You have young children, and you’d like to get them interested in science and the natural world. You also, of course, want to build fun family memories. However, chemistry sets are way less interesting than you remember from your childhood, and you’re at a loss. You’d like some simple projects you can do to demonstrate physical principles, that will be fun, safe, and educational, and not too expensive.
Fortunately, YouTube has your back – there are plenty of simple experiments you can perform using household items which will delight your children, and cultivate a sense of wonder about the natural world that’ll last the rest of their lives. Many a scientist was born at an early age by an odd phenomenon that they felt driven to explain. Click on the links to see a short YouTube video explaining how to perform the experiment!
1. Cloud in a Bottle
Clouds are fairly bizarre and interesting things, even to an adult mind. It can be hard to accept that millions of tons of water are floating effortlessly over your head. Rain is even stranger. Demonstrating the principle of condensation and fog vapor to children can be very challenging without some sort of visual aid. Luckily, with this simple experiment, using only a few dollars worth of materials from Walmart (modeling clay can be used to improvise a seal in a pinch), you can produce a dramatic result that clearly demonstrates cloud formation on your kitchen counter. Try heating and cooling the cloud to see what happens!
2. Matchstick Rockets
Kids like rockets. Boys like rockets, girls like rockets, adults like rockets. Rockets are cool. If you help your children build rockets, you, by extension, are also cool. And, as if that weren’t enough, these rockets also represent a fantastic way to teach the principles of motion to children. Most of us are born Aristotelians, and sometimes it takes a visual demonstration to overcome those intuitions. An afternoon of playing around with matchstick rockets definitely qualifies.
It should be noted that these do require a little bit of care – use common sense: don’t set them off in dry timber houses, or in fields of dry grass, or wooded areas. Wear eye protection. That being said, they’re also the safest sort of rocket you’re likely to encounter. Worst case, they zip into somebody’s arm and sting a little.
3. Mentos and Cola
Children often ask questions about soda (as well they should, it is a bizarre, bizarre substance) — why is it fizzy? Why does it explode when shaken? Why is it so delicious? (hint: it’s all the sugar). A cool way to teach a bit of materials science is to talk about how the gas sublimated into the liquid can be coalesced into bubbles by certain physical structures (in much the same way clouds nucleate in the first experiment). This can demonstrated by dropping certain kinds of sugar crystals into soda and watching them explode in a fountain of foam. Beware that this one is a bit messy, and you should plan to hose-off afterwards. A great summer experiment!
(Did I mention that your kids should be watching Mythbusters?)
4. Static Electricity
Speaking of weird physical phenomena, what’s up with static electricity? Inequal static charges in materials provokes behavior from objects that looks downright silly. You can show this off to children with a comb, some dry hair, and a trickling faucet. Guaranteed to provoke oohs and ahs.
5.Dry Ice Tea
For teaching the stages of matter, dry ice is an invaluable visual aid. It’s cheap, and can be acquired at many supermarkets. You can do a lot of things with it, but this is one of the simplest. It’s important to careful, though – if you don’t hold it in the same way for more than a second or two, dry ice can be safely handled with bare skin, but that role is definitely best left to the adults, and you should probably use gloves to be on the safe side. It’s also important not to accidentally drink any of the dry ice fragments – try using large chunks in a tea strainer and take small sips if you want to drink from your smoking beverages. Also be careful not to perform these experiments without good ventilation, or otherwise breathe too much of the smoke.