Want to keep your kids busy and their education on track? We asked a couple of our favorite local museums to share at-home science experiments you can do while we’re all social distancing.
Icy Investigations – The Fort Worth Museum of Science & History
Ice – freeze water in a plastic container or water balloon
A couple tablespoons of sugar
A couple tablespoons of salt
Plate or cookie sheet to collect melting water
Food coloring (optional)
- A day or two in advance, simply freeze some water. Plastic containers or balloons work well.
- Place the ice on a plate or cookie sheet (to catch extra water). Ask your child, “What do you notice?” This will help them focus on observations. They can use all their senses to gather information about the ice.
- Next, give your child a “mystery substance” (sugar) and ask them to sprinkle a teaspoon on the ice, then wait a minute or two and see what happens.
- Give them a second “mystery substance” (salt) and ask them to sprinkle it on the ice.
- Talk about the patterns they notice and which substance makes the most difference on the ice. Put a few drops of food coloring onto the salt to make the flow patterns more obvious and add a bit more sugar and salt.
This investigation brings out lots of questions, which is an important science skill. Make a list of the questions you and your child have—these make great experiments to try later.
Marvelous Milk – The Fort Worth Museum of Science & History
Clear bowl or shallow plate
Q-tips (or toothpicks)
Small amount of dish soap
- Place a little soap in a small cup and add the Q-tips or toothpicks. Parent, set this aside and don’t share with your child what is in the cup quite yet.
- Pour just enough milk into the bowl or shallow plate to cover the bottom. Have your child share with you what they notice about the milk.
- Next, put one drop of each color of food coloring near each other in the center of the plate. (Parents, you may want to do this step for your child.) Again, take a moment for your child to carefully observe the food coloring. Do they act look exactly the same? How are they different?
- Give your child a Q-tip or toothpick and place the soapy end in the milk near the food coloring (no stirring at all). Watch for their look of delight at the surprising results.
- Move the Q-tip around to different points in the milk or add another drop or two of soap.
What’s going on?
The secret to the surprising reaction is that tiny bit of soap. Milk is mostly water, with oils and fats mixed in; like other oils, it doesn’t dissolve in water. Thanks to the soap connection—and lots of chemistry—the fats can be broken down and carried away by water. That’s when the fun begins.
The molecules of fat roll, twist and move in all directions as the soap and water molecules race around to join up with the fat molecules. During all this movement, the food coloring molecules are bumped and shoved everywhere, providing an easy way to observe all the invisible activity. As the soap becomes evenly mixed with the milk, the action slows down and eventually stops. Soap changes the surface tension of the water too, which can account for some of the movement you see.
Paper Hand – The Perot Museum of Nature & Science
1 piece of paper
Glue or tape
- Lay your hand on the paper and spread your fingers out. Trace around your hand with a pencil, and then cut out the shape.
- Using your fingers as a guide, measure each section of your fingers and cut pieces of straw slightly smaller than those lengths. Do this for each finger. You should have three straw pieces for each finger, one slightly longer than the others.
- Glue or tape the straw pieces to the paper hand. Center each piece of straw on the finger, leaving a small gap between each piece.
- Cut longer pieces of straw to go from the bottom of each finger down to the bottom of the hand. Glue or tape each of these pieces to the hand, aligning them with their associated finger, and leaving a small gap between each piece and the bottom straw on each finger.
- Thread a piece of string up each series of straws, one for each finger. Securely glue the string to the top of the finger and leave a 3–5-inch piece at the bottom of each finger.
- Pull on a string. The finger should curl like a real finger!
CD Hovercraft – The Perot Museum of Nature & Science
Tape or hot glue
Plastic pop-top lid (sports drink cap as shown in photo)
- Cover half the hole in the CD with tape on the top side of the CD.
- Tape or glue the sports drink cap to the center of the CD so that it covers the hole completely.
- Make sure that it is airtight. Inflate the balloon and then put it over the spout of the pop-top lid. Make sure the lid is open and will let air through. This will allow your creation to hover!
The above activities are part of the Perot’s “Amaze Your Brain at Home” program. Check out perotmuseum.org for more science fun.
Image courtesy of iStock.