Sunday, August 29, 2010

My new best activity ever!

I’m not sure if I’ve ever enjoyed an activity as much as I enjoyed this one. Nor could I ever really say I had a "favorite" activity. Until now...

Ooblick ice cubes!

If you don’t know what ooblick is, it’s the cornstarch and water mixture we had in the sensory table for about a week (by the way, it’s good to keep that stuff current because we found out that once it goes bad, it smells worse than rotten milk).

It started out as this project:

(The ice cube trays here just hold colored water for dropping into the cornstarch.)  Kids put the liquid into the cornstarch to explore the properties of the cornstarch.  Of course, by the end they had mixed everything into one big bowl, which is their way of ultimately learning the properties of solubility, viscosity and proportion.   We later transferred the contents of the bowl into the sensory table.

Well, I got curious one day about freezing the ooblick. Would it transform into a chalk that we could use to draw? Could we draw with it? Would we remove it from the ice cube trays, and it would merely crumble into dried cornstarch?

When the ooblick was still in its prime, I glopped it into ice cube trays and squirted some different colored water colors on top. No rhyme or reason, just glopped and squirted. If you don’t know what the verb “glop” is, put some cornstarch and water into ice cube trays. You will then know the experience of “to glop”.

The outcome was amazing. If you haven’t explored ooblick before, you might not be able to appreciate a mere verbal description. But I’ll do my best.

So I lined a shallow water table outside with white sheets of paper so we could draw with the ice cubes. Of course, the paper product became secondary, as it usually does in preschool.

Holding the ooblick was not only visually appealing, seeing the swirling colors stay locked in place when it looked like they should be swirling, but it was an amazing tactile experience. The feeling of cornstarch melting --this must be experienced to be understood--seemed amplified by the fact that the water started out frozen.  It feels dry, yet you know it's not by looking at it.  Ooblick (and frozen) is a paradox to the senses.

Due to the inconsistency between the cornstarch:water proportions,  some cubes had a more grainy texture and were more starchy, while some were harder like dried clay, or icier because of more water density and less cornstarch; some squished in the hand and some melted in that ooblick-o-morphic way that only ooblick can melt.

The kids held the ooblick cubes in a way that was almost intentionally slow, to savor each step in their exploration. They looked quietly at the cubes, speechless, rubbed the cubes between their hands, touched their cheeks to the cubes, and some put it in their mouths (the youngest ones, mostly). They held it in their palms and watched as the cubes became slick, and as they held the cubes, the density seemed to increase, and as they let go, the density loosened and the cubes melt in only the way that saturated cornstarch can.

As the intitial exploration phase wore off, the children could be observed exploring the scientific properties of ooblick in their own unique way. Te rubbed it up and down her forearms in a manner so common in the two year old classroom that we expect most paint projects to become whole-arm experiences. Br held it gently as it melted, paying attention not only to his ice but also to the chitter chatter around him, letting the unique sensation of ooblick accompany the social atmosphere. Ta noticed as it kept getting smaller and smaller, as did Sa, who later joined Gi in an ooblick taste test.  Each of these children absorbed science concepts through sensory experience during this activity.

The puddles of water that formed created a receptacle for the last ooblick cubes standing, the ones that hadn’t already been melted or crumbled into the water puddles.  It was fun to see the last globs of ooblick swoosh around into the water, either dissolving into the water or being swallowed up by the larger cornstarch mass that formed.

The same day that I froze the ooblick, I also froze regular colored ice cubes for some ice cube painting.  Using regular water colored ice cubes a few days later seemed to be less exciting for everyone, but I could have just been projecting my own disappointment after having experienced my new best activity ever.


The bold words are some of the science lingo involved in this activity.  But words like "glob" and "swoosh" tend to be more precise than their scientific parallel.


  1. Lovely! Thanks for sharing this, I definately want to try it!

  2. I want my children to go to a preschool like this one--where teachers aren't afraid of a giant mess, for the sake of learning through play! :o) Awesome! Keep up the great work!!

  3. I love this and am so excited to read your blog full of awesome examples of great ece!

  4. Oh fabulous fabulous!! We did cornflour and water at art group a while ago - this will be a great extension! So going to do this!!!


Thank you for the comments! Always appreciated : )

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