Summer learning: science week

Each week of summer – well most weeks of summer, I don’t enforce this during vacations for goodness sake – we pick a theme of the week and I come up with two or three lessons for the kids. It keeps their minds working during these months away from school. And most of all it gives them a chance to remember that learning can also be fun. (That’s my biggest challenge – keeping the learning fun.)

We are in the midst of the first week of summer and the kids picked science as our first theme. Science is one of my favorite subjects. Did I ever tell you I was thisclose to being a chemistry major? It’s true. I love science. So (for me at least) science is easy to make fun. First up? a little lesson in liquids & solids. We made quicksand. It requires two ingredients (one of which is water), some newspaper to contain any messiness (because all good science experiments are messy), a bowl and your hands. That’s it!

Quicksand ingredients: 1/4 cup corn starch, 8 teaspoons of water.

We used paper bowls for easy clean up (just tossed it all in the trash) but any bowl will do. Feel free to double or triple the amount to make more. I placed newspaper, a spoon and a bowl in front of each kid. They mixed it together and quickly realized that there’s something up with this liquid. The secret? It reacts under pressure – which is not something normal for liquids. It’s a liquid that can act as a solid.

Important note about clean up: do NOT pour your quicksand down the sink, unless of course you want to make a call to your local plumber to unclog that hardened mess. Toss it all in the trash.

Mix up a batch and try these:

1. Put a finger into the liquid and push down, you should feel it getting hard and almost gripping your finger. Now try to quickly pull it out. It will probably pop out but not easily and sometimes the whole bowl comes with you. Put your finger in again and slowly pull it out – it comes right out with no problems whatsoever. Why? It’s all about pressure – apply pressure and this liquid acts like a solid. Keep things easy and it behaves as a liquid.

2. Now ask the kids what they think will happen if you scoop up a handful. After all, if you squeeze a handful of water you just get water dripping out of your hand. Ahhh… but squeeze a handful of quicksand and you get a handful of something hard – it’s true! Open your hand to release the pressure and watch it melt back into a liquid. This one was probably the kids favorite.

3. The splash test. If you splash a bowl of water hard, you’ll end up with very little water in the bowl but lots of water around you. Splash your bowl of quicksand – it stays in the bowl! (note: as the kids pulled their hands up some was dripping off but that’s why you put the bowls on newspaper). Go ahead and smack away – it won’t splash.

Even the skeptical teenager had fun with this experiment.

The kids also had fun dripping some on the newspaper to dry out and then picking it up and squeezing then releasing it to see if it would turn back into liquid form. It was 30 minutes of fun and I hope a lesson that will stick with them. Next up in science week? A little something that involves mentos & diet soda. 🙂


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