Science, Delicious Science

My youngest son, Kellen, is on a Cars kick.  We run races every day, pretending we are Lightning McQueen and The King.  We read Cars books.  We listen to the soundtrack.  We play with the toys.  We live Cars.

Kellen asked if he could have a drink that was colored like The King.  It reminded me of a density experiment from Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments by Mike Adamick.

The experiment is titled “Rainbow Water Stacks” and Adamick shows it three different ways, one of which is a red, blue, and clear layered drink- perfect for both Lightning McQueen and King fans.

Before we moved on to the delicious part, we did a more traditional rainbow stack.  You’ve probably seen these a hundred different ways.  The key is to pour each layer SLOWLY and layer the liquids according to density.  If you need help explaining density (I did) and ideas for liquids and the order to stack them in, check out this post from Steve Spangler (of course).

We opted to stack corn syrup, dish soap, water, rubbing alcohol and vegetable oil.



A turkey baster was suggested to help pour the liquids, but I didn’t have one.  We put our ingredients in squeeze bottles.  I advised Kellen to squeeze the liquids SLOWLY and against the side of the glass, but Kellen is not quite there as far as impulse control.  A few of our colors got a bit mixed together, but we were able to create levels and display the property of density.

The part Kellen liked the best was dropping things into the completed stack to see where they would end up- some floated on top, some fell to the bottom, others got trapped in the middle.

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All that science built up a thirst.  Time to make drinks!

We talked some more about density as we prepared our beverages.  We filled glasses with lots of ice- this helps slow the liquids down.  We put cranberry juice cocktail on the bottom, blue Gatorade in the middle, and sparkling water on the top (although the sparkling water sort of blended with the Gatorade).


It was time to taste our Cars themed concoction, and boy, was it a hit!


It’s still hot here in Arizona.  Cool off with some science.  Happy experimenting!


Balancing Your Chi- An Experiment in Weight, Lego Style

Liam’s current obsession in Lego Chima.  Over the past few weeks, I have become well-versed in the adventures of Laval and Cragger.  I can name all the tribes.  I understand that the Chi, the powerful element that fuels the land of Chima, must be equally balanced among all the tribes or there will be catastrophic consequences (earthquakes, floods, Donald Trump will become president).

The kids were off from school for Labor Day this past weekend, which meant we had a lot of time to fill.  I turned to another trusty book of science experiments to find an activity to pass some of the morning.  An experiment in balancing weight, courtesy of Dad’s Book of Awesome Science Experiments by Mike Adamick seemed like a perfect opportunity to capitalize on this love of Chima.

Dad’s Books of Awesome Science Experiments

The experiment is very easy.  It requires a pencil, a ruler, tape, and a few items of equal weight to balance.  In Adamick’s version, he used pennies.  We used Lego pieces that are supposed to be Chi.

The first step is to tape the ruler down to keep it from moving.  Next, balance the ruler on top of the pencil so that it is perpendicular.  It will take a few attempts to find the exact spot.

Then begin adding weight to each side.  You can ask a thinking question such as “I placed a piece of Chi on the number 2 on this side of the ruler.  What number would I need to place a piece on the other side to create balance?”


Once you have the basic experiment done, you can begin to play with other options.  How many pennies would equal the weight of a piece of Chi?  Would a paint stir stick provide the same results as the ruler?  Why is it more difficult to do the experiment with a popsicle stick than a ruler?


I was REALLY surprised at how long the boys played with this one.  I thought after they balanced it once, the experiment would be old news.  But they kept doing it over and over.  Liam created one side of the ruler for the lion tribe, and another side for the crocodiles, and when it would get out of balance would exclaim “The lions need more Chi! The crocs have too much!”

Think of what your little one is into, and see if you can adapt this activity to interest them.  Happy experimenting!


Saturday Morning Science

A leisurely breakfast and a cool experiment.  Sounds like a pretty great Saturday morning if you ask me.  Thanks to the folks over at tinkerlab we were able to have both.


I love the ease of this experiment. Don’t let the presentation photo fool you- It’s really just measuring and mixing. All items used I had on hand. I also felt like we got a big payoff.  We were able to watch the geodes grow over a few days, and then end results were gorgeous.

First step is to use a knife to knock the very top off the egg shells.  The number of eggs depends on how many solutions you are going to try.  Each solution will fill two eggs.  Empty the yolks into a bowl and mix up your favorite omelette (that’s where the breakfast comes in).  Rinse out the egg shells and peel the membrane from the inside.

You can look at the full experiment on the link at the start of this post, but we basically mixed a 1/4 each of the following materials with a 1/2 cup of very warm water.

Kosher Salt

Epsom Salt

Borax (pay attention when kids are handling borax.  You do not want this ingested)

Sugar (we did not get sugar crystals to grow)

They also recommended trying sea salt, cream of tartar, or baking soda.  Add food coloring or liquid water colors so that each solution is a different color.  Make a sheet to track the color of each solution.


The boys were not very patient about getting each substance to dissolve in the water.  We had undissolved salt and sugar in the bottoms of our eggs.  This did not seem to impede growth.

The geodes will start to grow in 1-2days as the liquid evaporates.  We dumped the remaining liquid out after about four days so we could examine our crystals.  I’m sure you could let them keep going until all liquid evaporated.

This is the basic experiment.  There are many ways to extend learning.

One thing we did was to examine the materials beforehand, so we could see if the crystals that grew were similar to the original shape of the substance.  For instance, the Borax looked like small flakes, and the crystals it grew looked a bit like snowflakes.  We tracked this on our sheet by drawing pictures of what each substance looked like prior to mixing with water.


We also looked through a microscope to see what our substances looked like up close.  The addition of a microscope need not be expensive or complex.  We purchased a simple microscope at the thrift store for around $6.  So far, it has been sufficient for experiments, and adds a fun dimension.


This can also be a great opportunity to build vocabulary.  Explain what a solution is as you mix the ingredients.  Ask them what their hypothesis is.  Talk about what results were yielded. Define crystallization.  If you have crystals that grow on the outside of the shell, talk about osmosis.

The best part is that if all goes according to plan, in a couple of days you will have amazing crystals like these! Happy experimenting!

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The Egg and Nothing But the Egg- An Experiment in Slippery Fun

A few months ago, I purchased a book titled Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley.


I like to have a few of these type of books around for the days when we need something to do and I’m out of ideas.  Last week, Kellen and I were having such an afternoon.  Kellen is a big fan of experiments, so I quickly located an easy experiment for us to complete from the Tinkerlab book called the “Naked Egg” experiment.

The photos and description in the book did not do the experiment justice.  Perhaps because they used yellow food coloring, the egg, to me, simply looked like a hardboiled egg.  The text described playing with a slippery egg, and I again thought “how much fun is playing with a hardboiled egg?”  But we had all the ingredients, so I thought we’d give it a try.

The first step was to gently place an egg into a jar or container.


Step two was to pour enough vinegar to completely cover the egg.  I didn’t tell Kellen it was vinegar.  Before pouring, I asked Kellen what he thought we were going to pour on the egg, and he said water.  I replied that it looked like water, but it wasn’t, and asked him how he might determine it was something else.  He smelled it and replied “it’s vinegar!”  This is a simple experiment, but can become more complex by asking questions that get your little one thinking.


We added some liquid watercolor to the vinegar.  You can also use food coloring. At this point, I asked Kellen what he thought was going to happen as we let the egg soak over night.  He replied “it’s going to turn red.”


Kellen observed that the egg was covered with bubbles.

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After a few minutes, a ring of foam started to appear on the surface of the vinegar.


We left the egg over night, swishing it around every few hours to ensure the entire egg spent some time in the vinegar.

The next day, we took the egg out of the jar, and placed it in a glass dish to play with.  We were surprised to learn the shell had completely disappeared- a naked egg!  The shell is calcium carbonate and dissolves as a base when mixed with an acid, vinegar.  That’s where all the bubbles came from! Kellen loved the color and texture, and was thrilled to learn the egg could be GENTLY bounced.


The egg felt VERY rubbery.  We couldn’t figure out if it was solidified only on the outside, or all the way through the egg.  We took the egg outside and held it up to the sun.  We also shined a flashlight underneath it.

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We soon learned the egg was NOT solid all the way through.  Liam dropped the egg a little less gently, and the egg burst. Good thing we had that dish underneath it.


The outside of the egg solidified into a membrane similar to the texture of a deflated balloon.  Inside the egg was just the same as if you cracked a raw egg.


The book advised to try the experiment again with different solutions- corn syrup, salt water, etc.  We can’t wait to give it another go!

Light and Dark- Crafts that Glow

In one short week, the school year will end.  For many kids, that means summer camp.  I teach science and art camps for children during school breaks, so I have been hard at work planning my summer session of Kat Camp.  This year the theme is “Light and Dark.”  I love that this theme can be concrete, like learning about how blocking light produces shadow.  But it can also be abstract, like drawing to music that might be termed light or dark.

I’ve been playing around with different ideas, and thought I would pass on a few, in case you want to explore your own Light and Dark theme at home.

1.  Plastic Cup Suncatchers

I saw this post that produced a gorgeous rainbow suncatcher from melted plastic cups.

While the result is incredible, it is a bit more involved than I can do with a group of young children in a camp.  I decided to modify to a single strand.  If children want to produce more than one stand and put them together as a mobile at home, they would have that option.

I found plastic cups a the dollar store, but they were not the type 6 recycling plastic recommended in the post.  I gave them a shot anyway.

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They did not produce the perfectly rounded bubble as seen in the original post, but I think they look really cool!  I love how the irregular shapes- to me they look like interesting glass.  I also layered the cups to get different colors- putting a blue cup over a green cup to get turquoise.  I felt bad throwing out the bottom of the cups, so instead, I melted those too.  I especially liked when I layered the bottom of two cups- it created a neat bubble effect.


I attempted punching holes in the cups, but noticed that when these cups melted, the hole got covered.  Instead, I drilled holes after all the cups were melted.

On camp day, the kids will thread the pieces to make their suncatchers.  Easy, beautiful project- great for fine motor skills, and can be a vocabulary booster when you define words like transparent and illuminate.  If you do not like the look of the string, you could opt for fishing line.


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2.  Glow lanterns

For camp, we are going to make glow in the dark bouncy balls.  You can find the recipe here:

But I couldn’t wait to try out the glow in the dark paint, so Kellen and I made glow lanterns.

I saw this craft where the artist painted tiny dots of glow in the dark paint on a mason jar to create a starry lantern.

Another beautiful project, but my four year old is not precise and dedicated enough to paint all those dots just yet.  We opted for another version.

We squirted the glow in the dark paint inside of plastic bottles so that it would run down and stripe the sides.  In my experience, children enjoy squeezing the paint more than just about any other aspect of the project- I think because it is generally something they are not allowed to do.  We also added some glitter paint and regular glitter to the mix.



We sealed the bottle with cute tape, and then got to shaking up all the contents inside.

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The finished project was super cute, and really glowed!

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3.  Making Rainbows

No lesson on light and dark would be complete without making rainbows.  The class is going to do two experiments to learn how rainbows are made.

When I was a kid, I always wanted a prism because I thought they were so beautiful.  I really wanted to give each camper a rainbow maker to take home.  I contacted a friend who is a jewelry maker, and asked if she knew where I could get inexpensive, high quality crystals.  She directed me to a couple of websites for chandelier parts.

I was able to get huge, high quality crystals that make tons of rainbows for about $0.70 each! This one is a bit covered in dust because we were already playing with  it, spinnning it on the ground. I can’t wait to give them to the kids!



I’ve got more light and dark crafts for my campers, so be on the lookout for part two.  But hopefully these crafts will get you started on your exploration of light and dark.


DIY Building Sets- Big Fun, Small Cost

“I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”

Over lunch with a friend, she commented on some activity I did with my children, seemingly astounded by my creativity.  I am going to let you in on a secret- I’m not so much creative as I am cheap.  I appreciated the compliment, but the truth is I just really hate to pay for something that I’m unsure will get used.  We all know what it feels like to spend your hard earned dollars on some sort of toy or gadget, thinking your kids are going to do back flips when they see it, only to have it tossed in the corner after five minutes of play.

I have been looking for a new building set.  My kids are Lego fanatics.  I paid for two sets of Magna-Tiles (an unheard splurge.)  But beyond that, we haven’t had much luck with building toys.  Tinker Toys were quickly forgotten.  Crystal climbers- not much interest.  Qubits- a big snore.  That set with the magnetic balls and rods- well, I just got annoyed with my floors getting covered in marbles.

Here are a few ideas to utilize your kids’ problem solving skills without breaking the bank.

1.  Pipes, pipe fittings, and zip ties- I have been on the lookout for a set of pipes for quite sometime.  If you have gone a children’s museum in recent years, chances are you have played with some sort of pipe building system.  I’ve seen them at the OMSI in Portland in Oregon, where you try to build a water way.  In Mesa, AZ, at the Natural History Museum, you build them to get a ping pong ball into the mouth of a baby pteradactyl.  I looked into buying a set of play pipes from Lakeshore but didn’t want to pay $25 for a small set, when I didn’t now if my kids would like it and/or need multiple sets to build things they really enjoyed.

I found a huge box of white PVC pipes and fittings at a thrift store for $10.  My husband had zip ties in the garage.  We were ready to go!  I gave the kids instructions to build a lawn waterer that had to reach from our pool fence to the grass. I had to assist them a bit, but I was very impressed with their engineering.  At one point, I put a fitting on the a pipe, my four year old looked at it and said “that’s not going to work.”  He was right- I had lined up the pipe with a fitting that was blocked instead of hallow.


I can’t wait to see what we build next with these.

2.  Card stock and tape- I perform the most simple volunteering task in the world by cutting out things for Kellen’s preschool class.  The teacher tucks the sheets in his backpack, I cut them out and return them.  I cut out something on neon card stock that left a huge amount of scrap.  I couldn’t stand to throw all that good material away!  I cut it up to save for another day.

This past week, I cut the card stock into squares, and taped them into triangles and cubes.  Liam noticed what I was doing, and started to tape shapes of his own.  I asked if he could build with the shapes.  He started to put them together, but the shapes were flimsy.  I asked him what he could do to accommodate for the flexibility.  He began stacking them to provide support, and taping them together to make them extra sturdy.  Great opportunity to problem solve, and every item was on hand.

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3.  Bottles and boxes- I know this is going to seem like a “duh” moment.  Of course you can build with bottles and boxes.  But I think most of us find it annoying to save those materials that should be in the recycling bin (I know my husband does.)  They are worth saving! Sure, you could buy a set of cardboard blocks for $25-40, but it costs a lot less to use what you have on hand.

My children have gotten VERY into the Wild Kratts games on  I try to capitolize on their interest by creating activities that incorporate the Wild Kratts but get them off the computer.  One of the games involves a rhino charging and knocking through tree stumps and rocks.  I decided to help them create our own obstacles to charge through.

We stacked empty boxes and plastic bottles to create trees and rocks to charge through.  After each charge, I asked them if they could build the next obstacle higher than the last one.  The activity was a perfect combination of problem solving and physical play.

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Ok, maybe I’m a garbage hoarder.  I’ve been called worse.  But why spend your money on expensive building sets when you can make them at home.  That’s cutting into your wine budget, and nobody wants that.

Get Your Hippie Tie Dye Kid Style- Exploding Color T-shirts

My boys are big fans of experiments.  I have a whole shelf in the pantry dedicated to housing ingredients for experiments.  But I felt like we were doing the same old things.  I needed some new ideas, so I ordered a couple of kid-friendly science books.  One that I love is called Tinkerlab:  A Hands on Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley.

We’ve tried a lot of the ideas in this book with good results on most.  But my new favorite is color exploding t-shirts.  It’s easy, inexpensive and yields very cool results.  You need a white t-shirt (I found ours online for less than $2 per shirt), permanent markers, a piece of cardboard large enough to fit inside the shirt, rubbing alcohol, and an eye dropper.

The first step is to draw a picture or pattern on the t-shirt.  I explained to my boys that the colors would burst, so to draw something that might look good upon expansion- stars, flowers, fireworks, etc.  My youngest son made a random pattern.  My oldest drew lava, which was perfect.  We used a variety of permanent markers- some from the $1, Sharpies, and Bic.  The Bic maintained the brightest color upon washing.  The dollar store variety retained the least.  But all the markers worked.

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Second step is to use the eyedropper to place the alcohol on the shirt.  This is where the color starts to expand.  The more dropper you put, the greater the expansion.  Play with where you drop the liquid- what happens if you do it on the side as opposed to the center of the line?

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Last, dry, wash and wear!

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I made an example shirt for a class I’m teaching thinking I would never wear it afterwards.  But it actually turned into a cool t-dye tank, perfect for working out or as a swimsuit coverup.


You can take it a step further and discuss the science behind the spreading ink.  Don’t worry- if you’re not sure how it works, Steve Spangler has you covered.

Big Worlds in Small Packages- Science Exploration with a Second Hand Microscope

I was searching for new science experiments to try with my boys, and I came across a suggestion to do a science exploration with microscopes.  The writer suggested taking magnified photos of every day items, showing them to your kids, and seeing if they could guess what they were.  The author didn’t go into detail about how to take these magnified photos.

We have a a second hand microscope I picked up from Goodwill.  Only the lowest magnification setting works, and you have to hold the light source in place, but I wondered if we could somehow take pictures on it.  We had used it a few days prior to look at sugar while we cooked up some solution for rock candy.  I thought it made the experience more meaningful to be able to show how the sugar was really a little block-like crystal, and that our candy would form into bigger sugar crystals.  I liked the idea of the guessing game, but wanted to be able to emphasize it with looking at things under the microscope.

Turns out you can use your digital camera to take photos on the microscope.  I’m not saying they are the world’s greatest pictures.  The detail looking through the actual microscope was much better.  But I was able to take the photos to play the game, and then show the actual items under the scope for further reference.

Ok, mostly I’m just impressed with the photo hack :).  I simply set up my $8 scope, and held my digital camera where I would normally look through.  Had I taken the time to set up a tri-pod, I could have probably gotten some better photos, but I didn’t go that far.

Here is my cheap scope kit.  My camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5.


First up, white sugar.  I like how all the pictures look like I am photographing the moon.P1170947

Second, a strand of my hair.  Happy to see it appeared free of split ends.


Third, a spider web.  Not surprisingly, very goth.


Fourth, a swab of saliva from my mouth.  I think the coloring is due to coffee.


Next, a torn piece of a leaf.


A bit of my son’s booger from a bloody nose.  I know, gross.  But what kid doesn’t want to see his booger close up?


But our super-duper primo find was live microscopic animals in our frog’s water.  I believe they were euglena because they had flagella, though that might be difficult to make out.  I remember looking for amoebas in pond water during eighth grade earth science class, and being disappointed to not see anything.  Thirty years later and finally, I found life!! I can die a happy woman.

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So there you go.  Hurry over to Goodwill and grab yourself a scope.  There are whole worlds for waiting for your kids to discover them!