It was a simple sink / float bin. I got my LARGEST pot (which is an absolutely enormous lobster steaming pot which I've never ever used except for this activity) and filled it halfway with water. I placed it on several layers of towels on the kitchen floor and had three extra towels ready. I had a large pad of 18" x 24" drawing paper ready and a pencil.
I put 13 items on the towel, arranged right next to the pot full of water.
I introduced the activity by saying that we were going to see what things sink and what things float. I made a T chart and wrote Sink on one side and Float on the other. To match the two columns in my chart, we laid out two of the extra towels on the floor. Make the towels two different colors. The four year old was our record keeper. She was to draw a picture of each item under the correct heading (Sink or Float) to keep track of our results.
We were ready to begin!
Zac and his friend sat carefully on opposite sides of the big pot of water. I picked up the pestle from my marble mortar & pestle set and handed it to her, then to him. I asked them to predict. They could feel how heavy it was, which helped them make a successful prediction for their first time. Then we put it in the water. She drew the mortar on the Sink side of our chart, and I lifted it out of the water and put it on the Sink towel.
We proceeded like this through the assortment of things I laid out, letting them both hold the item and make a prediction before dropping it in the water. I deliberately did NOT test the items in advance, because I wanted to be truly playful and have fun with it too. It was great!
Before I share the list of items we used, I want to give a caveat. Waldorf early childhood education is deliberately non-academic. This means that I did not ask her to write the name of any of the items under her drawings, I did not ask her to read the titles "Sink" and "Float" (I suggest that you write them in two different colors of marker or crayon and, for extra scaffolding, make the colors of the towels match the colors of the crayon), and I did not explain why some things sink and some things float.
The goals were organization, thoughtfulness, curiosity about the world, and having fun.
The goals were not reading, writing, spelling, or teaching a science lesson on Density.
by Rudolf Steiner
extremely important article from 1909, available online for free, and
helpful for understanding why Waldorf education unfolds the way it does
When in doubt as to how to respond to your child's questions in this stage (the first stage of development, from birth to approx. age 7), think about one thing: preserving their childhood by preserving their sense of WONDER. I suggest you simply use this time tested phrase, "Hmmm, I wonder." This is a way of responding thoughtfully to your children that still encourages their own thinking and exploration. It answers but doesn't answer. It doesn't explain anything for them, and it leaves plenty of room for their own ideas.
So, as the 4 year old cheerfully drew each item on the paper, and we watched the assortment of materials gathering on the towels, I just said, "Wow, how interesting this is!"
Well, I Wonder: Childhood in the Modern World:
A Handbook for Parents, Teachers, and Carers
my favorite all-in-one Waldorf early childhood book for new parents
The final item, the strawberry package, was a special treat to watch. It first floated and then filled with water and started to sink. When the children pushed down it went to the bottom, but then rose to the middle of the water and stayed mostly full of water but with some air still in the top. It didn't follow our rules (and a pipe cleaner will do this too... it will float until it gets waterlogged and then it will sink). We decided to put it in a new section, the middle of our chart, and she drew it overlapping into both categories and we placed it on the spot where both towels touched.
I do recommend leaving this item for last because it requires thinking outside of the existing categories.
It was also helpful to have two pencils, the one in the pile of things to try and the pencil we used to write our data. This meant that when the pencil didn't do what we expected (especially since it's a different shape completely from all of the other things that floated), the kids were able to grab a second pencil and see if it did the same thing.
At the end, they wanted to heap every item into the pot all at once, which was fine too. The whole activity took about 20 minutes.
Here were our items. If you do a sink/float bin, I'd love to hear what you used and what your results were!
a plastic measuring spoon (1 tablespoon)
a mini kitchen whisk with a metal handle
a plastic toy snake
the metal ring from a canning jar
a plastic ball
a sweet potato
a dried kidney bean
an empty 32 oz clear plastic strawberry box from the grocery store
This post contains affiliate links to the materials I actually use for homeschooling. I hope you find them helpful. Thank you for your support!