The discovery of color in a bottle

I have been working on building a collection of discovery bottles to add to the shelf located just above my light table…

My husband built the shelf for me and although I can use it to display books or even artwork, I wanted to begin the year with setting out a variety of discovery bottles as I come up with them…

So far, all my discovery bottles have in them is baby oil and water and a few of them have beads. I hot glued the lids closed so the children can walk around them, shake them, and put them on the light table without the worry of water leaking out of the bottles…

I chose to focus first on just different colors as this is the beginning of our new school year and it gives me an opportunity to ask the children what color they have in the bottle they are exploring…

I like having the shelf as well to display them on. I like that the children have to look up and reach up to get them and to put them away. Just the act of reaching up brings in a little stretching in the indoor environment…

My students already know how to turn the light table on and off by themselves and it is a center that is available for their play anytime in our indoor classroom…

I am excited to get busy making more discovery bottles – now I just need to have a little more spare time! Of course, as we progress along in the school year, I will invite my students to help me make  their own discovery bottles to add to our collection…

Have you made any discovery bottles? I would love to hear what you have found to put inside your bottles!

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Discover, Experiment, and Explore with Discovery Bottles By Ayn Colsh of Little Illuminations

By |2012-09-07T13:48:59+00:00September 7th, 2012|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. mary mccleary September 7, 2012 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    in my discovery bottles I put
    bingo coins with the magnets around the edges, and then gave the children the magnet bingo wand
    oil and blue colored water to represent the ocean
    sand and small shells
    sand and different small object to HIDE AND SEEK
    pennys and a couple dimes,,, find the dimes
    water, oil and glitter time i use themed glittered items, shamrocks, hearts etc.
    nails, bolts, screws and use a magnet to pull them to the top of the bottle

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 7, 2012 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      Wow Mary! All amazing ideas and you are way ahead of me!! I better get busy!

  2. Brenna September 7, 2012 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    These bottles are great. My preschool students made rainbow bottles and it really helped them learn the colors of the rainbow in order

  3. Diane Quigley-Clune September 8, 2012 at 9:20 am - Reply

    A few favorites of mine that the children love are…a bubble bottle made with dish soap, water and food coloring and a quiet bottle made with corn syrup , food coloring and glitter.

  4. betsy September 8, 2012 at 9:31 am - Reply

    Thank you for this post because it has been on my to do list for too long! Part of my problem is I have not found bottles I like. What kind are you using?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      Hi Betsy,
      I used small Fiji brand water bottles to make my discovery bottles – the quality of bottle is much better than other water bottles. Taking off the label can be a little bit of a pain but they are perfect for this type of activity!

  5. Katie September 8, 2012 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Out of curiosity, what kind of bottles do you use? I used to make discovery bottles out of old water bottles, but they make the plastic so flimsy now that the bottles get easily crushed.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      Hi Katie,
      I used small Fiji brand water bottles to make my discovery bottles. They are a bit better quality than other water bottles. Taking off the label can be a little bit of a pain but they are perfect for this type of activity!

  6. Maria Sousa September 8, 2012 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    I haven’t made discovery bottles, but now I feel like doing it!
    What kind of bottle did you use? Plastic?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 8, 2012 at 5:51 pm - Reply

      Hi Maria,
      I used small Fiji brand water bottles to make my discovery bottles. Taking off the label can be a little bit of a pain but they are perfect for this type of activity!

  7. Nicole DeZarn September 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    GLITTER–we do love some glitter around here. We did one with some glow in the dark bubble bath that was pretty cool too. We used mineral oil and the bubble bath–it recharged in the light and was a lot of fun for a couple weeks (eventually, it looses effectiveness.) We do them with sand, cornmeal and colored rice instead of water and hide things for the kiddos to find too. (They’ve hunted for 10 different insects, things that start with (letter of the week) #’s of insects vs. arachnids (tally practice,) etc.

  8. Ajar September 9, 2012 at 8:04 am - Reply

    What are your ratios of baby oil to water? Each bottle looks different.
    How do you colour your baby oil?

    We only have made simple bottles – shampoo and water (lots of bubbles but doesn’t last long as mold starts growing); vegetable oil and blue water (makes green) ; I spy with small erasers and sand.


    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 9, 2012 at 8:21 am - Reply

      I made each bottle different – some have lots of baby oil and some only have a little. The food color will not mix with the baby oil – it will only mix with the water. Once the bottles stand still for a bit, the oil and water separate and you can tell that the oil is clear and the water is colored. Try using distilled water – not tap water – to cut down on mold and make sure bottles are sealed tight and stored in a cool place if possible.

      • Ajar September 9, 2012 at 10:04 am

        Thanks for replying. Very silly of me not to notice the colour is in the bottom part. We will try with the distilled water – steal some from bottle for car battery refilling.

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm

        No, no, no – not a silly question at all. It is actually hard to tell in these photos what has been colored or not. If it wasn’t for the fact that I made them myself, I wouldn’t have a clue:)

      • Erica September 10, 2012 at 10:01 am

        You can color baby oil, if you get candle wax dye from Joanns or Michaels. It comes in a solid form, you break off some pieces and drop it in your baby oil, let it sit overnight and the dye will dissolve into the oil. Then you can have two colors and work on color mixing. Color Mixing Bottles: add candle coloring to baby oil and mix thoroughly. You will only need to do this with the colors red and yellow. When mixing two primary colors to obtain a secondary color, you need to have half water/half oil mixture. The darker color of the two should be the water-based color. If you are making orange – use red water/yellow oil, for green use blue water/yellow oil, and for purple use blue water/ red oil. Pour the water-based color in first and then add the oil-based color on top. Cap tightly and shake to make your secondary color. The two substances will blend for a few minutes and then begin to settle out.

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 10, 2012 at 10:19 pm

        Ooooh – I didn’t know that Erica! What a wonderful idea and thanks for adding your directions! Candle wax dye is on my list now!

  9. Rachel Wedgbury September 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm - Reply
    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 10, 2012 at 10:18 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the share Rachel!

  10. Eileen Allen September 10, 2012 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    I have used Nestlé Quik bottles for years but are due to replace them. I like the square shape of the Figi bottles but am now looking to take off the labels. I have used GooBGone in the past but wondered if you found an easier way. Wonder if the bottles were sort of warm, if the adhesive would peel off with the label…. Any suggestions?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 10, 2012 at 10:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Eileen,
      I just goo-gone and it was a bear. I didn’t try warming the labels up first – for the most part, they peeled right off but I left a sticky residue that we just can’t leave. I will give other ways a try and report back if I find something works a little easier.

  11. maggie yant September 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    You can heat the labels for a few seconds with a hair dryer. It softens the adhesive and they should come right off. I have also found that Fiji bottles work well. Or they make little bottles of club soda that come in a 6 pack. I can’t remember the brand, but they are at Walmart. They are a great size and nice and smooth for unobstructed viewing.

    I love your blog! It is such an inspiration to me! Thanks for all the great ideas 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 11, 2012 at 10:37 pm - Reply

      I am sooooo going to give that a try Maggie! Thank you for the tip!

  12. Yvette September 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm - Reply

    I put in dice, keys, coins, string pearls, glitter, buttons

    I also make discovery bottles without water, but with rice or dry beans instead. Into those, I put in tiny erasers, like animals, or cars, or sweets.
    I put in tiny spiky rubber balls. I put in alphabet beads.

  13. Sara September 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    I use Powerade bottles for mine – they have a cool shape and are very sturdy. And, my cycling husband empties plenty of them for me. I also like the shape of the Simply Lemonade bottles if you want something larger.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 16, 2012 at 11:28 pm - Reply

      I think my hubby may have to start saving me a few Powerade bottles!

  14. Becky October 1, 2012 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    My class’ favorite discovery bottles were the ‘find it’ ones. I once bought a big container of letter beads -tiny cubes. I pick out one bead of each letter and put them in a bottle with colored rice. Then I made a laminated ‘checklist’ so the kids could work on finding them all!

    I recently saw a blogger (don’t remember where) who used Voss water bottles – not cheap but totally smoothe and sturdy plastic. They looked really nice.

    When it comes to coloring rice I have two different methods:
    -If its going in a bottle you can just use food coloring and mix it in a bowl. Just keep stirring and it will eventually coat all of it.
    -If the kids will be touching the rice (i.e. in a sensory table), use liquid water color. It dries instantly (no need to add alcohol or bake it to dry it out) and won’t stain little fingers!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      Thank you for all the tips! I haven’t tried using the Liquid water color yet to color the rice! I am so going to give that a try!

  15. maria j camacho October 5, 2012 at 1:26 am - Reply

    muy interesante para trabajar con ninos pequenos muchas grasias por compartir.

  16. Belinda January 3, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Putting items in bird seeds is also a good away to have the children seek various objects like alphabet beads, metal objects (using a magnet to retrieve them) and more. Corn syrup & a little water is also a cool experience for the children to observe.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm - Reply

      I haven’t tried corn syrup yet! I will add it to my list of to dos!

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