Close your eyes and put yourself in a young child’s shoes. You watch the teacher carefully twist open a brightly colored container. You peek inside and see a liquid sloshing around with a stick in it. The teacher pulls the stick out. There’s a circle on the end of the stick, but it looks empty. As your attention begins to wander, she puts it to her mouth and blows. Like magic, three-dimensional circles appear in the air. The bubbles float in different directions. You can see through them, yet you can also see bright colors. When you finally touch one of the bubbles, it disappears!
Learning With Bubbles
The most effective sources of early learning are immediate, meaningful, and involve children’s discovery and choice. Bubbles not only involve children in learning, but they are fun, easy to use, and ever-changing. In addition, many science processes such as, investigation, discovery, experimentation, observation, definition, comparison, and classification can be learned simply by playing with bubbles. Bubbles help children develop self-concept as they learn about themselves and the world around them, and language development is enhanced when children learn new words to describe bubbles, explain tasks, and label and record bubble experiments.
Bubble Properties and Recipes
Bubbles are made of air trapped inside a hollow liquid ball. The colors visible in bubbles come from light reflecting on the bubbles’ surface. Bubbles float up because warm air is lighter than cold air. If the air blown into the bubble is warmer than the air around it, the bubble will float up.
There are many great bubble recipes to choose from. You will need to experiment to find a bubble recipe that works for you. The type of dishwashing liquid you use, the weather outside, and the type of water you use can all affect bubble quality. Some mixtures produce longer-lasting bubbles if placed in the refrigerator for a few minutes or if allowed to stand for a day or two before using. More detergent than water creates giant bubbles and adding glycerin or sugar slows down water evaporation that causes bubbles to pop.
Other great ideas for bubbles include:
- Making bubble sculptures. As a child blows into a half cup of bubble solution, a mountain of bubbles will appear.
- Using pipe cleaners to make bubble wands of different shapes.
- Making or tasting foods with bubbles like Swiss cheese, breads, ginger ale, and meringue pie.
- Having a bubble race. The first child across the finish line without popping his or her bubble wins!
- Drawing with bubbles. Adding food coloring to the bubble mixture makes a great art project. Encourage the children to blow bubbles with a straw on a tabletop. Then place a piece of white paper on the top until the bubbles pop. The bursting bubble will create interesting designs and patterns.
- Make a bubble tube with two feet of one-inch plastic tubing from the hardware store and two corks that fit snugly in the tubing. Fill the plastic tubing with water, leaving an inch from the end of the tube. Add a few drops of food coloring. Kids love to watch the bubble travel down the tube.
Recently, I watched my daughters (20-months and 5-years-old) play with bubbles. They ran after each bubble trying to catch or stomp them. Sometimes they flopped on the grass and watched the bubbles float up on their journey in the sky. Other times, they squatted beside a bubble in the grass and delighted in the spray that resulted when it finally popped. What a wondrous thing, that different-aged children enjoyed, giggled, and explored! Share this experience with the children in your classroom and watch what happens.
Angie Dorrell, M.A., is the former Director of Curriculum for La Petite Academy, one of the nation’s largest providers of early childhood education programs. She serves as a NAEYC accreditation validator and commissioner. She is the proud mother of two young daughters.