Science Demonstrations for 5-12 Year Olds
February 19, 2013 4:50 AM   Subscribe

Do you have any ideas or resources on creating exciting and interesting science demonstrations for kids 5-12 years old?

There are a bunch of different classes studying different topics, so almost any branch of science is open for consideration. Assume no existing equipment, but a modest budget (a few hundred £) and some DIY skills. Venue could be classroom, school hall or playground. Extra credit for audience participation opportunities.
posted by Jakey to Education (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
on a small scale, I once impressed at a birthday by having a small amount of baking soda and vinegar at the bottom of a carafe. I set my hand over the top (as the CO2 was being generated) and then after a few seconds "poured" the heavy gas over some candles. Looked like the candles were extinguished by magic :) Then I explained what was happening.
posted by alchemist at 4:54 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Indeed, looking on YouTube or google for "science magic" or something similar will turn up a bunch of great, and usually cheap, demo's that will work for kids of that age.

Here's one.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 5:02 AM on February 19, 2013

Speaking of vinegar and baking soda, the classic "volcano" reaction when you mix them (rapidly expanding foam) is pretty cool.

Corn starch and water makes a non-Newtonian fluid that's fun to play with.

Red cabbage extract works as a pH indicator, changing colors when mixed with different things.

Diet Coke & Mentos!
posted by usonian at 5:07 AM on February 19, 2013

My local Girl Scout Council has a program called Bridging the Gap, which includes a lot of science projects. Most of the packets contain a lot of info on STEM and careers that probably wouldn't be useful, but the piezo poppers mentioned in this one are wicked fun. There are some more science-based guides in this list. I am also a huge fan of doing bubble projects with kids-- you can make all sorts of strange-looking bubble wands (but the bubbles are always the same shape!) and your own bubble solution. Just don't do it in a classroom with antique hardwood will be cleaning bubble solution out of cracks for eternity.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:26 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dry ice and instant ice cream! I've seen this demo'd at science museums. The audience participation opportunities are pretty obvious, especially at the end.
posted by carter at 5:28 AM on February 19, 2013

The Exploratorium has a great 'snacks' page filled with DIY science projects for kids, like a spinning bicycle wheel gyroscope, a fog chamber for viewing subatomic particles, soap bubble art, and much more.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:40 AM on February 19, 2013

Paper chromatography is fun and can be used on a variety of inputs (leaves, markers, etc) and a variety of solvents.
Here's a set up for doing leaves.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:42 AM on February 19, 2013

I did a science fair project when I was about that age which was basically a demonstration of the operation of the six simple machines. You can get all the stuff you need from your local hardware store. The kids that are old enough can do the basic math involved, but even the younger ones can appreciate the relation between force and distance.
posted by valkyryn at 6:13 AM on February 19, 2013

Going back to the baking soda and vinegar idea and using the CO2 produced to extinguish candles: You can really make this a more meaningful demonstration by linking it to the Lake Nyos disaster and "killer lakes" more generally. This video explains exactly how to do it. I think it would be a great learning module for 12 year olds...but it could probably be tailored for the younger kids as well.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:25 AM on February 19, 2013

Build different styles of toothpick bridges and see how much weight each can hold.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:25 AM on February 19, 2013

The one that impressed us the most, age 12 or so, was the reaction of sulfuric acid and sugar. The message: study science, blow things up.
posted by thelonius at 6:36 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:41 AM on February 19, 2013

Hooke's Law (F = kx) where k is the spring constant is something that can be presented in various different ways, many of which are approachable, demonstrable, and affordable as long as the kids can multiply 2 numbers together.

Slingshots, catapults, matchbox car launchers, slinkys, the list goes on and on. Edge cases could be demonstrated via plastic deformation if desired.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:56 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

-Anything involving fire.
-Liquid nitrogen.
-Projectiles (catapult, trebuchet, rocket, potato gun, etc).
posted by steinwald at 6:58 AM on February 19, 2013

Get a chair with wheels, roller skates, or a cart to ride on and a fire extinguisher and you can do some very impressive demonstrations of rocket principles.
posted by steinwald at 7:03 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Googling things like "chemistry demonstrations" and "kitchen chemistry" and "science for kids" will get you a bunch of ideas/recipes.

I do a ton of these shows for kids of all ages (K-12) and in my experience the most popular ones with easily-accessible ingredients are borax slime, red cabbage juice pH indicator (plus household things to "test"), and baking powder film-canister rockets (google will give you recipes, otherwise I can).

If you can get access to dry ice you can make bubbling beakers with food colouring+dish soap+optional PH indicator. If you can get access to liquid nitrogen you can freeze/smash vegetables etc which is always a big hit as well.

Pretty much all of these are great with audience participation.
posted by randomnity at 7:48 AM on February 19, 2013

I like the book Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes. It details a number of simple science experiments and demonstrations that can for the most part be done with stuff you may already have around the house (or school). And it has very clear instructions and full-color photos of each project, which makes it super-easy to get things right on the first try.

There's also an iPhone app, KidScience, that features video demonstrations of various kid-friendly science fun.
posted by BlueJae at 7:59 AM on February 19, 2013

Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream!
posted by Freen at 9:30 AM on February 19, 2013 is chock full of fun science experiments and you can sort for age, topic, cost, etc!
posted by Mouse Army at 10:48 AM on February 19, 2013

There's a lot of science in cooking. There are three common techniques for bread: quick, yeasted, and sourdough. You can carbonate soda in two liter bottles using dry active yeast. Lacto-fermentation: pickles, yogurt. Caramalization: onions, dulce de leche.
posted by gray17 at 5:13 PM on February 19, 2013

My engineer dad was basically a rock star for a few weeks when he was a guest teacher for my fifth grade FSEA (Future Scientists and Engineers of America) group and taught us how to make bottle rockets. I'm fairly certain he made the launcher, too. Examples of other FSEA projects, though we never used the actual kits.
posted by book 'em dano at 5:35 PM on February 19, 2013

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