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Explore and Play: Clay Boats

Compare a lump of clay to a clay boat.


  • container with water
  • lump of clay (this should be non-water-soluble, oil-based plasticine)
  • clay molded into a boat (use the same piece of clay, and test out your boat ahead of time to make sure it floats well)

Key Science Concepts

  • Objects behave differently in water. Some float; some don’t.


Tell children that when they were making boats yesterday, some of the children mentioned that the shapes of their boats helped them to float. We’re going to do an experiment to see how the shape of a boat helps it to float.  

  1. Show children the lump of clay and ask them to predict whether it will float. Then let a volunteer drop it into the container of water. Was their prediction right?
  2. Now, shape the piece of clay into a boat. Show children the clay boat and have a volunteer place it in the container. (You might want to practice making a boat with the clay beforehand to make sure it will float.) Ask, What’s the same about the lump of clay and the clay shaped like a boat? What’s different about them? Why do you think one floats and the other doesn’t?

Tell children they may want to try the clay experiment themselves during learning center time—there’s clay they can use in the Art Center.