Shaken and stirred

Home-made sensory bottles will fascinate children as a way to experiment with different liquids, and how they look and react. Record how their predictions support their Understanding of the World.

Making potions to create sensory bottles is an exciting way for children to develop their understanding of the world. Potions are a feast for the senses with their strange smells, changing colours, and different textures. In the wizard's workshop role-play activity, children will make potions by mixing two different liquids together. They will discover for themselves that some liquids combine to make a new liquid (they are ‘miscible’), and others do not mix at all (they are ‘immiscible’). These terms can be introduced to children as they shake and stir. We can help children to understand why some liquids do not mix and that liquids that are lighter float on top of liquids that are heavier.

Playing and exploring

  • Children describe the appearance, texture and smell of different liquids
  • They talk about similarities and differences between liquids
  • They notice that miscible liquids change when they mix together and that immiscible liquids want to remain separate from each other.

Ask children to mix just two liquids together at a time and to describe what they notice (some will separate – immiscible, and some will not – miscible). Which do they find most fascinating?

Wizard's workshop – what do children notice?

Decorate the role play area with cobwebs, spiders, stars and moons. Provide wizard dressing up clothes, a soft toy for a wizard's pet, an empty hardback spell book for children to write in with a quill pen, a cauldron and a wooden spoon together with a list of ingredients (e.g. spiders, frogs, eyeballs, phoenix feathers, warts of toads, brains, snake fangs, lavender). Some ingredients could be ‘real’ and others labelled picture cards.

Set up a potions laboratory with a ‘potions laboratory’ sign and key words displayed (see ‘Key Vocabulary’). Set out spoons, cups and different household liquids for children to choose from – cooking oil, vinegar, lemon juice, water, cold tea, cold coffee, liquid soap, bubble bath, hair gel, fruir juice, tomato ketchup, fruit juice, honey, syrup, soy sauce, and others available.

Encourage children to mix just two liquids together at a time and to describe what they notice (some will separate – immiscible, and some will not – miscible). Ask children to choose the mixtures they found the most fascinating and, with a funnel, to pour their favourite liquid combinations into recycled plastic bottles. Label each of these sensory bottles with pictures/words. Children then use the sensory bottles in their magical role play.

Active learning

  • Children concentrate on making potions
  • They pay attention to details in order to describe similarities and differences between liquids
  • They deepen their understanding of miscible and immiscible liquids by observing them in everyday life.

Concocting and observing potions

Children are natural chemists. They love making amazing, magical potions. If we think back to our own childhoods, we might remember messing about with a chemistry set, making perfume in the garden or concocting a witch's brew. Children become more deeply involved and actively engaged with their learning when we provide tactile, unusual activities that are linked to their existing interests. In addition, when they mix liquids together to make potions they pay attention to details by describing the changes that they notice. Encourage children to share their learning with parents by spotting and describing miscible and immiscible liquids around the home. Foods that must be ‘shaken before use’ like home-made salad dressings are immiscible. Shop bought salad dressings are immiscible but they contain an emulsifier, which helps keep the liquid parts mixed together for a longer period of time. With supervision children might also observe beauty products and paints that need to be shaken or stirred.

Creating and thinking critically

  • When making gravy children explain what they notice, drawing upon their prior knowledge of immiscible liquids
  • Children predict the best way to separate fat from gravy and test their ideas – after the experiment they review which method was best for separating fat from gravy
  • Children's knowledge of states of matter is extended by discovering that it is easier to remove a solid from a liquid than a liquid from a liquid.

Making predictions

Make gravy together. Ask children to describe what is happening. Elicit that oil sits on top because it is lighter than the rest of the gravy which is mostly water. Do children think it is a good idea to leave the oil – fat – on top of the gravy? What do they think you should do? Some children will suggest that you stir the gravy. Do they think that the liquid will stay mixed for very long? Why or why not? Elicit that it is not healthy to eat too much fat so it is best to try and remove it from the gravy. Set up an experiment in which children find the best way to remove fat from cool gravy. Provide jugs of gravy along with empty bowls and different instruments that can be used to remove fat like a fat separator, a ladle, a turkey baster, a pipette and different sized spoons. Before children begin, can they predict the best method to remove fat? After they have conducted the experiment ask them to describe what method worked best, which method was least effective, and why.

Enabling environment

Provide a story sack for Professor Puffendorf's Secret Potions by Robin Tzannes and Korky Paul so that children can retell the story or make up their own versions. The story sack could contain sensory bottles from the role play wizard's workshop, character masks, a stuffed toy guinea pig, a bunch of keys, a king's crown, gold coins, and a magical notebook and quill. In the small world area make a fantasy environment.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

The activities here address the following Understanding the World Outcomes for children aged 40–60+ months: ‘Looks closely at similarities, differences, patterns and change’, ‘(they) explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.’

The activities above also contribute to Communication and Language through ‘the use of language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences in play situations’.

Key points

  • Observe if children can use their senses to describe similarities and differences between liquids
  • Children will notice that some liquids change when they are mixed together and that others want to remain separate
  • The activities will help them understand why some liquids want to stay separate when they are mixed together and encourage them to think about immiscible liquids in their own homes

Key vocabulary:

  • wizard, workshop, potion, laboratory, experiment, miscible, immiscible, mix, liquid, solid, bottle, spoon, funnel, spell, spell book, danger, careful

Useful resources

  • Wizard's workshop labels, props and dressing-up clothes
  • Household liquids and foods for children to mix together (ensuring they will discover both miscible and immiscible liquids)
  • Recycled plastic bottles
  • Ingredients to make gravy, and implements to separate fat from gravy
  • Professor Puffendorf's Secret Potions by Robin Tzannes and Korky Paul. Published by OUP Oxford
  • Props for Professor Puffendorf's story sack, and for small world fantasy play

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