At Home Science: Social distancing summer fun for kids

Ms. Covey Denton and her daughter Lydia share some ideas to keep kids entertained this summer.
Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 7:19 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2020 at 7:21 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Summer activities may look a little different for kids this year, as many camps and activities go virtual. Parents, if you’re scrambling to keep your kids entertained all while social distancing, Ms. Covey Denton and her daughter Lydia have some ideas!

Ms. Covey Denton presented three experiments virtually on WITN News at Sunrise Friday that you can recreate at home.

Be sure to watch the attached videos!

Descriptions from Ms. Denton:

Sounds/Foley Artist:

We're making our own sound effects!

Sounds are caused by vibrations going through materials like a solid, liquid or gas. That is the reason there is no sound in space! Space is filled with SPACE and there is nothing to carry the sound waves' energy.

In this experiment, we're going to be making some funny sounds using vibrations.

The first experiment is called "chicken in a cup." In the experiment, my wet fingertips cause a vibration on the wet string. That vibration travels up through the string, vibrates the paperclip and that vibrates the cup. Different strings will make different sounds! It might be fun to try yarn, paracord, thread and string to see what different vibration sounds they can make.

The second experiment uses a plastic cup and a metal slinky to make a really cool space sound. Plastic slinkies will create an entirely different sound. You might experiment with different cups to see how they change the sound as well-- a thick glass has more molecules to vibrate, so it creates a different sound.

The final experiment uses a straw. Two things will change the way that the straw sounds, including how big the straw is (a smoothie straw for example) and how long the straw is. To make it even more loud and annoying, try rolling a cone of paper and taping that to the end of the straw that you are blowing on. The cone will direct more of your sound waves in one direction, making the noisemaker seem louder.

Walking Water:

Ever wondered how paper towels can suck up water? They are made up of many small fibers with small gaps.

Water gets pulled into the small spaces by something called capillary action. This is the same process that allows trees to suck water from the ground. Capillary action is caused by surface tension and cohesion. Water molecules are attracted to one another because they are a polar molecule, meaning they have a positive end and a negative end, so they hold onto one another. As they go into the small holes, they sort of pull their friends along because they are attracted to one another. It is also helped by another process called adhesion. Cellulose in paper towels is attracted to water molecules because it is polar too!

Once the paper towel is full, it acts like a siphon, drawing the water up into the empty glass until the level in the two glasses is equal.

To make this a true science experiment, you could try it with different brands of paper towels. You could also try it with plain paper, which is also made of cellulose, but doesn't have as many small spaces. It would also be fun to try with a stalk of celery to see if it could act the same way by drawing up the water into the stalk.

Milk Fireworks:

Milk is mostly water, but it has fats, minerals, vitamins and protein mixed in. Fat doesn't dissolve in the water-- it actually will float out of milk and form cream if the milk is not homogenized. Most of our milk in the U.S. is homogenized, meaning the milk fat is blasted into tiny little drops that will not collect into cream at the top of the milk, but are mixed pretty uniformly throughout the milk.

When you add in soap, it starts collecting and binding to the non-polar fat molecules. The polar end of the soap connects to the water, allowing you to wash the fat away with the water. When you do this in milk, as the soap molecules move to join up with the fat in the milk, the molecules of fat bend and roll and twist and the fat does acrobatics. Normally you can't see this happen, but if you put some food coloring there, the fat will bump into the food coloring and push it around. The more fat, the more movement and the better the explosion.

So what happened in the cream? Well, the food dyes are water soluble, not fat soluble. Heavy whipping cream is almost all fat with very little water. When you add the soap, there is so much fat there that the molecules don't have to move much to bind with the soap molecules. The dye also had nothing to dissolve in, so it wasn't very exciting to watch.

From our test kitchen, we saw the most movement, longest fireworks and best results with the whole milk. There was plenty of water to dissolve the coloring and plenty of fat to do acrobatics to create a very kid-friendly fireworks show! As you can see in the video, skim and 2% also work well and will work if that is what you have on hand.

Covey Denton is an award-winning science teacher at the Greenfield School in Wilson, NC. She and her kids make regular appearances on WITN News at Sunrise.

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