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Home Activities for Helping Your Child Learn Science: Preschool and Up (page 3)

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

Celery Stalks at Midnight

Grades 1–2

Capillary action happens when water molecules are more attracted to the surface they travel along than to each other. In paper towels, the molecules move along tiny fibers. In plants, they move through narrow tubes that are actually called capillaries. Plants couldn't survive without capillaries because they use the water to make their food.

Capillary action is the name for the process that takes place when a paper towel soaks up a spilled liquid or when a plant transfers water from its roots to its leaves.

What You Need
  • 4 same-size stalks of fresh celery with leaves
  • 4 cups of the same size
  • Knife
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Red and blue food coloring
  • Measuring cup
  • Paper towels
  • Ruler
  • Old newspapers
  • Water
What to Do
  • Lay the four stalks of celery in a row on a cutting board or counter so that the place where the stalks and the leaves meet matches. Cut all four stalks of celery 4 inches (about 10 centimeters) below where the stalks and leaves meet.

  • Use 10 drops of red and 10 drops of blue food coloring for each 1/2 cup of water to make purple water. Pour the colored water in equal parts into the four cups. Have your child put one stalk each in the cups of purple water.

  • Label four sheets of paper towels: "2 hours," "4 hours," "6 hours," and "8 hours." (You may want to put newspapers under the towels.) Every two hours, have him remove one of the stalks and put it on the correct towel.

  • Each time he removes a stalk from the water, help him to carefully peel the rounded part with a vegetable peeler to see how far up the stalk the purple water has traveled.

  • Help your child to measure the distance the purple water has traveled for each stalk and record the information in his science journal. Talk with him about what he has observed.

  • Work with your child to make a list of other objects around the house or in nature that illustrate capillary action. Have him look for paper towels, sponges, old sweat socks, brown paper bags and flowers.

Icky Sticky Stuff

Grades 2–3

What makes glue, paste or tape stick to things? Wood, paper and many other materials have tiny cracks and holes in them. When we glue things together, sometimes the glue seeps into the tiny openings and hardens,making the materials stick together. Other times, the molecules on the surface of an object get tangled up with the glue molecules,making the objects stick together.

Adhesives are used to stick things together. Many adhesives occur in nature and have important uses for plants and animals.

What You Need
  • Flour
  • Measuring cup
  • Egg white
  • Food coloring
  • 4 small bowls
  • 4 plastic spoons
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cotton balls
  • Toothpicks
  • Small pieces of cloth
  • Glitter
  • Safety scissors
  • Colored yarn or ribbon
  • Colored paper
What to Do
  • Help your child to search your home to track down everything that she can that is sticky. See how many of the following she can find:

    • Tape
    • Peanut butter
    • Postage stamps
    • Envelopes
    • Honey
    • A decal on a t-shirt
    • Spackle
    • An adhesive bandage
  • Ask your child to make a list of things in nature—animals, plants and so forth—that have adhesive properties or are sticky. For example:

    • Spiders that use sticky threads to create webs to catch their food
    • Tree sap
    • Barnacles that stick to boats, ships and rocks
  • Next, ask her to think of adhesives that are used in hospitals? in offices? in auto repair shops?

  • Help your child to make a poster or collage using adhesives by doing the following:

    • Make three bowls of flour-and-water paste. In each bowl, add 1/4 cup water to 1/2 cup flour and mix until smooth. Add a different-colored food coloring to each of the three bowls and mix. Use the pastes to make colored shapes on a poster board or heavy paper.
    • Crack open an egg and separate the white into a bowl. Use the white as a clear glue to attach aluminum foil, cotton balls, toothpicks, cloth, glitter, ribbon, yarn and colored paper—whatever works to create a collage.

Splish Splash

Grades 2–3

Water and other liquids take the shape of whatever container they're in. Containers of certain sizes have names—cup, pint, quart, liter or gallon, for example. This activity provides an introduction to volume and measurement.

This activity introduces children to the scientific concepts of volume and measurement.

What You Need
  • Measuring spoons and cups of different sizes
  • Milk containers of different sizes—e.g., pint, quart, half-gallon and gallon (or 1/2 liter, 1 liter, 2 liter and 4 liter)
  • Funnel
  • 2 containers that hold the same amount but have different shapes—e.g., one tall and thin, one short and squat (try a 1-quart pitcher and the same-sized storage bowl)
  • 1 sink filled with water
What to Do
  • Have your child fill a quart-sized container with water. Then help him to use the funnel to pour the water into a gallon-sized container. Ask him to observe how many small containers it takes to fill the larger one.

  • Continue by having him use the different measuring devices to answer question such as the following:

    • How many tablespoons does it take to make half a cup?
    • How many cups does it take to make a quart?
    • How many pints make a gallon?
  • Set the short squat container next to the tall thin one. Ask your child to predict whether one container will hold more water than the other. Let him fill the short squat container with a given amount of water—for example, four cups if you're using quart containers. Then have him pour this water into the tall thin container. Was his prediction correct? Ask him why he thinks both containers held the same amount.

Hair-Raising Results

Grades 3 and up

All materials contain millions of tiny particles, called protons and electrons, that have electric charges. Protons have positive charges, and electrons negative ones. Usually, they balance each other, but sometimes when two surfaces rub together, some of the electrons rub off one surface onto the other, and we can have static electricity. Materials with like charges (all positive or all negative) move away from each other; those with opposite charges attract each other.

Here are some great hands-on ways to learn about static electricity.

What You Need
  • A cool dry day
  • 2 round balloons (inflated and tied)
  • 2 20-inch pieces of string
  • Wool or acrylic sock
  • Mirror
What to Do
  • Have your child tie a string to each inflated balloon. Then tell her to rub a balloon on her hair for about 15 seconds—help her to rub around the whole balloon. Have her take the balloon away and see what happens to her hair! Then have her observe what happens when she brings the balloon back close to her hair.

  • Next, stand a few feet away from and facing your child. Have her rub the balloon on her hair again as you do the same with the other balloon. Tell her to hold the string to her balloon, letting it hang freely but without letting it touch anything. (You do the same with your balloon.) Slowly move the two balloons toward each other, but don't let them touch. Have your child tell you what's happening: Do the balloons push away from each other, or do they pull toward each other? Have her place her hand between the two hanging balloons. What happens?

  • Give your child a sock to place over one hand. Tell her to rub her balloon with the sock, then let the balloon hang freely. Have her move her sock-covered hand near the balloon. What happens? Have her try rubbing both balloons with the sock and then letting them hang near each other. What happens now?

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