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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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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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.

eight days

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.




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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