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25 Items for a Hands-On Physical Science Activity Box

Are you prepared for some hands-on science at home? Summer is a great time for informal science and now is the time to get ready.

From experience, I recommend that you gather items and put together a box for children to use to explore physical sciences whenever the mood strikes. The items you supply don't have to be big or expensive. but if you have it on hand and gathered together, it won't take a minute to get started.

Here are some tried-and-true suggestions that will be sure to ignite your child's inner investigator. Have multiples of each item, and a set for each child you are working with. (Note:  These suggestions are for ages 3+ and always keep safety in mind.)

1. Paper and scissors - for paper airplanes, helicopters, bridges, drawing designs, recording data, etc., etc.

2. Plastic drinking straws to make into kazoos, atomizers, droppers, bridges, you name it

3. Paper towel tubes to make marble towers, airplanes

4. Manila file folders to make ramps, airplanes, etc.

5. Plastic garbage bags or cloth, bits of yarn or string, and action figures to make parachutes (parachute activity)

6. Wheels to make cars and/or toy cars to roll down ramps (inclined planes)

7. Marbles and small balls for marble towers, study what happens when two objects collide by playing marbles (relationships of mass and force)

8. Balloons to make cars, hover craft, drums, etc. (Suggestions for activities with balloons)

9. Magnets, a variety of kinds plus items to test, such as paper clips of different types, coins, the rocks below (Edit: magnet science activities)

10. Stop watch, watch with second hand, or other timing device

11. Flashlight - important tool for investigating shadows, light, how batteries work, etc.

12. Thermometer- alcohol or electronic/digital (for safety, do not use a mercury-based one)

13. Magnifying lenses to study surfaces of rocks, magnets

14. Prisms to investigate light (we got a very inexpensive crystal pendent that works to separate visible light into rainbows)

15. Aluminum foil - great for building boats or make a Leyden jar to study static electricity

16. Building blocks

17. Ruler - both for measuring and to use as a ramp (inclined plane), support, etc.

18. Toy boats to study buoyancy

19. Modeling clay to study floating and sinking, make fossils

20. Clean tin cans with all sharp edges removed (for tin can science)

21. Tape - all kinds, glue

22. Plastic soda or water bottles to make boats, cover with balloon and place in very warm water

23. Pencils, chop sticks, wooden skewers, dowels and/or craft sticks

24. Spools, pulleys

25. Some cool rocks or pebbles can become loads for cars and boats or be an introduction to geology

Pennies make good weights for the front of file-folder airplanes.

More advanced items to make or buy pre-made:

  • Inexpensive kites (often available in grocery stores for just a dollar or two), or balsa wood, string, tape and paper to make kites
  • Electrical circuit kits (may be available used or at discount stores that sell returned/discontinued items)
  • Inexpensive kitchen scale (garage sales) or materials to make a homemade scale
  • Plastic tubing (an aquarium supply) to learn about siphons, investigate propulsion
  • Make a trebuchet or catapult

If you have any other ideas for items to include for physical science activities, please let us know. Also, if you need further suggestions or instructions, my "engineer" and I would be glad to help.

Stay tuned for suggestions for a chemistry activity box and a biology activity box.

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