsicle soup!!

For more ideas, see Even More Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children’s Books to Guide Inquiry K-5  by Karen Ansberry (National Science Teacher’s Association), Chapter 6: Freezing and Melting.


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More with Light & Dark

As the days are getting shorter, or more accurately, the hours of light are getting shorter and it is dark for longer periods of time, it seemed a good time to explore light and dark. I’ve explored similar topics before, but this was a different combination of books and activities.

We began with Lemony Snicket’s The Dark. It’s October, and I appreciate that this book can empower children to overcome their fear of the dark. We talked about who sleeps with a nightlight, and how the character uses a flashlight.oscar_and_the_moth

Then I shared Oscar and the Moth by Geoff Waring, one of a series of fantastic preschool science books featuring Oscar the Cat. It talks about animals that come out at night (like the moth) as well as animals that make their own light (like the anglerfish). And it talks about making shadows, which was one of our activities. I set up the projector on a blank wall, and the kids and parents made shadows. Such a simple activity — and it was so popular!


We also painted with light, using iPads and flashlights. See this post about how to paint with light.We used the LongExpo Free app (which works on iPad as well as iPhone), though there is probably a newer app as well (recommendations welcome!)

Another station was a light table — fun to mix colors and build in the dark!


We also put on our safety glasses and explored with squishy circuits. We had done a dance (Hap Palmer’s Switch on the Music) and explored electricity with an electricity stick. The main idea was that circuit sounds like circle — and the electricity has to go in a circle in order to work. We can see that when the lights light up! See this post on squishy circuits.


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That’s how we ROLL!

For our second summer science program we explored Wheels & Gears. In addition to the stations mentioned in the post from last year, we added two stations featuring Lego Duplo Simple Machines:* a spinning top with a crank and a hockey playing robot. Check them out in the photo gallery below!

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*Note: These were purchased with a Target Education Grant received in 2014. 

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Fun in the Sun (or the Magic of UV!)

The first Summer Science program was a great success! We learned about the sun, UV rays, and talked about ways to stay safe in the sun.


I read The Sun, Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley (HarperCollins, 2002  ) from the Let’s Read and Find Out Science Series to introduce some ideas about the sun (it’s a star!), size and space, and the life-giving qualities as well as the reasons to be careful. Next we made a circle and walked (orbited) to “Sally Go Round the Sunshine.”

sun roca


Next I read part of The Sun by Nuria Roca, Carol Isern and Rocio Bonilla (Barron’s, 2014) The friendly narrative tone of Alice and Oliver’s experiences with the sun reinforced the earlier ideas about size, space, light, heat and UV rays. Most kids can relate to the frustration of an ice cream melting on a hot day! To give them an idea of scale, I brought in volleyball to represent the sun and a pin to show the relative size of the earth (as described in the book). Children passed the volleyball around, while I showed them the pin.

But the idea of invisible light from the sun we cannot see? A much harder idea to grasp. To try to “show” them the UV light, I brought in UV beads. These are clear, but turn colors when exposed to UV. I had asked them how they protect themselves from the sun. Answers included hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, and staying in the shade. I showed a short sun safety video featuring the Minions, which repeated these ideas.

With pipe cleaners, pony beads, and UV beads, we created UV friends (or cats, or dogs, or bracelets . . . etc.). This turned out to be a great activity for fine motor skills as well as a science experiment.

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After construction, the kids took their creations outside to watch the UV beads turn colors in the sun:

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“Is it magic?” one three year old asked her mom. Next, the young scientists were given an assortment of materials they could use to test if they blocked UV rays: sunscreen, light and dark cloth, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and sunglasses. The beads change back to clear about a minute after being taken inside (or covered up — away from UV light.)


This was a fun way to make the invisible rays of the sun visible to the kids. Many tried all the options and left thinking of other things they might try at home to see if they block UV light. Hopefully they will also remember to wear their hats and sunscreen this summer while having fun in the sun!

Note: This science storytime was inspired by and based on the activity “UV Kid” from the Science-Technology Activities and Resources (STAR_Net) program, developed by the Lunar and Planetary Institute, which I learned about through the workshop “Creating Out-of-this-World Children’s Science Programming With Free NASA Resources” at NASA workshop at ALA Midwinter, January 10, 2016.








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Encouraging Fledglings

Every year I introduce birdwatching to families in our Wonderworks (STEAM) Storytime ) and encourage them to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This year’s bird count is this weekend — February 12-15, 2016 — which is a long weekend for many people. My  interest stems from my family’s experience of participating in Project Feederwatch, in which you count birds in your yard over a series of months (November-April). The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great introduction to citizen science as it requires only a very brief time commitment. It takes place over four days, but you can count just once, just for 15 minutes, or every day. You can count on a visit to a park or on a wintery hike, or in your backyard. Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (the same folks as sponsor project Feederwatch) the Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. It’s grown into a global phenomenon, as you can see from a map showing last year’s participants, who counted over 8 million individual birds.gbbc-2015This year they are encouraging experienced birdwatchers to introduce young people (fledglings) to birdwatching — to take the pledge to fledge. It’s easy to join in this worldwide phenomenon — instructions and bird guides are available online.

In storytime, I read Simon James The Birdwatchers and About Birds: A Guide for Children by Catherine Sill, illustrated by John Sill (2nd editon; Peachtree Publishers, 2013)About birds

Next the children made birdfeeders with paper towel rolls, crisco, and birdseed.


I also introduced children to the Merlin Bird Identification app (free, iOS & Android) which helps identify birds. It is very child-friendly, requiring very little reading. The app asks for the size of bird, then gives a range for them to choose from. It ask for up to 3 colors spotted, and where the bird was seen (on the ground, at a feeder, in flight). After a few questions, the app returns a list of possible birds sighted. IMG_9196


For each bird, it includes bird calls as well. We identified one bird together  — I told them I had seen one on my way into work that day. I had four iPads with the apps for them to experiment with, with their grownup’s help. Some used a bird book to test out the app; others used the Great Backyard Bird Count poster to see if they could identify the bird depicted (a nuthatch!)



The interaction between parents and children was genuine and all seemed to really enjoy the activity — one even downloaded it for their phone before leaving the program!


Why don’t you try out Merlin & join the world in counting birds this weekend? It’s fun and easy and you’ll be contributing to science!






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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.

IMG_8110 (1)


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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