Home Activities for Helping Your Child Learn Science: Preschool and Up (page 2)

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Feb 4, 2010

Breaking the Tension


Surface tension results when the hydrogen in water molecules stick to one another as well as to the water below them. This creates a strong but flexible film on the water's surface. The detergent disrupts the molecules and "breaks the tension," making the boat go forward and the pepper move to the sides of the glass.

These simple activities demonstrate surface tension.

What You Need
  • Index card
  • Safety scissors
  • Sink filled with water
  • Glass half filled with water
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Ground pepper
  • Toothpicks
What to Do
  • From an index card, cut out a boat shape, like the one on this page. Make the boat about 2-1/2 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide. Have your child place the boat gently on the water in the sink. Have him pour a little detergent at the notch end of the boat. Ask him to describe what happens. (Note: To repeat this experiment, you'll need to use fresh water to make the boat move.)

  • Next, sprinkle a little ground pepper on the water in the glass. Give your child a toothpick and tell him to dip it in the middle of the pepper. Ask him what happens. Then tell him to put a drop of the detergent on another toothpick and dip it into the pepper. Now what happens?



Bubbles are bits of air or gas trapped inside a liquid ball. The surface of a bubble is very thin. Bubbles are particularly fragile when a dry object touches them. That's because soap film tends to stick to the object, which puts a strain on the bubble.

Children can learn more about surface tension and about change just by blowing bubbles!

What You Need
  • 8 tablespoons of dishwashing liquid
  • 1 quart water
  • 1 drinking straw
  • A shallow pan
What to Do
  • Mix the dishwashing liquid with the water and pour it into the pan. Give your child a straw and tell him to blow through it as he moves it slowly across the surface of the solution. Ask him to notice the size of the bubbles that he makes.

  • Next, have your child try to make a very big bubble that covers the surface of the pan. Have him do the following:

    • Dip one end of the straw into the solution. Then hold the straw slightly above the surface. Blow into it very gently. He may have to try several times to make a really big bubble.
    • When he's made a bubble, have him touch it gently with a wet finger to see what happens.
    • Have him make another big bubble, then touch it with a dry finger. What happens?
  • Ask him to look closely at the bubbles he makes. How many colors does he see? Do the colors change?


Kindergarten–Grade 1

Bugs do what they do to survive. They're constantly looking for food. Bugs can be both helpful and harmful. Termites, for example, have a bad reputation because they destroy houses by eating the wood. But termites have a good side, too. In a forest, they break down dead trees, which keeps the forest floor from becoming too cluttered.

Children can improve their understanding of the natural world and their classification skills by observing bugs.

What You Need
  • Books about insects and spiders—preferably with photographs (for titles, see the list of children's books in the Resources section at the end of this booklet)
  • A magnifying glass
What to Do
  • With your child, search your home and neighborhood for bugs. Look for bugs:

    • around your front door
    • in cracks in the sidewalk
    • in gardens
    • at picnic areas
    • on lights
    • in corners of rooms
  • Using the guides, help your child to identify each type of bug that you find, such as ants, spiders, beetles, crickets, bees, flies, butterflies, mosquitoes, moths, wasps or ladybugs.

  • If you find ants, point out that ants work together as a community. Have her observe, for example, what an ant does when it finds a bit of food. Explain that when an ant finds food, it doesn't eat it on the spot. It runs back to the hill to "tell" the other ants. As it runs, it leaves a trail that the other ants can smell. These ants can then find the food by smelling their way along the trail.

  • Find out about spiders:

    • Why do spiders spin webs?
    • What are webs made of?
    • How many pairs of legs do they have?
  • Help your child to think of other ways that she might classify the bugs—for example, by color or by size or by whether they have wings or antennae.

Float or Sink?

Kindergarten–Grade 1

The clay and foil balls sink because they are squeezed into small shapes and only a small amount ofwater is trying to hold up the weight.When the clay or foil is spread out, it floats because the weight is supported by a lotmore water.

Learning to make and test predictions is a good first step toward making and testing hypotheses.

What You Need
  • 1 block of solid wood
  • 1 plastic bottle cap
  • 2 pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • 1 piece of modeling clay
  • Sink filled with water
What to Do
  • Tell your child to hold the wood block in one hand and the plastic cap in the other hand. Ask him to answer the following questions:

    • Which one feels heavier?
    • Do you think the wooden block will float or sink?
    • Will the plastic cap float or sink?
  • Have your child test his predictions by carefully placing the block of wood and the cap on the water. What happens? Next, have him put both under the water. What happens now?

  • Give him a piece of aluminum foil and tell him to squeeze it tightly into solid ball then drop it in the water. Does it float or sink? Give him another piece of foil. Help him to shape it into a little boat, then have him carefully place it on top of the water. Does the foil float now?

  • Help him to try the same experiment with the clay. Have him make ball and drop it in the water. What happens? Then have him shape the clay into a boat and put it on the water. Does it float now?

Slime Time

Grades 1–2

Cars, trucks, airplanes and machines all have parts that rub against one another. These parts would heat up,wear down and stop working ifwe didn't have lubricants. Lubricants reduce the amount of friction between two surfaces that move against each other.

When one object moves against another, the result is friction.

What You Need
  • Mixing bowl
  • 4 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
  • Hot water
  • Square baking pan
  • Vegetable oil
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • 2 small bowls
  • Stopwatch or a watch with a second hand
  • Measuring cup

Don't let your child eat the gelatin cubes after they've been handled or after they're covered with lubricant.

What to Do
    In a mixing bowl, dissolve the gelatin in two cups of hot tap water. Coat the inside of the pan with vegetable oil. Pour the gelatin mixture into the pan and put it in the refrigerator until firm. Cut the gelatin into cubes about 1 inch x 1 inch. You should have about 64 cubes. Place 15 cubes into one bowl. Place the second bowl about 6 inches (about 15 centimeters) away from the cube bowl.
  • Place the watch so that your child can see it. Tell her that when you say go, you want her to start picking up the gelatin cubes one at a time with her thumb and index finger (caution her not to squeeze them!). Tell her to see how many cubes she can transfer to the other bowl in 15 seconds.

  • Tell your child to put all the cubes back in the first bowl. Pour 1/4 cup dishwashing liquid over the cubes. Gently mix the detergent and the cubes so that the cubes are well-coated. Have her use the same method as before to transfer as many cubes as possible in 15 seconds.

  • Throw away the cubes and detergent and wash and dry both bowls. Put 15 new cubes into one bowl and pour 1/4 cup water over the cubes, again making sure the cubes are thoroughly coated. Tell your child to see how many cubes she can transfer in 15 seconds.

  • Again, throw away the cubes and water. Put 15 new cubes into one bowl. Pour 1/4 cup of vegetable oil over the cubes. Make sure they are well coated. Have her see how many cubes she can transfer in 15 seconds.

  • Ask your child to answer the following questions:

    • With which liquid was she able to transfer the most cubes?
    • With which liquid was she able to transfer the fewest cubes?
    • Which liquid was the best lubricant (the slipperiest)? Which was the worst?
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