Posts Tagged ‘project’

Sweet (and Salty) Lava Lamps

March 3, 2010

Pull out a jar, a bottle of vegetable oil, some food coloring, salt, sugar, and water to mix up this easy experiment! 

Fill the jar about halfway up with water and add a few drops of food coloring for contrast.  Add about half as much vegetable oil to the jar and watch it float to the top.  Now, a spoonful at a time, add salt to the jar.  The salt will pull some of the oil down with it, but will release the oil as it dissolves and the oil will float back to the top.  This will make your science experiment look like a real lava lamp.  Keep adding salt to make it keep working.  Now, try adding sugar or even sand. Kosher salt worked really well!

What worked the best for you?  Do you know why oil floats to the top of the water?  Email me your answers in the comments section at for a chance to win a tee shirt (size M.)  I’ll do a drawing for a winner in two weeks!

Fingerprint Valentines (plus a little science)

February 5, 2010


For this project, I thought that it would be fun mix a little science and a little art.  My sister told me that you could make cute Valentine’s cards using fingerprints.  I’ve also heard that it’s pretty easy to lift fingerprints using scotch tape, so I thought we’d give it a try.  For the valentines, you will need an ink pad, paper and markers.   All you need for the science part is paper, scotch tape and a pencil. 

VALENTINES: For the Valentines, have your children put ink on their fingers and make fingerprints or thumbprints together in the shape of a heart.  Of course, they will also want to make fish, bugs, and who knows what else?  I gave my kids some ideas to get them started and they went from there! They can decorate with markers.  It’s lots of fun!  We got our stamp pads at Creative Kidstuff, but you can find them almost anywhere.  There are few things better than a homemade Valentine!  Have your kids make them for the people they love!  Last year, my kids made them for everyone in their class.

SCIENCE:  On, I found a fingerprint-lifting technique that works well, even for very young children.  Simply take a pencil and scribble on a piece of paper until a small area is covered with the graphite from the pencil lead.  Have your child rub his or her finger around in the graphite until it is covered with gray.  Then, have your child carefully place their finger on the sticky side of a piece of scotch tape.  Have them lift their finger off of the tape.  A clear fingerprint should be visible.  Place the tape face-down on another piece of paper. 



Your child can then inspect the fingerprint under a magnifying glass, or just with their naked eye.  If you go to the wiki website I mentioned, your child can decipher whether they think their fingerprint is a whorl, a loop, or an arch.  It would be fun to have them trace their hand, fingerprint each finger and thumb, and tape their fingerprints to the correlating finger.  This would be a great addition to their science notebooks!  I’ve found that their notebooks are great keepsakes of their drawings and observations at different ages.  The kids had a lot of fun with this project and could do it unassisted once I showed them what to do.

Snow Science

December 29, 2009

A fun fact from NGKids :

“Bet You Didn’t Know: Twenty inches of snow equals one inch of water on average.”


Try it!  Have your kids put some snow in a clear container, let them measure how deep it is and allow to melt.  Then, have them measure how deep the remaining water is.  Older children can figure out whether their results were consistent with the NG Kids fact (10 inches of snow* should melt down to around 1/2  inch of water or 50cm of snow* should melt down to 2.5cm.)  If the snow isn’t perfectly fresh, this experiment may have the added benefit of reminding them why they shouldn’t eat snow.

*I’m guessing that NG Kids was referring to unpacked snow.  Our kids packed the snow into containers and we go more water than we expected.  Ask your kids why they think packed snow melts to give you more water than unpacked snow.

Fun with Marzipan

December 14, 2009

For my book club holiday party last week I decided to make a “Buche de Noel”, or Yule Log cake.  I’ve always wanted to make one, just to see whether I could do it.  It was helpful to watch the how-to video (courtesy of Nick Malgieri, author of Perfect Cakes) at  The marzipan link is  and you can find the other videos for finishing the cake on the same page as these videos.

Most people either love marzipan or hate it.  I don’t feel that strongly about it either way, but it is REALLY fun to play with!  Last week, instead of making it, I bought it pre-made and colored it by kneading in food coloring or cocoa powder.  Then, the kids and I used it to make little mushrooms and pinecones to decorate the Yule Log cake that I made.  It would be great for decorating birthday cakes and cupcakes. 

 Marzipan is made from almonds and sugar, so if your child has a nut allergy, this might not be a project for you.  

The video shows you step-by-step how to make marzipan pine cones, mushrooms and holly.  Even my three-year old could make the berries and smear cocoa on the mushrooms. 

Try it sometime!  You and your kids will love playing with this edible play dough.

Note:  I used Nick Malgieri’s recipe on  The cake was great, but next time I’ll make chocolate buttercream frosting. (The kids didn’t love the espresso and rum in the frosting.)

Cornstarch Goo- Liquid or Solid?

November 3, 2009

My son, the science-nut, turned nine on Tuesday, so I’m posting one of his favorite projects.  It’s easy, non-toxic and so much fun that it is worth every bit of the mess it makes.   Your kids will love it!

All you need is a cup of cornstarch and half a cup of water.  Let your child measure everything out.  (He or she will enjoy it much more than you will.)  Simply add the two ingredients to a medium-size bowl and let your child mix them together with a spoon or their fingers.

Then, play with the mixture!  You will discover that it behaves like a solid when you agitate it, or move it quickly,  and like a liquid when you let it sit still.  Pour some onto plates or into bowls if you want to.  We poured it directly onto our table which was pretty messy, but lots of fun!  Hold a handful on your palm and watch it drip between your fingers!  Have your child roll it into a ball.  If it gets too dry, just add a little more water.

Cornstarch molecules are like long ropes.  When you leave them alone, or move them slowly, they can slide past each other and look like a liquid.  However, if you squeeze them, stir them or roll them around in your hands, the ropey molecules get “tangled up” and they look and feel more like a solid.

Have fun!

Yummy Hot Dog Mummies

October 23, 2009


This was the easiest part of our Halloween feast and the kids devoured them. 

You’ll only need hot dogs (I like to buy preservative-free hot dogs when I can,) and refrigerated breadstick dough.  Pillsbury recommends an 11oz can for 12 hot dogs.  We couldn’t find breadstick dough, so I had the kids cut refrigerated cresent roll dough into strips and it worked pretty well.  You’ll also want to have ketchup and mustard on hand if your kids are dippers.

Just pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Unroll the dough and separate it into strips.  Show your child how to cut each strip in half  lengthwise and then in half  crosswise to create four long strips.  You should end up with around 48 pieces of dough.


Have your child wrap four or so pieces of dough around each hot dog, stretching the dough to look like mummy bandages.  They can make a hole between the bandages at one end where the face might be, if they want to.  Our mummies were far from perfect, but the kids didn’t care.  They had fun cutting and wrapping the dough.

Bake your mummies for 13 to 17 minutes or until the dough is golden brown.  Your kids can use mustard to draw faces on their mummies before they eat them.  My kids also thought it was really funny to call the ketchup “blood.”  Thanks again for the great ideas, Pillsbury!  Bon Appetite!


Pizza Box Solar Oven

October 9, 2009


When my friend Sheila, who works at NREL (the National Renewable Energy Laboratory) sent me this project, I couldn’t wait to try it out.  Unfortunately, it’s fall.  That means it’s cool outside and the sun isn’t very high in the sky.  We decided to attempt the project anyway on a cool, 60-degree day and, much to my surprise, it worked.  The oven didn’t get very hot, but we were able to warm a chocolate chip cookie enough to make it soft and melt the chips at about five o’clock in the afternoon with only about half an hour of sun.  NREL suggests using your oven to make s’mores, which would be really fun.  I just didn’t have the ingredients on hand.  The solar oven is surprisingly easy to make.  I think it only took us 10 or 15 minutes, with my help.

You will need: 1 pizza box from a local pizza delivery store (Little Caesars, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, etc.), newspapers, tape, scissors, black construction paper, clear plastic wrap, aluminum foil and a dowel or stick to prop the lid up.  You will also want to have some food to warm in your oven-marshmallows, chocolate, etc.

Make sure the cardboard is folded into its box shape.   Carefully cut out 3 sides of a square in the lid of the box.  Do not cut out the fourth side of the square, which is the one closest to where the pizza box lid hinges.  Gently fold the flap back along the uncut edge to form a crease.  See photo below!


Now, Wrap the underside (inside) face of the flap that you made with aluminum foil.  Tape it so that the foil is help firmly but so that there’s not too much tape showing on the foil side of the flap. 

Open the box and place a piece of black construction paper so that it fits the bottom of the box.  Tape it by the edges. (We used two pieces.)

Roll up some newspaper and fit it around the inside edges of the box.  This is the insulation.  It should be about 1-1 ½” thick.  Use tape (or other materials you can think of) to hold the newspaper in place.  Tape it to the bottom of the box so that you can close the lid. (We taped it to the sides and had to cut the tape so that we could close the lid.  Luckily our newspaper fit in tightly enough that we didn’t really even need the tape.)


Finally, cut plastic wrap an inch larger than the lid opening on the box top.  Tape it on the underside of the lid opening.  Add another piece of plastic wrap to the top of the lid opening.  This creates a layer of air as insulation that keeps heat in the box. It also makes a window your children can look through at the food they’re “cooking.”  BE SURE THE PLASTIC WRAP IS TIGHT.

You are almost done!  According to NREL, the oven needs to sit at an angle facing the sun directly so you’ll need to make a prop.  You could probably just use a book or something under the hinged side of the oven.  However, I missed this when I read the directions and we just put it flat on the ground.  The flap of the box top needs to be propped open—a dowel or ruler works great.   We used a wooden skewer that I broke the sharp point off of.  This way your child can change the amount of sunlight striking the oven window.  Let them play with the angle of the flap to see how much sunlight they can get to reflect on their food. 


Your child can check every once in a while to see how well their food is being heated by solar thermal energy.  Best of all, the results of this experiment are edible!  If your child is interested in finding out how the sun cooked their food, go to  NREL’s website has great information on solar energy and many other sources of renewable energy.

Dishtowel and Glue Batik

December 9, 2008

This year, I have been reminded of how much fun it is to make Christmas gifts.  With three small children, I have to admit that it’s not something that I’ve been anxious to do.  However, my kids had a wonderful time making gifts for their grandmas and grandpas this weekend and I think that they will enjoy them for years to come.  There are few things more cheerful and beautiful than the bright, expressive art of children. 


Batik is an ancient art which usually involves applying hot wax to fabric, dying the fabric and then removing the glue to expose the design.  When our friend Maggie told us that she had done Batik in her art class at school using glue and tempera paint, I couldn’t wait to try it.

My first attempt using washable tempera paint was not successful.  At this point the project became more of a pain than most of them that I post, but I loved the results so much that I decided to post it anyway.  I went online and found good directions on  As a result, I ended up going to their store to get higher quality tempera paint, which is not expensive, but stains the fabric better (and your kids clothes too, so be warned!).  They recommend using muslin as the fabric, but I just bought a 6-pk of flour sack dish clothes from Target for about $5.oo.

So, you will need: see-through cotton fabric, non-washable tempura paint, washable glue (like Elmers), a pencil and white paper.

First, I had my children draw designs with dark pencil on white paper the size that I wanted to frame, but you can do any size.  Remember, have them draw large designs.  The glue will spread and you will lose small lines and details.  Remind your child that the final result will not look exactly like their drawing.


Next, cut the fabric to about the same size as the paper and tape it to the paper.  I first taped the paper to a large piece of flat plastic, and then taped the cloth on, but that is not necessary.  You could probably tape the the paper to a cutting board  or counter top with similar results.  You will be able to faintly see the design through the fabric.  I think Muslin would be more transparent than the dishtowel, but I could see well enough.


Use glue to trace the drawing onto the fabric.  I did this step for my kids since it’s a little tricky and I didn’t want them to get too frustrated.  I squeezed the glue directly onto the fabric, but you could also put some in a dish and use a toothpick to apply it more finely.  Older children might enjoy doing it themselves!


Let the glue dry completely (we let it sit for about six hours.) 

Mix one part water with three parts tempera paint for best results.  Then, lay down lots of newspaper, have your child put old clothes on and let them paint their designs.  I think it looks the best when they completely cover the fabric with paint up to and even over glue lines.  My two-year old needed a little guidance so that she didn’t mix the colors together on the fabric too much and muddy them.  It’s fine to let the colors mix a little though.


Now, let the paint dry completely (overnight did the trick.)  Pull as much of the paper as possible off of the fabric.  Put on gloves to rinse the fabric in the sink.  Use your fingers or a soft rag to remove all of the glue and paper.  (The glue will feel slick and as you remove it you will feel the fabric and the paint will come off of where the glue was.)  It took me several minutes to remove all the glue.  The color will fade a little, but the fabric will soften as you remove the paint.  Do not wring the fabric, but blot it with rags or paper towels.  Then, hang it or lay it flat to dry.


You can iron the fabric between rags when it is dry.  The edges may be left frayed, or you can secure a small, ironed hem with glue or fabric adhesive.  I just left ours and taped them onto white paper and put them into inexpensive photo frames from Target. 

Each of my kids made one 5×7 batik for each set of grandparents.  They enjoyed the project and so did I!  In fact, one of these days, I’m going to help the kids each make a big Batik to frame for their rooms!  I can’t wait to see the snow leopard my son will do! 

If my directions aren’t clear enough, go to and look up “Easy Fabric Batik.”

Pine Cone Turkeys

November 13, 2008


Today I dragged myself to the craft store to buy feathers, pipe cleaners and google eyes.  It was worth the trip.  I try to do most of the projects I post with stuff I have in the house, but I made an exception for this project, since it sounded like so much fun.  The leftovers will go straight into my craft box to be used for another project on another rainy day.

 My mother-in-law suggested making pine cone turkeys, so I thought we’d give it a shot.  If you don’t have pine cones lying around the house, take your kids on a walk to find some, or, God forbid, buy some.  I have to admit that I had to buy some at Michael’s since it is wet outside and I wanted to do the project today. They only had cinnamon scent-drenched cones, which are a little strong, but the kids didn’t mind.


I bought some normal pipe cleaners and some sort of bumpy-looking ones that we cut up to use as turkey heads.  After we cut the pipe cleaner “head”, we twisted part of a normal pipe cleaner around it to affix it to the pine cone by wrapping it completely around it.   We made legs and feet from pipe cleaners too.  They don’t support the weight of the pine cone very well, but look cute.

Then, the kids just stuck feathers into the pine cones to make turkey tails.  You can have your children use glue, if you want the feathers to stay  put, by dabbing a little glue on the end of the feathers before you poke them into the pine cone.  It works pretty well just to stick them in too. 

Finally, glue some eyes on.  I bought google eyes that have adhesive already on them- what a great invention!


As usual, the project evolved into making crazy pipe cleaner/feather creatures once the turkeys were complete.  The kids were busy for an hour, needed very little help and the turkeys are very cute.  Good times.

Mad Scientist’s Green Slime

September 27, 2008

With Halloween just around the corner, what could be more fun than creating your own green slime to play with?  You can synthesize your own slime using only Elmer’s glue (the non-washable kind), Borax (found in the laundry detergent section of most stores), green food coloring and water.  It would be a great activity for a Halloween party!

It’s fun to find an old white, button up shirt for your child to use as his or her “lab coat”.  Not only will it make them feel like a scientist, but it will protect their clothes.  You could try to find some old goggles in your garage for your child to wear for fun too!  In a bowl, have your child mix together about 1/3 cup glue and 1/3 cup water with a spoon or Popsicle stick.  These measurements don’t have to be exact.  Add a few drops of green food coloring and mix well. 

To make the Borax solution, add around a cup of water to a jar.  To the water, add about a Tablespoon of Borax.  Have your child shake the jar to dissolve as much of the Borax as possible.  You are making what is called a saturated solution, so it may not all dissolve!  Don’t worry, it will work just fine.

Have your child add about a teaspoon at a time of the Borax solution to the glue/water mix.  After each addition, have them stir the mixture together.  You should see long strings begin to form and stick together.  Keep adding Borax until the mixture doesn’t feel gluey any more.  It will form sort of a shiny playdough-like substance.  If you add too much Borax solution, it will feel wet.  You should be able to just knead it a little to absorb the extra water!  The slime is not toxic, but Borax is soap, so don’t let your kids eat it!

I am a biologist and not a chemist, but here is the science, as I understand it. 

Mixing Elmer’s glue with water forms a substance called a polymer, which is a long chain of molecules.  (A molecule is the smallest amount of a specific chemical substance that can exist alone, like H2O, a single water molecule).  The polymer formed by water and glue is called polyvinyl acetate. 

The Borax solution (sodium tetraborate) is a cross-linking substance that makes the polymer chains stick together.  As more and more chains stick together, they can’t move around and the goo gets thicker and thicker.  Eventually, all the chains are bound together and no more Borax solution can be incorporated.

You can store the slime in plastic bags.  If you want to make a larger batch, just remember to mix equal amounts of glue and water and add as much Borax solution as needed.  Have fun!