Children are natural scientists, curious about the world around them. Easy science projects keep them entertained by natural phenomena and make them think about what causes things to happen. These projects are safe, interesting and focus on a narrow range of scientific principles that a child can easily remember.
Bend Water with a Balloon
Blow up a party balloon. Go to a sink and turn the cold water tap on until you have a slow, moderate stream of water. If you have a synthetic or wool sweater, rub the balloon on it a few times. If you don’t have these materials, try rubbing the balloon on your hair. Hold the balloon about an inch or less away from the water stream. Avoid touching the water with the balloon. The water will bend toward the balloon. When you rub the balloon on certain materials, a static electric charge builds up in the balloon. This exerts an attractive force on some things that don’t have static electricity, such as water. If the water touches the balloon, it will drain some of the static charge away, weakening the attraction.
The Workings of a Compass
Stand outdoors and find north using a magnetic compass. Place a magnet nearby and notice that the compass is now pointing in a different direction. Walk around the magnet and watch the compass needle as it follows the magnet. Move the magnet at least 20 feet away and observe that you can find true north again. Both the compass and the Earth are magnets. The compass points towards the north because of the Earth’s magnetic attraction. A small magnet close by will attract the compass more strongly than the Earth, causing the needle to point towards it instead of true north.
Kitchen Acids and Bases
Older kids may be fascinated to see that they have acids and bases in their kitchen. You can purchase a small package of litmus paper and test different liquids for pH. Explain that every substance has a pH that makes it an acid or a base and that some are stronger than others are. Stick to food-based substances and avoid powerful household chemicals such as drain cleaner, as these are hazardous. Watch what happens when you mix an acid such as vinegar with a base such as baking soda.
Entertain young ones by having them make a batch of homemade slime. To do this, you’ll need Borax soap, purified water and a bottle of white glue. Mix a half cup of water thoroughly with a half cup of glue in a container. In another container, mix about 1/4 teaspoon of Borax with a half cup of water. Slowly pour the Borax solution into the glue mix until the glue thickens into a slimy mass. Pick it up and put it in a separate plastic container or dish. The slime is safe to handle, though you might want to keep it away from sensitive wood finishes. While the slime is nontoxic, avoid eating it, as it would give you a stomachache. Use white glue and not silicone or Krazy Glue, as these compounds can be toxic.
See Invisible Light
Look at your TV’s remote control. The tip of the control that you aim at the TV to change channels has a special kind of invisible light. When you use the remote, it uses the light to tell the TV to change channels or increase the volume. Get a digital camera or cell phone that has a camera function and turn it on. Look at the end of the remote control on the camera’s screen and press the buttons on the remote. You’ll see a light flashing on the remote that you can’t see with your eyes. The remote control produces infrared light. The camera turns infrared light into regular light that you can see.
About the Author
Chicago native John Papiewski has a physics degree and has been writing since 1991. He has contributed to "Foresight Update," a nanotechnology newsletter from the Foresight Institute. He also contributed to the book, "Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance." Please, no workplace calls/emails!