Ben and his big sister Brooke are having a grand time in the tub. Their fun turns into wonder when their mom gives each of them a new, dry sponge to play with. "It feels hard and scratchy," says Brooke, while little Ben drops his in the water. "Big! Wet!" he says as he holds up his dripping sponge. It's at that moment, when they start to notice and wonder about the differences between the two sponges, that the learning begins.
Sponges of all shapes and sizes are perfect for experimenting with math and science concepts. Like Ben and Brooke, you and your child can explore the concepts of wet/dry, heavy/light, and hard/soft with sponges. Exploring these "comparatives," or opposites, is an easy way for your child to learn basic physical science properties such as the different states of matter and the processes of change and cause and effect. Ben and Brooke are discovering how water changes the basic nature of sponges. They're noticing differences in texture, shape, size, and weight, differences that can be quantified through the important math concepts of weighing and measuring. Of course, sponges can also be used as art tools for painting and printing. Best of all, the squishy, bouncy nature of sponges make them perfect for playtime.
So squeeze out some fun with these easy activities:
- Just add water. Invite your child to compare how sponges change when water is added. Encourage him to describe the differences he feels and sees.
- Compare with care. Investigate a collection of differently sized, shaped, and textured sponges. Look for foam, natural, and standard kitchen sponges for a range of comparisons. How are the sponges the same? How are they different? Explain that natural sponges are actually animals that live in the ocean. The tiny holes in the sponges are pores that help filter out food in the water. Your child can use a small unbreakable magnifier to explore the pores and the texture of the natural sponge as compared to the others.
- Make it rain. While your child is bathing, start a discussion about rain. Ask, "Where does the rain come from? From clouds!" Use a sponge "cloud" to introduce your child to the rain cycle. Explain that even though we can't always see it, there's always water vapor in the air that gathers to form clouds. When clouds get too full of water vapor, it falls to the ground as rain. Give her a sponge and ask her to pretend it's a cloud. Offer her a spray bottle to lightly spray the sponge until it's damp, like a "cloudy day" cloud. Suggest she squeeze the sponge to see if any water (rain) comes out. Next, invite her to spray the sponge until it's filled up with "water vapor." You might ask, "What happens if you squeeze your cloud sponge now? Yes, a rainstorm!"
- Pick up a puddle. Make a puddle of water on a tray and invite your child to experiment with sponges, paper towels, and cloth towels to absorb the water. Which one picks up the puddle the best? What happens when you squeeze the picker-upper?
- Experiment with floating. Use one wet and one dry sponge to explore the concept of flotation. Ask your child to guess if each sponge will float. Test your guesses. He may be surprised to see that a sponge may float at first, but sink once it fills with water. What happens when you squeeze water out? Will it float again? How much water comes out?
- Substitute a sponge for a paintbrush. Foam sponges are perfect for cutting into fun shapes for printing. Clip a clothespin onto a sponge to create a handle. Show your child how to dip the sponge into paint and press it onto paper. Use the sponge to create art, picture books, greeting cards, and wrapping paper.
- Make a simple sponge puppet. Use a plain rectangular sponge as the base (face) and several different small sponge shapes for features. Ask your child where she wants to put the pieces on the puppet's "head," and then use a hot glue gun (with your child at a safe distance) to adhere them. She can create her own version of SpongeBob!