Spark interest in learning basic science concepts by organizing experiments around a central theme. Here are some creative ways to structure and present related sets of science experiments. These are all free to access and are designed with everyday materials so you can do them at home.
Turns out there’s lots o’ science hidden in your kids’ fave storybooks. Use that to your advantage by doing experiments inspired by these well-known tales. The site Science Sparks has a variety of storybook-themed science experiments. For example, there are sections with experiments based on Roald Dahl books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, fairy tales, and others. In addition, visit Share It! Science for STEM and STEAM activities that go along with picture books.
If you’re learning about a particular science concept, you can start with a beginner’s experiment, then build upon the same concept by progressing to a more challenging activity. At the Science Buddies site, you can find experiments of increasing complexity using their difficulty scale. Let’s say you want to do some experiments with bubbles. Start out with a beginner’s project to make your own bubble solution. Learn about what makes good bubble solution and learn science concepts like surface tension and physical and elastic properties. Then, use the solution you made to progress to a second experiment to determine which materials can catch bubbles without popping them.
Who doesn’t love searching for clues and gathering evidence to solve a good mystery? The bonus is learning science concepts along the way.
The site Science Mystery offers free online interactive mysteries for middle and high school students. The mysteries are designed to teach science concepts and skills through engaging storylines. The reader becomes a character in the story and interacts with other characters to perform investigations and solve a problem or mystery. Click into the “for Teachers” tab to see a list of all the mysteries, suggested grade levels, and science concepts taught.
For ready-made activities for elementary ages, head over to Mystery Science. While most of their activities are behind a paywall, there are some you can access for free. Each investigation starts with an exploration video followed by an “open & go” hands-on activity. The lessons are presented as intriguing questions to be answered such as, Where Do Clouds Come From? and Could a Statue’s Shadow Move? Right now, they’re running a promo to sign up for a free trial through June 30, 2024.
Another option is to do experiments that combine different branches of science to get a more holistic view of scientific principles. For example, make a lemon battery and learn about chemical reactions, the flow of electrons through a circuit, and design aspects of engineering. Or put physics and engineering to use when you make a hovercraft and learn about air pressure and friction.
Historical Time Travel
Take a journey through time and do experiments that correspond to a particular time period.
Make a sundial and learn about how ancient civilizations used them and other implements to measure time and seasons.
Make papyrus and learn about the paper-making process of yesterday and today.
Another way to link history and science is to read biographies of famous scientists and do simple experiment recreations. For example, you can do a version of Galileo’s falling objects experiment.
Click here for access to free biographies about famous scientists, and related science experiments.
Science Around the World
Study science concepts while simultaneously learning about different countries and cultures. Check out Around the World in 50 Experiments, print your passport, and start your adventure. Head for the arctic and do an activity to investigate how animals stay warm in cold temperatures. Travel to the rainforest of Papua New Guinea and learn about one of the world’s rarest butterflies with a larger than average wingspan. Then calculate your own wingspan and model the lifecycle of a butterfly. The site has not yet reached 50 experiments, but they continue to add to the series.
Taste Test Different Teas: Compare and contrast the flavors, colors, and aromas of different types of tea. Here’s a caffeine free tea tasting and mixing experiment. Learn about the origins, history, and health benefits of different teas. You can also watch videos, read books, or do online research about tea ceremonies and traditions from different cultures, such as China, Japan, India, England, Morocco, and Turkey.
Make Your Own Flatbread: Bake flatbreads from various cultures and compare the ingredients and techniques used in each recipe. Learn about the history and traditions of each flatbread, and how they are used in different dishes and meals.
Do a variety of science experiments that incorporate artistic elements. For example, make a chromatography butterfly to explore this technique used to separate different substances in a mixture. Learn about density and buoyancy by creating a colorful lava lamp. This interesting activity involves recording your voice and learning about sound vibrations, then making a sound wave portrait.
Invention and Problem-Solving
If your kids like to tinker, provide them with the materials to unleash their inner inventors. If you want to provide some guidance, you can present them with challenges that involve critical thinking to come up with clever solutions. For example, this set of task cards features design activities that can be done mostly with cotton swabs. This set of task cards has activities that are focused on earth and environmental science. This critical thinking workbook has a “synthesizing activities” section (starting on p. 102), that asks kids to figure out new things like designing improvements to existing objects, and proposing solutions to real-life problems.
There are many sites that offer free STEM activities that present problem-solving and design activities. Here are few: