My sons, like many 4 and 5 year olds, can't get enough of animals and animal science. You name the animal, they are curious and want to learn more. So when my oldest son began asking questions about animals that live in the arctic and why these animals don't get cold, I immediately thought about Steve Spangler's Blubber Gloves.
I love Steve and I love all his work. Seriously, he is an amazing resource, but I wasn't about to fill quart sized plastic bags with shortening. I could see the shortening smeared on the bathroom mirror, on my sensory seeking son's legs, arms, and face. Don't get me wrong, I am all for messes but not on this particular day. I knew there had to be another way to get to animal science experiment that would satisfy my sons' tactile desires and my hope to keep the shortening off our furniture. Then I recalled a science experiment book we'd recently taken from the library (Janice VanCleave's Play and Find Out about Nature: Easy Experiments for Young Children). Sure enough this book had a similar experiment (and many other fantastic and EASY science experiments for young children. I highly recommend the book.)
Animal Science Experiment
Materials for Animal Science Activity
- Shortening (the animal fat)
- Two plastic bags (the animal skin)
- Two ice cubes (the cold)
Approach to Animal Science Experiment
- Scoop out a tablespoon of shortening
- Place the shortening in the palm of your child's hand
- Place hands – one with shortening and one without shortening – in the sandwich bags
- Place ice cubes or crushed ice on the outside of the bags on each hand. Have the child hug the ice cube with his hand.
- What do you observe?
- Why does the shortening or fat keep the cold out?
Science Behind the Activity
Shortening is a fat that insulates the cold. It is a thermoregulator, which means it keeps the warmth in and the cold out. Think about the fat substance. It is dense, right? It has low thermal conductivity relative to water. So, even when in super cold water, the fat maintains its temperature. Fat doesn't require a lot of blood supply so blood stays closer to the skins surface, the surface closest to the coldness.
Extensions to this Activity
- Try using different substances like butter, cheese, yogurt, fabric, foil, cotton, etc. Make a chart or graph of the observations
- Use the hands-on sensory experience as a starting point to write and illustrate a story
- Use ice in other ways to experiment with melting, chipping, and even painting
- Arctic animal sorting activity
- Play and feel the shortening. Spread it on your hands. Run your hands under water. What do you observe?