Back-to-school educational experiments

To celebrate the kids heading back to school we’ve gathered together our favourite outdoor experiments to do at home, all of which are both entertaining and educational. These experiments will keep your inquisitive children learning outside of the classroom, and will give them plenty of stories to tell their friends.

If you are looking for something a bit more unusual than the classic baking soda and vinegar volcano then these eight fun experiments will help to set the new school year off with a bang.

Magic Floating Water

This is an easy and impressive trick for which you will only need a glass of water and a piece of paper or cardboard.

Fill the glass half-full with water and press the paper or cardboard firmly across the top. Then carefully turn the glass so that it’s upside down (better to do this over the sink, just in case) and if you’ve done it correctly then you should be able to take your hand away and see the water “floating”, held just by the piece of paper.

How does it work? The short answer is that the half of the glass that isn’t full of water contains low pressure air, and it is the higher atmospheric pressure on the outside of the paper or cardboard that keeps the water from spilling out.

Multi-coloured Flowers

Chamomiles in grass

For this experiment you will need to head out into the great outdoors and track down some white flowers which you will be dying different colours.

Once you find your flowers place each one in a different glass of water, coloured by food colourings, and within an hour or two you should start to see tinges of that colour in the petals of the flower. Keep them in the water for a few days to see some really spectacular effects.

If you want to try something a bit different then carefully cut the stalk of a flower in two and place each half into a different glass of coloured water. You should soon be able to see both colours in the same flower, how many different colour combinations can you make?

This experiment demonstrates the movement of water through plants, from the roots all the way up the petals.  

Predict The Weather

Think the wind is changing? Find out for sure with this easy-to-make weathervane. All you’ll need is a piece of paper, a pencil, a straw and a cup, plus a compass if you want to add the cardinal  points to your weathervane.

A weathervane is a great way to work out the not only the direction of the wind, but also how wind can be predicted in the same way as sunshine and rain on TV weather reports.

(While you are talking about compass points, is can be fun to point out that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Once you know this you can work out which direction you are facing from the position of the sun and the time of day.)

DIY Lava Lamp

For this nifty experiment you will need oil, food colouring, alka seltzer tablets and some clear plastic bottles.

Fill the plastic bottles ¾ full with oil, then add some water until the mixture almost reaches the top of the bottle. Add the food colouring of your choice and soon the water/colouring mixture should settle at the base of the bottle.

Break the alka seltzer tablets into pieces and drop them one by one into the bottle. After a few minutes the buildup of gas created when the tablets come into contact with the water should cause tiny bubbles to float up through the oil and hey presto! A mini DIY lava lamp!

The Ice Melting Experiment

Ice cubes isolated on white background

This experiment will require some forward planning as you will need to freeze blocks of ice in advance.

Place your frozen blocks of ice on a tray (for collecting the water) and pour some salt on top of each block. As the salt begins to melt the ice, creating small ravines down the sides, you can add different colourings to see the effect the salt is having on the ice blocks.

The Classic Balloon Rocket

Make a balloon rocket using just a balloon, a piece of string, some cellotape and a drinking straw. Slide the straw onto the string and then stretch it across two trees. Blow up your balloon before carefully sticking it to the straw with cellotape (long balloons work better but any kind will do!).

Make sure the string is stretched tightly then let the balloon go and watch your rocket fly!

Pine Cone Weather Station

SONY DSC

If you live near the woods then hunting out a few pine cones can make for a fun and educational experiment. Pine cones open up in dry, warm weather and close tightly when exposed to the cold and the rain.

You can test this theory by leaving the pine cones inside in the warm to see if they open up, then by plunging them into cold water to see how fast they close.

Hang your pinecones at the entrance of your garden den or treehouse for your own natural weather station that will tell you when it’s time to go inside.  

The Invincible Water Bag

This simple experiment doesn’t require much in the way of preparation, all you need are a few sharp pencils and a sealable plastic bag.

Fill the bag ¾ full with water and seal it, then carefully poke the pencils through one side and out the other and stare in amazement as the water stays sealed in the bag!

How does it work? Plastic bags are made out of polymers and puncturing a hole causes the molecules not to separate but instead to close around the pencils, keeping the bag watertight.