From the July 8, 2019 Vitamin Sea Playgroup

Watercolor Bubbles

At today’s play group we made art with bubbles!  I bought bubble solution at the local grocery store, and divided it out into individual jars.  I then added food coloring to each jar, which was also purchased at the same grocery store.  

Blow the bubbles onto paper and ta-dah! ART!  

The store only had green, black, yellow, and red food coloring so we couldn’t quite operate with all the primary colors as we didn’t have blue.  Primary colors cannot be mixed from other colors as they are the source of all other colors. If we had the primary colors it would have been a great homeschooling exercise to discuss how colors mix together, but it was still pretty nonetheless! I almost didn’t buy the black food coloring, but I’m glad I did because it turns up light grey on paper, which I think looks really nice!

For my 15 month old, he had more fun chasing bubbles randomly than making the bubble art. I imagine with a slightly older age group, they’d be into the color part of it more.  We also experimented with using clothing pegs to attach paper to hand fans, so that toddlers could swat the bubbles with the fans.  

This sort of worked, but might be more fun for older children.  Using bubbles in this way provides a sort of age-continuum activity!  The littles can simply chase the bubbles while anyone a bit older can focus more on the art aspect.

Food coloring is also great to use as edible water color paint for toddlers.  I’ve shied away from arts and crafts with my toddler as inevitably paint, glue and all sorts of chemical laden arts and crafts supplies end up right in the mouth, faster than I can blink!  But by adding just a bit of food coloring to water, you have edible watercolors. Now we can paint with freedom! 

I do have to warn you though, these food-coloring based activities can stain clothes and it will leave fun colors on the skin for a little bit, but it does eventually wash off skin at least.

All natural bubble wands

I had the idea to use papaya leaf stems as bubble wands and then as I was researching online, I found out that many children have been using papaya stems this way for a long time! 

However, a new idea is to use water lily stems!  I’ve long admired these purple water lilies at the Mama’s Market here in Port-Vila.  You can buy a bundle of them for 200 vatu and not only do they have the most beautiful flowers, they also have beautiful stems! 

^ bonus, flowers are also great for sensory play!  Our toddler found them irresistible to touch!
^ They look kind of like sea anemones
^ Hollow stem of the purple water lily

I’ve longed to use these as natural stamps, but as we were preparing the bubble activity I decided to stick it in the bubble solution and try it out!  It made amazing little bubbles! The flowers are called Cape Blue Water Lilies (Nymphaea Capensis to be technical). I have a hunch that any plant or flower that grows in water will have an interesting hollow stem like this, but I have yet to test the theory.

Natural bubble wand tips:

  • Papaya Stems: The papaya stem has a white liquid that comes out when it is cut.  While this is considered edible and has been found to have anti-cancer properties, I’ve been told by my friend that it can also be abrasive to the skin and make little sores.  I cut the stems ahead of time, washed them in water, and let them hang out for a while until there was no longer any white liquid coming out. This worked well! The kids handled them, put them in their mouths, etc etc, without any problem.
^ wash papaya stems well before use
  • Water Lily Stems:  As I was preparing the Papaya stems, I also decided to pre-cut and wash the water lily stems.  This worked with large stems, but small stems sort of curled up and became unusable after a few hours.  I recommend cutting small ones fresh, or if you are pre-preparing the bubble wands, use really large water lily stems.
The smaller stems tended to wither closed, versus the larger stem on the right.

Hibiscus Bubbles

After being a Peace Corps Volunteer on the remote, outer island of Maewo, I realize that store bought bubbles aren’t always available or even affordable.  Not to mention, probably not completely safe for little ones who might stick a bubble wand in their mouth or perhaps not even eco-friendly. Besides the bubble solution itself, there is plastic waste created from the bottle and wand. Is there an all natural, zero waste solution???  Is there another way? We tried a bubble solution made from hibiscus flowers and leaves ground up and mixed with water. I’m still working on the exact mixture, so I hope to post a follow up to this entry once I’ve refined the technique, but basically you can make bubbles without buying ANYTHING!  This activity is completely adaptable to the outer islands where they may not have access to dish soap, glycerin, or pre-made bubble solution. 

The inspiration for hibiscus bubbles came from attending a Waldorf/Stiener playgroup in Ubud, Bali called “Madu’s Playhouse.”  They had bubble solution with hibiscus flowers sitting in the solution, saying that it made the bubbles stronger. I was fascinated at the time, and excited that hosting this playgroup gave me a chance to test it out. 

I ground up about 5 hibiscus flowers and 10 hibiscus leaves with water. As I was grinding the flowers and leaves (I didn’t have a mortar and pestle so I used a glass bowl and an ice cream scoop!) I could see the solution getting a bit bubbly!  

Eventually a greenish brown slime comes out from the flowers and leaves.  I strained the solution into a container and tried to blow bubbles with it.

I could get a bubble to form using the papaya stem, but I couldn’t get it to take off and float around.  

^ Please excuse the low quality pic!

We had more success getting bubbles to form when one of the mothers in the group suggested we use the waterlily stem since the holes in the stem were smaller!  It worked so much better!  

The bubbles still didn’t take off and float, but they were much easier to form.  I also tried adding dish soap as a few recipes have called for this, but it didn’t improve the bubbles at all.  I’m keen to make this work without ANY store bought ingredients, so I’m glad the dish soap didn’t improve the outcome.

I’ve read that adding sugar to the mixture makes the solution last longer, as a natural preservative, but I haven’t tried it yet.  I couldn’t find any information as to how long the solution will store for, as it’s a bit time intensive to do the grinding of the flowers and leaves. Please leave a comment if you’ve tried this or have any ideas.  Otherwise, stay tuned for a follow up entry as we work to make our bubble mix better!

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