The Mystery of the Jingle Bell

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Music and science are related in all kinds of ways, but there’s a certain musical instrument that always brings out young children’s scientific inquiry.

Of course, young children are curious about everything. And one kind of thing especially intrigues them – wondering what’s inside something. Particularly when they can hear that something making a sound – a shaky sound, a clattery sound, a weird sound, or in this case, a jingling sound!

Whenever we play jingle bells (I use the ones on fabric bracelets with Velcro closures), I catch a few of the children peeking intently in the bells. What’s in there? they seem to be thinking. What’s making that noise?

Someone always asks (almost always in the middle of a song), and we talk about it. Hmm, I’ll say. What do you think might be in there?

I’ve heard it all: a rock, a bead, a littler bell, a tiny person, even a TV! Because I want to encourage them to think and guess, I respect each response and consider it. Then I ask questions: Do you think a person or a TV could fit inside the bell? Probably not, they say.

What do think whatever’s in there is made of? I continue. Wood? Plastic? I encourage them to peer inside again. At this point they often decide that there’s something shiny inside – probably a little metal ball.

So I open it and – no, not yet. I tell them I’ll show them at their next music class. Building that suspense!

At home, I have a bell that came off an old bell bracelet. I used pliers to gently ease one of the sides open – not all the way, but enough so that the little metal ball (because that’s what it is) will spill out when the bell is tipped.

As a bonus, doing this gives the bell a funny face (at least to me!). It looks kind of like a masked wrestler. (Someday I’ve got to get teeny googly eyes to glue on it.)

When I show it to the children the following week, even though they knew there’d be a little metal ball, when it spills out of the bell, they crowd around, oohing and aahhing. Then I ask them: What do you think the bell will sound like when we shake it without the little ball inside?

Almost always, they not only say right away that the bell won’t ring, but can also explain their reasoning – that the bell jingles because the little ball bounces around inside, hitting the outer shell of the bell. No little ball, no jingle.

I ask one of the children to try it out and sure enough – no jingling is heard.

Naturally I congratulate them – they used smart thinking to solve the mystery of the jingle bell!

Little activities like this help to build a habit of using critical thinking to explain data – a crucial skill children will need in every area of school and life.

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