*We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, London, Walker, 1989.
This week we are focusing on bear stories in our play! We started with a trip to the library to see if we could find anything new; I was quite overwhelmed by how many bear stories there actually were, so we narrowed it down to “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” (which we already own) and a variety of “Goldilocks and the 3 Bears” stories (there are many variations on the original and the library had quite a selection; I couldn’t choose between them so we took them all).
We started by reading each of the books in turn, and then I asked them what they would like to play. Both A and E wanted to start with a “bear hunt”-themed activity, and all A really wanted to do after her first day back at preschool was get messy. So messy “bear hunt” play it was!
Rather than set up a whole bear hunt small world with everything included (we’ve done that before and the separate elements of the story just get lost very quickly with my two), I wanted to concentrate on just one of the environments at a time. Obviously they wanted to start with mud! As it hasn’t rained for a while there isn’t any proper squelchy mud around the park, and I didn’t really want to bring mud into the garden (we’ve done that before too, and then struggled to dispose of it in our paved “yard”), so we decided to make it instead! I also decided that gloop would make a perfect mud, and it did…
Gloop has the right consistency to make that thick oozy texture, and makes a wonderful squelch and squerch sound (in some ways, better than real actual mud). It is also very simple (and cheap) to make, requiring just cornflour and water (and something to make it mud-coloured in this case). I pondered over a few ingredients that would make it mud-coloured, including food colouring and paint, but in the end I thought coffee might give an interesting effect.
To make the gloop we took a standard roasting tin and added enough cornflour to cover the bottom of it. We then dissolved about half a cup of instant coffee granules in about two cups of water, and mixed this with the flour. (The exact quantities of flour and water don’t really matter as long as there is a lot more water than there is flour. If it is too dry it makes something quite different – fascinating, but different, see below). The nature of cornflour makes the whole thing difficult to stir, so I stirred it by myself to minimise the mess. This did take a bit of work!
Once it was finally ready I put the roasting tin into the tuff spot and A and E got stuck straight in. I gave them spoons to stir it with but they instantly requested extra stuff from the play kitchen for scooping and pouring, so I gave them a bowl each!
After a short while they became a bit more daring and tried putting their hands in. They were so excited by the texture. E squealed with delight every time he touched it. They quickly recognised it as “mud”, and made squelching and squerching sounds squeezing it in their hands. I was surprised at how much E enjoyed it; considering he hates being dirty I did not expect him to like this one bit, but he played for as long as A!
We talked for a while about the colour, the texture, the sounds and the smell (the coffee was strong and I found it quite unpleasant after a while, but A and E loved it so who am I to argue?). Then they obviously had to get in the tray and stomp it with their feet.
They repeated the lines from the book a few times and then they proceeded to rub it over their legs and watch it fall from a height.
I left them playing for a while, and then I noticed that A had taken some of the gloop out of the tray and arranged it on the tuff spot. This opened up a whole new world of discussion! As it had come out of the tray it was no longer submerged in a pool of water and so was much drier; this is sometimes called oozo or oobleck and is technically completely different and scientifically fascinating. So I thought I would just question her for a minute to see what she thought of it…
I asked her whether she thought it was a liquid or a solid. She ran her fingers through it for a while, making marks, and then she tried to scoop it up. It fell through her hands so she decided it had to be a liquid.
I then told her to quickly and forcefully pick it up and try rolling it into a ball. She managed this and so thought that it must be a solid (I, however, didn’t manage a picture of this as she was too quick to let go)! When she let go again it flowed back through her fingers.
She concluded that it was obviously magic!1
After this they decided to have a fight with it and things got a little crazy :-S!
I adore gloop as a material, for both sensory play and scientific exploration/experimentation. It was a wonderful hour of concentrated play though it did leave me wondering what on earth I was thinking!
1In this dry form gloop is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means that it can behave as both a solid or a liquid depending on how much pressure is applied.