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Using a Gravy Separator (and an Introduction to Density)

Sweet Pea is 5 years old.
Gravy Separator (and introduction to the density of liquids) via Shannon's Tot School

Intro:   This is a super easy practical life lesson with a good dose of science.  During the holidays, Sweet Pea saw my gravy separator and wanted to know what it was, so I set up this quick little activity for her on the spot.

Prerequisite:  Your tot should be good at pouring liquid.  Younger tots should practice with beans before trying to pour liquids!




  • Fill the gravy separator about half full with water.
  • Add a few drops of coloring to the water and mix until a uniform color.
  • Pour 2-3 TBS of oil on top of the colored water.
  • Allow your tot to try to stir the oil and water together.  Ask your tot if she thinks she can get them completely combined.
  • When your tot tires of stirring, wait a few minutes for the water and oil to settle.  Ask your tot to look at the separator and describe what has happened to the oil.
  • Depending on your tot’s level of interest, you may be able to explain that the water is more dense than the oil.  Very roughly, density is how much something weighs divided by how much room it takes up.    Or, even more roughly, you could say that the “stuff” (matter) that makes up the water is packed together more tightly than the “stuff” that makes up the oil.  


  • Point out the way that the gravy separator is constructed allows  you to pour the more dense water from the bottom while the less dense oil stays floating on top.  Demonstrate slowly pouring the water out of the gravy separator into the mixing bowl, making sure to stop before the oil comes out.
  • Let your tot try.
  •  Your tot can do this as many times as she would like.  Just pour the water back into the gravy separator and allow it to settle for a few minutes before trying again.

Observations: Sweet Pea had a surprising amount of fun with this.  I think it falls under that category of all those things that adults take for granted, but are fascinating to children.


Sweet Pea worked with this for quite a while, pouring the liquid out of the separator, mixing everything together and starting over again several times before she was ready to clean up.

I would recommend this for preschoolers and up.  Also Bird and Little Bird has an extension on this activity that creates an entire column of different colored liquids, which looks super fun too!

Notes from the Trenches:   The pouring requires a steady hand for little ones.  Expect some spills.  🙂 

Rating: 3 Stars * (Fun, Easy, Frugal)

Carnivals:  This post is linked up to It’s Playtime @ Kids Activities Blog.



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