How Can a Little Thing like Salt be so Strong?

Recently we have had an area in our classroom dedicated to dragons.  The dragon area evolved after one project about fruit.  We looked at dragon fruit and the children said it was called a dragon fruit because that is what dragons ate, “A long long time ago before people and before God there were dragons, they ate dragon fruit, and the ingredient in dragon fruit was fire… This is how dragons were able to blow fire.” We explored this “theory” and parents participated by bringing in dragon figurines to play with as well as several storybooks about dragons.  They enjoyed it so much that it became our “sand, ice, and water area.”

Since then we use the dragon figurines as a means of different provocations to encourage imaginary play, or to incorporate science. Recently we froze the dragon figurines inside of big blocks of ice and gave the children dishes of salt to use.

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Albert Einstein once said, “It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.” In this provocation the children gave meaning and value to this experience by discussing how salt was melting the blocks of ice.

Some things said in their conversation:

  • Ice feels cold and hard
  • When you put salt on ice and bang it so hard it breaks
  • Salt goes through the ice because it’s really strong
  • Salt is hot
  • Salt comes from the sky

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“How can something so little be so strong?”


After the children made these observations, we were able to set up different experiments for them to do, so they could elaborate and test out their thoughts and ideas. It is important for us as teachers to observe and listen to what the children are trying to understand. In Reggio Emilia based teaching the teacher is a guide where projects are child-led and emerge based on the child’s interests. This is how our curriculum develops day to day, by listening to the children’s inquiries and feeding their thirst for knowledge with new provocations to create a rich learning experience. In this provocation they discussed what they saw happen with the salt and ice and one child asked, “How can a little thing like salt be so strong”? We began discussing other things that are little and strong.  Some things the children said were little but strong was:

  • An ant that can pick up a leaf
  • Medicine-it kills the germs
  • Little people
  • Fire ants are so strong, it makes you burn
  • Butter is strong from ice and salt and can never melt
  • Ice is strong

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The children used their sense of sight, touch, and hearing to make observations and hypotheses in order to investigate the chemical properties of salt and its reaction with ice. Visually the ice and salt are the same color but their textures are very different. The sense of touch was an essential part of this exploration because it was a way to distinguish the ice from the salt. Ice is cold and wet and salt is rough and dry. More observations the children said about how the salt is melting the ice:

“It’s cracking with the salt on it. The salt is going down or up.”

“Salt makes the ice melt because there is water in the ice.”

“The water inside makes the salt melt inside.”

“The salt makes the ice warm.”

“Salt melts ice and then it becomes water.”

“Salt is more powerful then ice.”

” We try to bang it, we try to scoop it and the top broke. We used a lot of salt to get it out.”

“Salt makes ice crack a little bit.”




Salt not only has chemical properties but a history of its own as well. Its been used for many, many centuries as a way to preserve food and travel long distances. The history of salt derived from people experimenting and testing theories like the children are able to in their self-led inquiries. A long time ago salt was a scarce resource, which made it a prized possession for many civilizations. Chinese folklore from almost 5,000 years ago documented their discussions and experiments on the notion of there being 40 different types of salt.  In the 1800s Americans learned how to mine salt from Native Americans by boiling brine from salt springs. By allowing the children to experiment and test theories they will be able to repeat history and come to the same conclusions, and perhaps new discoveries.




Fast-forward to today and salt is used not only to add flavor to food but also to minimize the dangers on icy roads during the winter. By using the dragon figurines to explore how and why salt can melt ice, it gave the children a first-hand experience of how the chemical properties of salt functions with ice. Just imagine; the children now have an understanding of why cities use salt on icy roads because of this provocation!



This experiment has allowed the children to elaborate on their own ideas and explore their own hypotheses, which has led to a number of other topics, questions, discussions and projects. Please check back to see how this project has evolved with salt, butter, solids and liquid in the upcoming weeks!

To read additional blogs on Dragon Play:




Source: Saltworks


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