Encourage curiosity and a sense of wonder in your young scientists with these home experiments.
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The world around us is surrounded by the thrilling wonders of science. Growing up, be it we are swinging on a monkey bar, mixing colours for an art project, or even talking to our best friends using paper cup phones attached to a string, it is science that explains how these ‘magical’ moments are possible.
Since children do not know what they don’t know, it is up to us parents, guardians, and educators, to intentionally explain the science behind each of these little joys and fill their minds with knowledge. This also helps to preserve their sense of wonder as they pursue big questions about the world, even if they are stuck at home due to the pandemic.
Today, we are seeing more young people value science and STEM subjects. Findings from this year’s 3M State of Science Index (SOSI), an annual, third-party study commissioned by global science company 3M, echoed this sentiment. In the Asia Pacific region, 73% agree that young people are more engaged in science and science-related issues than ever before (vs. 69% globally).
To ensure that the appreciation of science remains high, we need to continue fostering curiosity and encouraging our young ones to unleash their inner scientists. Through these five (5) easy at-home experiments, you can help contribute to the growth of STEM by stimulating your child’s mind and having fun in the process.
Be sure to test out the experiment yourselves before trying it with your little scientists as the activities listed below would require parental supervision.
The famous Bernoulli’s Principle
How do birds fly? How do airplanes stay in flight?
Materials needed: A ping pong ball, hairdryer, colour paper and tape.
To answer the questions that you or your child may wonder about, let’s conduct a simple experiment:
- Build a simple ping pong ball launcher with three sheets of paper. Firstly, roll up the first sheet of paper to make a tube and use tape to hold it in place. Make sure the tube is big enough so the ping pong ball can go through it easily. Repeat this step for the second sheet of paper ensuring that both diameters of the tube are about the same.
- Before putting both tubes of paper together, cut a small hole in the middle of one of the paper tubes. Again, make sure the hole is big enough so the ping pong ball can go through it easily. Once done, tape both paper tubes together.
- Cut the last sheet of paper in half to make a shorter tube that goes into the middle hole. To make it fit over the hole well, you will need to cut a smiley (curve) out one end of the tube. Look through the hole in the shorter tube to ensure that you can see all the way through. Tape it down securely and ensure that there are no visible airholes.
- Then, tape the ping pong ball launcher to the table so it stays in place or have someone else help to hold it during the experiment.
Now, place the hairdryer at the opening of one end of the tube and turn it on. This is going to create a low-pressure airflow inside the longer tube. Then place the ping pong ball at the opening of the other end of the shorter tube and watch how the air pressure inside the tube causes the ping pong ball to be pulled in from the side and propelled out from the other.
Build your own cotton ball launcher
We have all tried to stretch and launch a rubber band at least once in our lives. Here is a challenge for you: Use a rubber band to launch a cotton ball as far as you can.
Materials needed: A short pencil or popsicle stick, two rubber bands, two empty toilet paper tubes, tape, scissors, cotton balls and a single-hole puncher.
Stretch the rubber bands at different lengths to launch the cotton ball and see how it will affect how far it goes. Here’s how:
- Carefully cut one of the toilet paper tubes into half lengthwise and roll it so it becomes narrower (about half the original diameter). Then, tape it to hold it in place.
- On one end of the narrower tube, punch two holes opposite each other, half an inch away from the end before carefully pushing a pencil through it.
- Now, taking the other toilet paper tube, cut two slits into one end of the tube that is about a quarter-inch long and half an inch apart to create a small flap. Cut two more slits on the same end of the tube directly across from the first two.
- Place the rubber band on each side of the flap and tape the flaps in place. When you are finished, the tube should have a rubber band hanging from each side.
- Holding the rubber-band tube so its rubber bands are at the top, slide the narrower tube into the wider one with the pencil end at the bottom.
- Carefully loop each rubber band end around the pencil.
- Hold your launcher so that the pencil is at the bottom. Place a cotton ball on the top so that it rests inside on the narrower tube.
Here’s where the fun begins. Aim your cotton ball, pull back on the pencil, and watch the ball fly.
In this activity, you used two types of energy to load and launch your cotton ball. As you drew back on the pencil with the cotton ball loaded, you were adding potential energy to the system. The farther you pulled back on the pencil, the more potential energy was being stored. When you released the pencil, the energy became kinetic, and the cotton ball should have gone flying through the air!
Although it has been a while since we have gathered to watch spectacular fireworks, one thing the pandemic has taught us is to adapt and make do with what we have. So, let’s create our own fireworks at home (without the fire of course!).
Materials needed: A bowl or saucer, milk, food colouring, cotton swab and liquid soap.
Here’s how we can make multiple colourful patterns with just one drop of soap:
- Fill half the bowl with milk before dropping 3-4 drops of food colouring near the centre. You may want to use multiple colours for a more colourful finish.
- Soak one end of the cotton swab with liquid soap.
- Gently place the cotton swab in the centre of the food colouring and watch how the colours spread. Don’t mix or stir, just watch what happens.
- Try moving the cotton swab to different parts of the bowl and see what happens to the patterns of the food colouring then.
Now that you have created at-home fireworks, get ready to celebrate!
Why did the food colouring push away from the cotton swab? Milk has fat and water in it, and fat does not dissolve in water.
Soap is made up of special molecules that can interact with both fat and water, so when the soap starts to connect to the fat molecules in the milk, it allows them to dissolve in water and be moved around.
The soap molecules are looking for fat molecules to join with, and as they move through the milk, they push the food colouring around. This eventually stops happening because all the soap molecules find fat molecules to connect to, and they don’t need to move around anymore.
This is why dish soap is so effective at getting grease and oil off dishes. The soap molecules attach to grease molecules and allow them to be more easily dissolved in water, so they can wash right down the drain.
Build a tower with marshmallows
A meal enjoyed by people of all ages. A treat coveted by sweet tooths. That’s right, we’re talking about spaghetti and marshmallows. But wait, they are more than just things that satisfy our food cravings, they can also satisfy our cravings for knowledge and creativity! How tall can you build a structure using only marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti?
Materials needed: A box of uncooked spaghetti, a bag of marshmallows and a ruler or measuring tape
Before we begin, let’s imagine how we should build our tower so that it is stable and sturdy. Let your creativity wander as you follow the steps below:
- Find a clean workspace.
- Using the marshmallows as joints, and the spaghetti as beams, try to build the tallest tower that you can.
- Once done, use a ruler or measuring tape to measure the height of your structure.
By experimenting with different types of structures and builds, you will observe that the most effective towers have wide, sturdy bases, and use triangles and pyramids as support structures.
Triangles are a great structure to make because they are the only shape where you cannot change the angles that the sides make without changing the length of the sides.
This makes them very sturdy and able to support things well. Having a wide base gives the tower lots of stability and allows for better weight distribution.
Blast off with a paper rocket
Preparing our children for different stages of life may seem like rocket science but let’s take a step back and enjoy the time we have together with some paper rocket science.
Materials needed: 2 pieces of paper, scissors, drinking straw and tape
In science, we learn that variables may affect the outcome of an experiment. Let’s explore how different designs can change the way your rocket propels:
- Fold a piece of paper into four and cut them into smaller rectangles.
- Take one of the small rectangles and roll it around the straw to make a tube (not too tight). Tape the tube you have made so it stays rolled up.
- Next, pinch and tape one end of the tube to make the nose of the rocket.
- With a different piece of small rectangle paper, cut some right-angled triangles to make fins before taping them onto the tube.
- Repeat steps to make a few rockets with different tube lengths and/or different numbers of fins.
Place the rocket on the straw and blow for blast off. When you are experimenting, you may realize that some changes make a bigger difference than others. Once you have an idea of what changes are the most important, try designing a rocket that can go the farthest, or fly the most accurately.
Find out what other experiments 3M scientists are sharing by watching the videos at the Science at Home webpage. Hopefully, these experiments can help inspire your child and ignite their passion for science and learning.
This story was contributed by 3M. If you would like to contribute a story, please send it via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the title “CONTRIBUTION:” or through social media on TRP’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.