What if we innovated at home more? By staying indoors, we end up going in circles. To break this routine, there are some great creative activities with a scientific twist that I’d recommend exploring to spice up your daily life and pique your children’s curiosity (5 to 12 years old).
You can do it all at home with very little equipment.
Experiment 1: make duct tape glow.
In the winter, we often rub our hands together to warm them. Friction creates heat, so what if we also managed to create light?
- Cut a 5-inch (12 cm) piece of the 3M™ All Purpose Duct Tape.
- Hold each end of the tape with your hands.
- Fold the tape in half by sticking the sticky side to itself. Leave a little room at the end to put your fingers through.
- Turn off the lights and make sure the room is dark.
- By moving very fast, separate the ends of the tape.
You should notice a glow that emits from the tape in the dark when you pull the ends apart. This phenomenon is called triboluminescence. It’s a concept that is still actually not fully understood, which means you’re doing an experiment at the edge of science! Try this experiment with different kinds of tapes and with slower and faster motions.
Experiment 2: create beautiful crystals.
I will always remember this experiment. I was around eight years old when I followed the instructions in a book of science experiments to make blue crystals. They turned out beautifully, and I hope your kids will love them too.
Here’s how you can make crystals at home.
- A container for boiling water
- Powdered sugar
- A clean jar (i.e. mason jars)
- Water (about 1.5 times the volume of the jar you will use)
- A pen or popsicle stick
- Food colouring (optional)
- Boil the water.
- Add the sugar, little by little. It should dissolve completely in the water. You can stop adding the sugar when it stops dissolving and stays in a granular form.
- Add the food colouring if you want coloured crystals (I recommend blue).
- Pour the mixture of water and sugar into the jar.
- Wrap the string around the pen/popsicle stick. Make sure there’s enough length for the string to hang without touching the edges or bottom of the jar.
- Dip the string in the sugar syrup. Take it out and then sprinkle it with sugar. Next, dip it back into the jar and place the pen/popsicle stick on its edges.
- Let sit overnight without touching or moving it.
- Take out the string, and you should have beautiful (and edible!) crystals.
The term “crystal” refers to many things in popular language. In science, it refers to an ordered structure. Salt is an example of a crystal. If you look at it with a magnifying glass, you will see that it has a square structure called crystalline.
In this experiment, sugar crystals were built by “gluing” the dissolved sugar in the water to the string. This process is called crystallization.
Experiment 3: collect fingerprints.
How about playing a game of “detective” with the family? Not only will it help you investigate who took the last cookie, but it will also help you learn more about what fingerprints are.
- Scotch® Transparent Tape
- Paintbrush or a makeup brush (with soft bristles)
- Cornstarch or cocoa powder
- Different surfaces to investigate
- The oil and sweat from your skin leave a fingerprint on each surface when you touch it. Choose a surface in your house, like a mug, drinking glass, or table. Start with a fingerprint you can see with your eyes. When you have completed the experiment multiple times, you can try finding fingerprints even if you can’t see them.
- Use the paintbrush to apply either cornstarch/cocoa powder over the surface gently. This is a crucial step; if you push too hard, you’ll erase the fingerprint. Be gentle!
Tip: cornstarch can be used for darker surfaces, while cocoa powder is suitable for lighter surfaces.
- Blow away any excess powder.
- Apply a piece of Scotch® Transparent Tape over the fingerprint and then pull it away.
- Stick the tape over onto the paper. If you used cornstarch, opt for a darker shade of paper. For cocoa powder, a regular piece of paper will work.
- Observe the fingerprint. Can you tell who they belong to? Compare them to the fingerprints of the people you live with.
- If you’re having trouble finding a distinct fingerprint, use lotion on your hands and then touch a surface before you investigate. It will be even easier!
Experiment 4: deceive your ears.
Why do our ears have such a complicated shape? Why so many bumps, hollows and recesses? This experiment will allow you understand why intuitively and will help you teach your children how the shape of our ears influences our ability to locate sounds.
- Modelling clay
- A headband
- Two people
- A chair
- A room big enough to move around the chair
- Choose who will start the experiment (test subject). Once the subject has been chosen, place modelling clay all-around their ear, except for the ear canal. It should look like this:
- Ask the subject to sit on a chair in the middle of a room, and then blindfold them.
- Without making any noise, stand more than a meter away from the subject, clap your hands, and make a sharp sound. The test subject must indicate with their hand where the sound came from.
- Afterwards, move to a new spot in the room (without making any noise) and clap your hands again.
- Observe how the subject can’t spot where the noise is coming from. Clap your hands on the bottom right of the chair, bottom left of the chair, behind the chair, etc. In which direction does the subject always go wrong?
The form of our ears is so complex because they help us locate the origin of sounds. Before entering our ear canal (the ear hole), the sounds collide with different ear structures that modify them so that our brain can interpret where they come from.
To learn more, check out this video, which talks more about the explanations of this experiment.
Experiment 5: make a balloon that does not burst.
Piercing a balloon with a needle without bursting it is possible!
- Scotch® Brand Tape
- Inflate the balloon and tie it.
- Place a piece of Scotch® Tape anywhere on the balloon.
- Pierce the balloon with a needle where the Scotch® Tape is. You’ll notice that the balloon does not burst!
If the Scotch® Tape were not there, the hole created by the needle would make the balloon burst. In fact, the hole would become bigger almost immediately. By using Scotch® Tape, the hole cannot get bigger, and the balloon gradually empties through the small hole.
If your children like this experiment, try filling the balloon with water instead of air and see what happens!
When trying these five experiments, don’t give up if they don’t go as planned. Overcoming failure is a very effective way of learning because it encourages children to think, investigate, and find the root of the problem.
Besides this blog post, many of us in Canada offer experiments and tools to stay active in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
For example, the London Children’s Museum offers play-based learning activities for parents and children. Learning for a Sustainable Future has launched "Learning Inside Out", a series of kindergarten to Grade 12 weekly learning activities built on UN Sustainable Development Goals. You can also check out other experiments you can do at home with your kids by visiting this page.
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Disclaimer: Viviane is a 3M-sponsored writer. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author.