Monday, September 24, 2018

Tidy and Sort: Investigating the properties of materials

Full details of the activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Tidy and Sort' which can be downloaded from
This resource contains lots of ideas for separating different mixtures of materials from each other.  It would be a wonderful way to teach the materials strand of the science curriculum for Y1 or to introduce and then extend the topic with Y2s.

The Activity: Sorting Materials
  • Children are given a series of problems to solve including separating paper clips from stamps, Lego from marbles and rice from sand.
  • They are supported to consider how the different properties of the materials including their size, shape and whether they are magnetic, can all be used to make the job of separating materials much easier than laboriously separating them out by hand.
The resource has some lovely illustrations, in the form of a story book, which can be used as a starting point for children's explorations.
  • The activities also give children the opportunity to select and use a variety of scientific equipment.

  • There are a series of challenges of increasing complexity so that by the end children are invited to consider how they could separate the impurities from muddy water.

Cards to support children's thinking and planning
  • Although ideas are given for ways to separate the different mixtures we would encourage teachers to give children enough time to find their own solutions.  This may include introducing a problem one day and going back to it later once children have had a chance to think about it.  
  • A nice way to do this is to set up a hands on display in the classroom that children can return to as they have fresh ideas.  Don't make the mistake of providing too much equipment straight away; it 'kinda' gives the game away if you leave a magnet next to the box of stamps and paper clips!
  • Having given the children plenty of time to consider the problems you are more likely to see a wider range of creative solutions than if they are expected to solve the problem on the day that they first encounter it.
Y1 Everyday materials:
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Pencils, Poems and Princesses; Exploring the properties of sand

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Pencils, Poems and Princesses' which can be downloaded from

The activity can be found on page 45 and is linked to the Shirley Hughes book 'Out and About'.  This is a poetry book which celebrates the seasons, the weather and the joy of exploring a variety of materials including mud, sand and water. There are opportunities to make links with EYFS Understanding the world, Mathematics and Characteristics of effective learning and Y1 Mathematics and working scientifically.  More details can be found at the bottom of this post.

The Activity: Making Sandcastles

  • Children are given some dry sand and water and encouraged to experiment to find the consistency which makes the best sandcastles.  This gives lots of opportunities to use language such as more, less, too much and not enough as well as to describe the different mixtures. 
  • Children can also be encouraged to notice how the properties of sand alters; when it is dry it flows like water, but once wet it begins to behave more like a solid.  They could also be shown how to use a hand lens to look carefully at the sand and to notice that it is made up of tiny particles. 

All of the poems in this beautifully illustrated book could be used to teach Early Years and KS1 science as they follow two small children through the changing seasons.

  • The activity could link well with Y1 maths if children are encouraged to count how many cups of water and sand are needed to make the perfect sandcastle.  However, I would urge teachers not to rush to start measuring and recording the quantities needed too soon.  Instead, allow a period of extended exploration and play.   
  • Interestingly this is an activity that I have done with a wide range of ages from nursery children to PhD students and the only people who made any attempt to begin the activity by accurately measuring the ingredients were primary school teachers!
  • The activity can easily be sized up or down.  Children might enjoy making enough sandcastle mixture to make 'giant castles' with a builders' bucket in the outside sandpit.  Alternatively, they could make 'fairy castles' with shot glasses, teaspoons and pipettes in trays indoors.  

Suggested equipment:
Dry sand, water, buckets in various shapes and sizes, smaller containers such as shot glasses and plastic beakers, spoons, spades, pipettes

   Links to the Statutory framework for EYFS:

Areas of learning and development
  • Understanding the World
  • Mathematics

Characteristics of Effective Learning

  • Playing and Exploring
  • Active Learning
  • Creating and Thinking Critically

   Links to the National Curriculum:

Y1 Everyday materials:
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions

Monday, September 10, 2018

Making Toothpaste

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Healthy drinks and tasty toothpaste' which can be downloaded from

This is a series of two lessons taken from ‘Healthy Drinks and Tasty Toothpaste’.  In the first children are supported to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of some commercial toothpastes.  In the second, children use a recipe to make their own toothpaste.  
The activities primarily link to content knowledge in the Y4 curriculum for Animal including humans, but can also be linked to Y2 Animals including humans.  There are also plenty of opportunities for working scientifically (more details of curriculum links at the bottom of this post).

The Activity: 'Making toothpaste': 
  •  Children evaluate some commercial toothpastes, for example by comparing how well they stick to a toothbrush in a 'shake test', how long they take to clean some permanent marker from a tile and also taking into account aesthetic considerations such as smell, taste and appearance.

Testing homemade toothpaste to see how effective it is at cleaning permanent marker from a tile (photograph courtesy of Julie Wiskow )

  • Next, children are given a recipe so that they can make their own toothpaste which they then evaluate in exactly the same way.

Recipes for making toothpaste (the full instructions can be found in the resource).

This activity has lots of opportunities for cross-curricular links.  Julie’s class designed toothpaste cartons and advertising slogans for the toothpaste that they made. (photograph courtesy of Julie Wiskow )

Suggested equipment:
As well as the equipment and ingredients listed in the illustration above you will need the instructions for making toothpaste from pages 35 and 37 of the resource, at least one plain white tile per group, a permanent marker pen,  three different types/brands of commercial toothpaste (try and find ones that are distinctive from each other such as paste or gel, different colours and different functions such as whitening, for sensitive teeth etc.), and two toothbrushes per group of children.
Health and Safety
  • Children should wear goggles during some of these activities to prevent toothpaste getting in the eyes.
  • Be aware that recipe B, which includes gelatine, would not be suitable for vegetarian children.  You will also need to be aware of the source of the gelatine as, depending upon the religious beliefs of families in your class, you may need to avoid any that has been produced from pigs or cows.

Links to the National Curriculum:
   Y4 and Y2: Animals including humans

  • (Y4) identify the different types of teeth in humans and their simple functions 
  • (Y4) find out what damages teeth and how to look after them
  • (Y2) describe the importance for humans of .... hygiene
  • (Y2) ask questions about what humans need to stay healthy

Working Scientifically 
  • use results to draw simple conclusions
  • use scientific evidence to answer questions
  • report on findings from enquiries, including oral and written explanations, displays or presentations