The Magic Potion


I was observing the children when a child came over and asked me to help with a project. The child was holding a piece of paper. Written on the paper were green numbers and words that at first glance were challenging to read.

Usually when a school age child asks for help with a project they are looking for materials or a friend to lend moral support as they embark on a creative pursuit. Often the child is not seeking specific advice because they already have a plan of action in mind. In these moments I watch and wait and see what unfolds.

The child shared they were making a list of ingredients for a magic potion, explained that the potion was going to be created at home, and needed some suggestions. In that moment a second child joined us and asked, “What are you doing?” The first child explained the project to the second child and said, “I need nine ingredients for my magic potion, and I need some help.” 

As the child started the investigation of potion making another child noticed our discussion and became interested. Some of the children find other children to play and work with in the program by activily moving around the space and asking numerous questions. When they find a project that piques their interest they ask to join in. The curiosity of the second child created an opportunity for the children to collaborate and for me to continue observing. 

The initial list of six ingredients included, water, a small piece of chocolate, Sprite, food coloring, pompom hair, and bubble solution. Someone suggested adding tempera paint to the list and the child said, “No, it needs to be something that causes a reaction.” The second child made more suggestions but they were not substances that inspired the creator’s mind so they kept brainstorming. 

The brainstorming process between the two children was moving fast. The discussion around ingredients had many twists and turns as the children attempted to agree on what would make a good potion. The fact that the child was only making a list of ingredients and the children were not experimenting with materials in the moment made this investigation different and more challenging.

Another suggestion was put forward, baking soda. The child said, “Oh I don’t know what that stuff is.” I shared, “It is used for baking and to make your refrigerator smell good.” The child said, “I am not sure what it will do, so I am not going to use it.”

This was the first time during this investigation that I offered an idea. I decided to participate because the original list had not changed since the children started their brainstorming. I felt they might be stuck so I wanted to offer a material and help them think deeper about the possibilities of potion ingredients. 

As the discussion moved forward the child who initiated the work shared an idea. “I know, I am going to add marker ink to my list.” The brainstorming session continued for a while longer and the children ended up listing nine items to create a magic potion. Along with marker ink the children decided to add watercolor paint, and Dr. Pepper to the original list. Then the children’s parents arrived for pickup so the work ended for the day.

Potion making was not something the other children were interested in pursuing at the time, so we moved to other work, and I forgot about the list for a few days. Later in the week as I was looking over the notes from the observation, it reminded me to ask the child about the experience of making potions at home. The child said they collected some of the ingredients and made a potion, but it did not work. I asked what the potion was supposed to do, and the child shared they just wanted to mix stuff together and see what would happen. 

The children often begin an investigation and the initial spark does not grow into a flame so they move on to something else. I want the children to explore freely and find topics of interest to pursue. It is better to keep searching ideas than to not search at all. I could offer a provocation about potion making to all of the children, but I decided not to because the children were engaged in other work.

In the end what really happened is that a child had an idea, shared it with a friend and explored the possibilities of an experience, one that will lead to more inquiry and discoveries in the future. Investigations of potions may return or a new inquiry will begin about something completely different. This is the journey of the school age learning community.