In the midst of my second year hosting a home preschool co-op, we’ve attempted numerous experiments and activities with our toddlers and preschoolers. Unfortunately, not all of them were successful, easy, or engaging enough for the kids. Some took too long to set up, and others took too long to clean up! Since we’ve repeated the best ones in our house over and over, I thought I’d share some of my favorites. Thankfully, they’ve proved to be exciting even when the outcome is already known. And on the plus side, it’s both fun and a great learning experience for them!
Science Experiments for Toddlers, Preschoolers, and School Age Children
1. Absorption – This is a very engaging experiment from meaningfulmama.com. It’s a great chance to teach about colors and absorption with minimal materials. We used clear plastic cups, paper towels, water, and food coloring in primary colors. It works within minutes, and we were amazed that we produced orange, purple, and green by the colors traveling up the paper towels and then mixing. It’s not messy, can be done indoors, and would even be neat for school age children.
2. Magic Milk Colors – For this one from ourbestbites.com, all you’ll need is milk (2% or whole), food coloring, dish soap, a toothpick or cotton swab, and a shallow bowl or small plate. This is a simple, yet amazing demonstration of the art of chemistry. Simply pour enough milk to cover the bottom of your container and add a few drops of each color food coloring. Then dip your toothpick or cotton swab in dish soap and place it in the food coloring. The results are spectacular. This experiment hinges on the fats and proteins from the milk reacting with the bipolar characteristics of the dish soap. It creates quite a beautiful show as the molecules dance around trying to meet up with each other. As the soap becomes evenly mixed with the milk, the action slows then stops. Try adding another drop of dish soap to see if anything happens. Results are instantaneous, so it’s appropriate for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age kids.
3. Ice and Oil – The boys really enjoyed this experiment from growingajeweledrose.com. All you’ll need baby oil or vegetable oil, ice cube trays, food coloring, and something to contain the oil. The baby oil is neat because it’s clear, but since it’s not edible, we chose vegetable oil instead (you never know with toddlers). As the ice melts, it creates little bubbles that are fun to push and move around. They had a blast exploring the different textures and temperatures of the oil and ice. They did not want to stop. I’d recommend doing this outside because it can be messy. Although my little ones loved this experiment, I don’t think it’s engaging enough for older kids. This one also requires the most planning, as you’ll need to obviously freeze the ice cubes in advance.
4. Fizzy Eruptions – This one is always a hit in our house! We’ve attempted it many times, many different ways, and it never gets boring. You’ll need some basic items like food coloring, baking soda, and vinegar. For more fun, dig out some syringes, spoons, or medicine droppers. Simply put a few drops of food coloring on the bottom of a container, cover with baking soda, and let the kids work some magic with the vinegar. That’s it! As the vinegar reacts with the baking soda, you’ll hardly believe the chemical reaction is happening before your eyes! For a cleaner, more contained experiment, check out readingconfetti.com. For the adventurous, you could attempt it outside with squirt guns like notimeforflashcards.com. This one is appropriate for toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age kids.
5. Sink or Float – This popular activity never gets dull. The variations are endless. You already have everything you need. Attempt it in a sink, the bathtub, or take the experiment outside. We’ve tried pool toys, cars, keys, balls, even a bottle of nail polish…anything we can find really. My boys like to predict whether objects will sink or float before tossing them in the water. Then they’ll take everything out and do it again to see if they can remember correctly. We could even take it a step further at some point and discuss why certain objects sink or float, but for now, they simply enjoy throwing the items in and getting a little wet. Age appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers.
We also enjoyed the Tornado in a Bottle experiment that was found at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website. We’re looking forward to trying the Melting Ice and Elephant Toothpaste experiments next.