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Open-Ended Potion Play

Today, I want to share with you a simple, open-ended, potion-themed invitation to play, with minimal materials required, but with the potential for engaging your child in sustained play and learning. If you have a Harry Potter fan in your home, this is likely to be a hit!


A muffin tin


Glass jars

Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda)

White vinegar

Food colouring (we use these ones)

A large tray to contain spills (we like this one as it's smaller than a standard Tuff tray)

Safety goggles (optional - use your parental judgement)


Place a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda into each of the holes in the muffin tin. You might like to offer your child a small bowl of bicarbonate of soda and a small spoon or scoop for topping up, but we found that the 12 tablespoons in the muffin tin was enough.

Place 3-5 drops of food colouring in each glass jar. I recommend that you use the primary colours (red, yellow and blue) to enable satisfying colour mixing. Pour roughly 50 ml white vinegar into each jar. Again, you may like to offer your child a small jug of white vinegar for topping up. We ended up using roughly 100 ml of vinegar in each jar in the end. Place a pipette in each jar.

Place the glass jars of vinegar and the muffin tin into a larger tray to contain the spills.

Allow your child to explore freely.


When sodium bicarbonate (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) mixes with acetic acid (found in vinegar) it causes a chemical reaction, creating carbon dioxide. The mixture fizzes and bubbles.

Children find the process irresistible to watch, and it is one of the few safe science experiments that they can explore freely.

Bean is quite experienced with colour mixing, having had many opportunities over the years to explore colour through water play, sensory play, painting etc so she was keen to make a potion for each colour of the rainbow using the three primary colours. She then moved on to making rainbow potions (rainbows are an ongoing theme here!) and exploring shades of colour.

Once she had finished exploring the bicarbonate of soda and vinegar mixtures in the muffin tin, she wanted to make a volcano. I love how these open-ended invitations to play so often lead children down their own paths of enquiry.

She helped herself to a plant pot and filled it with sand from our sand pit. She hollowed out the middle and scooped some of the remaining bicarbonate mixture from her muffin tin into the hole. This was when the extra vinegar came into play, as she spent some time experimenting with quantities in order to get her volcano to overflow with lava.

As is always the way with my little kinaesthetic learner, it wasn't long before she got her hands in, and made the most of every last drop of the materials provided. When I observe my child absorbed in this way, and listen to her enthusiastically narrating her all-consuming, all-important work (play), then it is so difficult for me to get on board with all this talk about how to motivate children. Children are intrinsically motivated to learn, and if we'd only allow them to lead their own journey, we may be invited to come along for the ride.

With all this beautiful Spring weather forecast this coming week, why not try setting this up outside for your child? Once finished, you can simply hose everything down. I like a quick and easy clean up.

With love,

Rowan x

This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.

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