Fun Science Experiments to Do at Home and During a Snow Day
Fun Science Experiments to Do at Home and During a Snow Day
When you can't pass the winter with a trip to a ski resort and you're too late to book that balmy island getaway, these kid-friendly science experiments will help you and your budding scientists escape cabin fever and appreciate the wonders of winter, all while learning a thing or two. All of the experiments on this list use common household items to teach young learners about scientific topics like winter weather systems and chemical reactions. Some experiments rely on cold temperatures and snow or ice from your backyard, but if you're lucky enough to live in a place where snow is novel and tourists come to you for spring break (we're looking at you, California, Florida and Hawaii), many of these science experiments can be adapted or done indoors to introduce your kids to the mysteries of winter weather.
Flash-frozen slushies and instant ice
This science experiment feels more like a magic trick. With this experiment, you can turn your liquid beverage into slush or ice almost instantly. All you need is a plastic bottle of soda, a bottle of distilled water and a place to chill your beverages. Freezing temperatures are required for cooling down your drinks outside, but if you're in a place where it's summer all the time, simply replace the winter weather with your freezer.
To get started, shake up the soda and then place both the bottle of soda and the bottle of purified water in your cold environment of choice for about two hours. After the time is up, take the distilled water and tap it on the table. Ice should appear out of nowhere. Then, take your soda bottle, and pour it into a glass with a couple of ice cubes at the bottom. It should have a slushy consistency, just like a Slurpee. This experiment may sound like magic, but really, it's all about a process called supercooling, which works by chilling your soda or purified water below its freezing point without turning it solid.
Cloud in a jar
Turn a season of endless cold and cloudy weather into an educational experience with a "cloud in a jar." This science experiment is perfect for curious kids asking about wild winter weather storms because it simulates cloud formation and weather patterns. With warm water, a mason jar with a lid, ice or snow, a plastic bag and an aerosol hairspray can, you can illustrate how moist air rises to meet cool air and then condenses into a rainy cloud.
To create this cloud simulation, take off the lid of your mason jar, pour warm water into the jar and screw the lid back on. Put your ice cubes or snow in the bag and place it on top of the jar. Wait a few seconds, then remove the lid and spray hairspray into the jar, replacing the lid quickly. Watch the warm air build and swirl, then remove the lid to release your homemade cloud.
You and your family may be counting down the days to that upcoming, sun-filled spring break trip, but this science experiment will help you enjoy the beauty of winter weather - from the comfort and warmth of your own home. These homegrown snowflakes are an easy way to demonstrate how crystals form when identical molecules join together. You will need string, a wide-mouth jar, pipe cleaners, a wooden pencil, 3 tablespoons of borax and boiling water.
To get started, take your pipe cleaner and cut it into three equal parts. Arrange the pipe cleaners into a six-sided snowflake shape by twisting the sections together at the center. Tie one end of your string to your pipe cleaner snowflake and the other end to your pencil. Pour boiling water into the jar and dissolve the borax in the water. Then, place the pencil across the top of the jar so that the snowflake hangs inside the liquid. Leave your jar overnight, and in the morning, you will have a sparkling, crystallized snowflake to show off.
Cyndi Monagham/Moment via Getty Images
Counting lightning strikes and checking the color of a sunrise are some of the easy ways to predict the weather. If you've got a budding meteorologist on your hands, you can make even more accurate weather predictions by creating your own barometer. With just seven household items - a tin can, a large balloon, a rubber band, scissors, tape, a small stirring stick, and a 5-by-7-inch index card - you can measure atmospheric pressure to predict the type of weather that is coming.
With your scissors, cut the top of the balloon off and wrap it around the can, sealing it with a rubber band and placing the can against a wall. Tape the stirring stick to the center of the stretched-out balloon, with one end pointing away from the can. Tape your index card to the wall next to the can so that the stick points to it and make a mark on the index card where the stick is pointing. Every day, check the index card and see if the stick points above or below the mark. When the stick is lower, the atmospheric pressure is lower, which tells you that rainy weather is on its way. A higher stick means higher atmospheric pressure, an indicator of cool, mild weather to come.
When you're looking to enjoy the water during your perfect beach vacation, your ideal packing list probably doesn't call for a wardrobe of heavy, insulated clothing. But for the aquatic mammals that swim in frigid ocean waters, their cold habitat calls for a thick layer of fat, called blubber, to keep them warm. In this season of extreme weather conditions, this science experiment demonstrates how aquatic animals survive the cold. You will need a bowl, water, ice cubes, tape, shortening, such as Crisco, two plastic bags and rubber gloves.
Begin the experiment by filling your bowl with water and ice cubes. Next, fill one plastic bag with shortening and leave the other one empty. To start simulating the animal blubber, put on the gloves and place one hand in each bag. Ask someone to help you tape the bags around your wrists, and then put them in the ice bucket for as long as you can. Which hand stays warmer?
Courtesy of Mrs. Jones' Creation Station
Crystal frost on your window
Frosted windowpanes go hand-in-hand with winter festivity. With this quick science trick, you can make your house feel like a wintry cabin in a mountain town while helping your young scientists learn about basic chemistry concepts, such as how solutions and solvents work. Gather a third cup of Epsom salt, a couple drops of liquid dishwashing soap, a half cup of warm water, a cleaning cloth, a glass container and a spoon.
Create your frost-making solution by stirring the Epsom salt into water. Once the salt is dissolved, add the dishwashing soap and continue to stir. Dip in your cleaning cloth and then "wash" the solution onto your glass window of choice. Once it dries, you'll have frosted window panes to celebrate the spirit of a snow day from the comfort of your home.
Ice and salt sculptures
If you live in a place with winter weather, you know to expect salt on the roads the morning after a storm. In fact, salt is one of the tools you should have in your car if you get stuck in icy conditions. Why? Well, this science experiment demonstrates how salt lowers the freezing point of water, a process called freezing point depression, which allows ice to melt off the streets even in freezing temperatures. All you'll need to get started is rock salt, snow or ice and food coloring. You can also sub out snow with ice from your freezer.
Sprinkle rock salt on your snow or ice, and then dot the surface with food coloring. The food coloring will help you follow the pattern of channels, holes and tunnels, and will transform your snow or ice into a melting art sculpture.
Lifting ice cubes with chemistry
This quick chemistry trick is a perfect accompaniment to "ice and salt sculptures," our previous science experiment, because it uses the same materials - ice cubes and salt - and illustrates the same chemical process of freezing point depression. You will also need to grab a cup, cold water and string.
To complete the experiment, put a few ice cubes in a cup of water. Lay one end of the piece of string across a floating ice cube and sprinkle some salt over the string and ice cube. Wait three minutes, and then pick up the loose end of the string. Voilà! You picked up the ice cube - without ever touching it with your hands. This happened because the salt melted some of the ice, and then it quickly re-froze around the string.
Bring nature inside with this science experiment, which demonstrates how temperature affects pinecones. As a staple of seasonal home decor and a common sight in your backyard, pinecones are everywhere during winter. For this experiment, gather a few from your backyard or buy some from your local drug store.
Once you have your pinecones, fill a bowl with cold water and soak them for half an hour. After 15 minutes, you will see the pinecones' scales start to close up. Take your pinecones out of the water and leave them overnight in a warm and dry environment. In the morning, notice how the scales opened back up. This happens because pinecone scales close during the harsh winter months to protect the inner seeds. In the spring, they open back up and release the seeds to grow.
Magically inflating balloon
If you have leftover balloons from a birthday or holiday party, you can put them to good use with this science experiment. Your snow-day scientists will learn how temperature affects a chemical reaction by comparing the speed of two "magically" inflating balloons. You will need two empty plastic water bottles, two balloons, two-thirds of a cup of vinegar, 6 tablespoons of baking soda, a spoon and snow or a cold environment, like your freezer.
To set up, put half the baking soda in each balloon. Then, pour half of the vinegar into one of the bottles and chill it for 30 minutes. Heat up the rest of the vinegar in the microwave for 20 seconds and add it to the empty bottle. Bring both bottles outside and stretch each balloon over the mouth of a bottle. Start the chemical reaction by shaking the baking soda from the balloons into the vinegar in both bottles at the same time, and observe which balloon inflates faster. In this experiment, the balloons' inflation is caused by a chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar, which produces carbon dioxide. This reaction is sped up by heat.
Baking soda icicles
Maybe you didn't get a chance to visit that storybook Christmas town during the holidays, or maybe there's simply no snow in your backyard. Regardless, this science experiment will help bring some of the winter spirit into your house, while demonstrating how saturated solutions form solid structures. Collect two tall jars, two feet of thick cotton string, two paper clips, hot water, a large plastic bin, 1 cup of baking soda and food coloring.
To make your homemade icicles, start by turning the large plastic bin on its side. Then, fill your glasses with water, add the baking soda and stir. Put a few drops of food coloring in each solution and place the jars in the bin. Attach the paper clips to the ends of the strings and submerge them in the jars, create a string "bridge" between the two jars - make sure that the bridge sags in the middle. Over the next few days, watch your baking soda icicles form.
iStock.com/Marine Kerel Photographe
Maple Syrup Taffy
Burnt out from holiday baking but still craving treats? This experiment will satisfy any sweet tooth on a snowy day, and it calls for only two ingredients: pure maple syrup and snow from your backyard. This simple "recipe" also provides an opportunity to teach kids about trees and to illustrate how heat changes the concentration of liquids, like maple syrup.
To make this treat, boil maple syrup in a saucepan over the stove for four minutes, stirring frequently as it heats up. Make sure you use genuine maple syrup - if you skimp on the real stuff you'll end up with a sticky mess. As you stir, notice how the heat evaporates the water in the syrup, increasing its concentration. Once your timer is up, take the steaming syrup to your snowy patio outside (if you've had a fresh snowfall) or pour it over a tray of snow in your kitchen. When the candy is cooled, peel it off the snow and eat it immediately. Hopefully, these delicious treats will make you forget how cold you are.
Take this science fair classic outside to create a baking-soda volcano in the snow. This explosive experiment will demonstrate a chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda in your backyard. All you'll need is an empty plastic soda bottle, a fourth cup of baking soda, 1 cup of vinegar, a paper funnel or cup, food coloring and, of course, snow.
To get started, pour the vinegar into your plastic bottle and add a few drops of food coloring. Then, create a cone of snow around the bottle to build your volcano, quickly pour the baking soda into the vinegar through the funnel and stand back so you're not in the way of the "lava" explosion. This wintery spin on a tried-and-true experiment is a great introduction to chemistry and volcanoes. If you want to experience the real volcanic deal, an actual volcano may be closer to your backyard than you think.
Courtesy of Messy Little Monster
The more, the merrier with this expanding and easy-to-make snowman. Grab a plastic bag, Alka-Seltzer tablets, snow (or blended ice from your freezer) and some sharpies. Draw a snowman on the bag, fill it with snow and place the Alka-Seltzer tablets in the bag before zipping it up tightly. Over the next hour, watch as your snowman expands. What's happening? Well, similar to your baking soda and vinegar snow volcano, your snowman expands due to a chemical reaction involving the snow and Alka-Seltzer tablets. As the snow melts on the Alka-Seltzer, carbon dioxide is produced, inflating the bag.
Though you don't need to live in one of the coldest cities in the world to create this winter spectacle, temperatures outside do have to be pretty chilly. For the best frozen bubble results, wait for the wind to die down and the temperatures to drop into the single digits or below zero. Pick up some bubble solution or make your own at home with one part water, four parts dish soap and a few drops of corn syrup.
Then, head out to your backyard to blow bubbles and watch them freeze in the winter air. This experiment is also a fun way to learn about surface tension, the secret to making bubbles. When you're outside, make sure that you and your family are bundled up correctly, and that you're using the best tricks to protect your skin during the harsh winter weather.
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