Looking For Kid-Friendly Chemistry Experiments

My 5-year-old nephew, Daniel, will soon spend his first full night at our house. In preparation for the big day/night, I am looking for fun activities to keep him occupied. I remember how much fun my brother and I had over my grandparent's house when my grandpa would take us to his workshop in the basement. He would set up fun experiments and we would feel like mad scientists. I want to create the same fun for Daniel.

In the summertime the neighborhood kids always get a big kick out of the Mentos candies in the bottle of soda trick. But since it is the middle of winter, I don't want to do this inside for myriad reasons.

So my plea to you, Chemical Reaction audience: Please share with me kid-friendly chemistry experiments that won't require a trip to the ER or a call to the fire department.

Thanks in advance!

Traci Purdum
Senior Digital Editor

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  • A blog-shy reader sent me these suggestions via e-mail:

    There are some chemistry related experiments you could do:
    1.  Slime (or silly putty depending on water content (Polyvinyl alcohol and borax).
            Mix some borax (20 mule team stuff from grocery) with water to dissolve and make a solution
            Pour some Elmer's glue (easy to get hold of polyvinyl alcohol) into a container
            Add the borax solution and mix
            Mixture will thicken to varying degrees depending on borax concentration.  You might try different strength borax solutions including stirring solid stuff directly into the glue.  You can save the stuff in a  sealed plastic bag.
            What is happening is that the borax cross-links the polyvinyl alcohol.  If you take some and let it dry, you will get a film.  


    2.  Make fudge following any recipe you like. You can watch the boiling point of the sugar solution rise as you boil off more water (higher sugar concentration).


    3.  You can cook eggs.  Proteins solidifying with heat.


    4.  You can mix baking soda with vinegar to blow a cork out of a soda bottle.  If you decorate the cork as a rocket, it is cooler.  


    5.  Learn about diffusion by cutting potatoes into thin slices and then cut rounds with a cookie cutter to get rounds of potato all the same size.  Then soak 1 in water and 1 in really salty water. and later measure the diameter or see if the potato rounds will still fit in the cookie cutter or if they fit loosely into it.


    6.  You can find a formula for making photosensitive paper on the internet (watch this some of the recipes include toxic material; the older ones are better).  Then after you coat the paper, you can put solid objects on top of it and let it stay in sun shine (even from a window) but you will have to experiment with exposure time.  You can even make a pin-hole camera out of an oatmeal container and, some  aluminum foil (cut a square out of the center of the lid and tape a piece of aluminum foil over the hole and using a needle make a hole in the aluminum foil).  You can cut the paper to fit the bottom of  the oatmeal carton before you make it photo-sensitive.  Again, lots of experimentation on exposure time since the pin-hole will not let in  much light.  Whatever recipe you use, after you develop the  picture, the pigment is entirely safe; it is Prussian Blue (think about old Blue Prints).

    One of my favorites is not chemistry, but fluid flow.

    Cut a small hole in the bottom of a gallon milk jug and put a 2" or so length of a plastic straw through the hole.  Using some waterproof caulking or epoxy glue or putty affix the straw in place.  When the stuff has hardened you can put some flexible  tubing over the straw (latex or clear PVC either is available from a hardware store or Lowes or Home Depot.  Now when you fill the jug with water (in the basement or laundry room sink or garage, you can raise or lower the tube to make the water squirt out.  You can push a plastic eye dropper over the open end of the tubing so the squirt can go some distance.  You all will discover the height of the squirt compared to the height difference between the end of the eye dropper and of water in the milk jug and the amount of the squirt compared to the same measurement.  You can make a level out of it as well.

    1 last idea

    I remember from when I was a kid that Mr. Wizard cut a thin piece of foam the size of a playing card (today from the top of an egg carton).  Then he cut a rectangular notch out of the middle of one of the narrow sides.  He put a sliver of soap into the notch.  If you put water in a bathtub, and float the plastic foam (BOAT) in the water, it will move around the tub (soap sliver is propelling the boat since it is decreasing the water surface tension.  It will not cross a path it has previous made since there will be no surface tension difference to drive the boat.

    Just some thoughts.
    I hope this helps some.

    Jim 
           

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