Christine Koh

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I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

9 Cool Science Experiments Using Everyday Household Ingredients

So, as much as I try to march my kids outdoors for fresh air, sometimes the weather dictates that we need to stay inside. And if it's a long cold stretch, all the books have been read, all the games have been played, and we don't need a fourth batch of cookies. Subsequently, today I'm thrilled to share another sponsored editorial collaboration with Bright Horizons (be sure to read the first, on 7 things to know about everyday play...it is totally awesome). All focused on indoor fun, the importance of play, and SCIENCE!

For this post, I decided to challenge (read: attempt to stump) Lindsay McKenzie (director of soon-to-open Bright Horizons at Brookline) on science activities using everyday household products. Because let's face it, on the millionth snow day, it's all about use-what-you-have mode! Let's see how she does!

Lindsey, let's start with SHAVING CREAM. We know it's great for man faces, but what’s a cool science activity you can create with shaving cream?

Well, first off I always start science experiments by reminding children that they should never eat or drink anything that they are using in the experiment. Shaving cream might look tasty but it can make you sick if you ingest it.

(Experiment 1) Shaving cream can be used for many different experiments. If you’re working with older children you can use it to represent clouds and with a little food coloring you can make rain. All you need is shaving cream, blue food coloring, cold water, and a clear cup. Fill the cup ¾ with water, spray some shaving cream on top, then squeeze a few drops of food coloring on top of the shaving cream. The shaving cream acts like a cloud while the food coloring becomes the rain. The “cloud” becomes so heavy with “rain” that eventually the rain passes through the cloud and falls to earth.

(Experiment 2) For younger children it’s a great way to experiment with texture. Have you ever made a family of snow people in your kitchen? Add a little baby powder to the shaving cream and you’ll create a fluffy moldable snow colored substance to play with all year round.

OK, how about CORNSTARCH? It's helpful as a thickening agent when cooking and awesome to make chalk paint during the warm weather. What science experiments can you do with cornstarch?

(Experiment 3) The go-to science exploration with cornstarch is oobleck. Most substances change states when we change the temperature, like freezing water into ice or boiling it into steam. But cornstarch and water change with pressure. Oobleck and other pressure-dependent substances, like silly putty or quicksand, are not liquids such as water or oil. They are known as non-Newtonian fluids. This name actually came from a Dr. Seuss book called Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Add a little water to corn starch and you create a fun goopy substance that will give you infant through kindergartner hours of sensory fun.

How about BAKING SODA? Essential for making baked goods rise, and also one of my favorite natural cleaning ingredients. What's a good use for baking soda science project-wise?

(Experiment 4) We all remember the baking soda volcano but did you know you can use baking soda to make invisible ink? Mix about 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1/4 cup of water. Then use a Q-tip or paint brush to write on a piece of paper. Let it dry. To read the secret message, paint grape juice concentrate across the paper with a brush or a sponge. The acid in the grape juice reacts with the baking soda and like magic your secret message appears!

(Experiment 5) Want to make spaghetti dance? All you need is uncooked spaghetti, 1 cup of water, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, 5 teaspoons of vinegar, and a tall clear glass. Put water and baking soda in the glass. Stir until the baking soda is dissolved. Break spaghetti into 1-inch pieces. Put about 6 pieces in the glass. They will sink to the bottom. Add vinegar to the mixture in the glass. Add more vinegar as the action starts to slow down.

Let's move on to ALKA-SELTZER; classically useful for heartburn and indigestion. Assuming you don't need it for heartburn or indigestion, what's a good science-y use for Alka-Seltzer?

(Experiment 6) My favorite Alka-Seltzer experiment is the film tube rocket. What happens when you have a build-up of carbon dioxide? Kids love to talk about gas. Seal the end of the cardboard tube with several pieces of duct tape or use a plastic tube with one end sealed. Divide the Alka-Seltzer into four equal pieces. Fill the film canister one-half full with water (if you can find a film canister today). Place one of the pieces of Alka-Seltzer tablet in the film canister and quickly snap the lid on the container. Turn the film canister upside down and slide it (lid first) into the tube. Point the open end of the tube AWAY from yourself and others and wait for the pop. Instead of the lid flying off, the bottom of the film canister shoots out of the tube and flies across the room.

(Experiment 7) The lava lamp is a fun one too. Oil and water do not mix. If you try to shake up the bottle filled with both the oil just breaks up into small drops. The water sinks to the bottom and the oil floats to the top. Oil floats on the surface because water is heavier than oil. The Alka-Seltzer tablet reacts with the water to make carbon dioxide. These bubbles attach themselves to the water and cause them to float to the surface. When the bubbles pop, the color sinks back to the bottom of the bottle.

And my last one: SALT. Enhances the taste of food. I gift a magical version every holiday season. What are some good experiments using salt?

(Experiment 8) You can make lava lamps with salt too!  Fill the glass about 3/4 full of water. Add about 5 drops of food coloring. Slowly pour the vegetable oil into the glass. Sprinkle the salt on top of the oil. Watch blobs of lava move up and down in your glass!

(Experiment 9) Density can be a difficult scientific property to grasp, that's why we like making it colorful, fun, and (most importantly) simple! The Salt Water Density Straw is the epitome of kitchen science! You need six cups. In each of the six cups, add one of six different amounts of salt: 1 tsp, 2 tsp, 3 tsp, 4 tsp, 5 tsp, 6 tsp. With the salt in each cup, add 9 oz of warm water. Stir the solution until all of the salt has dissolved. Using food coloring, make the water in each cup a different color. Now you need a clear drinking straw. With your thumb off of the straw's opening, dunk the opposite end of the straw into the "1 tsp" solution. "Cap" the straw with your thumb and remove the straw from the solution. Now that you have the first solution in the straw, dip the end of the straw into the "2 tsp" solution. Dip the straw further, this time, than you did into the first solution. Once you've dipped the straw, remove your thumb and quickly replace it. Remove the straw and you should have the first and second solutions in a stack inside of the straw. Continue the dipping process until you have all six solutions inside of the straw. It's a density column of salt water! Remove your thumb and start all over again!

Well, I totally didn't stump Lindsey but that's OK because now you have 9 awesome science experiments to try with your kids! Enjoy!

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Bright Horizons is a leading provider of high-quality early education and preschool programs. Their Brookline location (138 Harvard Street) will open March 2014 and offer infant - kindergarten prep programs. Want to learn more? Bright Horizons will host hard hat tours: Friday, February 21, 2014 (10am - 5pm), Thursday, February 27, 2014 (12-7pm), Tuesday, March 4, 2014 (12-7pm). No RSVP needed; all are invited.

Image credits: Bright Horizons; compilation graphic by Christine Koh


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