Monday Musings: Time to Experiment!

I have mentioned before that I write lessons for a youth Christian camp which I’ve been involved with for years.  In addition, I have worked in children’s ministry and taught numerous Bible classes.  Always looking for interesting ways to convey a story or principle, I have discovered the wonder of easy science experiments! 

Since I am at camp this week coordinating classes for 98 nine to eleven year olds, I thought I might share with you five of my favorites over the years.  Please note that I am not a science person.  I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake!  I once took a college class entitled The Search for Extraterrestrial Life in hopes of avoiding anything too science-y (by the way, total misnomer as apparently chemical equations are involved in the search). 

But if you’re looking for something fun to do with kids in a classroom or on a rainy afternoon, I have a few suggestions.  Most experiments that I do are combed from internet searches where the idea is listed in several places, so I don’t cite authors with those.  But if I have a definite source for an experiment below, I will list it. 

Fake Blood

Supplies:  Container of some kind, water, corn syrup, red food coloring, blue food coloring (optional).

Directions:  Mix 1 part water and 3 parts corn syrup.  Then add several drops of red food coloring.  You may wish to add a drop or two of blue food coloring for a more blood-like hue.  Then reach your fingers in and start imagining what you can do with it!  Store this recipe away for Halloween too. 

Poking through Water Bag

Supplies:  Baggies (like Ziploc) – sandwich or quart size, well-sharpened pencils, water.

Directions:  Fill a baggie almost to the top with water and seal it securely.  Carefully twist a pointy pencil little by little into the baggie and out through the other side.  This is much more fun over a friend’s head with the words “Do you trust me?” uttered before you begin.  First seen in Fun Science that Teaches God’s Word by Mary Grace Becker and Susan Martins Miller. 

Reignite It

Supplies:  Glass bottle (like a Coke bottle), long wooden skewer or match, lighter, hydrogen peroxide, dry yeast.

Directions:  Pour hydrogen peroxide into the bottle, and add the dry yeast.  Bubbles will begin to form.  Immediately light the skewer, let it burn briefly, and blow it out.  Then put the skewer into the glass bottle with the peroxide and yeast.  The skewer should reignite.  This little experiment drew oohs and ahs from a crowd of youngsters, and I was prevailed upon to repeat the experiment a couple more times.  Courtesy of a demonstration by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. 

Egg Suck

Supplies:  Two hard-boiled eggs, two coffee drink glass bottles (think Starbucks Frappuccino), wooden skewers, matches.

Directions:  Place a boiled egg into the opening of the first bottle and shove the egg into the bottle (as hard as possible).  It will break apart and be really messy.  Then put the second boiled egg on the second bottle.  Light a match, lift the egg, and quickly toss the match inside the bottle, replacing the egg.  The small flames will go out and, as the smoke subsides, the egg will be pulled into the bottle without breaking.  If you want the scientific explanation for this, apparently the air in the bottle cooling down causes lower pressure inside the bottle than outside, forcing the egg to be sucked in.  (The wooden skewers are to break apart the egg and get it out of the bottle.) 

Great Balls of Fire

Supplies:  2”x5”(ish) scrap of all-cotton fabric, long piece of cotton thread, needle, lighter fuel, match or butane lighter.

Directions:  Roll up the fabric into a ball.  Thread a needle and push it through the middle of the fabric ball once, then wrap the thread all around the fabric ball to secure it.  Push the needle back through the middle at the end to keep it from unraveling.  Then squirt lighter fuel all over the ball.  You want the ball to be wet, but not dripping.  Wash your hands if you got too much fuel on yourself during that step.  Then light that baby up!  Oh yeah . . . in your hand.  Believe it or not, you will be able to hold the ball in your hand without burning your skin.  I suggest tossing it back and forth between your hands because it does get hot.  But I have done this a few times and never gotten burned.

Good heavens, I just realized that three of these experiments involve fire!  I suppose I should add that all experiments with children should be done with adult supervision; in fact, you may wish to merely demonstrate.  For instance, I use the fire ball experiment as an object lesson with me at the front of the room doing the experiment and the kids watching the results.

If you’re looking for more, I recommend Steve Spangler Science, the PBS Zoom science website, and Exploratorium.

Do you have any favorite science experiments?  Do you ever do activities like this with kids?  What resources do you recommend?