Playing with bubbles is a beginner's science exploration

May 14, 2004|by LISA PREJEAN

"How does a bubble form?"My 5-year-old asked that question one day as she was blowing bubbles and watching them float away.

They form when water, soap and air combine, I explained.

A soap bubble actually is a very thin layer of soapy water - called a soap film - wrapped around air, according to "Soap Science: A Science Book Bubbling with 36 Experiments" by J.L. Bell.

Because I sensed that my daughter was interested in this topic, I did a "bubble" subject search on Washington County Free Library's Web site,

Two of the picture books we found provided lots of giggles and fun time together.

Both books, "Show and Tell" and "Tubtime," are by Elvira Woodruff.

"Show and Tell" is about a boy named Andy who always has boring show-and-tells. Then he finds a bottle of magic bubbles. The entire class becomes "caught up" in his presentation.


"Tubtime" is a delightful story about sisters who have a good time playing in the mud. Then they come inside to take a bath. When they use bubble pipes in the tub, the bathroom is soon filled with bubbles containing squawking chickens, jumping frogs and one hungry alligator. The girls begin to worry that the alligator will pop out of his bubble and eat everyone. Then Dad comes in and the fun is over ... or is it?

What may appear to be silly childhood play is actually a beginner's exploration of science.

Lisa Idol, a kindergarten teacher at Paramount Elementary School, has a bubble-themed day each year near the end of school.

The children learn about and do experiments with bubbles. Idol uses the book "Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere" by Dwight Kuhn and Melvin Berger.

Children may want to know why bubbles made of plain water pop faster than soap bubbles. Surface tension is the reason. Water bubbles have a high surface tension. Soap lessens the surface tension of the water, allowing the "skin" to stretch, according to the Teacher's Guide to "Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere."

That's why soap bubbles are stronger than ones made of water.

A little flexibility from an adult can make the bubble blowing experience even more fun for a child.

It's easy to spill a bottle of bubbles. A child watches a bubble float along, her hand tilts and "splat!" the bubble solution saturates her shoes.

In his book, "Bubble Magic," Tom Noddy recommends pouring the bubble solution into a bowl with a wide bottom. The bubble blower has both hands free and won't make a mess.

Noddy also notes that wands with ridges hold more bubble solution and create more bubbles on a single blow.

Don't worry about dirt, sticks or little bugs that get in the bubble solution. As long as they are wet, they won't affect the bubbles, Noddy writes.

If you don't have bubble solution, dishwashing liquid mixed with water will work.

You can get creative with wands, using straws or other items to create bubbles.

At Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts in Williamsport, General Manager Cheryl Smith often provides fly swatters as wands for children to create lots of bubbles.

If you try it at home, don't forget to sit back and watch a few bubbles yourself.

On a sunny day, look for reflections on the convex surface nearest you and an upside-down version inside the concave wall at the back of the bubble.

This isn't just child's play after all. You can have some fun, too.

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