7 Summer Science Activities
Keep the kids’ brains active, and entertained, with these summer activities!
It’s hot and you need a little something to do with your kids—yet you don’t really want to fight traffic or crowds. Well, have no fear. There are plenty of interesting—even educational—activities you can do at home on a hot day. Heat is an ingredient in all sorts of sizzling science fun, and summer days supply all the heat you can use—for free. High temperatures put kids in the mood to play with water and ice, and cool treats are especially welcome.
• Make ice cream. Take a small zip-top bag (quart size), fill it with a cup of whole milk, a teaspoon of vanilla, and two tablespoons of sugar. Close the bag, put it inside a gallon-sized, zip-top bag, and add 4 cups of ice and a ¼ cup of salt to the larger bag. Close the large bag and shake for 5–10 minutes (have your kids toss it back and forth if you like), and pretty soon you’ll have fresh ice cream. The science of this is that salt lowers the freezing point of water, making temperatures cold enough to freeze the milk. The shaking introduces air into the mixture, helping to give it that ice-creamåy texture.
• Create rainbows with the garden hose. This works best in the morning or late
afternoon, when the sun is low. If your hose has a nozzle adjustment, set it to “mist.” Stand facing your shadow and spray toward the shadow’s head in a wide arc. You should be able to see at least one, and maybe two rainbows. Your kids may want to walk into the mist toward the rainbow, and if they do they may be able to see a circular rainbow floating before them. Help kids notice and remember the order of the colors, so that later they can paint their own rainbows. If your kids are older, you can go online together to find out why the colors are ordered as they are, and why the rainbow bends.
• Make milk-carton paddle boats. Use duct tape to tape an equal number of craft sticks to opposite sides of a milk carton (pint, quart, or half-gallon) so they stick out a couple of inches past the bottom. Cut out a paddle from another carton or the lid from a discarded plastic container, sizing it to fit between the craft sticks. Loop a rubber band around the sticks and tape your paddle to the rubber band. Spin the paddle until the rubber band is twisted tightly, then set the boat in a splash pool and release the paddle. Try modifying your boats—use different sizes and types of containers, thicker rubber bands, bigger and smaller paddles. Your kids will be using the scientific method without even realizing it and gaining important intuitions in physics.
• Construct an underwater viewer. Start with a tube-shaped container, such as a coffee can with the bottom removed. Cut a sheet of heavy-duty plastic wrap big enough to cover one end and extend about halfway up the tube. Secure the plastic wrap to the tube with a rubber band and duct tape. When you push the tube into a pond, creek, or swimming pool, the pressure turns the plastic wrap into a magnifying lens. Use it to see fish and underwater insects, or to find rocks or shells.
• Invent ice-pop recipes. If it freezes, it’s fair game! Fill small paper cups with food mixtures your kids concoct—perhaps fruit juice, whipped topping, and pieces of chopped whole fruit, or pudding with peanut butter and marshmallows. Try making layers or swirl patterns. Add craft sticks and freeze; refine the recipes as you go. Ask kids: how can you keep the solid objects from sinking to the bottom? (Hint: Partially freeze the liquid before mixing in the fruit or marshmallows.) Suggest your kids write down their recipes and make an ice-pop cookbook to give as a gift; this will get them writing and dusting off their math skills to specify measurements of ingredients.
• Cool off with a fountain. Gather empty 2 liter bottles and other plastic recyclables—anything that can hold or direct water. Poke holes in the containers and connect the pieces with duct tape. Hook up the hose and enjoy the show as the water jets up and out through the holes. You’ll have cooling fun and kids will be getting a neat introduction to water pressure and flow.
• Cook lunch in a solar oven. Help your kids make a “Pizza Box Solar Oven” using a pizza box, some black construction paper, and foil. It’s easy to find instructions online at sites such as hometrainingtools.com/build-a-solar-oven-project/a/1237. The oven can reach temperatures of 275°, hot enough to cook a hot dog, English-muffin pizzas, s’mores, and other treats.
Dr. Karen Cole publishes a weekly ezine, Big Learning News, at biglearning.com/newsletter.htm.