Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Germ Experiment

Every year I try to find a way to explain the concept of germs to my students. I feel that a basic understanding of what germs are, and how they spread, would make it easier to encourage the covering of coughs and washing of hands, as well as discourage the licking of toys and each other.

For awhile, I read "Those Mean Nasty Dirty Downright Disgusting but...Invisible Germs"; this book does a pretty good job of talking about germs - how you can't see them, but how they are there. It also emphasizes the importance of washing and drying your hands. This worked all well and good until I had a little girl completely freak out because all these germs were crawling all over her. "I can't see them but I know they are there!" she shrieked, as she washed her hands over and over again, tears streaming down her face.

Yikes! Since one of my main goals is to make preschool a fun and inviting place, this turn of events was a tad disturbing. I often wonder if that little girl ended up in therapy....(sorry, sweetie).

My next go at explaining germs was attempting a discussion. Who has ever been sick? What kind of sick was it? What made you sick? Eventually I would talk about how germs make you sick, and at the end of couple weeks of discussion (keeping in mind a group discussion with a group of three-year-olds lasts about 3 minutes a session) we would make germs. I had the kids squirt some paint into the middle of a piece of construction paper, fold it in half, then open it again. On the resulting interestingly shaped blob, they could draw a face, and then tell me what kind of germ it was. A headache germ? A throw-up germ? A cough germ?

This was moderately successful; I felt a couple of the kids understood, but then I had a little boy freak out that the germ he created was actually living in his body. "Make it get out! I don't want that germ in me!" he yelled as he sobbed in my arms.

Yikes, again. It was at that point I decided to abandon the germ unit all together. I decided just to teach proper hand washing, and how to properly cover a cough (use your "elbow pit!"), and leave germs to their future teachers (good luck with that!).

Then I learned about a great germ experiment at the science camp I keep talking about. You spread a lotion on your hands, and when you shine a black light on your hands the "germs", actually a glow in the dark powder, glow. You then wash your hands, put them under the black light again, and see how thorough a hand-washing you did. You could even wait to wash hands, and handle objects all over the classroom. Then, shine a black light in the classroom, and see where all the germs are. I thought this experiment had potential with the three-year-olds, so I thought I would give it a try.

I introduced the lotion as a special lotion that shows the germs on our hands. I squirted lotion on each child's hand and had them rub it in. Then I turned out the lights, put on the black light, and they all admired their glowing hands. There were oohs and ahhs galore.

Then I said, "Everyone go wash their hands, and we will see if there are any germs left!" Off they went and came back out eager to see their hands under the black light again. Imagine the disappointment when their hands didn't glow nearly as bright. We had tears, "I want the germs back on my hands!", "Please give me more germs!" And we had anger - "Why did you make me wash my germs off??"

So, I happily reapplied the germs, and let them admire their glowing hands to their hearts content. I will start the "How to Cover Your Cough With Your Elbow Pit" unit next week. And chalk this one up to another in my list of Germ Unit Failures.

On an up note, the four-year-old and five-year-old classes did the same experiment, and it was a raving success. So my students will have another chance to grasp the concept next year.

Friday, September 12, 2008


As I have alluded to in several posts, I had the amazing opportunity this summer to attend Steve Spangler's Science in the Rockies, a three day conference that focused on how to get kids excited about science. It was an amazing experience, and I came home armed with the knowledge and supplies to start teaching science to my preschoolers.

So, I had the knowledge, I had the supplies, but how to actually go about doing it? I was stumped. I tried having a formal science time. That was a miserable failure. (Ok, kids everyone join me over here for an experiment. Yeah right - like they were going to leave the playdough table for an exper-what is that is she said?). My colleague hit upon the perfect formula. Just set up a center. Do a couple of demonstrations, and then let the kids learn how how to do it. Explain what is happening, and even if it goes over their head, you have planted the seed. My current strategy is to pose a have the kids give me answers, and then we see what happens.

Living in Arizona, this time of year is incredibly hot and the sun is amazingly strong. What better time to do experiments that involve the sun? We talked a lot about how the UV beads (see my post about my first week) change color in the sun. Then we used sunprint paper to make prints.

Question: What will happen if we set objects on this paper and then put the paper in the sun?


  • It will change colors (good thinking - that is what happened with the beads)
  • Nothing - it's paper
  • The wind will blow it away

Result - Really cool sun prints, and the kids loved making them on their own...

Next we melted crayons...

Question: What will happen when we put these crayons in the sun?


  • They will disappear
  • They will change colors
  • They will go to my house

Result - they did change colors and disappear! They did not, however, go to that little girl's house. The kids loved this, too. We melted lots of crayons in star shaped tins, now we have lots of star shaped multi-colored crayons. The best part of this experiment - the pure joy of peeling the paper from the crayons and then breaking them. Fun!

Then there were three days in a row where it was cloudy (clouds and rain always catch us by surprise in AZ) - I had to break away from sun and try something else... I opted for Clear Spheres. These are little tiny beads that when you place them in water overnight they become marble sized gooey feeling balls. The sensory feeling is really cool. I set out the beads and asked the kids....

Question: Hmmm....what do you think would happen if I put these beads in water?


  • They will change color (still in UV bead mode)
  • They will melt
  • They will disappear
  • They will be bigger (awesome guess!)
  • They will turn into ice
  • Nothing
  • How should I know?

Results: The kids LOVED the big spheres. They tossed them around, they squeezed them until they burst, used them in play (these are dinosaur eggs!). Two children asked what made get so big, and I talked about how the spheres were made from the same stuff that is in diapers - and just like a diaper, get bigger when they get wet. The kids were suitably grossed out and amazed. I will bring these out again when we do colors.

Next up? Using packing peanuts to build with.

Question: Sooooo...what do you think will happen if we dip these packing peanuts in water?


  • They will get bigger (remember the Clear Spheres?)
  • They will disappear
  • Nothing
  • They will change color

Results: They made awesome sculptures. They loved how they could stick these starch based peanuts on top of each other. They also loved how they turned into goop when completely soaked. Some kids even had the great idea to paint them.

So, so far science has been awesome! Stay tuned, I will continue to document how this whole science thing goes...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Baring It All In Preschool

Preschool doesn't really feel like preschool until a naked child wanders out of the bathroom. Well, today it happened, and now I feel like my year is finally under way.

Going to the potty is a big deal when you are three. Going to the potty at school when you are three is huge! There are some cool things about the potty at school - the toilet is really small, the sink is the perfect height, and you can use a zillion paper towels to dry your hands if the teacher doesn't see.

There are also some not so cool things. The fans in our bathrooms come on automatically, and they sound similar to a jet taking off. Not exactly quiet. Not especially appealing to little ones who don't like loud noises. There is also the issue of having to stop what you are doing to go potty. When it is time to potty at home you can leave the toy you are playing with, and more than likely, it will be there when you get back. Not so much at preschool. Imagine the frustration of finally getting a turn with that fire truck you have been waiting for, and suddenly you have to go potty. Some kids will simply go in their pants, and either deal with the consequences when they come; or claim ignorance.

I watched a little boy go potty, and then subtly just step out of the puddle he created. When I pointed the puddle out to him, and made the suggestion that we go change his clothes - he acted surprised..."Where did that come from?"

I assure all of my students that I will watch the toy they are playing with, save their place in line, do whatever it takes so they feel comfortable enough to leave and go potty.

Once the kids get to the potty there is an entire dialogue that takes place.

Child: "I'm done!"
Me: "Did you flush?"
Child: "Oops!"
Child reappears: "I flushed!"
Me: "Did you wash your hands?"
Child: "Oops!"
Child reappears: "I washed my hands!"
Me (about 50% of the time): "Did you dry your hands?"
Child: "Oops!"

About 10% of the time, the above dialogue starts with: "Did you remember to pull up your pants?" because the child will come out, pants down around the ankles, so intent on getting back to what he was doing that he couldn't even take the time to get the pants back up. And they are always surprised.

Me: "Did you pull up your pants?"
Child, looking perplexed as he looks down, then shocked as he exclaims: "Oops!"

Every year we have one Naked Pooper. A Naked Pooper is a child who needs to get completely undressed to do his business. And then, usually, needs help getting redressed. So, he (or she) will come out of the bathroom into the classroom, looking for assistance. Last year, my Naked Pooper would simply forget that he needed to get redressed. I would look across the room, and there he would be, standing at the easel, buck naked. Weird thing, only me and the parents working in the classroom thought it was weird - his classmates didn't give him a second glance.

Today's naked moment occurred when a student forgot to pull up her pants. As she walked out of the bathroom, she was ready for my barrage of questions. "I already flushed the toilet and washed my hands!" she announced victoriously. "Sweetie, you need to pull up your pants before you come out of the potty, but I am proud you remembered to flush." To which she responded, "Why do I need to pull up my pants?"