Play Happens When You Least Expect It


Many of you may know that I am a science guy.  I love the stuff.  In fact, I spend much of my time in the passionate pursuit of opportunities to turn people on to science!  One of the ways that I accomplish this is by hosting the Science Wondershop at The Children’s Museum of Atlanta on Sundays throughout the year.  Basically, the Science Wondershop is a science play workshop for children and their parents.  We make a mess, blow things up, get loud, and learn a little science along the way.  This past weekend, I brought dry ice to the Science Wondershop.  I thought I would give the parents some ideas for their upcoming Halloween celebrations.  Basically, we dropped dry ice into a cup of warm water, added some liquid dish detergent, and had an absolute ball playing with the results.  Like many weekends, I came home with left over materials from the Wondershop, and decided to explore a little science play with my own kids.  What happened next was unexpected, but a wonderful example of how the Play Challenge has changed my life.  We started with some of the same basic explorations I introduced at the museum.


We dropped a chunk of dry ice into a glass of warm water and watched it bubble.  The kids giggled as they watched the fog of gas roll over the sides of the glass.  I talked to them about the science of sublimation and states of matter.  They seemed content to dip their fingers in the bubbling liquid and blow streams of water vapor around the surface of the table.  I decided to take a cue from them (like I have done many times during this challenge) and look for opportunities to simply play with the materials.


I’d designed a contraption I called a ghost bubbler using a couple of two liter bottles, some plumbing materials, and some homemade bubble solution.  Like the name implies, it uses dry ice to blow ghostly looking soap bubbles.  I demonstrated it to my kids and in no time they had mastered the art of ghost bubbling.  Then one of them looked at the other and with the confidence of one who has mastered the art of playing whispered, “I wonder what would happen if…”  That’s when things got interesting!  They grabbed one of the glasses we’d used earlier and blew a ghost bubble into it.  Not wanting to be left out, I suggested that we drop some dry ice into the glass first and then blow a bubble into it.  The result…


…a ghost bubble that seemed to grow right out of the glass.  We played with this for a while, until one of the whispered again, “What if we…”  So we pulled out one of the large plastic graduated cylinders I had sitting with my materials, added some warm water, dropped in a chunk of dry ice, and squirted in some liquid dish detergent.  I smiled as the two of them erupted in laughter as the gas filled soap bubbles…


…began to rise and spill over the side of the plastic tube. The kids grabbed at the bubbles, squeezed them in their hands, and blew them into the air.  “This is play,” I thought, “in its most basic form.”  It was unstructured.  It was imaginative.  It was driven by the simple desire to see what happens when we answer the question…what if?  I decided it was time that I contributed something to our playtime.  I grabbed an empty cup, poured in a little water, dropped in a piece of dry ice and…


…poured thick clouds of fog onto my children! They’d never taken a bath in carbon dioxide, but if the pictures are any indication, I’d say they loved their first one.  Of course, this led us to our next great idea.  If you can fill a cup with the fog, why not fill an entire bucket with it.  Quickly, I grabbed a nice sized plastic tub from my stack of science supplies.  Slowly, we poured the fog (actually carbon dioxide and water vapor) into the tub until it was full of the gas.  My children watched in amazement as the fog sloshed around inside the plastic tub.  They grinned as it reacted to the swirls of their fingertips and puff of air they blew into the tub.  In a stroke of playful genius, one of them grabbed the homemade bubble solution and…


…blew a bubble over the surface of the gas.  The bubble grew and grew until it finally drifted away from her lips and into the middle of the plastic tub. My children and I watched as it floated around the tub. We smiled as we watched the bubble bobbing effortlessly…


…on the surface of the fog.  It was a beautiful sight to see.  However, what was even more exciting was the idea that my children had discovered this amazing event through the simple act of play.  I didn’t have to provide them with a set of instructions or a YouTube video.  I didn’t need a set of PowerPoint slides or a users manual.  I simply needed to trust in my children’s ability to uncover their world by simply being inquisitive. Over the course of the past 28 days, my children have taught me this lesson over and over again.  It has been a difficult one for me to learn.  After all, I have been taught that success often lies in organization, structure, and my ability to accurately follow instructions. While I still believe that these things are important, this challenge has taught me to value those moments that are rooted in creativity, curiosity, and my ability to actively explore my own questions and ideas.  This has been my biggest discovery during the past 28 day.  It is a lesson that I will forever thank my children for teaching me.


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