This website is filled with hundreds of ideas for easy hands-on science for kids age 3 – 9. This month, I’m working on posts that collect ideas for simple experiments and projects you can do at home with materials that you have on hand. I know that with schools out all over the world due to coronavirus , parents may feel overwhelmed, so I’m trying to choose things that get a lot of play value out of a small amount of effort by the parents! Since even getting to the grocery store is challenging at the moment, I’m also not including things that use a ton of ingredients, except as noted.
Explore the States of Matter
- Ice Excavation: You have to prep it the day before, but I have witnessed it keep kids occupied for an hour! Find a container, toss in some small toys or coins or baubles, add a couple inches of water and freeze it. A few hours later, throw in a couple more toys and a couple more inches of water and so on, till the container is full. The next day, set it out on a tray. Add water with eye droppers or pipettes or a medicine syringe, and a container of salt with a SMALL spoon. Challenge your child to excavate all the toys.
- Salt Paintings: Dissolve epsom salts in warm water (solids dissolve in a liquid). Add color if desired. Paint with it. As it dries, salt crystals will form. You can also do salt painting by sprinkling salt on wet watercolor paint, or sprinkling salt on wet glue, then adding liquid colors.
- Balloon Play: Blowing up balloons and then letting the air (a gas) escape is a great way to keep kids busy. Especially if you own a Balloon Pump which makes it way easier for them to blow up their own balloons.
- Water Play: In a bathtub, or in a bowl full of water, kids can use syringes, pipettes, turkey basters and so on to blow bubbles in the water (a gas moves through a liquid).
- Make oobleck / Non-Newtonian fluid. Mix corn starch and water together to make an interesting substance. (Note: this uses a lot of corn starch, so if your supplies are short and grocery trips are limited, it may not be the best option for now.)
- Make ice cream in a ziplock bag.
Explore mixtures and solutions
- Oil and water. Put a small amount of vegetable oil in a clear dish – set it on white paper so it’s easy to see what’s in the bowl. Give your child a container of water mixed with some food coloring or liquid watercolor plus an eye dropper or pipette. Drip a little water into the oil – try to mix it up. Will it mix? This is an activity that some kids will spend one or two minutes at and be done, and others can play for an hour, getting fascinated at how the oil will gather in big blobs, then you stir it up, and they separate into lots of tiny blobs, then you can guide them back together to form a big blob.
- What Dissolves in Water: You could put out a wide variety of substances and 6 – 8 clear glasses (or jars) or water. Kids sprinkle in a little of each substance, stir and see if it dissolves.
- Make jello, or koolaid, hot chocolate, or ramen – when you mix a powder (solid) in a liquid, it dissolves.
Dinner Table Demos
Here’s a couple fun ideas to try while at the table.
- Dancing Raisins: put a small amount of a carbonated beverage (seltzer or soda) in a tall, skinny, transparent glass. Drop in a couple raisins, and a couple dry beans. Watch what happens. Does the same thing happen to the beans? Why not?
- Scared Pepper: Pour a thin layer of water in a container. Sprinkle pepper on. Put your finger in the water. Nothing happens. Now put soap on your finger and touch the water… what happens?
- Milk Fireworks: Put a thin layer of milk in a dish (nonfat won’t work! whole milk or half and half is best). Drip a few drops of food coloring on top. Then drop in one drop of detergent. What happens? Swirl the colors around to make pretty designs. Then lay a piece of paper on top and peel off to make marbled paper.
- Jar of Bubbling Goo. Make a paste of water and baking soda. Freeze that. The next day, give your child a jar with a little vegetable oil in it. Drop in the baking soda ice. What happens? (Nothing.) Now pour in a little vinegar. What happens? This is another one that will totally mesmerize some kids.
- Fizzing powder. So making volcanoes of vinegar and baking soda is a lot of fun, but it goes through a lot of groceries really quickly… here’s a fun alternative that uses fewer resources: Spread a thin layer of baking soda out on a tray. Give children containers of vinegar (you could add food coloring if you have it) and a pipette or eye dropper. They drip vinegar onto the baking soda and it fizzes. (You can see a video demo here.)
- “Explosions”. You can use film canisters (if you still have any!) or bottles with corks or ziplock bags. Add baking soda and vinegar. Seal it. Step back (safety!) and let it blow. There’s lots more details in my reactions post. But first rule: start small… I had a jar with a cork – I first tested one teaspoon each of baking soda and vinegar to see how much pressure that would build up… enough to sort of pop the cork. Then I went to a tablespoon of each, and that blew the cork 10 feet up. Good thing I didn’t start with a quarter cup of each! This is generally an outdoor activity, but we’ve done it inside too… see the post.
There is SO much chemistry to be learned in cooking!! And now is a great time to be teaching your child life skills like cooking, so get to work in the kitchen together. Just search for “kid science cooking” to get started on science specific ideas. Or, when cooking anything, make observations about states of matter, solutions, suspensions, reactions, and so on. Try experiments – what if we don’t use salt? what if we use water instead of milk, and so on.
Each week in class, we issue a challenge for the kids to try out. This week it was about making a super-saturated solution of either sugar or salt, then letting it sit for a week and observe the crystals forming. Learn more about our Experiments with Crystallization.
For more posts specifically focusing on science activities that work in this quarantine time, see Science of Sound, Engineering Tall Towers, Connecting with Nature while Stay-at-Home is in effect, and Weather Science.