Rain is a novelty for my California preschoolers. It was a big deal one recent day when rain fell on the cement patio outside our classroom. Then just like the Itsy Bitsy song, “Out came the sun and dried up all the rain…” Where did the rain go, the children wondered.
“Let’s be scientists and see if we can figure out what happened,” I said. “What do we need?” “More water!” the children exclaimed.
“OK. Let’s fill some sand pails with water and I’ll get brushes,” I said.
Children in my pre-kindergarten class do science throughout the day, all through the classroom and outdoors, not just at a science table.
You can do this simple science exploration at school or at home. You just need some sand pails or buckets of water, large paintbrushes and chalk.
* Invite each child to fill a sand pail or bucket with water and choose a paintbrush.
* Then invite children to “paint” with water whatever they want—the sidewalk, the school building, a playhouse.
* Ask, “Do you think the water will stay on the sidewalk?”
* After children have painted for a while ask if they notice any difference in the place they started painting. Children may say, “The water disappeared!” or “It’s dry now.”
* Introduce the word “evaporate.” Water evaporates when it becomes part of the air. It isn’t gone; we just can’t see it. Say and clap the syllables: e-vap-o-rate. Invite the children to act out the word by crouching down like they are little drops of water. They slowly rise as they say “eee” and then spread their arms to make a giant V and jump up into the air as they say “evaporate!”
Evaporation is a hard concept for children to grasp but learning the word and seeing the process again and again as they paint with water helps build understanding. Painting with water is more engaging than a common science experiment of filling two identical clear jars with about 1” of water, marking the water level and then covering one jar tightly and leaving the other jar uncovered and waiting for the water in the uncovered jar to evaporate. That evaporation typically takes days so it’s hard for children to understand what’s happening. Painting with water lets children experience evaporation.
On a hot day, water on a sunny sidewalk will evaporate right before their eyes. As soon as children swipe the sidewalk with a wet brush invite them or a classmate to outline the wet spot with chalk. They can draw multiple circles as the wet spot shrinks. They can count how long it takes the water to evaporate. They can also time the evaporation with sand timers.
Here are more possibilities for exploring evaporation:
- Children compare painting with water in the sun to painting in the shade.
- Children paint their names or pictures with water on the sidewalk and watch them evaporate. Can they outline the letters in their name before the water dries up?
- Children spray water with spray bottles and compare evaporation times with water spread with a paintbrush.
- Children paint with water on small chalkboards. Water will evaporate quicker on the chalkboard than it will on the sidewalk.
These explorations incorporate the science and vocabulary of evaporation and the math skills of measuring time and size. I build literacy connections by reading non-fiction books such as Where Do Puddles Go? By Fay Robinson, and stories such as The Puddle by David McPhail.
The ideas come from my book, Thinking BIG, Learning BIG: Connecting Science, Math, Literacy and Language in Early Childhood.
Have fun doing science throughout the day!
This post was contributed by Marie Faust Evitt. Marie is the head teacher of a preschool class for four- and five-year-olds. Prior to teaching, Marie was an award-winning newspaper reporter and freelance journalist for more than 20 years. Her articles and essays on education, parenting, and child psychology have been published in Newsweek, Parents, Child, Parenting, Scholastic’s Parent & Child, Scholastic.com, and Family Fun. Marie is also the author of Thinking Big, Learning Big. She posts about her classroom activities at www.thinkingBIGlearningBIG.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thinkingBIGlearningBIG. She lives in Mountain View, California.