I invited a few dads and their kids to my house for a Science-Saturday-with-Dad event. I’m a nerd, so I do these things because I love them. But I also really want my kids to learn science stuff. I want them to be curious about the world around them, to wonder and marvel at the planets and stars, and to ask questions about how things work.
As the kids gathered around me, my heart rate picked up.
I was sure I had done it right, but as we all stood there – nine kids and five dads – looking at the rocket sitting on the railing of my back deck, nothing appeared to be happening. And the worst part? It was all my idea.
We stood there, looking at the inert rocket. I started prepping myself for the “Sorry guys…” conversation. Then it happened. The plastic bottle fueled with copious amounts of baking soda and vinegar shot up 30 feet into the air to the utter delight of the children and dads. It was an awesome moment.
It was awesome because it was fun, but also because science created the fun. I’d like to help you do what I did, with a science lesson and all. Here are six really fun experiments you can do with your kids, no matter their age:
Experiment #1: Mixing baking soda with vinegar
1 | Pour ½ cup of vinegar into a bowl.
- Let your child smell it.
- Tell them that vinegar is an acid.
- For older kids, ask: “What kind of acid is vinegar?” It’s acetic acid.
2 | Pour ½ cup of baking soda into separate bowl.
- Tell them that baking soda is a base.
- For older kids, ask: “Do you know its technical name?” Sodium bicarbonate.
- Ask: “Guess what happens when we mix them together?”
- For older kids: “It causes a reaction that creates carbon dioxide gas.” Ask: “What else has carbon dioxide in it?” The bubbles in carbonated drinks and fire extinguishers (liquid CO2).
3 | Let them mix the two by spooning baking soda into the vinegar bowl.
- Point out the sound of the carbon dioxide gas being released.
Experiment #2: The science of mixing colors
1 | Pour two drops of yellow food coloring into a bowl of vinegar.
- Ask: “What color will this turn when we add a drop of red food coloring?” Orange.
2 | Dump out orange vinegar and add fresh vinegar.
3 | Pour one drop of red food coloring.
- Ask: “What color will this turn when we add blue?” Purple.
4 | Marvel at how you created an entirely new color. Point out that there is no orange or purple food coloring.
- For older kids: Explain that light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow (ROY-G-BIV). Objects appear colored when they reflect some of the light waves within the rainbow and absorb others.
5 | Let them experiment with mixing baking soda and vinegar with the food coloring.
As a transition to Experiment #3, ask: “What happens when water or vinegar gets really cold? What does it turn into?”
Experiment #3: Frozen vinegar cubes
Transition answer: “It freezes!”
1 | Prep: Pour vinegar into an ice cube tray, and then put different food coloring drops into the cubes and freeze.
- Ask: “When vinegar gets really cold, why does it get hard?”
- For older kids: Explain that the tiny molecules that make up the vinegar slow down so much that they lock into a fixed position.
2 | Bring out vinegar ice cubes, and allow children to experiment with putting baking soda onto the colored ice cubes.
As a transition to Experiment #4, ask: “What is the hottest thing you know?”
Experiment #4: The classic volcano
Transition answer: “How about lava?”
Ask: “Where does lava come from?” Volcanoes.
- For older kids, ask: “If a bath is 98 degrees Fahrenheit, how hot do you think lava is?” 1,292 to 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit!
Pour three tablespoons of baking soda and several drops of red food coloring into a short water bottle, and place it on a plate or baking sheet.
- Ask: “Does this look like a volcano? How about we build one!?”
Give kids Play-Doh, and let them build a volcano around the water bottle.
- Ask: “Who remembers what gas is created when we mix baking soda and vinegar?”
- When they respond with a resounding “Carbon dioxide!” explain, “When volcanoes erupt, they release lava and carbon dioxide.”
Pour two tablespoons of vinegar into the bottle, and watch it erupt!
As a transition to Experiment #5, ask: “How do you blow up a balloon?”
Experiment #5: Mysterious balloon inflation
Transition answer: “With your mouth.”
1 | Ask: “Does anyone know how to blow up a balloon without using your mouth?”
2 | Put three tablespoons of baking soda into a balloon using a funnel.
3 | Pour three tablespoons of vinegar into a normal-sized plastic bottle.
4 | Put the opening of the balloon around the opening of the water bottle, but don’t let the baking soda within the balloon drop down into the bottle.
5 | Let your child dump the baking soda within the balloon down into the vinegar in the bottle, and watch as the balloon inflates.
6 | Ask: “Do you know what gas is filling up the balloon?” The budding scientists will then shout, “Carbon dioxide!”
As a transition to Experiment #6, ask: “Do you know what a rocket is?”
Experiment #6: The rocking rocket finale
Transition answer: Explain what a rocket is.
1 | Ask: “Do you think we can use the carbon dioxide gas released by the baking soda and vinegar reaction to make our own rocket?”
2 | Click the link above and watch the video about how to make the rocket. It’s actually much easier than you would think.
A big bottle of white vinegar
Several cups of baking soda
An ice tray
Two normal-sized plastic water bottles
One short plastic water bottle
A few cans of Play-Doh that you can throw away later
One wine bottle cork
A pack of at least five balloons