Please try this at home... Again!
There are so many times that you might be watching television when you hear the phrase "Please do NOT try this at home!" or something like "We take every precaution, we consult with experts, we have years of experience and have people who keep us safe..." But for now, let's throw those warnings out the window because I'd love nothing more than for you to do as the title suggests and please try these at home.
Here you will find a few more of my personal favorite safe-to-do-at-home science activities and experiments. These will have all of the materials and instructions necessary for you and your child(ren) to do at home. Some will require more time than others to complete and MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR ADULT TO HELP YOU!
Solar System Scale
Two-foot long, 2-inch-wide strip of paper (you’ll have to tape two regular pieces of paper together), colored pencil, pencil
Time required: ≈ 30 minutes
With your strip of paper held vertically, write “Sun” at the bottom and “Pluto” at the top. From there and using a colored pencil, the first thing to do is put the planets in order and in relation to each other in terms of distance from the sun and from each other. Are some close to each other or far apart? Now that you’ve guessed, it’s time to find out their relative distances.
Using a different colored pencil or pen to write this time, first fold your paper in half, write “Uranus” on the fold. Next, fold the sun to Uranus and write “Neptune”. Now, fold the Sun to Uranus and “Saturn” gets written on that fold. Fold the Sun to Saturn and “Jupiter” goes there. Fold the Sun to Jupiter, the “Asteroid belt” goes there. Fold the Sun to the Asteroid belt and “Mars” goes there. Now the last three planets go between Mars and the Sun! (There’s not a lot of room between Mars and the Sun for Earth, Venus and Mercury but astronomically speaking, they’re right on top of each other!)
Author Douglas Adams wrote “Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.” Some people have trouble imagining the incredibly vast distances of space and this model helps show the approximate distances to the planets. Mercury “cuddles” next to the Sun at ONLY 36 million miles. The distance from the Sun to Earth? 93 million miles, this is known as an Astronomical Unit, or AU. The Sun to Pluto? 39.5 AU or 4.5 billion miles! While your scale solar system isn’t perfect to scale (planets move closer and further away in their orbits), this representation is close enough for your needs here. When a planet is closes to the sun, they are a known to be at “perigee” and the farthest away is called “apogee”; the same can be said for Earth’s moon.
Our fastest space probe, New Horizons, is currently traveling at 36,400 miles per hour and covered the 4.5 billion miles from Earth to Pluto in 9 years! While Pluto is a dwarf planet, we consider it the “end” of our solar system but there are smaller objects out there in space like Arrokoth (pronounced “Arrow-koth” and about 4 billion miles from Earth). Light travels at 186,000 miles per second and takes 8 minutes to go from the Sun to Earth. A light year isn’t a distance of time, but of distance; the distance of a light year is 5.88 trillion miles! To get to the closest star, four light years away, traveling at 36,400 mph would take 137,000 YEARS!
Lemon juice, water, bowl, spoon, cotton swab, white paper, lamp/ light bulb, adult helper, candle or clothes iron (both optional)
Time required: ≈ 10-15 minutes
Squeeze your lemon into a bowl and add a few drops of water, mix gently. This will dilute the lemon juice just enough so it will be invisible when dried. Take your cotton swab, dip it into your “ink” and write your message. You’ll have to re-dip a multiple times to be able to write your whole message so if you run out of “ink” just repeat the juice and water instructions above. Now you have to wait until your entire message is dry and invisible… 30 minutes should do it. Once that happens, hold your paper over a heat source and watch as the heated ink reveals itself!
NOTE: If you use a lit candle or a gas stove…GET YOUR ADULT HELPER! You don’t want to light your paper on fire or burn yourself. Gently hold your paper over the flame, without burning yourself or the paper. You can even iron your paper to reveal it, just make sure you put a rag between your paper and the iron… Again, with adult supervision.
The lemon juice, like most fruit juice has carbon compounds in it. Lemon juice is a weak acid and softens the paper’s fibers which absorbs the “ink”. The color change happens because the chemical bonds in the juice break down when they are heated. When broken down, they release some of the carbon molecules into the air and other parts of the carbon compounds are heated, they oxidize (think rusting), and they change color. If you heat it too much, it will turn from a rusty brown to almost black!
Liquid laundry detergent can also make an invisible message, but you’ll need a black light to see it glowing written on paper. A message written with a white crayon on a white page will reveal your message when colored over with a colored crayon.
2 identical birthday candles, strong tape, needle that is longer than the candle's diameter, aluminum foil, knife, 2 glasses the same height, lighter/matches, adult helper
Time required: ≈ 45 minutes
Tape the candles together at their bases and put the pin though exactly where they meet, try to get it in the middle of the candles. Rip a large piece of foil (to catch dripping wax) and place cups on top of it close enough so the ends of the pin sit on both glass and the candles don’t touch either glass. Ensure your candle is balanced, if not, reset the pin until they’re balanced. Once balanced and with an adult’s help, light one end and wait 3 seconds before lighting the other one and observe any motion of see-saw. Let candles burn ¼ down. Snuff candles and with your adult’s help, cut ½ inch from one candle and reset candle between glasses. Observe what’s happens when you put the seesaw back on when the candles are different lengths. As before, with an adult’s help, light candles the same as before. Observe before snuffing when candles are half burned.
A fulcrum (balance point) was created with the pin, like the middle of an actual see-saw. With equal sized candles, it should be balanced because gravity is pulling on both ends equally. Once one candle is lit and the mass starts to change by melting and falling, your seesaw starts to move back and forth. With the cut candle, note the imbalance when see-saw is in between glasses. As the long ends loses mass from burning, it should start to balance again. The rotation of the beam is caused by a turning force, called torque, acting on the candles. The seesaw should stop teetering back and forth once the turning forces are equal on both sides. The physics of mass-loss are on display with your candle seesaw but on a playground, it is the different masses along with energy put into the see-saw by the riders, that let the see-saw provide fun.
Did you ever notice how if your grown up is sitting on one end of a see-saw and you’re on the other, you can’t make them go up? You don’t have the mass or strength to lift them…yet. But you and a friend can easily push each other up and down. Repeat this experiment only don’t put the needle in the middle of your candles, instead try it with the needle in one candle. What happens if you only let one candle burn? Regardless of what you do, DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT YOUR GROWN-UP!
Plastic straw, tape, scissors, 4 index cards or stiff paper like cardstock
Time required: ≈ 10-15 minutes
Cut your index card (or stiff paper) into three pieces, each measuring 1 inch by 5 inches. Take two strips and tape into a circle, making sure there is a little overlap, this will help keep a nice, round shape. With the last hoop, tape it to itself to make a smaller hoop. Tape one hoop to one end of the straw, ensuring the straw is inside the hoop. Do the same with the other hoop so that one end of the straw has the smaller hoop at the end and larger hoop at the other, each hoop having the straw inside it, like the picture shows. Now throw it to test its aerodynamic properties!
Aerodynamics is the way air moves around things and explains how things are able to fly. Rockets, kites, birds and airplanes all are governed by these rules. There are four forces of flight: lift, weight, drag, and thrust. Lift pushes something up and is the opposite of the object’s weight, example a kite needs less lift than a 747 aircraft. Thrust pushes the object forward and is opposed by drag which is trying to slow the object; drag is created by the shape of the object in motion. By throwing the hoop glider you give it thrust to overcome its drag, at least until gravity pulls it down and the energy you gave it by throwing it diminishes. Because the hoops are different sizes, they create balance because the drag on both hoops are different.
Try placing one hoop so it’s facing down, opposite of the way it was. What happens if you use two large hoops? Two small and a large? Four hoops? A really BIG loop and a small hoop? What if you use a shorter straw, a longer straw? Does it fly further with a harder throw? Create a data table and measure how far your glider is able to go with the different hoop combinations you make, this will help you keep track of your experiments. A pattern may emerge!
There are lots and lots of experiments you can do at home, a little internet searching will provide you with a plethora of activities you can do with your young learner. With a little time, effort, patience and dedication, activities can be fun and filled with learning that can help inspire a lifelong love of all things STEM... and you never know where that will lead you.