Carys received a small bottle of bubbles as a birthday party favor a few weeks ago, and she fell in love. The first thing she wanted to do every morning after she woke up was blow bubbles. (Actually she usually wanted us to blow bubbles for her while she sometimes chased them down, but she was still having fun.)
We blew lots of little bubbles (blowing sharply through the hole in the wand) and bigger bubbles (blowing more gently through the hole) but I got bored of blowing bubbles for her pretty soon so following on from my recent thoughts on provocations I decided to extend the concept into a provocation. The following series of photos were taken over a period of a couple of weeks as I researched and found ideas for things to do with bubbles and introduced them one by one.
The first thing we tried was big bubbles. I made a wand by stripping the paper off a wire hanger from the dry cleaner and bending the hook around into a handle. I made a simple bubble recipe with a cup of water, 2 tbsp Dawn dish soap, and 2 tbsp corn syrup. I put the mixture in a roasting tray, adding more water as needed to ensure the wand was covered when laid flat in the tray (the tray has a bit of a rise in the middle so I needed more than I expected). I mixed it gently with my fingers (without making bubbles in the tray, which seems to hamper the solution’s ability to make bubbles on the wand – at least, until they all pop again).
The corn syrup is supposed to make the bubbles last longer but this was actually the activity we had the least success with. I was able to get some free-floating bubbles by twisting my wrist to ‘close them off’ and release them but the majority popped while still attached to the wand. I read that glycerin is more effective than corn syrup but our drug store doesn’t carry it and I never got my act together to order it on Amazon.
I just left the mixture outside for several days, adding more water when we came back to it to replace what evaporated while we were gone.
Next I tried Blender Bubbles: 1/2 cup water + 2 tbsp Dawn detergent in the KitchenAid mixed with the whisk attachment on high speed. In about a minute you get a bowl full of tiny, resilient bubbles that you can spoon and spread around. When they all pop, just blend them right back up again.
I wondered if I could make colored bubbles so I asked Carys to choose a color and then used some of the gel food coloring that I had left over from making the cake for Carys’ first birthday and added about half a teaspoon to a batch of blender bubbles. Red coloring makes pinky-orange bubbles!
Then I wondered if we could blow colored bubbles using a wand. Carys’ favorite colors are blue and green at the moment so I gently mixed half a teaspoon of gel food coloring in each of those colors into 1/4 cup water and a tablespoon of Dawn detergent in two different containers. I set out some paper on the bit of butcher block we have left over from when I did our kitchen makeover that I’d moved back out of the trash pile and into the garden for the GB Pockit stroller review. Turns out it’s just the right size for an outdoor art station! We blew colored bubbles over the paper and I was shocked to see them not only bounce, but then settle on the paper for several second before popping. Carys enjoyed poking them with her finger to make them pop once they landed.
I’ve read that “direct instruction [makes] children less curious and less likely to discover new information” so I want to be sure to note that while it looks like I’m doing a lot of the work here, it’s very much with Carys’ learning in mind. I blow the bubbles because she asks me to blow the bubbles, because that seems to be her style – she often prefers to observe rather than do a new activity, at least for a while. I always first make the activity available to her to see what she will do with it (if she wants to spoon the colored bubble liquid onto the paper rather than blow them then no problem!) and only step in to blow the bubbles for her if she specifically asks me to.
And, honestly, in the spirit of a constructivist approach to education where children and adults co-create new knowledge it is quite easy for me to sit back and not “instruct” her and instead just revel in the wonder of blowing bubbles. I had no idea that we wouldn’t be able to get the big bubbles to form properly and I’m still not sure why. I didn’t know we’d be able to see the food coloring floating in swirls on the outside of the blue and green bubbles. And I certainly had no idea they would bounce on dry paper! Each of these things were discovered alongside Carys in a spirit of wonder – exactly (I hope) the type of environment that will support her spontaneous learning abilities (link goes back to the same article).
I have been interested to observe how she learns in this type of environment. I’ve noticed that while she is perfectly capable of giving “orders” in some types of play (she’ll say “Mama sit carpet!,” “Mama make Lego!,” and yesterday Nanny Meg sat with Carys for 10 minutes while Carys delved into a narrated role play of “getting stuff ready,” leaving the house, getting in the car, and buckling herself into her car seat), that when a new subject is introduced she is typically quite quiet and often doesn’t respond to questioning. Her typical answer when something disappears is “run away!” so she did tell me she thought the bubbles “run away” when they popped, but asking her “where do you think the bubbles will go?” when blowing them on a windy day and the previous five sets of bubbles all blew off in the same direction didn’t yield any response, verbal or otherwise. Given that I’m not sure whether she doesn’t know the answers to these types of questions or knows them but can’t articulate them, I tend to sit back and let her experience the materials in whatever why she likes in the moment.
When we were finished for the day I folded up the finished paper and made it into a birthday card for Nanny Meg.
And, just as quickly as it began, we emerged from the bubble blowing phase. She hasn’t been interested in them for a couple of weeks. She’s currently playing with letter fridge magnets and sticky bricks.
Do you want to understand how your child’s brain is developing?
If there's just no way you can get to all the reading on your child's development that you want to do, check out my free four-page summary of Your Child’s Growing Mind by Jane M. Healy, Ph.D.