Ocean in a Bottle

Children will learn about the ocean as a habitat and recreate ocean waves.

Lesson Objective

 Children will learn about the movement of the ocean by using a variety of materials to recreate ocean waves to explore the ocean habitat.


What You'll Need

  • 16 ounce plastic water bottles – one for each child
  • Blue food coloring – 2 bottles
  • Baby oil or vegetable oil – ½ cup for each child
  • Measuring cup with spout
  • Funnel
  • Tiny shells – a handful for each child
  • Sparkles
  • Glitter
  • Hot glue gun (for adult use only)
  • Thin tip permanent marker
  • Water

What To Do

  1. Write each child’s name on the lid of their bottle with the permanent marker.
  2. Using the funnel and measuring cup, help each of the children fill their bottle two-thirds full of water.
  3. Let each child add a few drops of the food coloring to the water in their bottle.
  4. Provide the children with the assorted shells, glitter, or other sea-related trinkets. Show them how to put the items into the bottle.
  5. Using the measuring cup and funnel again, help the children add some oil to their bottles (filling the bottle to within about one-half inch of the rim).
  6. Glue the bottles shut with the hot glue gun and let cool. 
  7. When the bottles are cool, give them back to the children. Tell the class that, if they tip the bottle, it will look like rolling ocean waves.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • What do we know about the ocean? What do we know about ocean waves?
  • Describe waves. What do the waves do in the ocean?
  • Look at the water and the oil. How are they alike? How are they different?
  • How can we make the water light blue? How can we make the water a darker blue?
  • What happens to the oil and water when you shake the bottle?
  • The ocean is a habitat. Can you name some animals or plants that live in the ocean?
  • How do animals live in the ocean? What do they eat?

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Read the digital storybook, Grover’s Underwater Hugs. Grover is in need of some hugs, so Elmo tells Grover about a good underwater hugger. Grover goes for a ride under the water in his trusty submarine. Grover sees lots of underwater life as he searches for an eight-armed underwater hugger. Go to Reading Adventures, a series of five Sesame Street digital storybooks focused on vocabulary development and choose Grover’s Underwater Hugs.
  • Create colored sea salt for an art activity or your art center. 
    • You will need quart-size re-sealable bags (one for each color), sea salt, food coloring, aluminum foil, white card stock, liquid glue, small paper plates, and paintbrushes. 
    • Place approximately one cup of salt in each sealable bag and add a few drops of food coloring. 
    • Shake each bag to evenly distribute the food coloring and dye the salt. 
    • Pour the contents of each bag of salt onto a piece of aluminum foil to dry.
    • When the salt is dry, the children can use the paintbrushes to spread the glue onto the card stock and sprinkle the colored salt onto the paper to create pictures. 
  • Transform your water and/or sand table into an ocean. Include ocean animals and have the children name the animals. Make tides in the water table.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Was each child able to create an “ocean” in their bottle and recognize that it represents the movement of the waves in the ocean?
  • Can children explain what happens with the water in waves?


Did You Know

Oceans are the home of the largest variety of life on Earth. Oceans are constantly in motion to support the delicate balance of ocean life. Ocean tides are the up and down movement of the water and cause the change in the height of the surface of oceans. Tide changes happen about every twelve hours. Tides are caused by the pull of the Moon and Sun.  There are two different habitats in the ocean, the ocean floor and the water itself. These two habitats support different communities of ocean life.

Water covers almost three-quarters of the Earth’s surface and contains roughly 97% of the Earth's water supply. There are five oceans in the world: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Southern, and Arctic. The Earth’s oceans are all connected to one another. An estimated 50% to 80% of all life on Earth is found under the ocean surface, and the oceans contain 99% of the living space on the planet. Humans have explored less than 10% of the ocean space.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • ocean – a part of the large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth's surface.
  • water – the clear liquid that is in rain; people and plants need it to live and grow.
  • salt  – a white material that is found in sea water; it is used in food.
  • wave – water that rises from water and laps on the shore.
  • tide – how far the water comes up to the shore; tides go in and out every 12 hours.
  • habitat – the natural environment or home of an animal.

Lesson Tips

  • The oil is very messy and difficult to clean up. You may want to do this part of the activity over the sink. Oil is thick, so pour slowly.
  • Oceans are not all the same color. If you have time, let the children decide how dark or light they want the blue to be. Let them experiment with the food coloring and decide how many drops they need.


  • Over in the Ocean: In a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes
  • Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae
  • Ocean Life from A to Z by Cynthia Stierle
  • In the Ocean by Salina Yoon

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

While we believe that the books and resources recommended may be of value to you, keep in mind that these are suggestions only and you must do your own due diligence to determine whether the materials are appropriate and suitable for your use. PNC has no sponsorship or endorsement agreement with the authors or publishers of the materials listed.

Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS