Many kids will be spending more time learning from home as the school year ramps up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the beakers and test tubes of the science lab, it may seem difficult to provide hands-on learning. But have no fear, we’ve put together a list of easy (and fun!) home science experiments to entertain and educate youngsters at the same time.
This experiment is sure to produce oohs and aahs from the smallest scientists. Prepare a clear plastic bottle; inside, fill the bottle one-quarter of the way with water. Then fill the rest of the space (nearly to the top) with vegetable, mineral or baby oil. Wait for the oil to settle above the water, then add a few drops of food coloring.
The food coloring carries the same density or weight as water, so it will pass through the oil and color the water below. Now comes the fun part. Add a fizzy tablet, such as an Alka-Seltzer, to the container. It will plop to the bottom and then begin to release colorful bubbles as the carbon dioxide it produces finds its way to the top of the container. The experiment highlights the laws of science where lighter objects, such as gases, will float to the top while heavier substances will sink to the bottom.
Water cycle in a jar
The water cycle on our planet is a complex phenomenon to explain. After all, we don’t see water vapor rise. To create a visual expression, place about two inches of boiling water into a canning jar. Parents should handle this part. Then place a ceramic plate right-side up over the opening of the jar, sealing it. Wait about three minutes for steam to accumulate. Put several ice cubes on the top of the plate outside the jar. The warm air in the jar will condense and create water droplets, like rain falling from the sky when moist air from the Earth’s surface meets cold air from the atmosphere.
Ocean in a bottle
With a clean bottle, water, oil and food coloring, make an ocean in a bottle by replicating waves. Fill a plastic bottle one-third to halfway with water. Use blue and green food coloring to create the ocean color you desire. Of course, you can add a primary, secondary and tertiary color lesson at this time by allowing your child to mix blue and red to create purple or yellow and red to create orange.
Leaving a few inches at the top, add vegetable or baby oil and tightly replace the cap. Now rock and roll the bottle to create waves.
There are many ways to create your own volcano at home. You can get creative with papier-mâché or simply use a bottle or upturned box. Better yet, make a simple volcano shaped dome out of dirt, leaving a hole in the top to add ingredients. This is a messy project, so it’s best to create your eruption outdoors. Inside the homemade volcano of choice, place a container near the top to hold your ingredients. Support it from below if necessary. Add two spoonfuls of baking soda to the inside of the volcano. Follow that with a spoonful of dish soap (bubbles!) and about 10 drops of food coloring. Red and yellow make a nice orange color, but let the kids experiment. That’s what it’s all about! Now get ready for your eruption with the addition of one to two ounces of white vinegar.
The idea is to replicate the pressure that builds up in nature, so play around with different amounts of ingredients. For a more explosive volcano, you can use a two-liter bottle. Place two teaspoons of dish soap, 6-7 tablespoons of water, a few drops of food coloring and 1 ½ cups of white vinegar. Add about ½ cup of baking soda quickly and step back! This experiment shows how pressure builds the need for carbon dioxide to escape.
Create a sundial
There was time before there were watches and clocks. Show kids how to monitor time using the age-old sundial technique, right from your yard. Simply find a long stick and insert it vertically into the ground. Begin on the hour, say 8 a.m. Use chalk or small pebbles to mark the shadow created by the stick. Come back each hour to mark the new shadow spot. Do this throughout the day to complete your sundial. Explain to children how the Earth’s rotation around the sun causes the shadow to move.
Heat from the sun on a hot day can cook lunch with the aid of a solar oven. To show kids exactly how powerful solar energy is, simply line the lid of a pizza box with foil from top to bottom. Line the lower portion of the box with black paper.
Cut a window out of the lid, hinging it with about two inches remaining around the border. With the hinged portion open, adhere plastic wrap to the top and bottom of the remaining lid, creating a double pane “window” between the foil wrapped lid and the pizza box bottom. Ensure the plastic is sealed all the way around using tape to hold it in place.
Once complete, take your box outside. Put food inside the box and angle the foil-lined lid to reflect light and heat through the clear plastic and onto the food. Prop your lid into place using a stick or straw and check frequently to make adjustments as the planet moves. Bon appétit!
Grow veggies and compost
While setting up a lab in the kitchen is fun, science is all around us in nature. Observe the changing of the seasons through leaves and plant cycles. Start with seeds and grow some pea plants. Also use your organic food scraps to show kids the magic of composting.