How do Boats Float?

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An Experiment & Book Review

The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones

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This is the funnest science experiment for talking about buoyancy and how boats float. And the book sounds cute, too!

My son and I were reading (not at the same time, but close) this fun middle grade novel: The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones and my son asked a very time-honored, often-puzzling question: How do Boats Float? Well, that sparked a whole level of learning. And we found him a fun experiment online, but I decided this is something that he should have learned at a much younger age. So he helped me come up with an experiment for my toddler. All thanks to that wiley pirate Mabel Jones…

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Book Review–The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones

So, let me start by saying that I LOVE a good middle grade novel. I think they’re perfect for such a wide range of readers that I even find myself reading them from time-to-time, and then also encouraging young readers to challenge themselves to read them. When we adopted my son, then 7, he was kind of bored with age-appropriate books and I opened-up a whole new world for him with middle grade books.

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All of that being said, I’m super excited about The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt. I mean: PIRATES. And: FEMALE PROTAGONIST. That’s a: PIRATE. And a: LITTLE GIRL. Yeah, this is a book with all the makings of awesome in just that description. But the book itself is so much deeper than that. A little girl that is a PIRATE?! And there’s grave-robbing (sort of) and a missing leg…I swear, I laughed out loud when I was reading it and my son…well, he seemed almost perturbed when I asked to read it when he was done. So, there’s that.

But the best part? This all started with a nose-picking-turned-snack-turned-portal-to-another-world. If that’s not funny to you (and your middle grade novel reading self), then maybe we just shouldn’t be friends. Heh.

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How do Boats Float the Experiment

What you’ll need:

  • Several tubs of water. I colored mine blue to make it more fun–but that’s optional.
  • Lots of bowls (and, apparently, according to my toddler, a sippy cup and ball–but it’s her experiment, so whatever).
  • Towels, lots of towels.
  • Toddler, because that makes it more fun that funner. Heh.

How it works:

  • I like to start all our experiments with just playing. First, we do a little play, then we science.
  • Test the different bowls for weight–pick one that’s heavy and one that’s light, then put them on top of the water. Do they both float?
  • Now, if you put weight (ie. some water) inside the light bowl, does it stay on top, or start to sink? Do the same with the heavier bowl. Which bowl sinks faster?
  • Why? Well, basically, the weight of the object we’re trying to make float is LESS than the weight of the water being displaced. So, as I explained to the toddler, the heavier an object is, the deeper into the water it will sink, until it reaches the point where it weighs more than the water can bear and sinks all the way. So, even a super-heavy boat, like an oil tanker, can float, so long as the amount of water being displaced by the boat is greater than the boat’s weight. It’s called buoyancy–where the water is pushing the floating item away until the weight is equal or greater than the water can bear. Cool, huh? Scientific American has an experiment for older kiddos to illustrate this principal in a little more detail.

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I thought I’d share this as part of a great Storybook Science initiative by some of my favorite bloggers. If you want to see a TON more awesome science inspired by books, check out the landing page at Inspiration Laboratories!


So, leave me a comment to let me know how your “How Do Boats Float” Experiment works out. And don’t forget to go check out The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt…it’s really is awesomely stupendous.

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I received a copy of The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed herein are 100% mine.

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