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Igniting your child’s interest in science

Igniting your child’s interest in science |

Igniting your child’s interest in science | Children don’t always know that what they’re doing is science. Taking things apart and putting them back together; mixing dirt and water to make mud; even just questioning the weather all relates back to science!

Even adults don’t always realize how prevalent science is in our world.

“You use chemistry and its concepts all the time, and you don’t even know it,” says Dr. Alan James, assistant professor of chemistry at Columbia College. “If you’re trying to get a stain out of your clothes or grease off your hands, it’s a chemical property. I think we all use those ideas; chemistry just puts a frame around them.”

Demonstrations and experiments help children understand why something happens.

James has volunteered at schools to do demonstrations for children to try to ignite a scientific spark. He’s electrocuted a pickle – it changes color because the sodium reacts to electricity! He’s frozen a racquetball with liquid nitrogen and thrown it – it shatters because it’s so cold it reached its glass transition temperature. He’s cooled a balloon with liquid nitrogen, which flattened it – then it inflates itself when warmed up because of the pressure difference.

But these aren’t really experiments you can do on your own. Instead of watching a demonstration, be hands-on! Kick start your little one’s interest in science with these three experiments that are easy to do at home.

Gooey Oobleck

Oobleck, named after a slime in Dr. Seuss’s “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” is a gooey substance that holds properties of both liquids and solids. This quicksand-like experiment teaches children about viscosity, pressure and the difference between liquids and solids.

You will need:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 to 2 cups of cornstarch
  • Food coloring
  • Mixing bowl


  1. Pour one and a half to two cups of cornstarch in a mixing bowl.
  2. Mix in a few drops of food coloring with one cup of water in a separate cup.
  3. Slowly pour in the colored water and stir. The “Oobleck” should be semi-thick – somewhere between a liquid and a solid. If it’s too runny, add more cornstarch. If it’s like cement, add more water.

The resulting creation flows differently than a typical fluid. The fun of the Oobleck comes when realizing that touching it with various amounts of force gives different results. Quickly hit the Oobleck – it will feel solid. But slowly press your hand into it, and your hand will easily sink in. Squeeze the Oobleck hard or try to pull your hand out of the mixture quickly. Try as many ways as possible!


Rubbery Flubber

Remember “Flubber”? The fun Robin Williams movie that includes a wild puttylike substance jumping all over the room? Similar to Oobleck, Flubber teaches children about the difference between solids and liquids – this one’s just a little more … rubbery. Flubber, which is reminiscent of Silly Putty or the old Nickelodeon “Gak,” also introduces polymers, a large chain of molecules.

You will need:

  • Borax, such as 20 Mule Team laundry booster*
  • 8-oz bottle of Elmers Glue
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Mixing bowl
  • Plastic cup
  • Spoon
  • Measuring cup


  1. Empty the bottle of glue into a bowl.
  2. Fill the empty glue bottle with warm water, shake and pour into the bowl. Mix.
  3. Add some food coloring – green like Flubber! You can even add glitter if you want.
  4. In a different cup, mix together a half cup of warm water and a teaspoon of Borax powder. It’s OK if all the powder does not dissolve.
  5. Slowly add the Borax/water solution to the glue and stir. It will start getting thick – you might have to use your hands to stir!

The Flubber will stretch, bounce, squish, rip, stick and flatten. Children will enjoy playing with this polymer and seeing all the cool things it can do. Make it into a day by watching “Flubber” and then creating it together!


Crystal creation

Well, if you’ve done the previous experiment and you don’t know what to do with the rest of the Borax, here’s another experiment you can do that’s great for the holidays or anytime. Create crystallized ornaments or hanging decorations!

You will need:

  • Borax, such as 20 Mule Team laundry booster*
  • Water
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Jars or glasses
  • Pencil or other stick-like object


  1. Think about what shape you want your final product to be. Twist the pipe cleaner into a snowflake, a heart, a shamrock, a letter, a spiral, whatever you can think of!
  2. Attach it to the pencil or stick with the pipe cleaner itself or with yarn so it hangs down.
  3. Boil water, pour into the jar and dissolve about four tablespoons of Borax in it. If you want colored crystals, add some food coloring!
  4. Hang the shape into the jar, resting the pencil or stick across the top of the jar. Make sure the shape does not touch the bottom or sides of the jar.
  5. Crystals will start to form after a few hours, but let it sit overnight or for 24 hours for the best effect!

This project incorporates both chemistry and geology; children learn about the process of crystallization and the formation of crystals and minerals. Check the jar periodically so they can see the crystals slowly growing. Once they’re complete, take it out of the solution and hang it somewhere you all can see! Great ideas for this are ornaments for a Christmas tree or window hangings. You could have a few jars and make letters out of pipe cleaners to spell your child’s name.


*Safety: Do NOT ingest Borax. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly and clean up after you have completed any experiment.

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Igniting your child’s interest in science
Cool science experiments and science games for kids. Help your kid discover interesting things about the world and about themselves.
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