Sunday, April 13, 2014

Tie-Dyed Milk & Shaving Cream Prints

I was inspired by an incredible sale on food coloring at my local dollar store (what teacher doesn't love that place???) to resurrect a long dormant project of mine for my son's Kindergarten class. Shaving cream prints are usually a HUGE hit with children because printmaking relies on a magical element of chance... you never really know what your image will look like. Much like 'The Price is Right' there is always a moment of "What's behind print number 1?????" filled with anticipation.

As a full-time art teacher I never had my own classroom but got used to being an eccentric traveler of sorts. It wasn't an unusual sight to see me teetering down the hallway with an assortment of oddities balanced carefully onto my cart. With my trusty, yet filthy, apron I tackled everything from India ink to dead fish, papier mache to chalk murals. At times I felt compelled to give the teachers I worked with little disclaimers before I came in because art is rarely neat and often it is completely the opposite.

For this project I think my word of warning went something like this:

"We will be messy today. really, really messy.
your students will be totally engaged,
your tables will be spotless and shiny clean when we are done,
and your room will smell like a friendly old grandpa"

Hmmm... now that I think about it number three seems ambiguous as far as being a positive or negative, but I mean it in a good way. While it *is* messy it is also a perfect blend of science and art.

Part One: Exploring Surface Tension with Tie-Dyed Milk
Part one of this is a science project with very simple ingredients. You need:

  • Whole Milk
  • Bowls
  • Food Coloring
  • Liquid Dish Soap
  • Recording Sheets
Organize students into small groups or tables and provide them with a bowl of milk, a recording sheet for each student, and liquid food coloring. Explain that they will be adding drops of food coloring to their bowl of milk and ask them to predict what will happen by drawing in box one. 

Most students think that the milk will act the same as water and color it almost instantaneously and fill it with rainbow colors. One child even predicted a cute little cat would appear in the milk. Then perform the experiment by dropping several drops (of different colors) in the bowl.

Strangely enough the food coloring just floats on top like colored freckles. No action shots though, because I was desperately monitoring kindergartners from adding colored freckles to themselves. Students draw a picture of what did happen and then predict what will happen if they add a drop of dish soap to the milk. Then add it for a crazy surprise... the milk and colors just explode and move across the surface. After a few minutes it looks something like this: 

Awesome sauce! Isn't that beautiful? Scientifically it's all about surface tension. I like to explain it to kids by talking about why a piece of wood floats on water... because it's weighs less. It's the same principle the food coloring. It is water-based and is less dense than milk so when it is dropped onto the milk it floats on the surface. When the dish soap, which is denser than water and milk, is dropped onto the surface it breaks through the layer of food coloring and the layer of milk which then allows them to mix together to make beautiful patterns.

Part Two: Shaving Cream Printmaking
Part two is a beautiful art project that mimics the same coloring effect from the tie-dyed milk. You will need:

  • Shaving Cream (like Barbasol)
  • Food Coloring 
  • Q-Tips
  • Putty Knife
Give each student a pile of shaving cream. You can spray it out right on the table or desk because it cleans up beautifully. Each student can add a few drops of food coloring (I set a verbal limit like "5 only") to the surface of the shaving cream and then use a Q-Tip to swirl and mix the colors into interesting patterns or designs. Warn them that if they mix it too much the colors will become muddied and they will lose the crispness or detail in their picture. 

When they are done mixing they lay a piece of paper (preferably cardstock) face down onto the shaving cream and lightly pat it so the paper has adhered completely to the surface of the shaving cream. 

When you first lift the paper off it won't really look like anything because there will be a lot of shaving cream stuck to it. 

Take the putty knife and scrape the shaving cream off to reveal the magic!

Here are some examples from Kindergarten:

Amazing! I love the unpredictability of what will appear and so do the students. One interesting note is that you can print multiple pictures off of the colored shaving cream but each one will be less detailed and a bit softer.

And now to the grandpa smell... your tables will clean up beautifully since the art project was based in soap. If you happened to pick up the menthol kind then your room will have a very clean-ish aroma for the rest of the week.




  1. This looks like so much fun and I am sure the students in my class would love it. I think I will save it for an end of the year art activity.

    1. It is a ton of fun! If you theme your colors you can do prints specifically for holidays, like using shades of green and blue to make a "world" style print for Earth Day or using different shades of pink and red to make a Valentine.

  2. I love the tie dyed milk activity! We just finished our unit on matter and I'm definitely going to save this one to as part of our study of the properties of liquids next year. ~ Lisa

    1. I'm so glad you like it! I didn't include my whole lesson plan or PowerPoint that I use with it, but I'd be happy to send it to you if you're interested. There are some great visual aides I use that really help students understand how surface tension works. Have fun with it!

    2. Hi! I love this activity and I definitely like to do it with my class. Do you mind sending the lesson plan and powerpoint to me as well? I would really appreciate it! Thanks

  3. Last year, we did the shaving cream worlds for Earth Day. This year I want to try your tie-dye milk one for Earth
    Day. I have third graders and would L>>O>>V>>E to have the whole lesson plan/PowerPoint about surface tension! Would it be possible?

    1. Looks like I missed Earth Day for you, but I'm happy to share. I'll e-mail you the materials in the next few days. :)

  4. I would love the lesson plan/ powerpoint too, if possible. Great ideas here and I can't wait to do the shaving cream art with my 1st graders next year.

    1. No problem! It is such a fun, magical process with young children. I'm sure your first graders will love it! I will send the lesson plan, etc. to you shortly.

  5. Thank you so much for your feedback! I just visited your blog, and wow! I will be doing the same thing--visiting frequently and absorbing all that fantastic information one bit at a time.

  6. I love this idea! It would be a great introduction to the steps in the scientific method! Is it too late to ask you for your lesson plan and powerpoint? What a fun way to hook my new students when school starts next month!

  7. Love this, especially your tie-dyed milk worksheet. Is this available somewhere? I looked on teachers pay teachers but didn't see it there either. thank you!

  8. Could I get a copy of the recording sheet so I could use it! Please