Tag: hands-on science fun

25 Items for a Chemistry Activity Box

Summer is on the way and it’s a great time to have a bin or box of items on hand for when the kids are looking for something to do. Last year I suggested 25 items for investigating physical science. This year let’s gather 25 items that will be sure to excite your child’s inner chemist. (Note:  These suggestions are mostly for ages 5+ and always keep safety in mind by reading and following the safety warnings on the labels of any product.)chemistry-bin

Chemistry-themed activity box:

1. Measuring cups and spoons

2. Clear plastic cups to serve as beakers – washable and reusable, or clean baby food jars

3. Goggles for eye protection, one set for each child

4. Clean plastic soda or water bottles for mixing

5. A big box of cornstarch, to mix with about equal parts water to make cornstarch goo. Kids of all ages love to revisit this messy activity again and again. Mix outside or cover the table with a large garbage bag for ease of clean up. See also activity 4 of the Agricultural Science post for instructions for making cornstarch plastic.

6. Bubble mix -or the ingredients to make bubbles, see bubble science , rainbow bubbles. Add glow paint or glowing highlighters to make glowing bubbles.

7. Blackboard chalk and/or sidewalk chalk – see what liquids dissolve chalk (water, lemon juice. vinegar, soda, etc.)

8. Hydrogen peroxide – for elephant’s toothpaste

9. Rubbing alcohol – use to build a density column

10. Tonic water and a black light for more glowing chemistry

11. Vegetable oil, food coloring and water to study oil and water separation
, make a lava lamp

12. Vinegar– common acid to explore acids and bases

13. Baking soda to make volcanoes and rockets. For an incredibly simple, yet effective volcano: Have your child make a volcano shaped heap in a sandbox or loose soil, if no sandbox is available. Make a hole in the top, about 1 1/2 inches deep, and pour in some baking soda. Then pour in about 1/2 cup vinegar and stand back for the eruption. The cone can be rebuilt again and again. Add red food coloring to the vinegar to simulate lava. (Celebrate Chemistry has more information).

. Yeast– see #15 and elephant’s toothpaste (#8)

15. Sugar, balloon and a water bottle. Mix the yeast, sugar and water in the bottom of the water bottle and then cover the opening with the un-inflated balloon. Watch what happens as the yeast begins to grow. Also, add sugar to your bubble mix (#6).

16. Tumeric – can be used as a pH indicator, see acids and bases section of Chemistry Day post.

17. Salt – chemistry of rust, for example

18. Baby oil – density columns and lava lamps

19. Iodine – for older kids, indicates presence of starch. Iodine is available at many pharmacies. See Iodine Chemistry post for experiment ideas

20. Dish detergent– useful for DNA extraction and elephant’s toothpaste (see #8)

21. Mentos candy and soda for geysers – I know it has been overdone and it is definitely a messy outdoor project, but kids do still like it. Soda is also useful for exploring acids and bases.

How to get started from Steve Spangler (there is a pop-up ad):


22. Metal objects such as nails, washers, paper clips, etc. Place in jars with either plain water, water plus salt, or plain vinegar and see what happens. (Chemistry of Rust)

23. pH paper – If you don’t have a favorite science supply store, pH paper can be found in garden supply stores for soil testing or some aquarium suppliers for water testing.

Other items to have on hand in the fridge:

24. Lemon juice can also be used to make invisible ink and with Pennies, nails. Add lemon juice from the kitchen to clean the penny, and copper plate the nail.

25. Red cabbage juice to explore acids and bases, or make a fried green egg


All you need is red cabbage from the grocery store, a blender (adult help), glasses or plastic cups and items to mix with the red cabbage solution, such as lemon juice, soda, vinegar, baking soda, dish detergent and laundry detergent.

Some recipes call for boiling the cabbage (smelly!), but you can just grind up the fresh red cabbage in small batches with enough water to allow the blender to work properly. Pour the batches together in a pitcher, which can be placed in the refrigerator for use later in the day if necessary or even frozen. Pour about 1/3 cup of the red cabbage juice into testing containers such as clear glasses or plastic cups. Then mix in about a Tablespoon of one of the testing compounds. Does the color change? Try another material in the next glass. Does the color change more if you add more test material? What happens if you mix two materials, like vinegar and laundry detergent? Have fun admiring the wild colors you can make.

You can also use frozen mixed berries ground in the blender with a bit of water. The mixed berries smelled better, although they don’t give quite as good a range of colors as the red cabbage.


We’d love to hear your suggestions for more fun ways to explore chemistry with kids!

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.

Hands-On Biology

For those of you working with middle school or older children, I just found a website I had to share. It is the Serendip page at Bryn Mawr college. First of all their philosophy of science education mirrors mine :

Click on K-12 for teachers link and you’ll find Hands-on Activities for Teaching Biology. Although some experiments assume you have basic scientific equipment at your disposal (the first yeast experiment asks for test tubes), often you can make do with things around the house (old spice jars).

Right underneath is Off the Shelf Chemistry, which is “for high school students, using consumer products for experiments and not requiring a lab and specialized equipment.”

Take a look around and hope you have some hands-on science fun!