This is a salamander project that my first grade or kindergarten students usually complete in the early spring. The activity can be used to highlight the complex life cycles of these charming and important creatures of vernal pools and the Northeastern forestlands. It can be used to reinforce students’ understanding of the watery life cycle of amphibians in general or to complement an introduction to the significance of temporary wetlands in this region’s ecosystems. It can also be used for physical science learning. As such, it serves as a hands-on demonstration that oil and water do not mix well. (Since this is a pivotal phenomenon contributing to the earliest evolution of life – leading in fact to the evolution of the cell membrane, this is a good bit of knowledge to acquire!) For older students, this project can help focus attention on why clean, unpolluted water is essential for wetland creatures of all sorts, as well as for us humans.
Here’s the black and white PDF: Salamander 2018 EB
And here it is transformed with crayon, oil pastels, watercolor washes – and human imagination!
This project works best when copies of the activity page are first colored with oil pastels (such as craypas). This is especially important for the eggs and the salamander’s spots. Regular wax crayons can work too, however they have to be applied very heavily.
To make the watercolor wash, I recommend using one of Prang’s excellent watercolor sets. Simply pop out the blue oval pan – or select a mixture of two or three pans (such as blue, purple and green). Submerge the selected pans in a container of water. The pigments will quickly begin to spread, thereby creating a very useful watercolor wash. When the water is sufficiently dark, remove the ovals. (When those have air-dried you can just return them to their original tray.) Pour the wash into shallow containers that the youngsters can access readily. Provide large brushes. Designate this area as the watercolor station, and suggest that children bring their colored salamanders over to this painting table when they’re ready to add the watery mix to their pictures. Demonstrate how the colored spots on the salamanders will repel the watercolor wash – if the wax or oil color has been applied thickly. The spots and greenish white of the salamander eggs should stand out brightly against the watercolor wash when the paint is gently applied. Scrubbing motions with the brush are not recommended.
Mention the general phenomenon: Oil and Water do not easily mix. Encourage the children to experiment with this interesting interaction by drawing their own crayon or craypas images of frogs or salamanders. Then they can apply the wash to these original drawings, creating a watery environment for their amphibians and observing the results. Can they think of situations where they might have seen this interaction before? Does water bead up on feathers of the ducks at the park when the ducks are splashing about. What happens when oil and watery vinegar are mixed together for a salad dressing? (This line of inquiry could lead to some interesting experiments with oil and water shaken about in tightly closed jars, discussions of density, and maybe even a healthy salad snack!)
Returning to the salamander project, my students typically allow their finished paintings to simply dry flat in the hallway on the floor right against the wall. (And by the way, leftover watercolor wash can be allowed to evaporate in a container for later rehydration and use in future projects.)