Category Archives: Science & Sensory

Cloud Dough

‘Make Cloud Dough’ is an item that has been on my list of ‘Activity Ideas’ for a long time but we’ve never managed to try it. In fact, it was about two months ago that I bought baby oil for the project and I didn’t even put it away — it has been sitting on my counter taunting me every day.

After attending the Day with Lisa Murphy workshop I vowed not to put it off any longer.  I had played with the cloud dough there;

Cloud Dough at OGL workshop

So, last week I gathered the supplies we needed.  I couldn’t find the bin I usually use for sensory activities — I probably used it for something else and then forgot about it but I’ve decided to blame someone else for ‘stealing’ it.  ‘They’ also neatly packaged up the birdseed and toys that I had stored in the bin too. 🙂

Anyway, I found a different container that worked — maybe even better.  So we started with just flour.

They thought it was 'so soft' and may have been just as happy if we didn't add anything else.

I had put some of the ‘found’ bird seed in the centre section just for additional texture.

It felt 'different' but they liked the flour better.

Next I added the baby oil and they mixed — somewhat hesitantly at first;

No need to measure

Once they became accustomed to the new sensation they really got into it.

We added more baby oil as needed until the texture was 'just right'

Then we added some toys and even some of the birdseed

The animals played an impromptu game of ‘hide and seek’

'Help! I can't see.' says the sheep.

This container even has a lid so when we finished playing we covered it up and used it the next day…and the day after that too – becasue they asked again.

On a personal note — cloud dough is so much better than salt dough when you have dry skin.


Last week the temperature was mild — not quite warm enough to melt all the ice but comfortable for playing in the snow without getting soaked.

The children were curious, probing,  questioning and making discoveries.  It had not been cold enough to freeze the slush in the wok so it was still ‘soup’.

They wanted to add more ‘broth’ but the cool, cloudy conditions were not conducive to producing large volumes of liquid.  They searched, checking containers and valleys and anywhere else they thought water might accumulate.

Suddenly they noticed the slow drip of water from the downspout over the rain barrel and sprang into action.  First they tried using the big hose to channel the water from the spout to the wok but that idea was quickly abandoned as ‘too slow’.

Instead, they decided that it would be better to place a shallow container in the small space below the downspout.

I was not optomistic — watching the slow drip I was certain it would take a long time to fill their container.  A few minutes later they excitedly called me over to see the ripples that formed when the droplets landed in the container.

I was surprised that the container was nearly half full already!  They thought it was funny that I had doubted their method.  The next step was to get the water over to the wok.

They added the water to the soup and collected a little more before it was time to go in for snack.  Instead of adding the second batch they decided to leave it beside the wok as an ‘experiment’ for tomorrow.  Hmmm, what do you think might happen?

Is this what you expected?

There is still some water it the wok but there is only ice in the shallow container.  They broke it up so they could add it to the soup.

Now they wanted to add some ‘air’ to the soup too — I wondered how they intended to do this.  They had a plan.

Can you see the bubbles?  There were a lot of them but they were hard to capture with my camera.

It was a wonderful week full of “I wonder”…”what if”… and “let’s try”.  Investigating and collaborating.

Winter Science

Yesterday was February 1st and according to the weather station in my back yard it was +2 degrees Celsius. Not officially spring yet and but most of the surfaces looked like this;

The baby and I were watching some of the children ‘digging for worms’;

Apparently the springlike weather has them itching to get into the garden.  On the other side of the yard the children were singing a made up song about ‘doing science’ so I went to check it out.

After asking them a few questions I determined that they had removed a large chunk of ice from the wok and discovered that there had been water below it.  They had added some snow to the water — I assumed it was the beginning of their familiar ‘soup making’ activity — but I was wrong.

They explained that they were doing science — trying to ‘fix the ice’.  They moved the wok to the bench area and sat down.  Then they waited, staring silently at the wok;

I mistakingly assumed that they were trying to melt the slush that they had created so that they would again have water in the bottom of the wok.  I asked if they had moved it into the sunny spot to make it melt faster.

The snort and accompanying look of exasperation led me to believe that I was way off the mark so I asked her what she was trying to do.

‘Make more ice’ was her answer.  ‘Maybe it needs more snow’ she sighed and began adding some more.

The frustration was obvious as she watched the snow transform to more slush.  She declared the experiment to be a failure and went to play tag instead.

Sometimes even in winter you cannot make ice but the experiment is not necessarily over.  We left the slush in the wok — there may be a part two to winter science.


We often use play dough as a sensory play activity.  As they explore through touch — squeezing and squishing, rolling and cutting – they enhance fine motor skills too. With the addition of food coloring and spices the dough can excite the sight and smell senses also.  Of course there is always at least one child who insists on tasting.

When I make a new batch of play dough I divide it up into individual portions and put them in sandwich bags. The sandwich bags are then placed in a container and stored in the refrigerator until we want to use it.  I love watching the expressions on the children’s faces when they eagerly grab their ball of play dough and then quickly drop it back on the tray.

“Ooooh, it’s so cold!”  Feeling the change in temperature and texture as they work the dough adds a little science to the activity.

Using this storage method the play dough lasts much longer than if it was left at room temperature but it still doesn’t last forever.  Inevitably the dough will begin to loose its usefulness I need to make more.  The new batch will have different characteristics – maybe even some glitter or sand.

When I saw this activity over at Nurturing Young Minds I thought it would be a terrific way to extend the interest the children had shown for following the animal tracks in the snow outside.  I still had the ‘pumpkin spice’ dough we had been using but I didn’t think it would be a good substitute for snow.  Instead of just tossing it out I decided to let the children make some sculptures that they could take home.

I introduced the activity to the younger children in the morning when the older ones were in school.  They were thrilled to cut and shape the familiar dough but initially left the decorations untouched.  I think they may have been unsure about adding ‘stuff’ to the dough because usually I throw out the dough when it gets ‘dirty’.

I took some dough and supplies and made my own little sculpture as an example.  Tentatively they started making their own creations.

I left them to enjoy their creative process while I gave the baby his bottle.  I observed them from a distance as they made sculptures and then carefully separated all the ‘stuff’ from the dough and then made something new.

This process kept them engaged for over an hour! They seemed unconcerned about their lack of any ‘product’.  When I said it was nearly time to clean up for lunch that they hastily added a few loose bits to their ball of dough and placed it on the tray to dry.

The older children got their turn with this activity during quiet time in the afternoon when the little ones were napping.  They immediately dove in, rolled out their dough and stuck on some decorations – a process that lasted less than five minutes.  Then they moved on to other quiet time activities.

We’ve been watching the sculptures dry — checking daily to see if they are firm enough to pick up.  Today they will take them home.

For some it was all about the process and for others it was the product.

To Water or Not

I have two water barrels that collect rainwater to use for our garden and planters.  Filling watering cans to water the plants is one of the children’s favourite outdoor activities;

The rain barrel that is located in the gravel area has also been used to fill containers with water for play and experiments;

The hot dry summer has taken its toll on our water supply and, even with some restrictions on the amount of water we could use each day, our rain barrels are now empty.  My husband asked if I wanted him to use the hose from the house and fill the rain barrels.  I said no.  Empty rain barrels is part of the lesson.

So yesterday the weather forecast predicted rain and the dark clouds looked promising.  We went outside to play.  One of my ‘newest’ children said “I thought we wouldn’t play outside if it was going to rain.” I laughed.  “But we love the rain, why would we stay inside?”

Then it started, slowly;

And the dust began to turn to mud;

The rocks look really pretty when they are wet;

And the children noticed all the droplets of water;

And they were quick to react;

Sharing and working together;

But sadly the rain lasted barely five minutes — not nearly enough to produce the results we wanted;

But that too is part of the lesson.

Water Play

Without a regular water supply the childrens’ free play with water has been limited to  whatever water they can find in the yard after (or during) a rainfall.

Every summer we have at least one ‘Water Day’ where there are various water stations set up but these are somewhat structured water activities.  It has been one of my goals to incorporate water as a permanent feature of the loose parts area and by moving the rain barrel, phase one has finally been completed;

Water has become the ultimate ‘loose part’ and the children have been busy experimenting with it.  There was the familiar ‘soup’ which sometimes becames a swimming pool;

My son tried an experiment with sound and water;

One of the children expanded on it;

Those plastic jars with lids became very useful — shaking makes bubbles!

The jars also provide a way to transport the water to where you want to use it;

And you can ‘pour’ water down the slide without loosing the water;

Water and tubes and soup together — there were some issues with using dirty outdoor toys to blow bubbles (some of us were more concerned than others);

We practiced the ‘scoop and fill’ technique;

And experimented with obstacles in the path of water;

Taking turns trying both roles;

Since I was just wandering around taking pictures I got enlisted to hold the hose so it could be filled with water — I had to follow very specific instructions;

So the water ultimately got from jar to hose and then to another jar;

And of course ‘clean-up’ time has a whole new meaning now;

We have to make sure there is enough time to dry the toys too;

Good thing it was warm and sunny.


Impulse control and the ability to delay gratification are often difficult for young children.  One thing that gardening has shown me is that I may have some issues in this area as well.

In the past we have started our seeds indoors and then moved the seedlings to the garden once the weather was better and there was little chance of frost.  Last year we started our seeds far too early—twice — and they outgrew their containers.  Many of the seedlings  died before we could plant them outside.

With our unpredictable weather this year I was hesitant to start planting so we only did our grain seed experiment indoors. When the outdoor garden beds were ready we planted our grain seeds;

and some bean seeds and sunflower seeds were put in the planters around the yard.

Then we got busy with other projects until suddenly I realized that we had no vegetable plants or seeds to put in the garden!  Well, at least I can’t complain that we started them too early. Besides, Dave over at Sage Garden Herbs says that in our climate early June is the best time to start planting outdoors.

I made a quick trip to the store for some of our favourites – tomato plants and seeds for corn, peas, cucumbers and zucchini.  We finally start planting our vegetable seeds directly into the garden.

We used toilet paper tubes to mark the spots where we placed seeds so we wouldn’t accidentally pull the sprouts thinking they were weeds.  Hopefully the tubes would also help to prevent the cutworm damage we have experienced in previous years.

It rained for the next few days so we started some herbs indoors.  Since these were leftover seeds from last year or from our winter indoor garden project we were not sure how well they would grow.  So far they seem to be doing well.

I guess I shouldn’t always be using the term ‘vegetables’ since our tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and green beans are actually fruits.  We’ve also learned that the soybeans are also considered to be fruits even though we have included them with our grains.

Now comes the really difficult part for me – waiting.  Every day, when we go outside the children and I head to the garden first.  We marvel at the progress the grains are making – getting taller every day.

Then we check for any signs of other sprouts.  The children seem unconcerned when there are no visible signs of growth and they go off to play elsewhere.  I stay in the garden, waiting and wondering.  Were the seeds not good? Did we plant them too deep and the sprouts can’t reach the surface? I (barely) resist the urge to go poking around in the soil looking for them. I consider secretly planting more seeds in the same spots – more is better – right?

Why are they taking so long?  I know the seed packages say ‘7-14 days’ but the beans sprouted in just 4 days and a week later they looked like this;

Then finally, near the end of the advertised germination period we find the first zucchini sprouts.  By 2 ½ weeks we have corn, several cucumber and zucchini plants and just one of the peas.  You have to look very closely but they are there peeking out of the tubes.

The children are thrilled – they looked, cheered and went off to play again.  I inspect each new plant and then stare at the empty spots.  Why don’t you grow?  I notice all the vacant spots seem to be in the shadier parts of the garden.  That could definitely be a factor but still; it has been nearly three weeks now.

The children are content to wait.  They enjoy the whole process. I expect instant results.  I want to plant seeds one day and be eating fresh veggies by the end of the week.  I am an impatient gardener.

The Return

Last week was a short week here for the children and their parents. For me it was a diverse and very busy week.  It started with the May long weekend – still too cold to plant anything outside but that was ok because I still had a lot of work to do on the garden before it was ready for plants.

You may remember years back when we first started gardening that we used raised planter boxes.  These were very functional but I considered them somewhat boring – I’m definitely not a ‘square box’ type of person.  So, when we renovated the yard last year I added a real garden area because I think that being ‘in’ a garden is a magical experience.

Last year’s garden was certainly full of adventure but I have to admit that it was not without some design issues.  The raised sides of the old planter boxes had provided much needed support to young and old alike as we worked in the garden.  Without these raised borders there were many – usually accidental – tumbles off the pathway.  The garden plants were not impressed.

We also missed the arched trellis that had joined two of our old planter boxes together provided a ‘secret hiding place’ when it was covered in beans and cucumbers. (I try hard to say that correctly but the children’s “cucamumbers” name is such a cute word that sometimes I use it too).

So, with my husband willing to help me with the not-so-easy angle cuts we built a raised edge between the garden walkway and the outer planting beds.  I added three arched trellises over the little seating areas that had already been included in my original plan.  The centre planting section would have become too small if we had tried to make it into a raised bed so we just made a border using some log slices.

My husband refers to the border around the centre section as the ‘tomb stones’ for all the plants that don’t survive. The children and I are more optimistic.  Last week, the children were very excited about the changes that had been made.  They gravitated to the three arches, often sitting there for long periods and imagining what it will be like once they are covered with plants.  They carried on long conversations with the turtles and Old Man Tree.  We engaged in some exciting sensory activities with Coco Earth which starts out hard and impenetrable when it is dry;

But changes when we add water;

And it will be wonderful for the plants when now that we have mixed it with the soil in the garden.

The children were only here for two days last week before I was off to attend MCCA’s annual conference.  It was an enlightening and wondrous event.  I was thrilled to meet and attend workshops presented by Rae Pica and Bethe Almeras.  Now, refreshed and eager, I look forward to continue work on our garden project and many more exciting new adventures and experiences with the children.

Our Grain Project

I figure it is time for a quick update on our project to grow other grains in our garden besides wheat — background info here. I had purchase some lentils, Rye seeds, Oats, Spelt, Triticate, Kamut, Barley, and Quinoa from the Scoop N’Weigh store.

We began by taking a few of each of the grain seeds to examine at circle time.  I shared some information that I had learned about the various grains, where they originated and what they were used for.

The children examined the grains and I wrote down some of their comments and observations.

  • The Rye stinks – it smells like rye bread (apparently not a favourite bread)
  • The oats look like the rye.
  • It smells like horse poo. (it does remind me of the smell of a barn)
  • I think it smells like carrots and celery.
  • To me it smells like perfume and dinosaurs. (Can’t argue with this since I don’t know what a dinosaur smells like).
  • The quinoa is so cute – it is tiny and cool – looks like a seashell.

Then we glued the seed samples on the paper with the information to keep for future reference.

The following day we planted some of the seeds as a test to see if they would actually sprout – I was still a little doubtful.  Everyone got a turn to put some seeds in the soil.

The quinoa is so small it takes great fine motor skills to plant these ones.

Then I put the tray under the grow light and we waited.  The quinoa was the first to sprout – took just two days! Only two of the six quinoa seed sprouted though so I’m not sure if it will be a successful crop.

All of the lentils, Rye, Kamut, and Triticate sprouted and grew magnificently as did half of the Spelt.  The barley and the oats failed to sprout at all.  I even planted a second batch of each and they didn’t sprout either.  Still, more than 50% of the seeds we planted actually did sprout so I can’t complain.

One of our grandmothers with a farm connection has promised to get us some oats and soybeans from the country.  Maybe we’ll have more success with those oats. Hopefully I’ll complete the work on the garden (that will be another post) and we can get the rest of our seeds in the ground outside next week.