Time to get messy, light some stuff on fire, and use food products in ways they were never intended! Parents and teachers across the internet have found fun ways to teach kids science, and have documented the experiments for the rest of us. Here are 15 hands-on science lessons that will stick in a kid’s brain far longer than anything they get from a textbook.
Fun Quotient: A much less stinky take on the trusty vinegar and baking soda eruptions. The experiment uses citric acid, food coloring, and clear hand soap to make fluffy frothy science.
Teaches: The baking soda base and the citric acid create an endothermic reaction while releasing carbon dioxide in bubble form. You have to look up endothermic reaction on your own.
Fun Quotient: Holy crud—you’re burning money! Fire! Money! Fire!
Teaches: Combustion, or what a fire likes to eat. Rubbing alcohol, yum. Cold wet cottony dollar under the alcohol, meh. Not enough to keep burning once the alcohol is gone.
Fun Quotient: It makes pretty rocks you can eat!
Teaches: Water evaporates, the sugar crystals don’t. The sugar precipitates, meaning it separates from the supersaturated sugar water. Seed crystals form on your stick, attracting more sugar crystals, until finally, about a week later, you got yourself some tasty science on a stick.
Fun Quotient: They get to use sharp things and electricity, which is Frankenstein-level cool.
Teaches: Electromagnets are everywhere. They make motors spin, CDs play, and most modern cars run. This experiment shows the difference between a permanent magnet (the ones on your fridge) and the kind that can be turned on and off at will. When turned on, the electricity forces the molecules in the nail to attract metal, even though the nail itself isn’t magnetic.
Fun Quotient: Invisible ink! Hello? INVISIBLE INK!! (Also fire if you want to go that route, but it’s not necessary or entirely safe to do so).
Teaches: Good old oxidation. Lemon juice is acidic enough to resist oxidation in open air, but a little heat “rusts” it right up.
Fun Quotient: Like walking on hot coals, but somehow more naughty!
Teaches: Structure matters. No matter how flimsy an egg shell is, its actual shape gives it amazing strength, as long as you put the weight in the right place.
Fun Quotient: I really don’t think one can overemphasize how much children enjoy watching things burst into flame and fly around the kitchen.
Teaches: Hot air rises, natch. But it also teaches “convection current,” which is the force that makes it shoot into the air.
Fun Quotient: Oobleck is cornstarch and water, and if you didn’t play with it as a child then I am so sorry for you because you probably grew up in a Dickensian work house. By itself it’s fun, but add a sub-woofer and some paint, and you have a dance party.
Teaches: Sound waves. You can’t see them, but they exist, and they like to party.
Fun Quotient: Instead of having to wash with it, you get to nuke it until it becomes a frothy cloud of 99% pure mess.
Teaches: When the gas molecules trapped in the soft pliable soap get hot, they need more space. They make a break for it and take the soap with them. As the temperature of the gas increases so does its volume.
Fun Quotient: Weaponized Marshmallows.
Teaches: Force= Mass x Acceleration. A little thing going very fast will hit you just as hard as a big thing going slow. That’s Newton’s second law, don’t-cha-know.
Fun Quotient: Time to get stabby.
Teaches: How polymers work. Also, on a different level, why you’re not supposed to take the arrow out of a person after they get impaled in movies.
Fun Quotient: Deforming gummy bears with different evil potions, and the most gruesome of all: eating them.
Teaches: Osmosis, and which kinds of liquids do it best.
Fun Quotient: It’s a teeny cartoon!
Teaches: Your eyes aren’t entirely reliable. Optical illusions occur because our brains fill in the gaps for whatever our eye isn’t processing. So two pictures become one.
Fun Quotient: It’s tough to get started, but the payoff is clatter and splatter fun.
Teaches: Nuclear physics. Sorta. At least a demonstration of potential energy, kinetic energy, and chain reactions.
Fun Quotient: Goop is glory.
Teaches: The natural glory of fat, and how arctic animals can survive temperatures that kill everything else.