Sometimes the most creative cabin fever activities include a scientific twist.
If your kids enjoy experimenting, here are some fun activities that can be done using supplies commonly found around the home, courtesy of Linda Wozniewski, a chemistry lecturer at Indiana University Northwest.
Let’s bend water!
Materials needed: Plastic comb, small stream of water from a faucet.
Instructions: Comb a person’s hair several times. Open a faucet only until a small stream of steady water comes out. Hold the comb near the stream of water, but do not get the comb into the stream of water.
Observations: What happens to the water. What happens if you hold the comb on the other side of the stream? Can you change how much the stream bends by changing how much you comb the hair?
Further Exploration: What would happen if you blew up a balloon and rubbed it in your hair? What if you rubbed in on something besides your hair?
How does temperature affect a balloon?
Materials: Helium filled balloon, refrigerator or cold outdoors, warm room, freezer
Instructions: Measure the size of a Helium balloon inside. Take the balloon outside in the cold, or put it in a refrigerator. Leave it there for 5 minutes. Measure the size of the balloon. Put the balloon in the freezer for 5 minutes. Measure the size of the balloon. Let the balloon warm back up to inside air temperature. Measure the size of the balloon.
Observations: What is the relationship between temperature and volume?
Further Exploration: Does the same thing work for an air filled balloon as a helium balloon?
How big a tower can you build?
Materials: Straws, marshmallows
Instructions: Use the marshmallows to put the straws together into a tower. How high a tower can you build? The rules are that the tower must stand up on its own, unsupported.
Observations: How large a base do you need to support the tower? Does it matter if you angle the straws in so that the top is narrower than the base? Would it work if the top was wider than the base?
Further Exploration: Can you build a boat out of aluminum foil that will hold pennies? How many pennies can you hold up with a boat made from a piece of aluminum foil that is 4 inches by 4 inches?
Can you tell if you make a chemical reaction or not?
Materials: Baking soda, flour, salt, cornstarch, vinegar, tincture of iodine, aluminum foil
Instructions: On the aluminum foil in 2 separate piles each, put a LITTLE bit of baking soda, flour, salt, and cornstarch. To one of each of the baking soda, flour, salt, and cornstarch piles add a few drops of vinegar. What happens? To the other pile of each add a few drops of tincture of iodine. What happens?
Observations: There is a chemical reaction if gas is given off, or if there is a drastic color change? Which of the foods reacted with the vinegar? Which reacted with the tincture of iodine?
Further Exploration: What other foods will react with vinegar or tincture of iodine?
Does it sink or does it float?
Materials: Large glass or plastic bowl or box, water, butter, pennies, crackers, meat, ice, cardboard.
Instructions: Approximately half fill the bowl with water. Try putting various items in the bowl and see if they sink or float. Put a teaspoon of butter in the bowl. Then try half a pound of butter.
Observations: Does it matter how much of something you put in the bowl? If you just put in a little bit of something, and then put in a lot more, does it change whether or not the item sinks or floats?
Further Exploration: Try other things around the house.
What do seeds look like when they germinate?
Materials: Seeds, like radish or tomato or your favorite vegetable or flower, paper towels, water, small dish, plastic wrap, magnifying lens.
Instructions: Put one piece of paper towel over the dish. Put the seeds on the paper towel, spacing them out so there is plenty of room between the seeds. Place another paper towel over the seeds. Look at the seeds with the magnifying lens. Draw a picture of what you see. Soak the paper towels with water, but do not have the water standing in the dish. Place plastic wrap over the paper towels. Look at the seeds the next day with a magnifying glass. Is there any difference? Draw a picture of what you see. Do this every day for 7 days. At the end of the time, plant the germinated seeds, with the root going down, in some dirt in a pot. You can get an early start on your garden.
Further Exploration: Try other seeds. Do different seeds take longer or shorter to start growing?
What do yeast like to eat?
Materials: Active yeast, sugar, salt, sugar substitute, water, 3 small glasses or pill vials, balloons to fit over containers
Instructions: Put ¼ teaspoon of yeast in each of 3 small glasses or pill vials. Put water into the container until approximately ¾ full. Add ¼ teaspoon of sugar to one, ¼ teaspoon of salt to a second one, and ¼ teaspoon of sugar substitute to a third. Put a balloon over each of the containers.
Observations: What happens to the balloons in the three containers after an hour? Which container(s) has the most yeast growing? Why do you think that? Draw pictures of the balloons
Further Exploration: Try other “food” for the yeast from food around your house. What do yeast like to eat?
Earth- and space-science focused
What makes a cloud?
Materials: Empty plastic 2-liter bottle, water, matches
Instructions: Put enough water in the 2-liter bottle to get water up to about ½ inch. Put the lid on the bottle and swirl the water around the bottle for a minute. Open the bottle. With the help of an adult, light a match and blow it out so that the smoke goes into the bottle. Quickly replace the lid. Bend or squeeze the bottle and then quickly let go quickly. Do you see a cloud form?
Further Exploration: Does it make any difference how many matches are used? If available, you might try putting a fish tank thermometer in the bottle and seeing if there is any difference in the temperature. Or if available, try using a fizz keeper to increase the pressure in the bottle and then letting the pressure go quickly.