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Magic Petal Potions

Age: 0 to 8 Time: Under 1 hour
Materials: glass jar per kid, water
Skills: Creativity, Imagination, Behavioral Schema, Sensory
With so much blooming and bursting going on in spring and summer, it's the perfect time for kids to make magic petal potions. That said, potions can be made nearly all year, taking advantage of the unique things nature pops, drops and sprouts in any season. It turns out, potion-making is a perfectly engaging pursuit for kids. What can kids put in a potion? A splash of water, then anything else they want. To make a potion, kids search, collect, combine, mash, stir, shake, and repeat. They stop to look and sniff the potion as it transforms in color, form and scent. They try a little of this, then a little of that, changing course as they get real-time feedback. It’s tinkering at its best. So, just grab a glass jar for each kid, make sure you bring some water and head outdoors. Endless ingredients and potential concoctions await...

The Guide

  1. Pack a few materials: You only need a glass jar (e.g. pint-sized mason jar, recycled jar) and enough water to add about an inch or two to each child's jar.
  2. Set a goal: Suggest to kids that they make a magic potion (What kid can resist?). Give each child an empty jar—his very own potion pot! You can make “petal potions” when there are loads of fallen petals around, but magic potions can be made with any materials at virtually any time. Ask kids, “What can you put in a magic potion?” Accept any responses and share that the real answer is anything you want! Where will we find ingredients for potion? All around us!
  3. Hunt for ingredients: Kids set aside the glass jars and use a bag, sack or a bindle to gather all kinds of ingredients like fallen petals from flowering trees, clovers, leaves, dandelions, freshly cut (or ripped) grass, dirt, bark and more. Once kids have a good bunch of ingredients, let them know they can circle back when ready to turn them into a potion. Remind them that they can always go off again in search of more. Note: Kids will also need a stick or two for mashing and stirring their potions.
  4. Offer a special ingredient or two: You can hunt for or bring along a few different materials that could enhance kids' sensory experience. Some ideas: pick lilacs or other scented petals; bring spices like turmeric or paprika; pack some dried lavender (our favorite).
  5. Make a potion: Kids can add found ingredients plus about an inch or two of water to their potion pots. Then, they do whatever it takes to mix up their potions: use sticks to stir; get a stubby piece of wood to mash it; put the top on and shake it up. Let them do their thing and give them plenty of time.
  6. Chat: As they are working, ask them what they notice about their potion. If you don’t get much back, wait a bit, then ask to see it. Ask something about its appearance (e.g. “What do you notice about the water? Does it look the same as when you started?”). Or, ask to smell the potion, and ooo and ahh. This should prompt them to observe, notice and talk with you about the potion as well as their process.
  7. Make some magic (for kids age 3 and up): Once potion-making has run its course, ask kids, “How do we make this potion a magic potion?” Accept all ideas. Suggest that just by sniffing it, you can pretend to be anything you want. Then, let the kids suggest a creature. Take a big sniff and go with it, acting and sounding like whatever kids suggest. From squirrels to lions to birds to ninja turtles, just go with it. They'll have a blast pretending with you. Note: Keep the jar handy—Once kids start making potions, they tend to want to make them again and again.

Why is this activity great for kids?

Making potions never gets old, and if your kids haven’t ever tried, this will give them a tool for play and investigation they can (and likely will) use again and again. By giving kids a broad goal and the ability to design a potion recipe in any way they like, you also give them both a reason and the freedom to create in their own way. Given such conditions, kids can engage in the kind of playful and iterative exploration that is fundamental tinkering. And why is tinkering so important? It's a critical way to develop creativity and problem solving skills. Mitchel Resnick and Eric Rosembaum of MIT’s Media Lab remind us,
"Tinkering is more important today than ever before. We live in a world that is characterized by uncertainty and rapid change...Success in the future will depend not on what you know, or how much you know, but on your ability to think and act creatively—on your ability to come up with innovative solutions to unexpected situations and unanticipated problems.”
As kids make potions, they not only flex their senses of sight, touch and smell, but they also strengthen their ability to integrate their senses. Finally, for our kids of age 18 months through about 5 years, there is a set of repetitive behaviors that kids of this age all over the world exhibit and that are tied to critical brain development. Child development experts know them as "behavioral schema." Gathering ingredients, mashing and mixing as well as stirring activate transportingtransforming  andcirculation schema.

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