The aim of this is to get kids thinking about why we choose certain materials for different object. We adapted an idea from this great website and tried it with preschoolers from the lovely Orchard House Nursery in Tamworth.
Start with some different objects and put them in a cloth bag. Get your child to reach into the bag and choose an object. Before they lift it out, get them to describe it. Some words you can prompt them with are…
You don’t have to put the objects in a bag, but it helps for getting your child to focus on touch and texture rather than what the object looks like. This activity could also work well as a scavenger hunt. Look around the house for a crinkly object, a soft object etc.
The objects we chose were a wooden spoon, a metal spoon, a ceramic egg cup, a fluffy glove, a paper bag, a plastic toy and a swimming hat. With older children you can ask them what different objects are made from.
Teddy goes camping
The aim of this experiment is to work out which material is best to make teddy’s tent out of. It works best in the garden as it involves water! You will need:
- 3 teddies (I got 3 from a charity shop)
- Small watering can full of water
- Frame for a tent – I built a simple one using bamboo sticks and tape
- Materials to cover the tent – I cut these out of a plastic bag, a large piece of tissue paper and a cotton sheet
Start with the tissue paper. Cover the tent and tape the paper in place. Then start the story.
Three teddies decide to go camping. The first teddy made his tent out of paper. He climbed inside and lay down to sleep.
In the middle of the night it started to rain! Oh no! (at this point, get your child to tip the watering can over the tent) What happens to teddy’s tent?
Poor teddy got wet!
Repeat the experiment with a bit of cotton sheet and plastic sheet. You should find that the cotton sheet isn’t as bad as the tissue, but it gets wet and eventually drips through. With the plastic, point out to your child that the water runs straight off.
The learning point from this experiment is that in our everyday lives, we use different materials for different things. Plastic is good for teddy’s tent because it’s waterproof. The rain runs straight off it.
This is a great introduction to some of the ideas they’ll meet in school during Key Stage 1. They will learn to identify different everyday materials such as wood, plastic and glass. They will also learn to describe physical properties of materials. Are they hard or soft, rough or smooth? What are different materials used for?
In our session, we went a bit further to talk about some problems with materials and introduce our group to environment and recycling. You can explain to your child that plastic is really useful for lots of different things because it is waterproof. But a bad thing about plastic is that it doesn’t rot down. If it ends up in a river or in the sea it will just keep floating around.
Keep the concepts fairly simple. With our group we said “if the plastic ends up in the sea, something might eat it”. What creatures live in the sea that might eat the plastic? The children had a lot of fun naming different sea creatures.
We wanted to introduce the children to the idea that plastic can float around in the ocean and swirl around in the currents. A lot of scientists study this by taking samples of the ocean and then building up computer models of where plastic is most concentrated. The most famous of these areas of high plastic concentration is in the North Pacific Gyre.
To introduce this in a simple way (and to create a lovely artwork in the process!) we painted a canvas with different rings of colour. We then collected lots of bits of coloured plastic, such as bottle tops. The children then glued the coloured plastic onto the picture to make this beautiful and powerful mural.
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