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Shaving Cream

child doing outdoor experiment

About this video

The science fair seen in this video took place on the playground of a child care center. In one experiment, the teacher squirted a layer of shaving cream on top of a bowl of water. Then, using an eyedropper and paint, she dropped different colors on top of the shaving cream. The thick consistency of the shaving cream prevented the paint colors from immediately mixing in the water. However, the paint gradually sank downward into the water. When paints of different colors reached the water, they combined into a mixed color. An example of this phenomenon is shown at the beginning of this clip. Drops of blue and yellow paint are placed on the shaving cream, and the water beneath the shaving cream turns green. However, the colors atop the shaving cream remain separate.

Elijah, the first boy we see in the clip, appears to be more interested in mixing colors than he is in observing the way the paint travels through the shaving cream. With one hand, he uses the eyedropper to add color to his bowl, while with the other hand, he eagerly mixes the contents.

The second boy we see in the clip, Peter, is interested in the experiment, but he does not know how to use an eyedropper. The teacher models how to make the eyedropper work by placing her hands over his to help him understand that squeezing the eyedropper bulb creates suction. Peter is soon operating the eyedropper independently and using it to experiment with mixing colors.

The teachers used several teaching strategies in this clip:

Messy play: Young children learn about the properties of matter through hands-on interactions and experimentation. Teachers can support children’s development by providing stress-free opportunities for children to engage in this type of play. In this case, Peter and Elijah’s teachers provided smocks and set up the experiment in a location where spilling paint was not a problem.

Questioning: Instead of describing what is happening with the paint, water, and shaving cream, both teachers ask the boys to describe their observations. This strategy required the boys to engage in convergent thinking and to articulate their findings. For example, Miss Sandy asks Elijah, “What happens when you squeeze?”

The teachers also ask the boys to describe their intentions. For example, Ms. Sandy asks Elijah, “And what are you going to do with that?” Asking these kinds of questions can help them think through their actions and their next steps.

Hand-over-hand instruction: Teachers can make effective use of children’s kinesthetic sense to teach them to manipulate materials or objects. For example, Miss Connie used hand-over-hand instruction to help Peter learn to position his fingers on the eyedropper. It is much easier for children to eventually understand how squeezing the air out of the bulb creates a vacuum if they have had firsthand experience of applying the concept.



Elijah uses an eyedropper to squeeze paint onto shaving cream.

Teacher 1: Do we need more paint? Can we put some more paint in it?

Elijah: Mm-hm.

Child: We need more paint for me.

Teacher 1: Okay.

Elijah squeezes pink paint onto shaving cream.

Teacher 1: Oh, is it coming through, yet? (Tapping the side of the bowl.) Look underneath here (taking the empty eyedropper).

Elijah squats down to see what is happening.

Teacher 1: Look way down here. What’s it doing? What happened?

Teacher 2: (Pointing at the stream of pink paint as it moves into the water.) Bend down. Look under there. Look. Can you see that? What is it? What’s happening?

Elijah: (Standing up.) I want, I want orange.

Teacher 1: You want orange. I don’t think we have any orange at this table. Okay, but we have green, yellow.

Elijah: Green! (Pointing.) That one!

Teacher 1: That one’s yellow.

Elijah: I want yellow.

Teacher 1: Okay, you know what? I need to go get some water to rinse off our eyedroppers.

Elijah: (Bending to look at the paint as it enters the water.) Is it coming?

Teacher 2: Is it coming?

Elijah: Yeah.

Elijah moves his hands through the water and shaving cream.

Teacher 2: What does that look like to you? (Pointing.) Look now. Now it’s cloudy. I see clouds down there.

Elijah mixes the water, paint, and shaving cream.

Teacher 2: Oh! What are you doing?

Elijah: I’m doing that.

Teacher 2: You’re doing that, and that mixes it all up.

Teacher 1: (Holding the eyedropper over the shaving cream and kneeling next to Peter.) Watch down here. Watch down here on the bottom (pointing to the water below the shaving cream and squeezing paint onto the shaving cream).

Peter squats down and looks through the side of the container. Smiling, he stands up and watches intently.

Teacher 2: What does that make it? What’s it doing?

Teacher 1: Don’t get your hands in it, yet. Let’s get another color (accidentally knocks over the paint and laughs). Oops! That was not a good thing! (Laughing because she has accidentally spilled the paint.)

Teacher 2: Okay. There you go. (Positions Peter’s hand on the eyedropper and helps him to squeeze out yellow paint.) Here.

Peter bends down to see if the yellow color will sink through the shaving cream and appear in the water.

Teacher 1: (Kneeling next to Peter.) What happened?

Peter: (Reaching toward the eyedropper.) I want some more.

Teacher 1: See if it comes down. See if it comes through (bending down and looking through the side of the bowl).

Peter bends down and looks through the side of the bowl and points at the water.

Teacher 1: What did it do? Did it come through?

Peter: Yes.

Teacher 1: Yes. (Fills the eyedropper with purple paint.) Here, let me get you some more (handing the eyedropper to Peter). Here you go.

Peter uses the eyedropper to squeeze purple paint onto the shaving cream, then uses the eyedropper to get additional liquid from the bowl to his right and squeezes it out onto the shaving cream.

Elijah dips his eyedropper into the paint and then squeezes paint onto his shaving cream.

Teacher 2: Squeeze! What happens when you squeeze?

Elijah: Purple!

Teacher 2: Purple comes up. Yes. And then what are you going to do with that?

Elijah uses his left hand to mix the shaving cream, water, and paint.

Teacher: What are you doing now?

Elijah: (Smiling.) Making purple.

Teacher 2: Making purple. And how do you make purple?

Elijah excitedly uses his eyedropper to suck up pink paint and add it to the mixture in his bowl.

Elijah: Pink!

Teacher 2: With pink, and you stir, and when you stir, it becomes purple.

Elijah: I’m stirring some, and yellow, too.

Teacher 2: And yellow, too. We can do some yellow, also. How’s that feel? Soft?

Elijah continues to add pink paint to the mixture with his eyedropper.

Teacher 2: Ooh! What do you think? What do you think about this?

Elijah: (Stirring.) I’m making purple.

Teacher 2: You’re making purple!

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.A.ECa: Follow simple one-, two- and three-step directions.
Peter and Elijah followed simple oral directions.
Language Arts
1.A.ECb: Respond appropriately to questions from others.
Peter and Elijah answered the teachers’ questions.
Language Arts
1.A.ECc: Provide comments relevant to the context.
Peter and Elijah made relevant comments about the paint colors.
Language Arts
1.B.ECa: Use language for a variety of purposes.
Peter asked his teacher for more paint. Elijah described what he was doing with the shaving cream and paint.
11.A.ECc: Plan and carry out simple investigations.
Peter and Elijah carried out a simple investigation mixing colors of paint.
11.A.ECf: Make meaning from experience and information by describing, talking, and thinking about what happened during an investigation.
Peter and Elijah talked about the colors they made using the paint, eye droppers, and shaving cream.
13.B.ECa: Use nonstandard and standard scientific tools for investigation.
Peter and Elijah used eyedroppers to transfer paint.
Physical Development and Health
19.A.ECd: Use eye-hand coordination to perform tasks.
Peter and Elijah used a pincer grasp and eye-hand coordination to operate the eyedropper.
Social/emotional Development
30.A.ECe: Use materials with purpose, safety, and respect.
Once they knew how to operate the eyedropper, both Peter and Elijah experimented independently.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECa: Exhibit eagerness and curiosity as a learner.
Peter and Elijah were visibly engaged with the experiment and experimented with variations (e.g., adding different colors, stirring the ingredients with a hand).

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2017