Plugged In

3 Fun and Simple Spring Break Science Experiments for All Ages

Friday, March 13, 2020
Posted by
Zoe Harvey

It’s spring break: you’re at home and in need of fun projects and inspiration.

Never fear, the Science Museum of Minnesota is here!

Young learners of any age will enjoy these fun, simple, at-home science experiments that use common items to create impressive results. The activities include:

  • Building structures out of toothpicks and marshmallows
  • Concocting fluffy slime
  • Seeing afterimages using colorful paper

These activities are meant to be tried a few times each. After all, science is the process of repeating tests to figure out why something works the way it does. “Failure” isn’t a bad outcome. In fact, it’s the perfect opportunity to talk about why a project didn’t work the way you expected and to try again.

 

Let’s Experiment!

The following experiments are broken up into three parts: Let’s Make It, what you’ll need and how to put the experiment together. Let’s Talk About It: questions for you to ask your young learner. And Let’s Figure It Out: next-steps and ideas for trying the experiment again.

Building and Engineering: Marshmallow and Toothpick Structures

By building simple or complex structures using our favorite s’more ingredient and toothpicks, kids can explore what makes buildings strong, the effects of gravity, and other physics and engineering concepts.

Image from Howcast

Let’s Make It

For this project, you’ll need:

  • Bag of mini-marshmallows (or big marshmallows cut into smaller pieces)
  • Toothpicks

Start building your sweet structure:

  • To begin, talk with your child about what they want to make
    • A few of our favorite options are making the tallest possible structure, remaking something in or around your house, and building a bridge
  • Poke toothpicks into marshmallows to create the structure of their choice (bonus points if you don’t eat any marshmallows during this step)

Let’s Talk About It

Discuss what happened with the marshmallow and toothpick structures. Did the tower stand up? How tall was it? If they tried to remake a household object, how did it turn out? Figure out what the end result was and the challenges they had when putting together their toothpicks and marshmallows.

Let’s Figure It Out

After discussing how things went, try to figure out what went right (or wrong). Let your child move toothpicks around and try again. Try to understand the specifics: why wasn’t the tower as tall as a nearby chair? How could we make the bridge stronger? After trying again a few more times, figure out what worked and what didn’t and why.

 

Chemistry: Fluffy Slime

No, it’s not magic. It’s science! Slime science, to be exact. Young scientists who want to know more about why ingredients create certain textures, colors, and consistencies will have a blast making this unique slime.

For those who aren’t slime pros: slime is created when the ions in slime activators found in contact lens solution mix with PVA (polyvinyl acetate) in glue, creating a substance with a stretchy, gooey consistency, also known as slime. Now that we know the science behind slime, it’s time to get gooey! 

Photo from Little Passports

Let’s Make It

Please note: adults should handle all chemicals for this activity, but children can help measure and play with the slime.

For this project, you’ll need:

  • 3 cups of shaving cream
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup white school glue
  • liquid food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon contact lens saline solution (which must contain sodium borate or boric acid)
  • 1 large bowl
  • 1 spoon

Here’s where things get messy:

  1. Take a large bowl and add 3 cups of shaving cream and ½ cup white glue
  2. Add ½ teaspoon baking soda and stir ingredients together
  3. Add food coloring
  4. Add contact lens saline solution and stir well
  5. Take a large handful of the mixture and knead it between your hands
  6. Play with the slime!
  7. Store in a plastic container with a lid

 

Let’s Talk About It

How did your slime turn out? Was it really fluffy, or not fluffy at all? Did you use too much or too little ingredients? If it didn’t turn into slime and stayed in a liquid state, check the ingredient list on your contact lens solution for sodium borate or boric acid.

Let’s Figure It Out

lf the slime didn't turn out as planned, try again by changing something. What will add more shaving cream or less glue do? What will adding more contact lens solution and less shaving cream do? Do your changes make the slime fluffier or more rubbery? The options for changes are endless!

 

Biology: Afterimages

The back of our eyes have organs called retinas, which are made up of cells that pick up light and color. These cells are known as rods and cones.

After we look at a color for a long time, these rods and cones become tired. If the image is red and you move your eyes to look at a blank background, you will see a green image. This is because the rods and cones that absorb red light are tired, so the green receptors will pick up the slack!

Photo from Unsplash

Let’s Make It

For this project, you’ll need:

  • 2-3 sheets of white printer paper
  • colorful paper OR markers, paint, highlighters, or crayons
  • scissors

Make your afterimage viewing setup:

  1. Cut out small (2 to 3 inch) squares of paper and color them in with solid, bright colors
  2. Place one square on a sheet of white printer paper
  3. Place another sheet of white printer paper on either side of your original sheet with the square on top
  4. Stare at the square for 15-30 seconds - and try not to blink
  5. Move your eyes to the other sheet of white paper to see an afterimage

Let’s Talk About It

Ask your young learner: What did they see once they moved their eyes? What color was the original square, and what color was the afterimage? How did their eyes feel after not blinking for so long?

Let’s Figure It Out

Try the experiment a few more times, using squares that are different colors. Now, look at the color wheel. Does the way the colors are placed on the wheel have something to do with the colored squares and their afterimages? Find out what "complementary colors" are. Also, see what happens if you close one eye and stare at a colored square. Which eye do you see the afterimage with?

 

How did your experiments go?

No matter how your experiments turned out, we hope you and your family had fun doing them! Visit our Learn From Home page for more fun activities and educational resources.

We want to see your creations and hear your feedback. Share your results on social media using #ShareYourDiscovery and let us know how things went!

And while you're at it, give us a follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for even more science learning opportunities, fun facts, and behind-the-scenes at the museum.


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