August 20, 2012

Working Up A Lather of Fun with Bubbles

Working Up a Lather of Fun with Bubbles
Children of all ages are fascinated by bubbles.  Babies love to watch bubbles floating through the air.  Eventually they start to turn their head to follow the bubbles and later to reach for them.  Older children love to blow, chase and pop bubbles. 

Even dolphins love to play with bubbles …



These seemingly magical, rainbow-coloured orbs pack a powerful learning punch.  They are readily available, fascinating to children of all ages and their simplicity belies the complexity of science involved in making and popping bubbles.  Have you considered…



Are bubbles always round?
Why do bubbles pop?
Can you catch a bubble?
Why do bubbles float?
Why are bubbles rainbow coloured?  Can I make bubbles in a different colour?
What is the biggest bubble ever made? 

Before you and your children can begin experimenting with bubbles to answer these questions you need some bubble mix.  It is quite easy to make your own bubble mix. But what is the best bubble mix?

Make Your Own Bubble Mix

If you try making bubbles with normal water, you will quickly find that it doesn’t work well.  That is because the surface tension of the water is too high.  All the individual water molecules making up your glass of water are attracted to each other.  The water molecules at the top of the glass are attracted to those below them and don’t want to leave – this is called surface tension. 

To make bubbles you need to add detergent to the water.  When you add detergent, the detergent molecules get between the water molecules and stop them from interacting.  This lowers the surface tension of the water so that bubbles can form. 

Another ingredient can be added to the water and detergent to make even better bubbles – glycerin.  Bubbles pop when the water molecules evaporate. Glycerin forms weak bonds with the water molecules in the bubble, slowing down evaporation.

Here is a simple recipe for bubble solution to get you started (If you want to make a really big batch of bubble solution, substitute cups for tablespoons) …

3 tablespoons detergent
7 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon glycerin
Mix well.  Leave overnight. 

Explore Further: How is the bubble solution different if you add more detergent or more glycerin?  Does it make even better bubbles?  How much detergent is too much?  How much glycerin is too much?

Make your own Bubble Wands

Now that you have some bubble mix, you need to find some bubble wands.  Many things can be used as a bubble wand. 

Some commonplace items that can be used as a bubble wand are:
a flyswatter
cookie cutters
a wire coathanger
a plastic bottle with the end cut off

You can create bubble wands, in any shape you like, out of pipecleaners.

You can use straws as a bubble wand (be sure that your children are old enough to distinguish between blowing through the straw and sucking through the straw).  Try taping a bundle of straws together and using that as a bubble wand. 

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(Thanks to Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning for this great bubble wand idea)

You can even use your hands as a bubble wand.

Are Bubbles Always Round?

All these different-shaped bubble wands might have your child wondering – Are bubbles always round?
Bubble wands can be bought or made in many different shapes – circles, triangles, hearts, squares and so on.  But when you use these bubble wands, the resulting bubbles are always spherical.  That’s because bubbles always form the shape with the least surface area that will hold the gas inside them.  This is always a sphere.

The only way you can make a different-shaped bubble is by clustering bubbles together.  Steve Spangler has an experiment showing you how to create a bubble wand that will make a square bubble.

How to Catch a Bubble

It’s fun for children to chase and pop bubbles, but can you catch a bubble?

Get your child to try, moving slowly and carefully. It’s frustrating, those bubbles always pop!

To catch a bubble you need to understand a little more about what makes the bubbles pop. Bubbles pop when the water in the bubble evaporates. This happens when the bubble comes into contact with a dry surface or dry air.  So, to catch a bubble you need to wet your hands or even coat them with a little bubble solution.

Put a Bubble inside a Bubble

Blow a bubble with a straw. Can you blow a bubble inside the first bubble?

You might have said no, because when you try to put the straw inside your first bubble, it popped. But in a similar way to catching a bubble, if you wet your straw beforehand you can push it through the bubble’s skin without popping the first bubble. This allows you to put a bubble inside a bubble.

This might be easier if you fill a flat tray with bubble mix. Then, your bubbles stay in the tray and don’t fly away. Put a straw into the bubble mix and blow to create a bubble. Blow again to make another bubble inside the first one. Can you add even more bubbles inside these two bubbles?

Make Giant Bubbles

Bubbles are good, but giant bubbles are better.

Knowing why bubbles pop, is the key to blowing bigger bubbles.  Since bubbles pop in dry air or when they come into contact with dry surfaces, some days are better for bubble blowing than others. 

Bubbles can get bigger and will last longer on humid days. 
Bubbles will dry out quickly in the sun, so work in the shade.
Keep your bubble tools wet with bubble solution.
Wind will pop bubbles quickly, so still days are better for bubble blowing.

Here are instructions for making the best sort of bubble wand for blowing really giant bubbles and a unique recipe for bubble solution (from Design Dazzle).

You can also use a hula hoop as a giant bubble wand and that is the key to a fun trick in which you put a person inside a bubble.


And if you were wondering what is the largest bubble ever blown, head over to Guinness World Records to find out that and other interesting bubble records, including the record for the most bubbles blown with a tarantula in the mouth.

Bubbles are one of my favourite lazy mum activities.  I always pull out the bubble solution when my kids are driving me nuts and I don’t know what to do with them.  I hope this post has given you some new ideas for keeping your children entertained with bubbles.

What do you love about playing with bubbles?

1 comment:

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