Cultivate Wonder

Exploring Science with Children

Talking STEAM

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


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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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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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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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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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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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Full STEAM Ahead!

Wonderworks is the Westerville Public Library’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) storytime for preschoolers. This week’s program featured tunnels, beginning with Ryan Ann Hunter’s Dig a Tunnel.

We introduced the idea of tunnels for transportation — tunnels that go through mountains or even under water. We talked about trains that go underground in big cities before watching the Tumblebook version of  Subway Ride by Heather Lynn Miller.

This colorful picture book features different underground trains from around the world: from the London Underground (the Tube!) to Stockholm’s T-bana. In the pages featuring the New York subway, the Tumblebook plays jazzy music referenced in the text.  You can play Tumblebooks at home, just visit the library website and have your library card handy.tunnel1


You can also explore tunnels with your child at home. Save cardboard tubes from paper towels or wrapping paper to use as tunnels for trains and cars. Or use them to make your own marble run. We attached velcro to toilet paper rolls to create a marble run on the activity center wall (thanks to the LibraryMakers site for the idea!). Children love to crawl through tunnels, so save your cardboard boxes to make long tunnels.




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STEM Storytime: Building

This week’s preschool STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Storytime focused on building. First I asked the children what materials they like use to build things. Blocks, legos, sticks, sand, and snow were mentioned. All of these, plus many more, can be found in Christy Hale’s Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building (Lee & Low, 2012), which pairs illustrations of a child building with different materials with a corresponding work of architecture.dreaming up


Wooden blocks are juxtaposed with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Sand castles are paired with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. All the children nodded when I asked if they had a set of stacking rings when they were a baby.


After looking and talking about the book, children were given a variety of materials to construct their own edifices. And build they did!


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Marshmallow Bridges and Building Fun!

STEM Storytime recently focused bridges, featuring Phil Bildner’s Twenty-One Elephants (Simon & Schuster, 2004)

which tells the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge from a little girl’s point of view. Her father, family . . . indeed, everyone she knows, feels the bridge is unsafe. That is, until master showman P.T. Barnum parades his 21 elephants across as testimony to its stability.

We then learned about different kinds of bridges, like-beam, arch, suspension, and truss, and talked about what shape is most stable (the triangle), before beginning to build with marshmallows and toothpicks.


 The materials are basic, but open the door to so many possibilities!

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If you’re looking for an easy, open-ended activity for the kids, marshmallow building is a sure-fire hit!

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