Geeky Parent Guide: Fun, At-Home Science Experiments for Your Family

Homeschooling for me has previously increased the opportunities to explore STEM activities with my kids. This past week, more specifically, has given my kids an opportunity to create some very fun science experiments. As our kids have been learning about various Earth Science-related things this school year, I’ve come across videos on YouTube to help show or explain how certain things happen. Ocean currents is one prime example. Yes, it’s possible to do an experiment at home in the hopes of showing how the interaction of warm and cold water makes ocean currents.

There are an enormous number of fun videos out there that are very helpful during the learning process. It’s a huge bonus for our kids to take a break from the pen and paper mechanics of learning. They get to sit back, enjoy, and learn even more as they take in these educational videos. Plus, there are many times I’ve gotten to hear the word, “Cool!”

So, let’s dive into some fun experiments you can do with your kiddos at home. The experiments we created included few ingredients that are easily accessible, and we already had them on hand. For an experiment we didn’t get to, but I would’ve loved to – if only we had effervescent tablets – I would’ve created a homemade lava lamp as seen here!


                                    

Float or Not to Float

This is such an easy experiment where you let your kids learn about buoyancy. Take two oranges and peel one of them. Then get a large enough sized glass or container to fill with water. Next, ask your kids the important question: will the peeled or unpeeled orange float or sink in the water?

This is a fantastic way for them to try and provide some logic to their decision making. Marshall believed that the peeled orange would float, while the other would not, “because it’s the heavier one.” Adelaide thought they both would sink, based on their weight. Then, when they realized that the peeled orange sunk, they both decided that the orange with the peel would float. Yes, they changed their original answers during the course of the experiment, but they’re learning on the fly and that’s okay.

When the orange did float, they were excited! I explained that the orange peel has air inside of it, which allows it to float at the surface. Think of it as a life vest when you’re in the water. This video, featuring Grover from Sesame Street, is perfect for kids to watch and see it happen. My kids are 6 and 8, and they loved the entire video so much that they asked to replay it several times. Their laughter is infectious and I could not deny them their fun.

Full Disclosure: This is a great experiment, and I intentionally did this one around snack time. It was the perfect excuse to not waste food and give them some fruit to munch on.


                                     

Rainbow Erosion with M&Ms

One experiment highlights the multiple colors within a bag of M&Ms. You place the candy in a circle on a plate and then fill with water. In our case, we had Valentine’s Day-colored M&Ms, but the experiment still works the same.

The water slowly breaks down the food coloring and it starts to slowly drift toward the center of the plate. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss patience with your kiddos, because it doesn’t happen quickly. It’s a slow crawl for the colors to form its lines, and since we’re not stirring the mixture, this is why we’re able to see distinct lines. Plus, kids get to eat the experiment afterwards, and of course they love that; though, I did limit them from eating the entire plate’s worth.

Full Disclosure: Marshall was a little impatient and moved the plate around to try and rush the color, which resulted in curved lines. Yes, I did give instructions to leave it alone. Yes, he did this right after I turned around after telling them this. So, I made sure to tell him that the experiment’s results have been skewed, because we are not seeing the reaction play out on its own.

As a parent, is it absolutely frustrating when your kids do not listen? YES, but I do remind myself that my kids are only 6 and 8. The excitement of the moment does lead to being impatient, but that’s something they will learn as they continue to mature and get older.


                                    

Dancing Milk and Dish Detergent

Safety glasses – check! Milk, dish soap, and food coloring – check! My kids LOVED this experiment, because they could see various colors swirling on their plates. This science experiment involves a chemical reaction, so I made sure to have the kids wear safety glasses. I want to enforce the importance of protecting themselves, even during fun experiments, so they are prepared for unexpected results.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) describes this reaction: “When you first put the detergent on the milk, the negative end of the detergent molecules line up with the positive end of the water molecules. This causes the detergent molecules to zoom out in every direction over the surface of the milk and push the food coloring out toward the edge of the plate.”

Full Disclosure: I used Dawn dish soap, instead of dishwasher liquid detergent, which may have presented different (or less intense) results. Fortunately, it’s the perfect excuse to try the experiment again another day.


                                    

Creating Ocean Currents at Home

As we’ve learned about the ocean this year, we found a wonderful video that helps explain what happens when warm water interacts with cold water. Simply, heavier cold water sinks below warmer surface water, creating a current that continues all over the world.

More succinctly, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes ocean currents wonderfully: “When ocean water freezes, forming sea ice, salt is left behind causing surrounding seawater to become saltier and denser. Dense-cold-salty water sinks to the ocean bottom. Surface water flows in to replace the sinking water, which in turn becomes cold and salty enough to sink. This ‘starts’ the global conveyer belt, a connected system of deep and surface currents that circulate around the globe on a 1000 year time span.”

Full Disclosure: The kids thoroughly enjoyed this experiment, but I don’t feel like the results were as successful as I’ve seen from online experiments. I’m not sure if I didn’t get the water cold enough before adding the hot water, or if the dye wasn’t distinct enough to accurately see the currents forming, so it felt like our least successful experiment.

Though, despite my lackluster thoughts, my kids were still thrilled to see the interaction, and they really liked the purple-colored water that was left behind from the mixing of red and blue food coloring.


                                    

Examining Surface Tension with Pepper

The same video that showcased the orange experiment also includes a science experiment to highlight surface tension.

Surface tension, as described by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): “The property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force, due to the cohesive nature of its molecules.” As they describe it, water molecules like to connect with each other, but there are less molecules at the surface, because they’re met by air. With there being less molecules, they hold onto each other even tighter, creating surface tension.

With a bowl of water and some pepper, your kids are one step closer to seeing what happens next. The pepper doesn’t dissolve and is light enough to stay on top of the surface tension. However, when you introduce a drop of dish soap to the water’s center, your kids will watch the pepper scatter to the edges as the surface tension breaks.

Full Disclosure: I had every intention of stopping at four experiments; however, after the ocean current experiment, I wanted to offer another opportunity for them to be excited about something else. I think they saw my disappointment with the ocean current experiment, and I felt like that might’ve hampered their enthusiasm a bit. So, I wanted to finish on a high note with this super simple and fun experiment.


What do you think of these experiments? Have you done any of these with your kids? Share your own results or let us know what experiments you think I should try at home with my kids. Also, if you like this content, please like this article and share with all of your geeky friends. You can follow the Geeky Parent Guide on Facebook and Twitter, so give us a follow for more geeky goodness.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.



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