11 ways to make science fun for your kids

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This article first appeared on Mashable

The vinegar and baking soda volcano is a science fair classic, but making science fun for your kids can mean a lot more than making a mess of your kitchen.

If science at school doesn't sit with your children, there are plenty of fun and even delicious ways to get them excited about biology chemistry and physics — without a single worksheet.

Check out these 11 projects that can lead to magical and educational moments with your kids.

1. Make 'quicksand' with cornstarch

While this might seem like a big task, you've likely done this before. When you slowly mix about 10 parts cornstarch to one part water, you create a liquid with the consistency of honey, and the properties of quicksand.

This is how it works: When you mix the cornstarch into the water, you create a suspension, which is when one substance is dispersed inside another. This makes the mixture act like a solid when pressure is applied, and a liquid when it's allowed to flow freely.

If you smack, slap or scoop the mixture, it will feel solid since you'll be pushing the cornstarch particles closer together. Slowly run your fingers through it or pour it out, and it will flow like a liquid.


These mixtures are called non-Newtonian fluids, referring to Isaac Newton's observation that substances typically become more fluid when they're heated and viscous when they're cooled. Those substances, like honey, are Newtonian fluids.

Since the cornstarch goop's consistency is affected by pressure as well, it's considered a non-Newtonian fluid. Quicksand — a suspension of sand in water — works the same way.

2. Bake a paleontology cake

There are plenty of cool ways to use science to create food — and we'll get to one later — but sometimes all you need is a cake to start an appetite for knowledge.

This paleontology-themed pastry doesn't automatically teach your children anything about dinosaurs, but it can be a delicious way to get them interested in learning more. Use it as a way to keep their attention as you teach them about the lizards that once ruled the earth.

3. Create an electromagnet

Making an electromagnet is a middle school science-class staple, and it's an easy project to do after a quick trip to a hardware store. Simply wrap copper wire around a nail, connect the ends of the wire to a battery and watch the magnetic magic unfold.

The magnetic field gets amplified with each additional loop around the wire, and your kids can test out different wire gauges, lengths and materials to see which will make the strongest magnets.

4. Make pepper swim with dish soap

What they'll learn about: Surface tension

Surface tension is a tricky concept to explain to younger children, but an easy and engaging thing to show them. Sprinkle a bunch of pepper on the surface of a bowl of water, have a kid dip her finger in dish soap and gently touch the surface of the water. The pepper will jet to the edge of the bowl because the soap broke the surface tension of the water.

Surface tension is the result of the surface-level molecules of water being pulled downward by attraction to other molecules. This holds them in place and allows particles like pepper to float on them.

Because soap is another highly attractive substance, it will pull the water molecules near it and break the surface tension. This flings the pepper particles out to the edges of the bowl, where the surface tension remains.

You can also do the same experiment with milk and food coloring.

5. Extract DNA from split peas

This might sound deceptively tricky, but with some household supplies and a little bit of lab equipment, you can help show your kids what DNA looks like. The video above walks you through the whole process, which involves breaking down the subject, using salt and meat tenderizer to release the DNA and extracting it with alcohol.

An individual DNA molecule would be too small to see with the naked eye, but this experiment makes the long, sticky stands visibly tangle together.

6. Suck an egg into a bottle with fire

This is a surefire way to wow your kids with nothing more than a hard-boiled egg, a glass bottle, a lighter and some paper. Take strip of paper, light it on fire, put it inside a glass bottle and let the smoke reach the brim. As soon as it does, place the egg narrow-side down at the mouth of the bottle, and it will slowly get sucked into the bottle.

As the smoke fills the bottle and it heats up, the air inside expands. Once the flame is cut off by the egg's seal of the bottle, the air begins to cool and contract, creating a vacuum that sucks the egg in.

If you can't stand the smell of hard-boiled eggs or can't find the right size bottle, you can use balloons instead.

7. Make a carnation change colors

It's not the quickest experiment, but it might be one of the coolest. Take a few white carnations, vases and different types of food coloring. Dye the water, then place the flowers in the different vases to watch them change color day by day.

You can even split stems to color one side of the carnation and not the other, or color it two different colors.

8. Make hot maple ice cream

Molecular gastronomy, at its core, is using chemicals and creative cooking methods to create food that flips its usual form and function on its head. Over the past few years, more home chefs have been trying out these techniques, and you can create a hot ice cream that melts as it cools with a little bit of methyl cellulose.

Methyl cellulose is a derivative of plant cell walls, and creates gels only when it heats up. The recipe in the video above shows you how to make it yourself, and you can get the key ingredient for as cheap as $7.99 .

9. Build Heron's Fountain

This modern adaptation of a first-century Alexandrian fountain is a great way to introduce kids to air and pneumatic pressure. Water and air pressure are moved through a series of tubes, which draw water down from the top, through the bottom and up to the top again.

10. Explain why the sky is blue with milk, water and a flashlight

Rayleigh scattering is what happens to light when it passes through the atmosphere. As light travels from the sun to Earth, it's absorbed and emitted by tiny particles, which scatter white light into different colors. Blue and violet are scattered the most, and because the sun emits more energy as blue light (which our eyes pick up better), our sky looks blue.

You can replicate this effect with a glass of water, milk and a flashlight. Shine the light into the glass of water as you slowly add drops of milk. Once there are enough protein and fat particulates from the milk in the glass, the water will look blue.

11. Make your own rock candy

If the dino cake and hot ice cream weren't enough, you can teach your kids all about crystallization with some rock candy. Simply mix sugar into water until the sugar stops dissolving. Then, tie a clean string to a butter knife laying across the top of a glass and pour in the solution.

Keep the glass covered with a paper towel or plastic wrap to keep out bacteria, and watch the crystals grow each day.

 BONUS: 5 Fun Science Experiments for Kids (w/ Grover!)