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:


Eating Parts of a Plant

Getting your kids to eat their vegetables can often be a chore.  Sometimes presenting it in a fun activity can make it more inviting.  Sometimes not.  Either way, this is an easy way to show children the connection between plants that they see and the vegetables that we eat.  No prep required and no weird ingredients to purchase.  You probably have these at home!

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Baby Carrots (I steamed them for the tiniest tots in my class)
  • Broccoli Florets
  • Celery (Cut thin for the little ones)
  • Sunflower seeds (I’ve used both shelled and unshelled)
  • Fresh Spinach (or other leafy green)
  • Tomatoes (I used halved grape tomatoes because they are sweeter)
  • Plate
  • Dip (optional)IMG_7278

I cut up the vegetables and steamed the broccoli and baby carrots.  Since I have many 2 year olds in my classes, I wanted to make sure the veggies were soft and safe for them to chew.  I sliced the celery thin since the youngest ones still struggle with the fibers.

I used shelled sunflower seeds the first time I did this. The second time I used the ones in the shells and showed the tots the outside of the seed.  Then we broke them open and investigated the edible seed inside.

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I arranged the sample of vegetables on a plate and invited the tots to taste them on a plate.


The children were invited to taste the real plant parts and then guess whether they were flowers, leaves, stems, seeds, fruit or roots.  We talked about the fibrous and strong celery stem and how juicy and watery it was inside. We also investigated the seeds inside of the tomatoes.  We broke open the shells of the sunflower seeds and tasted the seed inside.

I also had a pile of paper cutouts of the plant parts for the older tots.


They could glue the real or paper versions on their worksheets.



This activity goes well with my Flower Sorting Discovery Tray.  I had the tots first sort through the parts of the flowers, showing them the roots, stems, leaves, flowers and pollen.  Then we connected it to this activity of plant parts we can eat.

For more Plant Science Activities, try the following:

The Science behind the Activity:

Children get excited about food when they take an active role in either preparing food, selecting food or interacting with food.  By comparing vegetables to parts of a plant, it piques a child’s interest in the food, thus making them more likely to try it.  Maybe.  (A mom can hope, right?)  This activity also links parts of plants to what we eat.  Eating plant leaves or plant stems or flowers seems so much more fun than eating broccoli or celery or spinach.

To see where I got this simple but fantastic idea from, please visit:  http://www.mpmschoolsupplies.com/ideas/3112/spring-plant-unit-eating-the-parts-of-a-plant/

Orange Float or Sink?

Here’s a simple snack time experiment!  All you need is water, a glass and a Clementine (or Cuties, as my kiddos call them).  Takes only a few minutes.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • small oranges like mandarins or clementines
  • Tall glass with water


Ask your kids to predict what they think will happen when you place the orange in the water.

Add the orange to the water and observe.  Were their predictions correct?


Peel the orange.  Now predict what will happen when you place the unpeeled orange into the water.

Add the unpeeled orange to the water and observe.  Were their predictions correct?  Ask them why the orange behaved differently with and without the peel.


From these results, the boys wanted to know if it was just the peel that floated, so we tested that as well.


The peels floated at the top as well.  What’s going on? We discussed the differences between the peel and the orange.  Is there air inside the orange?  What is special about the peel that it floats and also causes the entire orange to float?  Since the boys and I have done several floating and sinking experiments together, they immediately suggested that air and density had something to do with our observations.


This was a great investigation on floating and sinking using oranges and a great snack time “quickie” science experiment!

The Science behind the Activity:

Oranges contain quite a bit of air inside them which causes the overall density of the orange to be less than that of water, so it floats.  Also, the peel keeps the water from getting inside the orange.  Once the peel is removed, water can enter through the membranes of the orange slices and will cause the orange to increase in density and sink.

For a more complicated explanation involving buoyancy and Archimedes’ Principle (a concept that is more challenging for most toddlers and preschoolers to understand) please visit the link where I got my idea from: http://www.playdoughtoplato.com/orange-buoyancy-science-experiment/ 


Flower Sorting Discovery Tray

Spring is in full swing and there a re beautiful flowers blooming everywhere!  Taking apart flowers and plants are a great way to explore the different parts that make up plants.  Set up this EASY Flower Sorting Discovery tray with either store bought flowers, flowers/plants from the yard, or flowers/plants from a nature walk.  Add a magnifying glass and some tweezers for some extra fun!

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

  • assortment of flowers, whole and broken into parts (sunflowers are great!)
  • seeds, roots, stems, leaves, flowers
  • magnifying glasses (optional but so fun for the kids!)
  • trays or plates to contain the mess


Set up a tray with the following labels: roots, stems, leaves, and petals, along with a magnifying glass.  I placed a sunflower on each tray to get the kids started.


Invite them to sort through the plant parts and ask them why they sorted them the way they did.  Kids often interchange sticks and stems. Discuss how there are different shapes and sizes of leaves.  Have them tell you the colors of the petals.  Count the petals on the flowers or the leaves on the stem for a math extension.  This activity is great for the youngest toddlers and the older preschoolers and kindergarteners.

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Science behind the activity:

Kids love to sort and there is something exceptionally fun about being able to take something apart that you are not usually allowed to do.  It also gives them a chance to freely explore, make their own connections with the plants and sort all the parts.  Young children LOVE to sort.  Older ones love counting.  It’s also a great sensory activity where they can touch and smell the plants.

For more Plant Science activities, try the following:


Take your tots out for a nature walk and have them collect parts of plants.  Especially after a good rain, it was fun for my boys to pull weeds from the yard and see the roots.  Then sort the treasures collected on the nature walk.  When the kids are done dissecting and sorting the plant/flower parts, use the petals and leaves and sticks to create your own art project by making a Nature Suncatcher or just an art activity.

Here’s an easy suncatcher we made with plants and flowers pressed in between 2 sheets of contact paper:


Click on the link for more details and to see where I got my idea from: http://scrumdillydo.blogspot.com/2014/07/investigating-plants-and-flowers.html

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?

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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: http://www.icanteachmychild.com/make-ocean-zones-jar/



Observing Pumpkins using our 5 Senses

It’s Pumpkin Season and there is so much fun learning to be had with pumpkins.   Before we began experimenting with our pumpkins, we decided to investigate our pumpkins using our 5 senses.  So before you get busy carving your pumpkin, take some time to explore and investigate your soon-to-be Jack O Lantern

Here’s what you need to get started:

  • Pumpkin (we used the small decorative ones with the Tiny Tots)
  • Pumpkin carving tool
  • Metal spoon or scooper
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying Glass
  • tray/plate


We first held the pumpkins in our hands and felt it from the outside using our hands (Sense of Touch).  Ask them questions to guide their observations: Is it hard or soft?  Bumpy or smooth? What about the stem?  Using their eyes (Sense of Sight), ask them what color it is and what shape it looks like.

Then I cut the top off and asked them to listen (Sense of Hearing) to the sound of the carving knife.  The older kids thought it sounded like a saw.

Then I had them lift it out themselves to see what was inside


Using our Sense of Sight and Touch, I asked the kids to feel the inside of the pumpkin.  The pulp and seeds definitely were a deterrent for some of the youngest toddlers.


This toddler won’t touch the seeds.

I asked them if they could use their Sense of Smell to describe what they smelled.  Most said the pumpkins were “stinky”.

I gave the Tiny Tots spoons and tweezers to scrape the seeds and pulp out.  Then I asked them to touch the seeds.  How does it feel?  Most said “slimy” and “slippery” and “gooey”.

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Magnifying glasses are fun to observe things with so I handed them small and big magnifying glasses.

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For older kids, I had them compare difference between the seeds of the white pumpkins and the orange ones.


I also asked them to predict how many seeds might be in each pumpkin and asked them to count to see how good their guess was.  My superheroes kept losing count and eventually gave up 🙂

Lastly, the Sense of Taste was applied to the pumpkin seeds after we roasted them in the oven.  I asked my boys to hear the crunch of the seeds and the taste of the seeds.  Neither of them were fans of the roasted seeds.  Great, that means more for me!

Once you have hollowed out the pumpkins, try the Pumpkin Volcanoes experiment!

The Science behind the Activity:

This is a simple observation activity for the youngest scientists as well as older ones.  Identifying the 5 senses and the body parts that are used for each is perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers while using tweezers and spoons and observing is great for preschoolers and young elementary students.  So much learning from a simple activity!