Super Science Experiments for Kids
A Collection of Gooey, Explosive & Easy Projects to do at Home

Kris Bordessa

Memories of high school biology labs gone awry, days spent memorizing the table of elements and endless lectures have left many parents feeling uncertain about their ability to encourage a love of science in their children. After all, how can we excite our kids about a subject that we find so daunting?

Relax! Science doesn't have to start with lectures and lessons. As a matter of fact, Randy Bell, program coordinator for science education at the Curry School of Education, suggests that children be allowed plenty of time to explore before being introduced to the facts. "When children can explore a concept first," says Bell, "they become more engaged and able to think for themselves when the idea is pursued further."

Even very young children can surprise adults with their enthusiasm for scientific learning and can soak up ideas like sponges, says Nancy Newman, an outreach educator with the Virginia Museum of Natural History. She says science experiences are important for young children. "Finding out about textures, amounts, weight, length, opposites, magnification and life cycles all help children explore, develop vocabulary, think about possibilities, understand there are multiple answers sometimes and that a scientist asks questions and tries to find solutions."

Both Bell and Newman suggest getting in tune with nature as a means for introducing science. Participating in a bird walk, feeling the wind, listening to the leaves in trees and kicking up dry leaves on the ground all help children to be more aware of their surroundings. "Becoming an observer of nature helps with observing the world in general," says Newman. “However,” she notes, "parents need to get over their reluctance to pick up a worm, to watch a bee drinking nectar or gathering pollen, watch a snake slither by or hold a toad. They must set examples. Fears - like prejudices - are learned from adults."

A child's innate need to explore and discover will inevitably lead to experimentation. Whether indoors or out, you've probably noticed that even the youngest of children will mix and pour, blend and stir. They will discover that water almost always flows freely, whereas sand only flows when dry.

The following projects offer the opportunity to experiment with some simple science concepts, utilizing items you probably have around the house. Make every effort to allow as much hands-on experimenting as possible with these projects. Sure, there may be a few spills if you let the kids do the mixing, but the learning that happens by allowing them to decide "how much" and "when" is just as valuable as the science itself. Some of the simpler projects included are suitable even for preschool-aged children. Of course, when using sharp instruments or flames, Caution should be used and there should always be an adult on hand.

Water bottle wonder:

Using a small nail, poke three or four holes around a plastic water bottle, about 1" from the bottom (heating the tip of the nail will make this easier). Fill each bottle with colored water, and replace the cap. Set the bottles out on a table and encourage your kids to investigate. They will quickly find that opening the cap (thereby letting air into the bottle) allows the water to flow freely from the holes. When capped, it stops.

Tornado in a Bottle:

Make a tornado using (2) two-liter soda bottles. Drill a 1?4" hole in both bottle caps, making sure that they are aligned. Glue caps together, taping to reinforce. Screw this double lid onto a bottle full of water. Invert empty bottle, and screw onto other end. To make the tornado flow, turn upside down and swirl the bottles in a circular motion a few times. As the water from the top bottle escapes to the bottom bottle, the water will create a funnel that looks quite like a tornado.

Oobleck:

Water and cornstarch make an intriguing substance that will keep kids (and adults!) of all ages busy for hours.

Provide one cup each of cornstarch and water, a shallow tray for mixing and spoons for stirring (hands are good for this too!). Have kids blend the water and cornstarch. Some kids will mix a spoonful at a time, others will dump it all at once; either way is OK! You may need to add a bit more water or cornstarch to get the mixture just right. When the cornstarch and water are entirely mixed, the consistency will be unusual: It will appear to be a liquid, yet when pressure is applied it feels like a solid.

Milk that Mooooves

Pour about 1/4 cup of whole milk into a shallow bowl. Place several drops of food coloring onto the milk in the container. Dip a toothpick into liquid dish washing detergent and touch the toothpick into the middle of the dish. You should see the colors begin to swirl across the surface of the milk.

Putting the soap into the milk breaks up the milk fat and lets the fat move around the surface of the milk. See what happens if you try it with nonfat milk or half-and-half. Does the fat content alter the results?

Eggshell Magic:

Imagine your children’s surprise when they discover that they can remove an eggshell from an egg without peeling! Fill one wide-mouth jar with vinegar, and another with water. Place an egg – raw or hardboiled – in each jar and allow them to sit overnight. The next day, you will find that the egg in water has not changed. However, the egg that sat in vinegar is pliable and is lacking its hard shell.

The acetic acid in the vinegar reacts with the eggshell – made of calcium carbonate – causing the eggshell to disappear.

Borax Crystals:

What makes a crystal a crystal? It is a solid with a symmetrical shape and flat sides, due to the arrangement of its molecules in a repeating pattern. Snowflakes are examples of a crystal; they always have six sides. With this easy experiment, you can see firsthand how crystals form.

Materials:

-- string
-- a wide-mouth jar
-- pipe cleaners
-- boiling water (with adult help)
-- borax (such as 20 Mule Team Borax)
-- pencil

Twist pipe cleaners into the desired shape. Try wrapping one around a pencil to create a spiral, or making a star shape. Attach a short length of string to the pipe cleaner shape and tie the other end to a pencil. Fill a wide-mouth jar with boiling water. Mix borax into the water one tablespoon at a time. You will use about 3 tablespoons of borax per cup of water. Stir in each addition of borax until dissolved. When you can no longer dissolve any more borax in the water, the water is saturated with borax, and you are ready to grow a crystal! Insert your pipe cleaner shape into the jar of water so that it hangs suspended from the pencil. Place the jar in a safe place – it shouldn't be disturbed for to or three days.

Hot water holds more borax crystals than cold water. As heated water molecules move farther apart, they make room for more borax crystals to dissolve. This is saturation. As the borax solution cools, the water molecules move closer together again, leaving less room for the dissolved borax, which creates crystals on the pipe cleaner.

Film canister rockets:

Wrap a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a square of tissue. Set aside. Fill film canister about halfway with vinegar. Working quickly, drop the baking soda (the “rocket fuel”) into the canister and pop on lid. Set on a flat surface, cap down and watch it launch. Experiment with different amounts of vinegar and baking soda, the thickness of the tissue and different types of canisters.

Egg in a bottle:

Materials:

a hard-boiled egg (peeled)
a glass bottle with a wide mouth (the egg should rest on the opening without falling in)
paper matches

Crumple the piece of paper and push it into the bottle. Drop a lit match onto the paper. When it ignites, set the egg onto the mouth of the bottle. As the fire burns, the egg will be sucked down into the bottle.

Heat from the burning paper causes the air in the bottle to expand. Some of it will be forced out. As the air inside the bottle cools, the pressure inside is reduced. The outside air, with its greater pressure, pushes the egg into the bottle.

Float your boat:

Materials:

A cork, cut in half lengthwise
3 birthday candles
a dinner plate
a glass
water

Pour about 1/2 cup of water onto dinner plate (depth should be about 1/4"). With a toothpick or skewer, make 3 holes in rounded portion of cork. Put candles into holes, keeping them upright. Float cork on the water, and light candles. Gently set cup over the cork with the candles burning. Watch as the water – and cork boat – rises up from the plate and into the glass.

The same principles that sucked the egg into the bottle are at work here. The only difference is that the water is being pulled up, rather than being pushed down.

Beginning to wonder if maybe - just maybe - you missed out on some cool stuff in your high school science labs? Randy Bell and The Curry School of Education are working to change that. By training teachers to incorporate more hands on activities in their science units, he hopes that students will become more engaged in their learning and think for themselves. How can parents aid this process? Bell suggests inviting your children to join you in an activity that you enjoy. Whether you choose nature walks, star gazing or concocting in the kitchen, when you share your excitement with your kids, you pass on an infectious interest and a desire to learn more. What more could a student need?

Kris and her two young "mad scientists" have personally tested all of these experiments in their kitchen lab with great results.

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