The arctic temperatures kept most people inside last weekend – and rightfully so. It doesn’t take long for frostbite or hypothermia to set in and damage our bodies.
Still, with proper supervision, care and a sense of adventure, the cold weather gives us a chance to experience science with our children in a way that we just can’t when it’s 85 degrees and sunny outside. You don’t have to stick your tongue to a metal pole this winter to enjoy wintertime science.
Our favorite outdoor experiment on the coldest of days is to throw boiling water into the frigid air. The water quickly transforms into tiny ice crystals and creates a beautiful cloud. It is truly amazing to see this happen right before your eyes! Do this experiment on a day when there isn’t wind. But, this experiment should be conducted by a responsible adult who exercises extreme caution. If the boiling water flies back toward you or your spectators, it may just land you a trip to the emergency room. The boiling water can scald you, and I can tell you from experience that it is a pain you do not want to endure. To keep this experiment as safe as possible, use smaller amounts of boiling water rather an entire pot of water.
You may have made a volcano at your kitchen table for the science fair, but have you ever made a snow volcano? Take a plastic soda bottle and bury it in the snow, with just the opening visible. Fill the bottle with warm water to within just a few inches from the top. Squirt in a few drops of red food coloring (or, be adventurous with green or purple food coloring). Put it in 6 drops of dishwashing detergent (this helps to trap the bubbles to get a better flow of lava). Add 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Then, slowly pour in white vinegar. The baking soda and vinegar create a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide gas. You can experiment by using varying amounts of baking soda to vinegar.
Have fun creating frost from the comfort of your kitchen. From www.science-sparks.com, I found an experiment to make a frosty can. Take a can (be sure the edges aren’t jagged so you won’t be cut). Fill it half full with crushed ice, and add a couple tablespoons of salt and a little water. The salt will lower the melting point of the ice. Water vapor constantly surrounds us and when it comes in contact with a cold surface, it generally causes the air to condense because cold air can’t hold as much water. The water it can’t hold turns into tiny droplets. When it hits a surface that’s colder than the freezing point of water (which is 32 degrees Fahrenheit), it creates frost. Before conducting the experiment, your child could decorate the can as a snowman, with black eyes, a hat and a pointed orange nose. When the frost forms, the decorations turn the can into a snowman.
Did you know that you can hold a snowflake in your hand? Well, almost. Take a black foam board outside, away from falling snow, and let it sit it in the cold for about 20 minutes. When it feels icy cold, hold it level under falling snow or lay it on a flat surface. When a few snowflakes have gathered on the board, observe them with a microscope. Enjoy their unique and intricate beauty – but you have to do it quickly because they’ll soon melt. This experiment comes from homeschool scientist.com.
From the Kitchen Pantry Scientist comes an experiment that looks at how much water is created from a bucket of snow. Fill a small bucket with snow, and use a ruler to measure how many inches of snow you have. Let the snow melt in the bucket, then measure how much water you have. Generally speaking, ten inches of snow creates approximately one-half inch of water. (The actual amount of water you collect will depend upon how firmly you pack the snow into the bucket.) The snow is deeper than the water, because as the snow melts, the trapped air is released from the snow crystals.
Remember to enjoy these experiments under the supervision of a responsible adult, and dress warmly and safely for the weather. It won’t be long before the outdoor temperature will be hot enough to experiment with frying egg on the sidewalk.
Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.