Fun science projects

Got curious kids and a kitchen? Try these five easy experiments that look like magic and introduce cool scientific concepts

Scientific method

To boost the fun and learning, ask questions while experimenting. Try “What do you think will happen when we do this?” Afterward, ask, “Why do you think that happened?” Then watch the sparks fly!

Fun foam

Remember this classic from your science class days? Guaranteed to induce giggles!

Age: 5 (with help) and up

You’ll need: baking soda, dishwashing liquid, small clear plastic or glass bottle, large baking pan with sides, large measuring cup with spout, food colouring and vinegar

1. Place 5 mL (1 tsp) of baking soda and a generous squirt of dishwashing liquid into the bottle.
2. Place the bottle in the middle of the large baking pan (or a sink).
3. In the measuring cup, mix 10 or more drops of food colouring and 250 mL (1 cup) vinegar.
4. Pour the coloured vinegar into the bottle.
5. Watch foam spew out of the bottle into the baking pan. When the foaming stops, restart the action by pouring in 15 mL (1 tbsp) or more of both vinegar and baking soda.

Lab notes: Combining baking soda and vinegar creates a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide gas. Combined with the dish-washing liquid, the gas bubbles make coloured foam spill out of the bottle.

Variations: For more drama, decorate the bottle before doing the baking soda and vinegar experiment. Try:
Fire-breathing friend: With a permanent marker, draw eyes, shaggy eyebrows, scales and jagged teeth. Keeners can tape on wool hair.
Erupting volcano: Make a mountain by pressing playdough or Plasticine on the base and up the sides of the bottle.

May the force be with you

Try this experiment in the kitchen for a rocket lunch and launch.

Age: 6 (with help) and up

You’ll need: drinking straw, string, balloon (any size or shape), clothespin, masking tape

1. Cut the drinking straw in half.
2. Thread one end of a piece of string 91 cm (36 in) or longer through one of the straw halves.
3. Tie one end of the string to a chair, door handle or hook on the wall.
4. Have a friend hold the other end of the string, keeping it taut (or tie the end to another chair).
5. Blow up the balloon, twist the opening a few times and seal it with a clothespin.
6. Wrap a long piece of masking tape 660wise around the balloon and tape it to the drinking straw on the string. The clipped opening of the balloon should face the first chair.
7. Undo the clothespin at the end of the balloon and pinch the balloon shut with your fingers.
8. Start the countdown, let go of the balloon mouth, and your rocket will blast down the string. For more rocket blasts, return the balloon to its starting position, blow it up, pinch it shut and let go.

Lab notes: When the inflated balloon is unsealed, the air inside pushes out and forces the rocket along the string in the opposite direction. It demonstrates Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Adapted from 100 Science Experiments by Georgina Andrews and Kate Knighton.

Good vibrations

Here’s a great excuse for kids to crank up the tunes.

Age: 3 and up

You’ll need: plastic food wrap, large bowl, large plate, uncooked rice, portable stereo or radio

1. Place a piece of plastic wrap across the top of the bowl and seal it tightly.
2. Put the bowl on top of a plate.
3. Scatter a few grains of rice on top of the wrap.
4. Set the portable stereo next to the bowl.
5. Slowly crank up the music and watch the rice wiggle and bounce.

Lab notes: The music makes the air vibrate (move back and forth quickly). Loud music results in strong vibrations that cause the plastic wrap to bounce the rice around.

Variations: Play a radio announcer with a deep voice, or sing high and low notes beside the bowl. Replace rice with bits of ribbon, tinfoil or tissue paper.
Magnetic personalities

Turn off the TV and make your own homemade box of characters instead.

Age: 3 (with help) and up

You’ll need: empty rectangular tissue box, scissors, small photos or old magazines, small flat “button type” magnets, white glue

1. Remove the plastic from the tissue-box opening.
2. Cut out 2 or 3 magazine photos of people or pets, each about 7.5 cm (3 in), or use small school picture shots.
3. Glue a magnet to the back of each photo and let dry.
4. Place each cut-out picture, magnet side down, on the inside bottom of the box.
5. Hold the box in one hand.
6. With your other hand, hold a magnet under the box. Does the magnet on the outside of the box stick to the bottom (over the photo)? Try to move the photo characters around.
7. Turn the outside magnet over and hold it under the box again. Does it stick now? Can you make the photos wiggle?

Lab notes: This demonstrates the force of magnetic attraction. Every magnet has two sides: a north and a south pole. When two magnets face each other with the same pole (both north or both south), they repel or push each other away. That’s when it’s hard to move the magnetic photos inside the box with the outside magnet. But when two magnets face each other with opposite poles (north and south), they attract or strongly pull together. Then the outside and inside magnets stick together and you can move the photos. Remember: Opposites attract!

Pirouetting pasta

Make magic with every kid’s favourite food.

Age: 3 (with help) and up

You’ll need: water, tall clear drinking glass, food colouring, baking soda, uncooked spaghetti, vinegar

1. Pour 250 mL (1 cup) of water into a glass.
2. Add a few drops of food colouring and stir.
3. Stir in (15 mL) 1 tbsp baking soda until it dissolves. Wait a few minutes until the water is no longer cloudy.
4. Break spaghetti into 2 cm (0.8 in) pieces and drop 4 or 5 of them into the glass. See what happens (they’ll sink).
5. Stir in 30 mL (2 tbsp) of vinegar.
6. Watch the noodles rise and sink.
7. Time how long the noodles keep boogying.
8. When your noodles lose their mojo, add 15 mL (1 tbsp) or more of vinegar to restart the dance party.

Lab notes: As in “Fun Foam”, this is a chemical reaction. Vinegar and baking soda together form a gas called carbon dioxide. The gas forms bubbles that cling to the noodles, causing them to float to the top. When the bubbles break, the noodles lose their free ride and sink. Then the process starts over again. New bubbles attach to the noodles and bring them back up.

Variations: Experiment with various “dancers,” such as raisins. Try different amounts of vinegar and baking soda.