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Holiday Science: Experiments to try with your kids at home

Published: Dec. 15, 2020 at 8:10 AM EST
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WILSON, N.C. (WITN) - You can keep your holiday budget on track this holiday season with some at-home, holiday-themed science activities.

Ms. Covey Denton and the science kids came on WITN News at Sunrise to demonstrate some experiments that are easy and fun to do with your kids over the next couple of days.

Be sure to watch the attached videos!

Descriptions from Ms. Denton:

1. Magic appearing ornaments: A fun density experiment with plastic ornaments, popcorn and a pickle jar. All things that are easily available.

To do this experiment you will need a tall, transparent container like a pickle jar or vase. Fill the jar with popcorn kernels (don’t worry--they aren’t wasted! You can use them to make a delicious treat after you’ve wowed everyone with your holiday “magic”). Inside the popcorn, nestle a hollow plastic ornament (or a ping pong ball) into the very middle where you can’t see if from any angle. Get a heavy ball bearing (available at any general hardware store) and tell your audience you are going to do a little magic and turn the ball bearing into an ornament from the tree. Conjure up some magic words or have everyone sing a carol and start swirling and shaking the container gently. The ball bearing will disappear under the popcorn seeds and the ornament will magically come up to the surface.

Why is this happening? Density!! Density is the measurement of how much “stuff” is packed into a space. Maybe you’ve seen how oil-vinegar salad dressing always separates out or notices that oil floats on top of puddles. This is due to the difference in densities. The ball bearing is very heavy and more dense than the popcorn kernels so it sinks when they start moving around. The ornament on the other hand is hollow, so it is less dense and will rise up to the top.

Density is very important when learning about weather as well. Cold air is more dense and the molecules are closer together. Warmer air is less dense and tends to rest on top of a layer of colder air. The way that warm and cold air interact can cause clouds, precipitation and even thunderstorms!

2. Magic growing crystal trees: Some ammonia, table salt and a little laundry booster and you can grow your own crystal trees--we could never do this one in person because it is so difficult to transport so this would be a really fun one to do at home. They can grow on a cereal box (or my personal favorite--tp tubes!)

Get a cereal box, old shirt box, or my personal favorite, toilet paper tubes for this fun experiment! Cut it into the shape of a tree and add food coloring or washable markers to decorate the cardboard. In a small bowl, mix

1 tablespoon of water

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon bluing

½ tablespoon of household ammonia

and set the tube to rest overnight. Within hours you will see amazing crystals starting to form! This a great way to show the effects of capillary action, evaporation and crystallization.

Capillary action is the process that enables plants and trees to take water and nutrients from the soil up through their stems. The fibers in the cardboard draw the magic solution up into the shape and it will soak itself in the solution. The ammonia causes the magic solution to evaporate more quickly. When the solution evaporates, the salt and bluing are left behind on the cardboard. The evaporation causes the salt and bluing particles to crystallize and grow on your tree.

Because the solution is water based, you need to use water based colors like markers or food coloring, to color some of your crystals. Alcohol based markers like Sharpies and permanent markers will not tint the crystals the same way.

These crystals are beautiful to look at but not safe to eat. Make sure you keep the ammonia away from young children and animals and place the trees in a place where curious pets won’t take a nibble.

3. Snowy soap: Put ivory soap in the microwave and it fluffs up and is HUGE and snowy! Perfect for a long bath and playtime for the kids over break. All you need is a $1 bar of Ivory soap and a microwave.

Ivory soap is called the “soap that floats” because the soap is actually whipped before forming it in the bar. This means that there are thousands of tiny air pockets in the soap, which cause it to float.

Cut your bar of soap into quarters and place on a microwave safe plate. Microwave it on high for about 60-90 seconds to see the soap grow and change into soap fluff. Why does it do that? Well, the microwave heats up the water molecules inside the bar of soap, making the solid soap get soft. The hot water molecules also heat the pockets of air. The hot air expands and pushes out against the softened soap, causing it to expand.

What happens if you microwave other soaps? They will just tend to melt into a puddle since there isn’t air whipped into the mixture.

The soap is not wasted, just fluffy! Put some snow by the sink to encourage hand washing or enjoy a fluffy snowy bubble bath over the winter holidays.

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

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