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How does a flower drink water?

Applying a scientific thinking pattern with 5 and 6 years old students

By Sylvia Zweekhorst and David Bogaerts


The ability to apply a scientific thinking pattern, a pattern in which we realise challenges by overcoming obstacles one by one, by doing experiments and reflecting and learning from them, might be one of the greatest virtue someone can possess.

In a world where many adults struggle with applying this pattern in their everyday life and because of that miss opportunities to take steps in realising their biggest dreams, we turned our eye to students. To be a bit more precise: students of 5-6 years of age.

Can kindergarten pupils apply basic scientific thinking by envisioning a challenge, setting up an experiment and reflecting on what they have learned?

It turned out they can, even better than we expected.

Below you can find a description of one of the workshops we did. The foundation of this workshop can easily be found on the internet. We just tweaked it a bit and created a story around it to fit our purpose. We follow two guiding principles when designing these kind of workshops:

  • We want our students to follow the basis of a scientific thinking pattern
  • It must be fun for our students since we do not want to waste their valuable time

Before we dive into this workshop and the outcome, lets first introduce the major players:

Class 2/B, a group of approximately 20 boys and girls aged 5 to 6
Sylvia: their teacher
De Fakkel: a Kindergarten and primary school, located in Utrecht, The Netherlands. De Fakkel’s philosophy is founded on the Dalton pillars responsibility, independence and cooperation.

How does a flower drink water?

Setting the scene
First Sylvia and I created an environment in which the students ‘start to wonder’. Something like this:

‘Today we are going to ask a very common question. It is a common question, but the answer is not easy. Many adults and most of your fathers and mothers do not know the answer to this question: How does a flower drink water?

Does anybody know? With the roots! Yes, of course, but what makes the water run from the roots all the way up to the stem, the leaves, the bud… Animals have a tongue and they can swallow; humans too. But flowers don’t. And water cannot ‘run’ upwards.

Or can it? Is it possible for water to run upwards?

Today we are going to find the answer to this question and learn how a flower drinks water. Because maybe, maybe sometimes, water can run upwards.

Setting up the experiment
We wanted our student to inquire if water can run upwards by using the ‘walking water experiment’. The walking water experiment does not require expensive material and it is something which the kids can do themselves. All you need is five plastic cups, food colouring (in three colours), water and kitchen towel.

We showed our scientific thinkers the experiment set up. Second we asked the kids to envision what to expect upfront. Below you find some drawings we used to explain the experiment set up

Drawing 1: The required material
5 plastic cups for each students. 1 cup with red water (coloured with ‘food colouring’), 1 cup with yellow water, one cup with blue water, 2 empty cups, 4 pieces of kitchen towel, folded.

Drawing 2: The setup each student had to create

After explaining the setup of the experiment, everyone was asked to take a seat in a personal lab (a space where Sylvia and I had placed the equipment for each student) and the kids could start. Meanwhile we asked the children to pay close attention to what actually was happening. Below you can find some pictures of our young scientist in action.

What have you seen?
To make sure that our students were truly reflecting on what they saw, we asked them to draw what was happening. We prepared a drawing sheet upfront.

And like in real life, some things went wrong. For example, some of the kids didn’t place the cups in the same order as explained on the experiment setup. It was interesting to see that making such a small ‘mistake’ was troubling for some of the children. Sylvia was keen on taking this as an opportunity to reward the ‘mistake’ and turned it into an opportunity to learn for all of us by stressing that ‘something really nice and unexpected had happened: a different mixture of colours! Something that never could have happened if we wouldn’t have tried’.

See the picture below for two different outcomes.

Reflect on what you have learned?
After finishing the experiment we took some time with the group to reflect on what we had seen and what we had learned. And, indeed, water can run upwards if the conditions are right (so capillary activity does exist). A flower does not have to swallow water, it runs up ‘automatically’ because of the texture, like the texture of kitchen towels. And maybe even more important: it is OK to make mistakes because than unexpected things can happen.

So it turns out that our 5 to 6 year old students are very capable scientists, who apply scientific thinking. We are planning to do many more of these kind of experiments. So you can expect some more on the website.

Please, keep on trying,
Sylvia and David

For more info on this experiment or on ‘kata for kids’ feel free to get in contact on davidbogaerts@yahoo.com

For more information on how to conduct this experiment, type Walking Water in your preferred search engine