A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Activities at Home

This section contains a sampling of science activities-- organized roughly from easiest to most difficult--suitable for children from preschool through the early elementary grades. In a box near the end of each activity are a few facts and explanations for those who want them. But exploring, questioning, and having a good time is more important than memorizing facts. And, although your children may be able to do the following activities alone, we encourage you to join them.

Grown-Up Alert!

The activities in this book are safe with the appropriate supervision. Some require help from an adult. Others can be carried out by children alone, if they are old enough. Look in the instructions for the Grown-up alert! It will highlight an activity that may need supervision. Be sure your children who can read know which activities you do not want them to try by themselves.

Young children may not fully understand that bad things can happen to them. We don't want to scare our children away from science, but we must:


Keeping records is an important part of science. It helps us remem- ber what didn't work as well as what did work. Someone asked Thomas Edison if he weren't discouraged after trying thousands of experiments--without results--to make the incandescent light bulb work. He replied:
Results! Why, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work.
So before starting, get a notebook for recording observations. If your children cannot write yet, they can draw pictures of what they see, or you may want to take notes for them.

We should remember, too, that seeing isn't the only way to observe. Sometimes we use other senses; we hear, feel, smell, or taste some things (children should be careful, of course, about what they taste).

Let's Go

Science can be learned in many places and environments and just as easily from everyday experiences as from formal projects and experiments. We can get our children interested in science with simple toys, books, and objects around the house and have fun while we're doing it.

So, flip through the following pages and find something that looks like fun.


Looking at objects closely is an important part of science, and a magnifying glass lets us see things we don't even know are there. It also helps us see how objects are similar or different from each other.

What you'll need

A magnifying glass
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Use your magnifying glass to see:

    What's hidden in soil or under leaves;

    What's on both sides of leaves;

    How mosquitos bite;

    Different patterns of snowflakes; and

    Butterfly wings.

    How many different objects can you find in the soil?

  2. Draw pictures, or describe what you see, in your notebook.

If you were able to examine a mosquito, you probably saw how it bites something--with its proboscis, a long hollow tube that sticks out of its head. Snowflakes are fascinating because no two are alike. Powdery scales give butterfly wings their color.


Can a paper straw go through a raw potato? Here's an easy way to learn about inertia and momentum.

What you'll need

A raw potato
One or more paper straws
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Put a potato on the table or kitchen counter and hold it firmly with one hand, making sure the palm of your hand is not underneath the potato.*

  2. With a fast, strong push, stab the potato with the straw.

  3. What happens? Did the straw bend? The straw should go into the potato. If it didn't, try again with another straw--maybe a little faster or harder.

*If the potato is old, soak it in water for about half an hour before trying this activity.

An object remains at rest (the potato, in this case) or keeps moving (the straw, in this case) unless it is acted upon by some external force.


Have you ever tried using soap to power a boat? This simple activity works because of "surface tension."

What you'll need

1 index card
A baking dish (or sink full of water)
Liquid dish detergent
Your science journal

What to do

  1. From an index card, cut out a boat like this. Make it about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.

  2. Place the boat gently on the water in the dish.

  3. Pour a little detergent into the notch in the end of the boat.
    What happens?
    If you repeat the experiment, wash out the baking dish carefully each time you use detergent, or your boat won't go.

Your boat should zip across the water. Water molecules are strongly attracted to each other and stick close together, especially on the surface. This creates a strong but flexible "skin" on the water's surface that we call surface tension. Adding soap disrupts the arrangement of the water molecules and breaks the skin, making the boat go forward.


Who doesn't enjoy blowing bubbles? You can make bubbles at home, and they can be beautiful shapes and colors!

What you'll need

8 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid
1 quart water
1 drinking straw
A shallow tray

Grown-up alert!

1 tin can, open at both ends
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Mix the dishwashing liquid with the water. Fill the shallow tray.

  2. Blow through your straw as you move it slowly across the surface of the solution. How big are the bubbles you get?

  3. Try making a very big bubble that covers the surface of the tray:

    Dip one end of the straw into the sudsy solution then hold the straw slightly above the surface of the solution. Blow into it very gently. You may have to try several times to make a really big bubble.

    When you have made a bubble, touch it gently with a wet finger. What happens?

    Make another big bubble. Touch this one with a dry finger. What happens?

  4. Try making bubbles with a tin can (don't cut yourself) open at both ends. Dip the can into the soapy solution so that you get a soap "window" across one end when you pull it out. Blow gently on the other end to form a bubble. You can use wider tubes such as coffee cans to make still bigger bubbles.

  5. Look closely at the bubbles you make. How many colors can you see? Do the colors change?

  6. If you have a wand at home that is left over from a bottle of bubbles you bought at the store, you can use it with this bubble solution.

Bubbles are bits of air or gas trapped inside a liquid ball. The surface of a bubble is very thin. Bubbles are particularly fragile when a dry object touches them. That's because soap film tends to stick to the object, which puts a strain on the bubble. So if you want your bubbles to last longer, keep everything wet, even the sides of the straw.


Some bugs help us, some annoy us, and some are downright dangerous. But you can learn a lot from bugs.

What you'll need

An insect guide and a spider guide from the bookstore or library--preferably ones with pictures
Your magnifying glass
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Search your home and neighborhood for bugs.

    Grown-up alert!


    Around your front door
    In cracks in the sidewalk
    On lamps
    On lights hanging from the center of the room
    On plants
    In crevices in drawers
    In corners of rooms

  2. Identify types of bugs using the guides. Did you find:


  3. Ants can teach us how some insects work together as a community.

    Watch ants scurry in and out of their ant hills or find some spilled food on the sidewalk.

    Do they eat their food on the spot, or carry it back to their anthill?

    When an ant finds food, it runs back to the hill to "tell" the others. As it runs, it leaves a trail that other ants in the hill can smell. The ants find the food by smelling their way along the trail.

  4. Find out what the difference is between an insect and a spider.

    Why do spiders spin webs?
    What are webs made of?

  5. Write down possible answers to all these questions in your journal or draw pictures of what you see.
Bugs do what they do to survive. They are constantly looking for food. Some bugs are both good and bad. Termites, for example, have a nasty reputation because they destroy peoples houses by eating the wood. But they also break down old trees, keeping the forest floor from becoming too cluttered with dead trees.


We don't usually stop to wonder why a big cruise ship can float as well as a feather. This activity helps to explain.

What you'll need

1 solid wood building block
1 plastic cap from a bottle
2 pieces of aluminum foil (heavy duty if you have it)
1 chunk of clay

Grown-up alert!

1 pair of pliers
1 bathtub (or sink) filled with water
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Hold the wood block in one hand and the plastic cap in the other hand.

    Which one feels heavier?
    Do you think the wooden block will float, or will it sink?
    Will the plastic cap float, or sink?

  2. Put both of them on the water to test your predictions. What happens? Put both of them under the water. What happens now?

  3. Take a piece of aluminum foil and squeeze it into a solid ball with the pliers. Drop it in the water. Does it float or sink?

  4. Get another piece the same size and shape it into a little boat. Place it on top of the water. Does it float now?

  5. Try the same experiment with clay. Make a ball and drop it in the water. What happens?

  6. Shape the clay into a boat and put it on the water. Does it float now?
The clay and foil balls sink because they are squeezed into small shapes, and only a small amount of water is trying to hold up the weight. When you spread out the clay or foil, it floats because the weight is supported by a lot more water.


Oil the hinges of a door and it will stop squeaking. Rub petroleum jelly on lips to prevent them from becoming chapped. These slippery substances are called lubricants. They are very important in modern technology.

What you'll need

4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
Square baking pan
A mixing bowl
Liquid dish detergent
Vegetable oil
2 bowls
A watch with a second hand

Grown-up alert!

A table knife
8-ounce cup
Your science journal

What to do

  1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the 4 envelopes of gelatin in 2 cups of hot tap water.

  2. Coat the inside of the pan with vegetable oil. Pour the gelatin mixture into the pan and put it in the refrigerator until firm (about 3 to 4 hours).

  3. Use the knife to cut the gelatin into cubes about 1 x 1 x 1 inch. You should have about 64 cubes.

  4. Place 15 cubes into a bowl. Place the second bowl about 6 inches (about 15 centimeters) away from the cube bowl.

  5. When your parent or a friend says "go," start picking up the gelatin cubes one at a time with your thumb and index finger (don't squeeze!). See how many cubes you can transfer to the other bowl in 15 seconds.

    Grown-up alert!

    Do not eat the gelatin cubes after they have been handled or after they are covered with lubricant.

  6. Put all the cubes back in the first bowl. Pour 1/4 cup dish detergent over the cubes. Gently mix the detergent and the cubes so that the cubes are well-coated.

  7. Use the same method as before to transfer as many cubes as possible in 15 seconds.

  8. Throw away the cubes and detergent and wash and dry both bowls. Put about 15 new cubes into one bowl and pour 1/4 cup water over the cubes, again making sure the cubes are thoroughly coated. See how many cubes you can transfer in 15 seconds.

  9. Throw away the cubes and water. Put about 15 new cubes into one bowl. Pour 1/4 cup of vegetable oil over the cubes. Make sure they are well coated. See how many cubes you can transfer in 15 seconds.

  10. With which liquid were you able to transfer the most cubes? With which liquid were you able to transfer the fewest cubes? Which was the best lubricant (the slipperiest)? Which was the worst?

Cars, trucks, airplanes, and machines all have parts that rub against one another. These parts would heat up, wear down, and stop working if we didn't have lubricants. Lubricants reduce the amount of friction between 2 surfaces that move against each other.


Did you ever wonder how a paper towel can soak up a spill, or how water gets from a plant's roots to its leaves? The name for this is "capillary action."

What you'll need

4 same-size stalks of fresh celery with leaves
4 cups or glasses

Grown-up alert!

Red and blue food coloring
A measuring cup
4 paper towels
A vegetable peeler
A ruler
Some old newspapers
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Lay the 4 pieces of celery in a row on a cutting board or counter so that the place where the stalks and the leaves meet matches up.

  2. Cut all 4 stalks of celery 4 inches (about 10 centimeters) below where the stalks and leaves meet.

  3. Put the 4 stalks in 4 separate cups of purple water (use 10 drops of red and 10 drops of blue food color for each half cup of water).

  4. Label 4 paper towels in the following way: "2 hours," "4 hours," "6 hours," and "8 hours." (You may need newspapers under the towels).

  5. Every 2 hours from the time you put the celery into the cups, remove 1 of the stalks and put onto the correct towel. (Notice how long it takes for the leaves to start to change.)

  6. Each time you remove a stalk from the water, carefully peel the rounded part with a vegetable peeler to see how far up the stalk the purple water has traveled.

  7. What do you observe?
    Notice how fast the water climbs the celery.
    Does this change as time goes by? In what way?

  8. Measure the distance it has traveled and record this amount in your science journal.

  9. Make a list of other objects around your house or in nature that enable liquids to climb by capillary action.
    Look for paper towels, sponges, old sweat socks, brown paper bags, and flowers.

    What other items can you find?

Capillary action happens when water molecules are more attracted to the surface they travel along than to each other. In paper towels, the molecules move along tiny fibers. In plants, they move through narrow tubes that are actually called capillaries. Plants couldn't survive without capillaries because they use the water to make their food.


Adhesives are used to stick things together. Many adhesives we use every day are made in factories. Others occur in nature and have important uses for plants and animals.

What you'll need

Baking flour
Measuring cup
Egg white
Food coloring
4 small bowls
4 plastic spoons
Aluminum foil
Cotton balls
Bits of cloth
Blunt-tip scissors
Colored yarn or ribbon
Colored paper
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Search your home to track down everything you can that is sticky.
    See how many of the following you can find:

    Grown-up alert!

    Postage stamps
    Car bumper sticker
    Envelopes containing glue
    Wall paper with glue
    A decal on a t-shirt
    A bicycle tire patch
    Glue for fake fingernails
    Peanut butter
    An adhesive bandage

  2. Make a list of everything you can find in nature with an adhesive.
    For example:

    Barnacles that stick to boats, ships, and rocks
    Spiders that use sticky threads to create webs that trap their food Pine trees that produce sticky sap

  3. What adhesives can you think of that are used

    in hospitals?
    in offices?
    in auto repair shops?

  4. Make a poster or collage using adhesives.

    Make 3 bowls of flour-and-water paste. In each bowl, add 1/4 cup water to 1/2 cup flour and mix until smooth. Add a different colored food coloring to each of the 3 bowls and mix.

    Crack open an egg and separate the white into a bowl. Throw away the yolk. The white is your clear glue.

    Make shapes on your poster or collage out of the colored flour and water paste. Use the egg white to attach aluminum foil, cotton balls, toothpicks, cloth, glitter, ribbon, yarn, and colored paper.

What makes glue, paste, or tape stick to things? Wood, paper, and many other materials have tiny cracks and holes in them. When we glue things together, sometimes the glue seeps into the tiny openings and hardens, making the materials stick together. Other times, the molecules on the surface of an object get tangled up with the glue molecules, making the objects stick together. Finally, glue may stick because of a chemical reaction.


There are many ways to measure things. At bath time, use different sized containers to measure volume.

What you'll need

Measuring spoons and cups of different sizes
Milk containers of different sizes--for example, pint, quart, half-gallon, and gallon (or 1 liter, 2 liter, and 4 liter)
A funnel
2 containers that hold the same amount (such as a 1 or 2 quart pitcher and storage bowl), but are different shapes--one tall and thin, and one short and squat

Grown-up alert!

1 bathtub or sink filled with water
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Fill a small container (such as a quart) with water. Then pour the water (using the funnel, if necessary) into a larger container (a half-gallon or gallon). How many small containers does it take to fill one large one?

  2. How many tablespoons does it take to make half a cup? And how many cups to make a quart?

  3. Find out how many quarts (or liters) it takes to fill a gallon (or a 4-liter container).

  4. Next, fill the gallon (or 4-liter) container, and use the funnel to pour the water into the little containers. How many times will it fill the pint (or 1/2-liter) container?

  5. Fill the short, squat container with a given amount of water--3 cups, for example.

    Pour this water into the tall, thin container.

    Do your eyes try to tell you the tall, thin container holds more than the short, squat one? Does it hold more?

    Can you write all this in your science journal?

Water and other liquids take the shape of whatever container they are in. Containers of certain sizes have names--cup, pint, quart, liter, or gallon, for example. This activity provides an introduction to volume and measurement.


Have you ever been shocked when you walked across a rug or touched a light switch? Wait until a cool, dry day to learn about static electricity.

What you'll need

A cool, dry day
2 round balloons (inflated and tied)
2 20-inch pieces of string
1 wool or acrylic sock.
1 mirror (or more)
1 friend (or more)
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Tie a string to each inflated balloon.

  2. Rub a balloon on your hair for about 15 seconds. Be sure to rub around the whole balloon.

    What happens to your hair?
    What happens when you bring the balloon back close to your hair?

  3. Rub the balloon on your hair again and have a friend (or parent) do the same with the other balloon.

  4. Each of you hold the string to 1 balloon, letting the balloons hang freely, but without letting them touch anything.

  5. Slowly move the 2 balloons toward each other, but don't let them touch.

    What do you see?
    Do the balloons push away from each other, or do they pull toward each other?

  6. Place your hand between the two hanging balloons.

    What happens?

  7. Place a sock over 1 hand and rub 1 balloon with the sock. Then let the balloon hang freely. Bring your sock-covered hand near the balloon.

    What happens?

  8. Try rubbing both balloons with the sock and then let them hang near each other.

    What happens now?

  9. Look for other examples of static electricity around the house.

    Have you ever felt a shock when you touched a metal doorknob on a cold winter day? What often happens when you remove the clothes from the dryer?

All materials contain millions of tiny particles, called protons and electrons, that have electric charges. Protons have positive charges, and electrons negative ones. Usually, they balance each other, but sometimes when two surfaces rub together, some of the electrons rub off one surface onto the other and we can have static electricity. Materials with like charges (all positive or all negative) move away from each other; those with opposite charges attract each other.


Molds are tiny microscopic plants that can help or hurt us. Molds like some environmental conditions better than others. Find out which ones they prefer by watching mold grow.

What you'll need

Grown-up alert!

3 cups containing a little coffee or leftover food.
Your magnifying glass.
Your science journal.

What to do

  1. Put 1 cup with coffee or leftover food on a sunny windowsill, 1 in the refrigerator, and 1 in a dark cupboard.

    Look inside the cups every day for several days and write down what you see. Your magnifying glass will help. (It may take a few days for the mold to start growing.)

  2. Does temperature affect the mold's growth? See if the cup left on the windowsill grows mold

    more slowly,
    more quickly, or
    at the same rate as the one in the refrigerator.

  3. Does light affect the growth of the mold?

    Does the cup on the windowsill grow mold at the same rate as the one in a dark cupboard?

  4. Look around your home for other molds. Inspect:

    Pickles in a jar
    Cottage cheese
    Paint on the walls
    House plants
    Tiles around the bathtub or shower.

  5. Are the molds all the same color, or are they different?
We can find molds in all sorts of unexpected places. Unlike green plants, they can't make their own food from sunlight. Instead, they live directly off of what they are growing on.

Molds can be a nuisance when they settle on our food or possessions. But molds are also useful. The green spots on old oranges are penicillin mold. This is what the medicine is made from.


Plants are the only things on earth that turn sunlight into food. They do it through a process called photosynthesis, which is explored in this activity.

What you'll need

Some household plants
A book on plant care from a store or the library

Grown-up alert!

Plant fertilizer
Your magnifying glass
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Look in your plant-care book, or ask a grown-up, to find out how much water each plant needs. Some may need to be watered more than others.

  2. Take two clippings from one plant. Put one in a glass of water. Put the other one in a glass with no water. Check each day to see how long the one without water can survive.

  3. Water the rest of the plants each week for several weeks. Fertilize some of the plants but not others during this time. Label the ones you fertilized.

  4. Record the following in your science journal for those plants that got fertilized and for those that didn't:

    Did any of the plants start to droop?

    Did any of the plants have yellow leaves that fell off?

    Did the plants grow toward the light?

  5. See what happens when a plant (or part of a plant) doesn't get any light:

    Cut 3 paper shapes about 2 inches by 2 inches. Circles and triangles work well, but you can experiment with other shapes, too.

    Clip them to the leaves of a plant, preferably one with large leaves. Either an indoor or an outdoor plant will do. Be very careful not to damage the plant.

    Leave one paper cutout on for 1 day, a second on for 2 days, and a third on for a week.

    How long does it take for the plant to react? How long does it take for the plant to return to normal?

Photosynthesis means to "put together using light". Plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide from the air, and water into food. Plants need all of these to remain healthy. When the plant gets enough of these things, it produces a simple sugar, which it uses immediately or stores in a converted form of starch. We don't know exactly how this happens. But we do know that chlorophyll, the green substance in plants, helps it to occur.


A crystal is a special kind of rock. Different crystals have different beautiful shapes and colors.

What you'll need

Your magnifying glass
Table salt
Epsom salt
Honey jar
Measuring cups and spoons
Paper cut into circles
1 3/4 cups of sugar
2 or 3 paper clips
A glass jar or drinking glass
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Use your magnifying glass to look for crystals. Inspect:

    The table salt and Epsom salt;

    The honey jar (particularly if it has been open for awhile); and

    The walls of the freezer (if it's not the frost-free kind).

  2. Draw pictures of what you see in your science journal.

  3. Do all of the crystals look the same?

    If not, how are they different?

  4. Try dissolving salt crystals and forming new ones:

    Dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water.

    Grown-up alert!

    Heat the mixture over a low flame to evaporate the water.

    What's left?

    What shape are these crystals?

  5. Snowflakes are made of ice crystals and are beautiful, but they are hard to see clearly. You can make paper snowflakes.

    Take a circle of paper (use thin paper) and fold it in half. Then fan fold it.
    Make cuts along all the edges. Unfold them.

  6. Grow rock candy crystals from dissolved sugar.

    Grown-up alert!

    Pour a cup of boiling water into a dish and add 1 3/4 cups of sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Prepare a jar or glass as shown.

    Wash the paper clips and use clean string. When the sugar water is cool, pour it into the jar and put it where no one will move it. Hang the paperclips in the water and put the pencil on top of the jar.
    Some crystals may form in a few hours. Some may grow to be half an inch on each side. To save them, take them out of the water and keep them dry. But they may disappear--they are good to eat.

When certain liquids and gases cool and lose water, crystals are formed. Crystals are made up of molecules that fit neatly together in an orderly package. All crystals of the same material have the same shape, regardless of the size.


Learn about chemical reactions by baking 4 small cakes, leaving an important ingredient out of 3 of them. The ingredients are only for 1 cake, so you'll need to measure and mix 4 times.

What you'll need

A small soup or cereal bowl
Several layers of aluminum foil
A pie pan
Cooking oil to grease the "cake pans"
Measuring spoons
A cup or small bowl for the egg
A small mixing bowl
Your science journal

Ingredients (for one cake)

6 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
2 or 3 pinches baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Part of an egg (Break egg into a cup, beat until mixed. Use 1/3 of it. Save the rest for 2 of the other cakes.)

What to do

  1. Wrap several layers of aluminum foil around the outside of a cereal or soup bowl to form a mold.

  2. Remove your foil "pan" and put it in a pie pan for support.

  3. Oil the "inside" of your foil pan with cooking oil so the cake doesn't stick.

    Grown-up alert!

  4. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees.

  5. Mix all of the dry ingredients together. Add the wet ones (only use 1/3 of the egg). Stir until smooth and all the same color.

  6. Pour batter into the "pan."

  7. Bake for 15 minutes.

  8. Bake 3 more cakes:

    Leave the oil out of one.
    Leave the egg out of another.
    Leave the baking powder out of the third.
    Cut each cake in half and look at the insides.
    Do they look different?
    Do they taste different?

  9. Write about, or draw pictures of, what you see and taste.

Heat helps some chemical reactions to occur as the cake bakes:

It helps baking powder produce tiny bubbles of gas making the cake light and fluffy (this is called leavening).

It causes protein from the egg to change and make the cake firm.

Oil keeps the heat from drying out the cake.


Science can be learned from television. Even though the quality varies a lot, some programs provide a marvelous window on science.

What you'll need

A television set
A VCR, if you have one
Your science journal

What to do

  1. Look on the regular networks, public television stations, and cable channels (The Discovery Channel, for example) for science programs such as 3-2-1 Contact, Reading Rainbow, Nature, Nova, Newton's Apple, The Voyage of the MIMI, Mr. Wizard's World, and National Geographic, Jacques Cousteau, Cosmos, and Smithsonian Institution specials.

  2. Look for reports of scientific discoveries and activities on regularly scheduled news programs, and for TV characters with science-related jobs--doctors, for instance.

  3. If you have a VCR, tape science shows so you can look at them later and stop--or replay--parts that are particulary interesting or hard to understand and so you can talk to someone about them.

  4. Watch some of these programs with an adult so you can ask questions.

Some TV programs give misleading information about science as well as about scientists. It is important to know which things on television are real and which ones aren't.

Important Things To Learn Table of Contents Activities in the Community

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