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Little bottles for big ideas

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By Natalie WalkerCreative Learning Manager at Step by Step, in conjunction with Chatterbox Nursery, Stalybridge, Cheshire

Educational resource supplier Step by Step teamed up with Chatterbox Nursery in Stalybridge, Cheshire to investigate how to make science fun for young children with discovery bottles


Photo © Step by Step


Scientific discovery begins in the early years. A child’s natural curiosity and wonder should be fed from an early age so that they have the opportunity to explore and learn about the world around them.

We encourage children to involve themselves in science by articulating the questions they want to ask, for instance, ‘Why did that float to the top?’ and ‘What would happen if you mixed x with y?’ By involving them and discussing their observations, you can model the language they may want to use to describe what they have seen. This is the start of scientific exploration.


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Photo © Step by Step


Creative development

Discovery bottles are clear, plastic bottles filled with various items that help children explore scientific concepts. The bottles promote the development of observation and thinking skills. Some, such as glitter bottles, can be placed in quiet areas to calm children. The bottles could even be used in music sessions because the ones that have been filled with buttons, for instance, are very loud when shaken! Mini water bottles work well for little hands – fillings can be anything from rice to sand or feathers. These visual and inexpensive resources can be prepared beforehand or made with the children.

Sit with children in a circle and give them some empty plastic bottles with wide necks (fresh juice bottles are the best). Place a selection of items, such as sand, pasta and small wiggly eyes in front of them.

Make your own bottles


Float or sink?

Encourage children to place a variety of objects in the bottles – ask them to choose some items that they think might sink and some that might float. These could include buttons, wiggly eyes, pom-poms, pasta, sea-shells and feathers. Use a jug to fill the bottles with water and screw the tops tightly shut. (You may need to glue the tops on – we managed without doing so and had no accidents but it’s important to make sure.) Let children shake their bottles and then observe what happens to the different items inside.

Glitter or sand storms

Let children have fun filling of half the bottle with a selection of different coloured glitter before adding water. Shake them up and watch as the glitter starts to settle.

Straw shakes

Cut up a selection of multi-coloured straws and give them to children to place inside their bottles. Help children to add water, then watch the straws flow up and down when they turn the bottle.

Bursting bubbles

The children had a lot of fun trying to fill bottles carefully with brightly coloured washing-up liquid, adding water and shaking them to create a bottle full of bursting bubbles.


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Photo © Step by Step


Observing and exploring

Children were receptive to everything involved with the creation of discovery bottles and the time spent on the activity helped them to improve their ability to observe, explore and make predictions. ‘Let me do it’, one child said, and another exclaimed ‘Wow! Look at the colours!’

As they took part in the process of making the bottles, they were formulating ideas and answers to questions that we posed. Through trial and observation they learned about objects that sink or float. Changing and alternating what they put in the bottles was a great way to help them notice the differences in materials and discover what happens when you mix them with water.

We found that children wanted to add everything available into the bottles at once. They shouldn’t be discouraged from doing this because their natural fascination and wonder should be given room to flourish and grow. Early science supports language development and logical thinking later in life; children are continuously looking for ways to express what they are doing, seeing and learning from these activities.

Young children can have endless fun with discovery bottles. They not only help with creative development but also advance their knowledge and understanding of the world and provide an inquisitive basis for an ongoing interest in the world of science.


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