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Rainy day physical science projects

Thursday, February 05, 2015

All children are natural-born scientists. They look at the world all around them and see endless opportunities to learn, experiment and explore. This starts very early on. Babies squish the mashed peas on their plates to see them ooze out between their fingers. Toddlers dunk their toys in the bath tub, curious to see if they will sink to the bottom of the tub or bounce back to the surface.

Sometimes everyday life and its demands and busy schedules can stifle our children's wonderful, natural curiosity about the world around them. Don't let it! You should always be on the lookout for ways to encourage your child to explore and experiment. In fact, if the rainy days of late winter have your kids feeling housebound and bored, take advantage of the situation. You can combine some hands-on fun with some hands-on learning and dispel the rainy day blahs at the same time.

School Science Experiment

Students at Hendricks Day School enjoy classes in the STEAM lab, where they are exposed to physical and life sciences, art, engineering and robotics. For further science fun and learning, here are two simple physical science projects you and your child can do at home. You can find dozens more with a quick Internet search. They're a great way to get your little scientist off and running.

Oil spill containment - As residents of Florida, we all know the devastating consequences that oil spills can have on our oceans, beaches and the wildlife that lives there. This experiment can start your child thinking about the challenges that scientists face when cleaning up an oil spill. Fill a large mixing bowl halfway full with water. Now add a few teaspoons of cooking oil. Let your child observe that the oil floats on top of the water. Now let him suggest possible clean-up materials. These could include paper towels, dryer lint, a wash cloth, even a spoon! Let your child experiment with the different materials and find out which -- if any -- removes the oil from the water most successfully.

Water versus gravity - All water has surface tension. It's what makes a drop of water on the counter stay in a tight little bubble rather than spreading out. But, how strong is that surface tension? Here's an experiment that borders on a magic trick, but also answers the question, "Is water's surface tension stronger than gravity?" You will need a tall glass with a stem -- like a wine glass -- a cloth handkerchief and a pitcher of water. Put the glass on a table and put the handkerchief over it. Poke the handkerchief down into the glass a bit then fill the glass three-quarters full by pouring the water through the handkerchief. It pours right through, doesn't it? Now pull the handkerchief tight across the top of the glass and hold it firmly in place with one hand around the glass’s stem. Place the other hand across the top of the glass, covering the opening completely. Holding the glass over a sink, turn it over slowly then carefully pull your hand away from the top of the glass (now facing down). Spoiler alert: the results are pretty amazing!

Don't be surprised if, after trying these science projects, your child comes up with some theories of his own that he wants to test. As long as the experiments he proposes are safe and age-appropriate, let him try them. Trial and error, after all, are at the very heart of all quality learning experiences.

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