Pinhole Viewer

The Great American Eclipse is almost here and this pinhole viewer is a super easy way to watch the moon travel in front of the sun.  Here in California, we will only get about 75% totality but we will get to experience the crescent shapes that the sun will make.  So how do we make this pinhole viewer?  Grab a shoebox and read on!

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • shoebox
  • scissors
  • box cutter
  • aluminum foil
  • white and black paper
  • tape
  • nail

To Make the pinhole viewer:

You will need to cut two holes on the small side of your shoebox.  One will be a small viewing hole and the other is a larger hole where the pinhole will be.  I used a box cutter for this step and let the kids finish off with the scissors.

Large hole for pinhole

Left hole = pinhole, right hole = viewing hole

Next, open the box and tape white paper opposite from the side the viewing holes were cut.  This is where you will see the light from the sun and the change in shape as the moon passes in front.

Cut a square piece of foil that will cover the larger hole that you made.  Tape it over the hole.

Using a nail, poke a hole in the center of the foil.

Our box had some extra holes in it that might allow extra light.  These need to be covered up.

Tape black paper over any holes in the box that might allow extra light in.

That’s it!  You’re done.

How to use it:

Test it out by standing with your back to the sun and look into the viewing hole.  Angle the box until you see a bright white circle inside.  That’s the image of the sun.  During the eclipse, you will see the circle change in shape to a crescent.

Other ways to experience the eclipse:

Use a strainer or criss cross your hands together so there are holes in between your fingers that allow light through.  During the eclipse, you will watch these circle of light change shape.

REMEMBER: NEVER look directly at the sun!  It can permanently damage your eyes and your eyesight.

Science Behind the Activity:

A total solar eclipse is a rare event where the sun and the moon and the Earth line up just perfectly so that the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and only the halo of light around the sun (the corona) is visible.  A solar eclipse can only occur when we have a “new moon”.  By contrast, a lunar eclipse occurs only during a full moon and that occurs when the Earth’s shadow comes in between the moon and the sun to block sunlight from hitting the moon.

I used the following models to help my young kids understand what is happening.  Note that these are not scientifically accurate with respect to size and distance but for very young kids, this is about all they can process.

Partial Solar Eclipse (Idea from: TeachersPayTeachers)

Total Solar Eclipse (Idea from: TeachersPayTeachers)

This shows how the Earth moves around the sun and the moon moves around the Earth

If you are lucky enough to see a total solar eclipse, you will be able to view the sun with your eyes only during the 2-3 minutes of totality (the moon’s shadow covering the sun completely).  Otherwise, during a partial solar eclipse, you can not view it any time without special solar glasses or else you can permanently damage your eyes.

For more Information:

Ocean/Beach Discovery Sensory Bin

While I’ve always been a fan of sensory bins, I haven’t used them too often in my classes with the tots.  That is starting to change as I’m seeing how popular they are with the littles… and their parents!  This ocean sensory bin is so fun and my own children have enjoyed it many times and now, so have the tots in my class.  Super easy to set up and encourages so much learning through play.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Large bin (We’ve also used our water table)
  • Mixed blue beads (I grabbed a bag from the dollar store)
  • Bag of decorative river rocks (or collect some in your neighborhood)
  • Sea shells
  • Plastic sea animals (I really like these Terra by Battat Sea Animals from Target)
  • Water

Set up the river rocks on one side of the bin for the “shore” and the blue beads on the other side of the bin to represent the ocean.

Place some shells along the beach

Place some of the sea animals on the shore (such as the sea lion, turtle, crab).

Place some of the sea animals in the ocean (such as the octopus, sea star, sharks, eels, etc..)

Add water and your bin is ready for play!


Hand the bin over to your little superheroes and let them play!

My little guys had a blast!

The Science Behind the Activity:

This sensory bin allows children to have a sensory experience with different textures of rocks, shells, beads, toy animals as well as encourages them to get wet.  While playing with your child, ask them which ones like the water and which ones prefer the shore.  Do any of the animals like to eat other animals  For older children, you can bring up the topic of predator and prey and habitats.


Follow up this activity with a book about sea animals, oceans, beaches.  Visit an aquarium or tidepools.  Or collect sea shells and rocks and sand from a trip to the beach and make a sensory bin when you come home to “re-live” your fun memories at the beach.

Or try some more of my Ocean learning activities:


Earth Day Absorption Science

Water is a fantastic “chemical” to do science experiments and investigations with.  I love this easy water absorption activity, especially for the littlest tots.   Easy to set up with cotton make-up pads, some water and droppers.  Using blue and green water, this makes a perfect Earth Day STEAM activity.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Small tray/plate or cookie sheet
  • cup of blue water
  • cup of green water
  • dropper
  • Round cotton pads

Show your little one a picture of the Earth.  We spent some time talking about our planet and where we live on the planet, that the blue was oceans, the green and brown was the land and the white were the clouds.

Next, I gave them a cup of green water, blue water, dropper and a cotton pad and told them to drip the colored water onto the pad to create their own Earth.

The tots LOVE droppers!

The youngest ones dipped their pads in the water or dumped the water onto their pads.

The older ones were particular about where to place the green and blue drops.

They were so proud of their Earths!

The Science Behind the Activity:

I love using droppers whenever possible as it is a great way to strengthen muscles in preparation for learning to write AND it develops fine motor skills, both of which are vital as pre-writing skills begin emerging.  It’s also a great way to watch how water gets “sucked up” by the cotton pad and to introduce big words such as “absorb” and absorption” to their expanding vocabulary.

Visit this link to see where I got my “wet” idea from:

For more Earth Day activities, try the following:

Also, if you like this activity, you will LOVE the Water Absorption Tray!  Another easy water science activity that you can put together with whatever you have at home!

Fizzing Jupiter

For those of you who follow my activities, you know how much I love my baking soda and vinegar experiments.  To be fair, the tots and my littlest superhero LOVE baking soda and vinegar so it’s not ALL about me 🙂

This one is a simple and easy addition to your space theme.  I call them Jupiters (even though my color mixing wasn’t as successful as Jupiter) but you could make them any planet or leave them white for the moon.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Baking Soda
  • Water
  • Measuring cup
  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Tray for drying the rocks
  • Vinegar
  • Black or purple food coloring (optional – but colors make everything more fun!!)


To make the planet:

Combine 2 cups of baking soda and 1/2 cup of water (add the desired color to the water) in a large bowl.  To make the the Jupiters, I split this into two bowls, one with red (looked orange) and one with yellow.

img_8750 img_8751

Then I mixed both together to get an orange-yellow swirly Jupiter look.  Kind of.


Using your hands, take a handful and roll into a ball.  If it’s too dry, it won’t stay together, if it’s too watery, it will melt into a sloppy puddle.  Add water or more baking soda to adjust the consistency.  


Let them dry overnight.  I placed mine in a plastic container and put them in the freezer to harden. 

The next morning, the planets were hard.    Note: this recipe will yield about 10 balls.

To explore:

I gave each little one a “Jupiter” and a cup with vinegar that had black food coloring and some silver glitter (“Starry Space Juice” is what I called it!).


The tots definitely know what to do with the dropper and the vinegar.  Space juice was added to the planets for some fizzy fun!

Version 2 img_8754

Such an easy and simple little experiment to set up!

To see my other “fizzing” experiments (perfect for any holiday), click on any of the following links:

Science behind the Activity:

This is a twist on the classic baking soda and vinegar experiment.  Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid.  When combined, they release carbon dioxide gas (the bubbles).  The fizzing and bubbles are just way too much fun for the kiddos!

Here’s where I got my fizzy idea from:





Galaxy in a Bottle

So this isn’t really a science experiment but I LOVE discovery bottles and this one is so pretty!  My older boys really enjoyed making this and it led to discussions about supernovas and galaxies and nebulae.  The tots in my class enjoyed the pretty swirly colors and filling the bottles.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • cotton balls – almost a bag per bottle
  • empty bottles (I used old gatorade bottles)
  • paint in “galaxy colors” (we used metallic acrylic paint in purple, silver and blue)
  • glitter
  • straw (or something to push the cotton balls into the bottle)
  • cups


First, create the colors of your galaxy by adding some paint to water.  We used metallic blue, metallic purple and metallic gray.  We love how swirly the water looked!

img_8241 img_8244

Next we stuffed our bottle about 1/2 full with cotton balls.  (It looks prettier if you shred the cotton balls, but my boys and the tiny tots don’y have the patience for that!)  We used a straw to help push the balls into the bottle.


Next, add your first color to the bottle.


Add some glitter.  (We probably should have added more)


We noticed that as soon as the water was added, the cotton squished into a smaller layer.  So add lots of cotton! Like we did on the second layer.


We again added a new color to the cotton.  And more glitter.  Make sure to push the cotton down as tight as you can.

img_8251 img_8253

We repeated it again with the last layer.


Then we added the lid and shook it a bit.


The puffy cotton looks like the “clouds” of space debris you see when you look at pictures of galaxies, nebulae, supernovas, etc… The glitter looks like stars in the night sky…


While we were making these bottles, my boys asked me what a galaxy was and what a supernova was.  It was a great art activity to open up discussion about outer space.  While not a real science experiment, it sparked a science conversation.  It my book, that’s success!

For more details and to see where I got this simple, but fantastic idea from, please visit:


Pie Plate Model of Earth’s Orbit

**Updated! 10/18/2016**

I have been meaning to to do a space themed lesson for a long time but was struggling to get some science activities (not just crafts) for the youngest set to do.  I finally “landed” on this one and it was fantastic fun and so easy to do!

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Foil pie plates (must be round)
  • Black construction paper
  • Orange construction paper
  • Star stickers
  • Blue Marble (or blue-green, to represent Earth)
  • Glue
  • Scissors


Since the tots in my class are pretty young, I measured out the bottom of the pie plates and cut out black circles for them.  I also cut out the orange circles to represent the sun.  For preschoolers and kindergarteners, I would definitely trace the circles for them but have them cut them out on their own.  For older kids, they can trace and cut on their own.


Glue the large black circle to the inside of the plate.  This represents space.


Next, glue the orange circle to the center of the plate.  This represents the sun.


Place some stickers all over the black paper to represent the starts in the sky. As was noted by a fellow science teacher, there are no stars in our solar system except for the Sun.  To make this activity scientifically accurate, you might just want to skip the star stickers.


Lastly, add the blue marble and spin the plate so that the marble spins around the edge of the plate, representing how the Earth spins around the sun.


That’s it!  It’s a craft, but there’s plenty of learning (and fun) while spinning the plate.

The Science behind the Activity:

There are plenty of models of the solar system but I love how this is so simple for young kids to understand that the Earth is moving around the sun and not the other way around.  This same project could be done with the Earth in the center and a white marble to symbolize the moon spinning around the Earth.

To see where I got this simple but fantastic idea from, please visit:

*My only note on the original author’s post is that scientifically it’s not accurate to place 8 marbles in the pie dish to represent all 8 planets orbiting the sun.  The sizes of the orbits are very different and the planets would be showing that they are crashing into each other.  But her idea is great for showing one orbit at a time.*

**Updated: Skip the star stickers if you want to be scientifically accurate.  There are no stars in our solar system.  The only star in our solar system is our sun.**

Panning for Gold

So technically, this isn’t a *science* experiment/activity but it was part of my activities for St. Patrick’s Day where we went hunting for gold to put in our gold pots.  But it was so much fun for the tiny tots and for my superheroes that I had to share it:)  Super easy to do!

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Bin or Sandbox (I use the shoebox size bins from the dollar store)
  • Sand (I used the play sand from Home Depot)
  • Gold (we painted rocks in our yard with metallic gold acrylic paint)
  • Plastic gold coins or pennies, plastic gems or shiny glass stones
  • “Tools”: sand toys such as sifters, shovels, rakes, magnifying glasses, etc…


To prepare the rocks:

We first collected big and small rocks to make large gold pieces and small gold nuggets.  Then we painted them with gold acrylic paint.

IMG_1100_2 IMG_1104

We let them dry and they looked AWESOME!


To prepare the box:

Fill the bin about halfway with sand.  Bury the gold rocks and gold coins into the sand.   Make sure all the treasures are covered up by the sand.


Give your superheroes some “Tools” and let them dig and discover!  That’s it!  Easy!

IMG_5485The little ones enjoyed digging in their boxes for gold and treasures!


This was definitely a favorite for my superheroes and the Tiny Tots in my science class.  I’ve also varied this with dinosaur eggs and skeletons in my Dinosaur Dig activity

 The Science behind the Activity:

Here is another science activity that invites young children to explore, investigate and be curious, just like real scientists.  They choose which tools to use and how to use them and what methods are best for locating the hidden items, and cleaning off their finds.  Lots of problem-solving and the kids think that they are just playing in the sand!


This activity can be modified for any hidden items.  You could also throw in some gems, large beads,  Great for a pirate party or to link to a history unit.  You can also add magnetic items and non magnetic items and have them use a magnetic wand to find and test the items!  So many options!

Why Does an Octopus Have Ink?

Whenever I visit the Aquarium, I always fall in love with the jellyfish and the octopi.  Watching an octopus move is just so mesmerizing!  They are also known to be very intelligent creatures.  And like most squid, they have an ink sac (which is so very cool if you have ever dissected a squid).   In this quick, simple, activity, your superheroes are going to observe and explore why squid have an ink sac.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • water
  • 1 clear glass
  • 1 small cup
  • black food color/watercolor/paint
  • dropper (I always save the ones I get from the pharmacist!)
  • small plastic octopus toy
  • small plastic shark (optional)


In the small cup, mix some water with black paint/food coloring or water color.  I had none of those so I mixed red and blue food coloring to make a dark purple.  This will be the “ink”

Fill a clear glass halfway with water.  Add the plastic octopus to the water.


Discuss how the octopus looks in the water.

Using the toy shark, I showed my son that a predator was approaching the octopus.  What was the shark going to do?  What could the octopus do to protect itself?


Using the dropper, add “ink” to the glass with the octopus.  This models that the octopus will release dark ink as a defense mechanism.  What happens to the water as the ink is added?  Can you see the octopus?

IMG_5318 IMG_5319

After some discussion, my son decided to play with the shark and the octopus and ink.  It kept him busy for awhile as he engaged in pretend play and the narrative he added was so cute to listen to.


Extension: Try this in a large shallow dish by adding the shark and the octopus.  Add the ink just on top of the octopus.  What happens to the ink?  Can squirting ink alone help the octopus protect itself?  What other defense mechanisms might they need to help protect them from predators?

The Science behind the Activity:

This little activity is a simple model of how an octopus, like most squid (but not all squid) use an ink sac as a form of a secondary defense mechanism.  By squirting the ink, the predator gets confused AND the ink often has a smell associated with it that also deters predators.  With the smell and the spray shocking the predator, it allows the octopus to use its quick tentacles to escape before the ink dissipates.

To see where I got my idea from, click on the following link:

Simplified Ocean Zones in a Bottle (3 Zones)

If you’ve ever tried the liquid layers in a jar, here is a great twist for showing your superheroes the layers in the ocean.  This is the simplified version of Ocean Zones in a Jar but has only the top 3 ocean zones (layers) where much of the well-known marine life exists.  It is also easier for the youngest superheroes to do.

Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Light Karo syrup (corn syrup) – tinted black or dark purple OR Dark Karo Syrup (no tinting needed)
  • Water tinted light blue
  • Vegetable oil – tinted blue-green (if possible)
  • Dropper
  • Funnel
  • food color (or liquid watercolors)
  • empty water bottle


First add about 2-3 inches of corn syrup to the bottle.  Add some black/dark purple color to it and mix well.  (For my Tiny Tot class, I tried the dark Karo syrup and it worked great since we didn’t have to tint it black) This represents the deep ocean zone known as the Midnight Zone


Carefully add the blue water on top (don’t tint it too dark) until you have about the same thickness as the corn syrup.  You should see the 2 distinct layers.  This represents the Twilight Zone of the Ocean.


The top layer is the oil.  Food color and watercolor will not dissolve in oil since they are water based and oil and water don’t mix.

Regular food color will NOT mix with oil

Regular food color will NOT mix with oil

For this layer, you have 2 options: leave it yellow OR if you have candy food color (oil-based food color) then you can use that to tint the oil.


Either way, you will definitely get a distinct layer on top of the water.  I used the candy color to get a greenish-bluish color.

Oil-based candy color WILL mix with oil

Oil-based candy color WILL mix with oil

This layer represents the Sunlight Zone, the part of the ocean where most marine life exist.


All done!  You can also add labels to the outside of the jar to show your superheroes the layers.


Visually you can see how the layers (ocean zones) get darker as you go deeper.   You can discuss with your little ones what effect this might have on the marine life that lives in each layer.

Extension: This activity goes really well with my Exploring Life in the Ocean Zones activity.

Extension for older kids: For older kids with a bit more hand control (and less likely to shake the bottle!) try the full version of Ocean Zones in a Jar  with all 5 layers of the Ocean.

The Science behind the Activity:

There’s all sorts of awesome science in this activity!  This is a great visual representation of how the layers of the ocean have varying amounts of light reaching them.  This can open up an entire discussion of why there are so many more organisms in the Sunlight Zone and the Twilight Zone versus the Midnight Zone.  You can even research what types of organisms exist in each layer.

In reality, there are 2 more zones below the Midnight Zone: the Abyss and the Trench.  For obvious reasons, there aren’t many known organisms that live there.  And the ones that do are unfamiliar to young children.  But for older children, it would be great to show them how deep the ocean really goes.

The other awesome science in this activity has to do with the different densities of various liquids.  Liquids that are more dense (more mass per volume) will sink and liquids will lower densities will float on top of denser ones.  If you have ever tried to mix oil and water, well, you know why that won’t work because oil is less dense than water.  This is why you have to shake your favorite salad dressings before pouring.

Here’s where I got my original idea from and then I shortened it to make it easier for toddlers and preschoolers:



Mayflower Boats

Here’s a super easy craft that you can make with your kids that also allows for some science exploration.  I call these Mayflower Boats because we made them during Thanksgiving, but really you could adapt this for anytime of the year.  There are SO many ways you can use these little boats and so much learning to be had.  I had a chance to do this with my son’s class and the kids had a BLAST!  So grab a few supplies and let the kids busy themselves while you get some of that Thanksgiving cooking done!

Materials Needed per boat:

  • 2-3 wine corks  (If you are a parent, I’m SURE you can easily go through a bottle or 2 of wine on those “trying” days!)
  • 1 rubber band
  • coffee stirrer, wooden skewer, or craft stick
  • paper, cardstock or foam sheet to make the sails
  • scissors
  • glue
  • Straw
  • Bin with water (we added blue water color for fun)


To make the Boat:

Place a rubber band around 2 to 3 pieces of cork to make the base of the raft.


Using white paper, card stock or foam sheets, cut out sails to make it look like the Mayflower (for Thanksgiving) or any shape you want at other times of the year.  Attach them to the mast with glue.  Allow the glue to dry.

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Add a a craft stick or coffee stirrer to create the mast.  We just tucked ours in between 2 pieces of cork but you could certainly use a wooden skewer to stick it into the cork to make it more secure.


Voila! There’s your little Mayflower boat.  Now it’s time for some science exploration!


To explore with the boats:

We talked briefly about the pilgrims who journeyed across the ocean from England to America on the Mayflower.  I told them that our boats represented the Mayflower and the Bin with water represented the ocean that they traveled across. (You can totally omit this for a non-Thanksgiving lesson)

I then gave each child their own bin with blue water (yes, I added blue watercolor because colors make everything more fun!) and had them place their boats in and explore.


Immediately the kids used their hands to make waves, dropped their boats from up high and watch them splash in the water and still float.  Some noticed that their boats floated upside down.


Then I gave them straws to blow on the sails to make the boats move.  What i didn’t anticipate (and I obviously should have) was that the kids put the straws in the water and started blowing bubbles because “bubbles make waves happen”, according to one little guy.


Oh the storms and waves and hurricanes that they created.  And loads of splashing and giggling.


Since we are in the middle of a sever drought in California, we weren’t able to use water and rain gutters to do races and explore the effect of an incline on the speed of the boats.  But that would be a fantastic extension for this activity!

You could also have the kids race their boats across a large tub of water, in the bathtub or in a small wading pool.  Again, due to our drought, none of these were possible for the class.


Science behind the activity and Extensions:

This activity is great for investigating and exploring. “What happens if I…?” is the best part of this activity.  By blowing on the sails, the kids can see how the wind can “push” a boat along.  For older kids, you can certainly introduce Newton’s Laws of motion to explain how the boat moves.  You can even introduce simple weather concepts and see how they affect the movement of the boat from a windstorm to waves to whirpools, etc… There are so many extensions for this activity.  Encourage your kids to test out different materials for the boat (craft sticks, styrofoam, plastic cups, clay, etc…) or different materials for the sails (paper, foam, felt, etc…).

For more details and to see where I got my ideas from click on the 2 links below.  I merged the 2 activities together to create this one.

For another fun boat activity, check out What Floats Your Boat? on my Density/Floating page.