It's been said before, but I'll say it again because it's true—children are like sponges! If you have little kids at home, you probably spend half of your day trying to answer their probing questions. "What are clouds made of?" "How do leaves change color?" "Why do puddles disappear?" While being bombarded with questions day after day may make you want to throw your hands over your ears or pack a bag and run for the hills, its kids' innate curiosity that drives their learning. And who are we to squash their desire to learn about the world around them? After all, some poor sap put up with our never-ending questions when we were little, right? Even if we don't have all the answers, we can still encourage learning by doing fun experiments with them that expose them to new things and challenge their thinking. For these fun science experiments, we're taking learning outside and using Mother Nature as our classroom. Watch your child's curiosity blossom as you make your way through these quick, easy experiments!
S'more Science Please!
The perfect science experiment for a camping vacation, this one is fun AND yummy! There's a huge, ooey-gooey reward at the end of this experiment if done right, so pay close attention!
- X-acto knife
- Clean, empty pizza box
- Aluminum foil
- Clear plastic wrap
- Clear tape
- S'mores ingredients (graham crackers, chocolate bars, marshmallows)
- In the top lid of the pizza box, cut a square flap that lifts up on the two sides and across the front but is still attached near the back side of the box.
- Cover the inside of the flap with aluminum foil. Also spread aluminum foil on the inside of the pizza box (on the bottom, where you'll set your s'mores).
- Cover the hole you've cut with clear plastic wrap. Use tape to secure it if needed.
- Make the s'mores and set them on the inside of the pizza box (on the foil). You can try this two ways to see how it works best for you: fully assemble them as if they're ready to bite into, or leave them face open so that the marshmallows and chocolate can melt separately before you assemble them.
- Pull the top of the box down all the way so that your s'mores are covered by the clear plastic wrap.
- Using a stick found around your camper or house, prop open the foil flap so that the sun can radiate off of the aluminum foil.
- Now ... wait! A watched s'more never melts, so go play some camping games or load up on wet wipes while the sun works its magic in your solar s'more oven! Don't worry, it'll be s'more time in no time!
This is probably one of the easiest and most interesting science experiments you can do with your kids, and all you need is a stick of sidewalk chalk, a warm body, and a sunny day. Save this experiment for a day when full sun is forecasted for the whole day, otherwise you'll have to scrap your experiment and start over if it gets cloudy. To teach your kids how the Earth rotates around the sun (and not the other way around) and how shadows move based on the location of the sun, follow these directions to make a human sundial.
- Locate a wide-open cement space that won't become shaded by a tree or building (backyard basketball court, driveway, playground, etc.). Draw a large circle and put an X right in the middle of it. Label the circle to show North, East, South, and West.
- Have your child stand on the X. You or a sibling then traces their shadow on the ground with the chalk. Write the time of day inside the shadow.
- Repeat Step 2 every couple of hours, writing the corresponding times in the shadows. Ask your child to predict where their next shadow might fall.
See It To Believe It!
Step outside and listen closely. Do you hear that? Can you hear the leaves breathing? No, neither can I. But they are—we just can't see it or hear it. This fun experiment aims to prove that just because we can't see something doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.
- Bowl that has a larger diameter than your leaf (preferably glass)
- Small rock
- Head outside and grab a leaf right off of a tree. Don't use a dead one off the ground. It needs to be alive in order for this experiment to work.
- Fill your bowl most of the way with water. Lay your leaf on top of the water and place your rock on it so that it sinks down into the water.
- Find a sunny place in your home or RV to set the bowl. Let it bask in the sun for half the day before coming back to check on it. Go for a hike or head to the beach while you wait ... it makes the time go by faster!
- When you return to your leaf, ask your kids what they see. At this point there should be zillions of tiny bubbles in the water and all around on the leaf. Ok, maybe not zillions, but there'll be a lot of them all over in the bowl. Depending on the ages of your kids, they'll either figure out that the bubbles are little pockets of oxygen that the leaf is expelling during the photosynthesis process, or you can explain that a leaf "breathes" out oxygen just like we do, and these bubbles are proof of that.
Make It Go BOOM!
When you mix ingredients and the reaction is an explosive one, it's guaranteed to be a hit! That's why this experiment landed on my list of fun outdoor science experiments that I think your kids will love! And you'll love that it uses household ingredients easily found in your pantry. BONUS: if you're near a beach, use sand and a beach pail instead of play dough and a film canister.
- Baking soda
- Play dough (or sand)
- Small film canister w/o the top (or beach pail)
- Measuring cup
- If doing this experiment in your driveway, on a sidewalk, or at your campsite, lay newspaper down for easy clean up later.
- Have your child set the canister or pail on the ground with the open end facing up. Form the play dough or sand around the canister or pail so that they create a volcano shape. The only part of the canister or pail that should be visible is the opening.
- Once your child is happy with the shape of the volcano, it's time to make it go BOOM! Tip: if you're using a pail, fill it half way with sand and pack it down so that you won't have to use as much baking soda and vinegar.
- There's really no set ratio of baking soda to vinegar, so just start experimenting with amounts. Pour some baking soda into the volcano and then pour vinegar on top until it erupts and runs down the side of the volcano.
- If the explosion wasn't as epic as you wanted, try adding more vinegar the next time you do it. You should be able to repeat it a few times before the volcano is worn out.
Do you have any fun learning experiments to share? Feel free to post them in the comments below!