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.
1. Make a lemon-scented volcano
Fun Quotient: It's like the classic baking soda and vinegar volcano experiment, but it smells a lot nicer.
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.
Find it: Fun Littles
2. Set money on fire
Fun Quotient: Wait, what? You’re burning money? Why?!
Teaches: Combustion, the process behind fire. Rubbing alcohol is flammable, but the wet, cottony dollar isn't. The fire will go out once the alcohol has been consumed.
Find it: Barefoot in Suburbia
3. Create rock candy skewers
Fun Quotient: It makes pretty rocks you can eat.
Teaches: Water evaporates, but 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.
Find it: Science Bob
4. Build an electromagnet
Fun Quotient: Kids 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.
Find it: Science Bob
5. Write a message with invisible ink
Fun Quotient: Kids can pretend they're spies sending highly classified information (not recommended in real life).
Teaches: Oxidation, a.k.a. the process that creates rust. Lemon juice is acidic enough to resist oxidation in open air, but a little heat “rusts” it right up.
Find it: Scientific American
6. Walk on eggs
Fun Quotient: Like walking on hot coals, but not as painful.
Teaches: Structure matters. No matter how flimsy an egg shell is, its shape gives it amazing strength, as long as you put the weight in the right place.
Find it: Steve Spangler Science
7. Make a tea bag rocket
Fun Quotient: Every child enjoys watching things burst into flame and fly around the kitchen.
Teaches: Hot air rises and cooler air sinks. But it also demonstrates convection current, which is the force that makes it shoot into the air.
Find it: Physics Central
8. Discover how cornstarch and water can dance
Fun Quotient: Oobleck is a mix of cornstarch and water that can act like a liquid and a solid. By itself it’s fun, but add a sub-woofer and the glop will shimmy in its container.
Teaches: Sound waves. You can’t see them, but they exist, and they like to party.
Find it: Housing a Forest
9. Create an Ivory Soap monster
Fun Quotient: You get to nuke a bar of soap until it becomes a frothy cloud of 99 percent 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.
Find it: ThoughtCo
10. Launch marshmallows across the room
Fun Quotient: Weaponized marshmallows, hello!
Teaches: Force equals mass times 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.
Find it: Adventure Science Center
11. Poke a "magic" plastic bag
Fun Quotient: You'll find out it's possible to poke a pencil through a plastic bag of water without spilling it.
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.
Find it: Tinkerlab
12. Make gummy bears change shape
Fun Quotient: Deform gummy bears by dunking them in a variety of potions.
Teaches: Osmosis, and which kinds of liquids do it best.
Find it: Sciencing
13. Design an optical illusion
Fun Quotient: Animate a cartoon the old-fashioned way.
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.
Find it: Science Sparks
14. Set up a chain reaction
Fun Quotient: It’s tough to get started, but the payoff is clatter and splatter.
Teaches: A demonstration of potential energy, kinetic energy, and chain reactions.
Find it: The Kid Should See This
15. Make Molecules Move
Fun Quotient: Slow and steady wins here; kids with an artistic streak will love creating designs as the colors move through liquids.
Teaches: Why oil and water don't mix. Kids will witness how molecules of water, fats, and proteins come together and move apart in different substances.
Find it: American Chemical Society