The Power Of Play: In The Kitchen With Oobleck
(BCM) – We often hear about the importance of cultivating the next generation of scientists and engineers. For young children that starts with simply helping them to develop scientific skills like observing, measuring, experimenting and problem solving (which are skills that will benefit children in ALL facets of their lives). Helping your child build this foundation doesn’t require fancy equipment or a visit to a laboratory. Your kitchen is the best lab out there, and you have all the ingredients you need to help your child to learn and grow.
So let’s try making something that some people call “oobleck”, after the Dr. Seuss book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck”. The cool thing about this substance is that it is most likely different than anything your child has encountered before. It is probably unlike anything YOU have encountered before. Oobleck is a fluid (like water, oil, shampoo…), but it behaves in ways that are different from most fluids. Describing it is difficult…you’ll just have to try it and see. Check out the activity below, which is adapted from Boston Children’s Museum’s Beyond the Chalkboard website.
You will need:
• Cornstarch (or potato flour)
• A bowl
• 1 or 2 plates
• Spoons and other tools for scooping, measuring and investigating
Pour about 1 cup of cornstarch into a bowl (no need to measure). Pour about ½ cup of water in with the cornstarch and then prepare to get messy – mix the cornstarch and water together with your hands (your child can do this if you’d like). What does it feel like to mix it up? You may notice that the mixture gets thicker the harder you stir. Mix the starch and water together gently until it’s all combined, pulling extra starch up from the bottom. Adjust the mixture by adding water or cornstarch – it should feel solid if you move your finger along the surface, but if you pick it up and hold it, it should drip through your fingers. Weird, right?
Now play! You might want to cover a table with newspaper or a tablecloth for your investigations. Cornstarch cleans up easily with water, so it’s OK to get on your clothes. Pour the oobleck on a plate. Scoop it up with a spoon. Hold it in your hands. Some questions to ask your child as you investigate this substance include: “What happens when you try to hold the oobleck? What happens if you squeeze it tight? What happens when you tap your finger on the surface of the oobleck? What else can you try?”
DO NOT POUR OOBLECK DOWN THE DRAIN!!! It can clog your sink. Instead, leave it out to dry then throw out the chunk of dried oobleck. You can also “remake” dried oobleck by adding water to it. If any oobleck spills on the table or on the floor, first pick up as much of it as you can and put it in a bowl or bucket to dry. Wipe up anything remaining with a sponge. You can also play with oobleck outside—it is a natural, biodegradable material, so it’s OK if it falls on the ground.
Want to read more about the science behind Oobleck? Try a search online for “non-Newtonian fluids”. It’s pretty confusing (but also pretty amazing) stuff. And if you have it, maybe you can read the Dr. Seuss book “Bartholomew and the Oobleck” before or after you play. Most importantly, have fun!
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