I’m really excited about my newest book, Ecology for Kids. It’s full of activities perfect for Earth Day, or any day when kids want to get their hands into some fun biology projects that teach them about Earth’s ecosystems. ( Ecology for Kids is available everywhere books are sold.)
Click here to watch a TV segment where I demonstrate how to make terrariums (rainforest ecosystems) and expanding cacti (desert ecosystems). I also illustrate ocean acidification using color-changing purple cabbage juice, baking soda, vinegar and carbonated water.
The book was illustrated by Kelly Anne Dalton and photographed by Amber Procaccini. Here’s a peek at a few images from the book, which contains biographies of 25 inspiring ecologists, paired with projects that help kids explore the work of those scientists.
Use science to make your holidays shine! Here are a few fun ornaments adapted from projects in my book “STEAM Lab for Kids.” Basic instructions can be found below. Buy your own copy of “STEAM Lab for Kids” anywhere books are sold to learn more about the “Science Behind the Fun!” Happy Holidays!
LED Ornaments and Jar Globes:
To make LED ornaments, buy plastic jars or ornaments with removable bases. Use sculpting clay (the kind that won’t harden) to design a scene and add LEDs connected to a coin-cell battery to light your creation. LEDs can be ordered online. See images below.
Epsom Salt Crystal Ornaments:
(Warning: Hot liquids require adult supervision.) To make the Epsom Salt crystals, dissolve 3 cups of Epsom salts in 2 cups of water by heating and stirring until no more crystals are visible. This creates a supersaturated solution. Allow the solution to cool slightly. Hang pipe cleaners formed into snowflakes in jars or hollow ornaments and pour the solution in. When long, needle-like crystals have formed, remove the pipe cleaners from the jars. You can leave them in the ornaments, and drain the liquid.
Gelatin is the substance that makes Jell-O jiggle. See what happens when food coloring molecules move, or DIFFUSE through Jell-O.
This creative science experiment that my kids and I invented lets you play with floatation physics by sprinkling glitter on melted gelatin, watch colorful dyes diffuse to create patterns and then use cookie cutters to punch out sticky window decorations. Water will evaporate from the gelatin, leaving you with paper-thin “stained glass” shapes.
-plain, unflavored gelatin from the grocery store or Target
–a drinking straw or toothpicks
*You can use the recipe below for two pans around 8×12 inches, or use large, rimmed cookie sheets for your gelatin. For a single pan, cut the recipe in half.
Step 1. Add 6 packs of plain, unflavored gelatin (1 oz or 28 gm) to 4 cups of boiling water. Stir well until all the gelatin has dissolved and remove bubbles with a spoon.
Step 2. Allow gelatin to cool to a kid-safe temperature. Pour the liquid gelatin into two large pans so it’s around 1-1.5 cm deep. It doesn’t have to be exact.
Step 5. In the pan with no glitter, use a toothpick dipped in food coloring to make designs in the gelatin. Alternately, use straw to create holes in the gelatin, a few cm apart, scattered across the surface. It works best to poke a straw straight into the gelatin, but not all the way to the bottom. Spin the straw and remove it. Then, use a toothpick or skewer to pull out the gelatin plug you’ve created. This will leave a perfect hole for the food coloring. Very young children may need help.
Step 6. If you poked holes with a straw, add a drop of food coloring to each hole in the gelatin.
Step 7. Let the gelatin pans sit for 24 hours. Every so often, use a ruler to measure the circle of food coloring molecules as they diffuse (move) into the gelatin around them (read about diffusion at the bottom of this post.) How many cm per hour is the color diffusing? Do some colors diffuse faster than others? If you put one pan in the refrigerator and an identical one at room temperature, does the food coloring diffuse at the same rate?
Step 8. When the food coloring has made colorful circles in the gelatin, use cookie cutters to cut shapes from both pans of gelatin (glitter and food coloring), carefully remove them from the pan with a spatula or your fingers, and use them to decorate a window. (Ask a parent first, since some glitter may find its way to the floor!) Don’t get frustrated if they break, since you can stick them back together on the window.
Step 9. Observe your window jellies each day to see what happens when the water evaporates from the gelatin.
When they’re dry, peel them off the window. Are they thinner than when you started? Why? Can you re-hydrate them by soaking the dried shapes in water?
The Science Behind the Fun:
Imagine half a box filled with red balls and the other half filled with yellow ones. If you set the box on something that vibrates, the balls will move around randomly, until the red and yellow balls are evenly mixed up.
Scientists call this process, when molecules move from areas of high concentration, where there are lots of other similar molecules, to areas of low concentration, where there are fewer similar molecules DIFFUSION. When the molecules are evenly spread throughout the space, it is called EQUILIBRIUM.
Lots of things can affect how fast molecules diffuse, including temperature. When molecules are heated up, they vibrate faster and move around faster, which helps them reach equilibrium more quickly than they would if it were cold. Diffusion takes place in gases like air, liquids like water, and even solids (semiconductors for computers are made by diffusing elements into one another.)
Think about the way pollutants move from one place to another through air, water and even soil. Or consider how bacteria are able to take up the substances they need to thrive. Your body has to transfer oxygen, carbon dioxide and water by processes involving diffusion as well.
Why does glitter float on gelatin? An object’s density and it’s shape help determine its buoyancy, or whether it will float or sink. Density is an object’s mass (loosely defined as its weight) divided by its volume (how much space it takes up.) A famous scientist named Archimedes discovered that any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid. Boats have to be designed in shapes that will displace, or push, at least as much water as they weigh in order to float.
For example, a 100 pound block of metal won’t move much water out of the way, and sinks fast since it’s denser than water. However , a 100 pound block of metal reshaped into a boat pushes more water out of the way and will float if you design it well!
What is the shape of your glitter? Does it float or sink in the gelatin?
Here’s a video I made for KidScience app that demonstrates how to make window gellies
Credit: My 11 YO daughter came up with the brilliant idea to stick this experiment on windows. I was just going to dry out the gelatin shapes to make ornaments. Kids are often way more creative than adults!
Crying over broken candy canes? Cry no more. Make art!
This project is from “Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science,” by Andrew Schloss. For a cookbook full of delicious recipes and the Science-Behind-the-Fun, buy my book Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: Edible Edition here!
*Melted candy can get dangerously hot, so parental supervision is required!
-candy canes (broken or whole), wrappers removed
-heavy-duty aluminum foil
-a cookie sheet
-a wire cooling rack
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 250F.
- Cover cookie sheet with foil
- Place candy canes on foil, not touching each other
- Bake candy canes for around 10 minutes and have an adult check them. They should be stretchy, but not too hot to touch.
- When the candy canes are ready, bend, fold, twist and pull them into cool shapes. Try pulling one long and wrapping it around a chopstick to make a spiral. What else could you try?
- If the candy gets to brittle to work with, put it back in the oven for a few minutes to make it soft again.
The science behind the fun:
If you looks at the ingredients of candy canes, they’re usually made of table sugar (sucrose), corn syrup, flavoring, and food coloring. Glucose and fructose are sweet-tasting molecules that stick together to make up most of the sugars we eat, like table sugar (sucrose) and corn syrup. You can think of them as the building blocks of candy.
At room temperature, candy canes are hard and brittle, but adding heat changes the way the molecules behave. Both table sugar and corn syrup contain linked molecules of glucose and fructose, but corn syrup has much more fructose than glucose, and the fructose interferes with sugar crystal formation. According to Andrew Schloss, “the corn syrup has more fructose, which means the sugar crystals in the candy don’t fit tightly together. The crystals have space between them, which allows them to bend and move without cracking.”
Here’s a great article on the science of candy-making.
If you’re looking for holiday gifts for a science-loving kid, my books Chemistry Lab for Kids, Kitchen Science Lab for Kids and Outdoor Science Lab for Kids include over 100 fun family-friendly experiments! They’re available wherever books are sold.
Made corn starch frescoes from my book “Outdoor Science Lab for Kids” on @fox9morning today! Mix 2 parts cornstarch with 1 part water, pour out on baking sheet or sidewalk and paint with watercolors or food coloring! (Wear old clothes if painting with food coloring) Let frescoes dry, or wash away with a garden hose.
Under the right conditions, purified water can get much colder than 32 degrees before it freezes into a solid. This “supercooled” water will instantly freeze when it touches an ice crystal.
You don’t need a special lab to make supercooled water. In fact, you can make it in your own freezer!
1. Place three 12 oz bottles of water (caps loosened and re-tightened) in the freezer. Two should be filled with purified water and one with tap water.
2. Wait 2 hours and then check them every 5 minutes. When the tap water is frozen, gently remove the other two bottles from the freezer. (Tap water freezes first, because it contains some impurities that help ice crystals form more easily.)
3. Carefully open one bottle of purified water and pour it onto a few ice cubes on a plate. The supercooled water from the bottle will instantly crystallize into ice when it hits the cubes, making slush. Try it with the second bottle. There may be some freezing time variation between freezers, so you may have to experiment to find the perfect amount of time it takes your freezer to supercool water!
You can do the same thing by putting bottled water in a cooler full of ice, salt, and water. Salt lowers the melting temperature of ice, which makes the salty ice water cold enough to freeze bottles of liquid. Try the same experiment using soda to make a slushy! (From Outdoor Science Lab for Kids-Quarry Books 2014)
With a few simple technology and art supplies, you can put together a simple kit that lets kids design and build bristle bots, art bots and light-up creatures.
The Science Behind the Fun: Hooking an unbalanced spinning toy motor to a brush sends vibrations through the bristles. The vibrating bristles move the brush, and anything attached to it, around on a flat surface. Make a disc robot by attaching toothbrushes to a CD and attaching a motor, or make a drawing robot with legs made of pens.
I’ve included ideas for items to put in a kit, along with a tech supply list and photos of the robots from STEAM Lab for Kids. Use your imagination for art supplies! Pair the kit with a book, like STEAM Lab for Kids (Amazon.com), which has instructions for making bristle bots, art bots and light-up creatures, or let tech-savvy kids take the reigns and start building!
LEDs, alligator clip test leads, toy motors and batteries let kids assemble simple circuits. (Supply list below photo)
Basic 3mm and 5mm through-hole LEDs (Art Bot, CD Bot, Light-Up Creature)
Small alligator clip test leads (Art Bot, CD Bot, Light-Up Creature)
AA battery holders (Art Bot, CD Bot )
AA batteries and 9V batteries (Art Bot, CD Bot )
9V battery clip snap-on connectors (battery snaps)
3V coin cell batteries (Light-Up Creature)
Mini electric motor for DIY toys (1500 rpm) for Art Bot, CD Bot
(Find these supplies at your favorite bricks and mortar location, like Axman Surplus stores, or get them online at Amazon.com or another tech retailer.)
Paper and plastic cups, brushes, toothbrushes, duct tape, zip-ties, and CDs all make great building supplies, and a glue gun always comes in handy.
Use your imagination for the art supplies.
And if you’ve got a kid who likes to sew, it’s fun to add supplies to make sewable circuits!
Sewable electronics: coin cell battery holders, sewable LEDs, snaps and conductive thread
Here are instructions for building a simple bristle bot.
To make a holidays version of the fizzing bath tablets in the video, we scented them with pumpkin pie spice and added a little more oil to incorporate the extra ingredients.
1 cup baking soda
¼ cup cream of tartar
3 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted to liquid
1 tsp. pumpkin spices
-Whisk together baking soda, cream of tartar and pumpkin spices. Slowly drizzle in coconut oil, mixing immediately. Stir for several minutes until you get a nice even mixture that holds together when you press it between your fingers. Add a little more oil if it is too powdery.
-Add a few drops of food coloring and mix again until the color is incorporated.
-Press the bath bomb mixture into a tablespoon and tap in on a tray to remove the bath tablet. If they don’t hold together, try adding a little more oil and mixing again. Dry the bath fizzies on a plate or cooking sheet and package them in cellophane bags or pretty baking cups for friends and family. Use the fizz bombs within a few weeks for maximum fizziness!
You can make larger “bath bombs” using molds for round ice cubes (which we found at Target.) Double or triple the recipes, gently press some mixture into each side of the mold, and mound a little extra on each side. Press the mold together to compress the bath bomb mixture into a single ball. Tap one side gently with the back of a spoon and gently open the mold to release that side of the sphere. Hold it in your palm and repeat with the other side to release the entire bath bomb from the mold.
The science behind the fun: The chemical name for baking soda is sodium bicarbonate , and cream of tartar is an acid called potassium bitartrate, or potassium hydrogen tartrate . When you mix them together in water, you create a chemical reaction that forms carbon dioxide gas bubbles! It’s interesting to note that at temperatures below 76 degrees F (25 C), coconut oil is a solid, but that at temperatures above this, it melts into a clear liquid. How does this affect your bath fizzies? Will they work in cold water as well as they do in warm water? Try it!
Eggs and sugar have great chemistry. Mix them together to create these sweet, crunch Halloween treats with a recipe from my upcoming book “Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: Edible Edition.“
They’ll take a few hours to bake, so plan ahead for this fun, edible science project.
Meringues are simply egg whites whipped into sugary foams. As you whip air into the mix, glue-like egg white proteins stick to the bubbles, stabilizing them to form a thick foam. The sugar you add combines with water from the eggs to form a sweet syrup.
When you bake meringue at a low temperature for a long period of time, the sugar and protein are transformed from an elastic goo to a glassy state, creating a crunch mouthful of bubbles.
Hard meringues are made using ¼ cup sugar per egg white, with a pinch of cream of tartar. Don’t skip the cream of tartar (an acid.) It helps stabilize the egg whites in the meringue.
To make Halloween Meringues, you’ll need:
3 egg whites from extra large eggs
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp Vanilla
Food coloring (gel works best)
Sprinkles or dusting sugar (optional)
Stand mixer or hand mixer
2 baking sheets
Pastry bags or large plastic zipper bags with the corners cut off
Round piping tips for pastry bag, if you have them
1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees F.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Beat three egg whites on medium until they start to foam.
4. Add 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar and continue to beat the egg whites, increasing the speed to high.
5. When the foam gets thicker enough to form soft peaks, add 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon or so at a time as you beat the eggs. Add vanilla.
6. Continue beating the mixture until stiff, glossy peaks with rounded tips form. Don’t over-beat the meringue.
7. Add a round tip to the pastry or plastic bag. Fill the bag with the meringue you made.
8.Use the bag and tip to pipe half of the meringue into blobs. You can color it with food coloring before piping it, if you wish.
9. Make some colorful streaks on the meringues by using a toothpick to smear food coloring on the inside of the pastry tip before putting it in the bag and piping the meringue. A small tip can be used to create eyes for the blobs, snakes and worms, or you can use sprinkles and dusting sugar to decorate.
10. Bake the meringues for 1-2 hours, until they feel dry and let them cool.
Sound waves are formed when air molecules are compressed (pushed together), creating pressure waves.
It’s fun and easy to play with sound waves! Here are some ideas for you:
Have fun experimenting!