Video 7: What’s The Mystery In That Bottle?

Do you remember those birthday parties that had “mystery balls” made with foil, or wrapping paper?

They were passed around a circle of kids who were asked to rip a piece off when the music stopped and the crumpled ball landed on our lap. If they could see something, they could keep it. Their looks were so curious and imaginative, especially when they guessed what was hiding under a hint of a certain color. The game was pretty self-guided. That’s all the party organizers needed: curious and playful children, ready to “solve mysteries.”

These mystery bottles help children engage in a playful way of exploring vocabulary, words, colors, and textures. This bottle never gets old because we can easily keep it ‘fresh’ by frequently changing the objects inside it.

When I had my classroom, I added a small notepad with markers so they could check off what they saw. The challenge was to find all the items on the list. The bottle would stay on a side table sometimes for days. They would shake it, check out what was inside the bottle and move along.

As time went by, I would also add bigger items in bigger bottles like a toothbrush, or a pen. We turned this into a game when we added two dice (and added a playful math practice) that would determine the number of shakes that one could have before discovering something new in the bottle. One of my sons added yet another way to use it: find a word that rhymes with what we find – made-up words were a big part of this fun!

This often leads to lots of “guess-my-rule” kinds of games. You and your children choose three words that have something in common (your rule) and the challenge is to guess what it is (i.e.: “They are all red!” for tomato, strawberry, and a stop sign. This is a wonderful way to playfully practice categorizing objects and preparing for mathematical thinking that involves two-step problems: first, they need to come up with a rule and then they need to group some things that belong to that group.

I often start out with objects that begin with the same sound/letter in the child’s name and have great beginning reading conversations with those. We talk about how some objects start with the same sound. For example, I can have a pen, a pig (those small plastic ones), a peg, or a pencil, but could also have a pin, a pan, a pot, or a pig. In this playful way, children start taking their first baby steps toward word recognition or reading.  The possibilities almost have no limits and the name of the game is “fun.”

What’s in your mystery bottle?

Set-Up for Episode #7:


  • Beads (plastic, melty, chips, etc)
  • Empty clear plastic bottle or recycled box
  • Objects at will

This “mystery bottle” is a wonderful way to celebrate the unexpected for young children. I often rotate the objects to give them a chance to either revisit what we did in the past, or to combine something old with something new. Some children enjoy it more if there is always a reminder of what they know, a familiar object, or something in their favorite color. At times, I change the beads, too, going from melty to regular plastic beads from our local art store.

Note of caution: make sure the top is securely tight. When my kids were very young, I would glue the top and make multiple bottles to avoid having a runaway bead in the wrong place…

Did you find this helpful? Need more? Let us know how we can help you enjoy this site with your children by leaving a comment below.

Have fun and Go Beyond The Classroom!


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