Kids are natural scientists: they are curious and ask lots of questions. Fun science activities can foster kids’ natural love of science and can be easily done at school, home or other settings with items that can easily be obtained. Your kitchen or grocery store can provide plenty of supplies for science experiments. The backyard or local park can provide a venue for scientific observation.
Although these activities involve common household ingredients, they should always be completed with great care and with the supervision and assistance of an adult.
See how detergent works:
Pour some whole milk into two pie plates or other shallow dishes. Add some drops of liquid (not gel) food coloring to each. Add a drop of water to one dish and note what happens. Add a drop of liquid dish soap to the other dish and compare the results of this to that of adding the drop of water. See how to do it here.
Learn about buoyancy:
Fill a large pan or tub (or sink or bathtub) with water. Make different-shaped but similarly-sized boats with aluminum foil: circular, canoe-shaped, and others of your choice. Float the boats in the tub. Add a penny, washer, marble, or other similar object of your choice to each boat. Continue adding a penny to each boat one at a time. Which boat sinks first? How many pennies (washers, marbles, etc.) did it take to sink the boat?
Make an acid/base indicator:
Blend the leaves of one head of red cabbage with distilled water for a few minutes in a blender. Use the mixture immediately or store in an air-tight container. Choose several substances from the kitchen to test, such as lemon juice, dish soap/water mixture, salt water, baking soda/water mixture, etc. Pour some of the cabbage mixture into each of several cups (one for each of the test substances plus one control). Add one of the test substances to one of the cups. Does the mixture change color? What color is it now? Add the next substance to the next cup and observe. Continue with all the substances and cups. Acidic substances should turn the indicator pink, while substances which are bases will turn the indicator bluish-green. When finished, pour all smixtures down the sink drain.
Chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda:
Just mixing these two substances is interesting on its own, but the chemical reaction between the two can be used for some fun science activities. One of these is the tried-and-true homemade volcano: build a volcano with play dough or clay and fill the center cavity with baking soda and vinegar (a little dish soap is good, too) to create the eruption. Another activity using vinegar and baking soda involves blowing up a balloon: pour a little vinegar in an empty plastic water bottle, pour a little baking soda (using a funnel) into a uninflated latex balloon, place opening of balloon over mouth of water bottle, allow baking soda to pour into bottle, and watch the balloon inflate.
Explore states of matter:
Mix 2 parts cornstarch, 1 part water, and a little food coloring (if desired). The mixture will be difficult to stir; stir slowly and gently for best results. Observe the characteristics of the mixture: is it a liquid or a solid? Try punching or poking the mixture with a lot of force. What happens? Slowly stick your finger in the mixture. What happens? Pour some into your hand. What happens?
In your backyard or the park:
Observe plants and insects (but remember to not disturb them). How do they change over the course of a season? Record observations in a notebook. How do insects behave? Give your child a few small, inexpensive plants to experiment with. Observe what happens to the plants with different amounts of direct sunlight, different amounts of water, fertilizer vs. no fertilizer, different sizes of pots, and any other variables your child can think of.
Check out these books for more ideas:
Bardhan-Quallen, S. (2010). Kitchen science experiments: How does your mold garden grow? New York: Sterling.
Burns, L.G. (2012). Citizen scientists: Be a part of scientific discovery from your own backyard. New York: Henry Holt.
Edom, H. & Woodward, K. (2010). The Usborne book of Science Activities, Vol. 1. London: Usborne.
Smith, A., Ed. (2011). The Usborne big book of science experiments. London: Usborne.
Wood, R. W. (1999). The McGraw-Hill big book of science activities: Fun and experiments for kids. New York: McGraw-Hill.