When the phrase “your child will get messy” appears in the description of a class, you know you’re going to have a good time.
How else are preschoolers supposed to learn and explore their world if they’re not allowed to get their hands (and clothes, and faces) dirty sometimes? So, when we visited the Indiana State Museum for their Small Wonders class, we were prepared. We came with our play clothes on and our minds ready to learn and have fun.
Small Wonders is a monthly program that invites 3 to 5 year olds and their parents (or grandparents or caregivers) to play and learn in the museum.
Each class revolves around a different theme, and involves reading and hands-on play about that theme. The theme during our class was states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. This is a topic that could easily whoosh right over a little learner’s head, but the early childhood educators that develop and host the program, Miss Hayley and Mr. Evan, made the class fun and age-appropriate. They introduced the idea of different states of matter in a way that makes sense to little minds, using familiar objects and concepts.
Our hour-long class started as we all gathered to sit on the carpet with Mr. Evan, as he read a story about matter. He had us blow into our hand to show us that we can feel air (a gas) but cannot see it. Then we tapped on the floor to understand that we can feel and see a solid.
After story time came stations. There were different activities set up all around the room, and children could visit each one and play for as long as they wanted. Our first stop was at the water beads station, where we squished and squashed a tub of beads. This sensory-rich station was a very popular stop.
Next, we made our way to a big table to conduct an experiment to see what would happen if we mixed vinegar (a liquid) and baking soda (a solid) together. Miss Hayley and Mr. Evan poured vinegar into a water bottle, and then gave us a balloon filled with baking soda. The fun part came when we placed the open end of the balloon onto the water bottle, and flipped the balloon over to dump the baking soda into the water bottle. The gas that was created from the liquid and solid made the balloon inflate! My little one was all smiles as he saw the experiment take shape.
After our experiment, we made our way over to the playdough station, and then the LEGO station. We played at these stations for quite a while. Even though we have both playdough and LEGO at home, there’s something novel about playing with these two familiar things in a different space!
Miss Hayley then gathered everyone to do a group project together, so we all found a chair at the table. First, we used droppers to place watercolors on paper, and then used the power of gas (our breath) to blow through a straw to move the watercolor around and create a pretty design.
Our next group project, and the grand finale, was the messy one we had been waiting for: creating “oobleck,” which is a mysterious (and messy) substance made by mixing water and corn starch together to create something that’s not quite liquid, but not quite solid. And did I mention that it’s messy? Each child got their own container of corn starch, added water, and mixed with their fingers until they created their own oobleck. We all had fun squishing this weird and wonderful mixture between our hands. After we cleaned our hands at the washing station, it was time to say farewell to Miss Hayley and Mr. Evan, and the new friends we had made that morning.
The Small Wonders class was the perfect speed for preschoolers, but the Indiana State Museum also offers monthly classes for 4 to 6 year olds with their Young Explorers class. This program for big kids is a 90-minute drop-off class with a different theme each month.
For more information about the Indiana State Museum’s youth programming, or to register for a class, visit www.indianamuseum.org.