It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Mystery Solved … by SCIENCE!

We were reading Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day yesterday. Absolute classic children’s story about a little boy exploring the snow. We will be trying out some of Peter’s ideas in the coming days.

We’ll walk with our toes pointed out, we’ll walk with our toes pointed in. We’ll drag our feet to make tracks, and make tracks with stick. We might even try snowballs!

I’ve done all that before with small children. Yesterday, though, I stumbled across something new. When Peter goes in for the evening, he puts a snowball in his pocket for the next day. When he checks on his snowball before bed … it’s gone!

“Where did it go?” I asked the children. Because of course you chat about your books as you read. “Where did Peter’s snowball go?


Three pairs of eyes gaze back at me. Full of blankness. No inspiration there, at all, at all.

I point to the suspicious spot on the outside of his coat. “It sure looks like his coat is wet. Why would his pocket be wet like that?” Hint, hint…

Nope. More blankness. They truly don’t know.

Well, now. This calls for some investigation! So out we go to the front porch. Well, in the interests of efficiency, out I go. Scoop up a small bowl of snow, and bring it in. We peer into the depths and make our observations.

We discover that the snow is white, and cold, and a bit prickly under our fingers. (I think the “prickly” was their way of describing the ice crystals in there, or maybe just the intense cold on a warm fingertip.)

We put the bowl on the table and went away. Every few minutes we’d come back and have another look. And damned if the snow wasn’t getting smaller! And now there was water in the bowl, too! And maybe, maybe the snow isn’t as white as it was?

A few minutes later, we’re sure. No, the snow isn’t so white. In fact, it’s getting clearer. And there’s even more water in there!

Any ideas why?



It’s a mystery! Isn’t that exciting?!?

When the bowl is largely a small collection of watery slush, I give them each a tiny dollop of snow in their palms.

“Just hold it, guys. Hold your hands still and watch that snow. Tell me what happens to it.”

It’s a matter of seconds before each small pink palm holds nothing more than an even smaller puddle. They peer into their hands. They look at me.

“Well. Where’s the snow?”

Rory knows. “It’s GONE!”

“It certainly is! Where did it go?”


“You had snow in your hands. Now you have water. What happened to the snow?”

A light goes on in Grace’s face.

“Water!! At water! The snow is gone at water!”

And lo, there is much rejoicing, for verily, Grace is right. The snow is gone at water! I toss around some more words, including “frozen”, “warm”, and “melting”, but we have got the gist of it.

The snow is gone at water.

Toddler science is so fun.


January 5, 2012 Posted by | books, Developmental stuff, Grace | , , , , | 8 Comments

Science made simple

We made chocolate chip peanut butter cookies this morning.

“Why are you putting the peanut butter in the water, Mary?”

“It’s the best way to measure it. I need one cup of peanut butter. Problem is, peanut butter is very thick. If I were to push the peanut butter into the measuring cup, I wouldn’t know if there was an air bubble in there, right? I wouldn’t know that I was getting exactly one cup of peanut butter.”

“Why are you putting the peanut butter in the water, Mary?”

“Well, let’s start over.” I dump the water out, and set the peanut butter on a plate. “We’ll put one cup of water in the measuring cup. See? Right up to that line.”

“The line with the number one?”

“Good for you, Emily. Yes. Now how much water is in there?”

“One cup.”

“That’s right. Now watch what happens when we put in the peanut butter.” I let each child take turns dropping in a spoonful of peanut butter, and we watch the water level rise. “Okay, now where is the water?”

“At the two!” It’s a good thing one of them can read her numbers…

“So now the water has moved up, from one to two…” and suddenly I am faced with the realization that these kids do not yet have any concept of conservation of mass or volume. If you fill a tall skinny glass and a short fat glass with the exact same amount of water, water which they saw you measure, they will swear up and down the tall skinny glass has more in it. And will fight to drink from it.

Some — but not all — of them understand the concepts of “more than” and “less than” but even those who get that much have only the vaguest of notions that “two” is “one more than” one. This is sophisticated stuff.

Ummmm… Four pairs of eyes gaze at me and stare at our peanut butter, still in its bath. I’m stalled. What I need is a total change of approach. Off goes Normal, Soft-Spoken Mary, and in comes Bright and Cheesy Mary.

“You know what?? This is called ‘Archimedes’ Principle’!!! Can you say ‘Archimedes’?”

“Ar-ka-mee-deez!” They like this game. They’re not sure who Bright and Cheesy Mary is, but she’s sure is entertaining!

“That’s right! Archimedes is someone’s name. He was a man who lived a long, long time ago. He was a very smart man. A very smart man who discovered that you could measure peanut butter by dropping it in water!!”


“That’s right. Let’s all say it again!”

And we do. And then we mix the peanut butter with the butter and beat in some sugar and eggs, and get on with the business of making cookies. Which is really what we came to do, anyway.

Archimedes can wait, just a bit…

July 22, 2010 Posted by | random and odd | , , , | 8 Comments