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Explore 'Frozen Fun' Winter Science Activities with Kids

They tap into a sense of wonder, and you may even learn some science

Snowflake

After kids' excitement about being on Winter Break from school wears off, adults will probably hear the dreaded phrase, “I’m bored!” A National Louis University expert has recommended some really, REALLY cool activities to engage kids in cold-weather fun. As they are freezing bubbles, making snow, eating nature’s candy or deciphering the cookie mystery, they might even learn a little science.

National Louis University’s Vito Dipinto, Ed.D., associate professor with the National College of Education, was an organic chemist before becoming an educator. Now he prepares college students studying to become science teachers, and often visits local elementary schools, dazzling students with entertaining science experiments.

“Wintertime offers many opportunities for kids to have fun exploring the world of science,” said Dipinto. “These activities also provide an alternative to video games and television.”

Dipinto suggested the following activities for parents and caregivers to share with kids during the cold-weather months.

1. Frozen Bubble Magic:

Materials needed: Dawn dishwashing detergent (no substitutes), water, bubble wand, a day that is 15 to 25 degrees (optimally) outside and has a slight wind

  • Combine one part original Dawn dishwashing detergent and three parts water. Mix gently to create bubble mixture. 
  • Use a bubble wand to blow bubbles into the air and watch them freeze.
  • Let the bubble touch the child’s nose and listen for a “pling” sound when it breaks.

2. Make Your Own Snow:

Materials needed: pot to boil water, travel mug, outside temperature of around -30 degrees F (-34 degrees C)

  • With careful adult supervision, heat water to boiling (212 degrees F) and pour it into a safe container, such as a travel mug.
  • Carefully pour the water from a balcony or, if standing on the ground, toss it up in the air, taking care it doesn’t fall on anyone.
  • Watch as the water turns into snow as it falls to the ground.
  • This occurs because cold air is very dense, meaning its molecules are very close together, leaving no room for the water molecules. This causes the water to precipitate out by clinging to microscopic particles in the air, just as regular snowflakes are formed.

3. Blubber Glove:

Materials needed: 2 gallon-sized zipper lock bags, 4 tablespoons of shortening, duct tape, ice and 1 gallon bucket

  • Fill a bucket to the halfway mark with cold water and add ice.
  • In the first zipper lock bag, stir in four tablespoons of shortening.
  • Place the second, empty zipper lock bag into the zipper lock bag that contains the shortening.
  • Ask the child to place their hand into the second, empty zipper lock bag.
  • Using their other hand, spread the shortening on the outside of the inner bag. Remove other hand when finished.
  • Fold the top of the inner zipper lock bag over the top of the outer zipper lock bag, so the shortening is stuck between the two bags.
  • Place duct tape on the fold to keep it secure.
  • Have the child to place their hand into the new blubber glove and dip it into the bucket of icy water to show how shortening is a fat, like blubber, and acts as an insulator.

4. Volcano in the Snow:

Materials needed: 2 spoonfuls baking soda, 1 spoonful liquid soap, red food coloring, 30 ml vinegar, water bottle, snow

  • Add all ingredients, except the vinegar, to a water bottle.
  • Place the water bottle in a mound of snow and cover the bottle with snow in order for it to look like a volcano, leaving the mouth of the bottle open.
  • Add the vinegar and watch the eruption!

5. Maple syrup candy:

Materials needed: pure maple syrup and candy thermometer OR ½ cup packed brown sugar and 2 tablespoons butter, fresh snow

  • If using Maple Syrup: Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until a candy thermometer reads 235 F (112 C).
  • If using sugar and butter: Prepare sugar and butter mixture by heating butter and sugar together, stirring well.
  • Locate some freshly-fallen, clean snow and pour either the maple syrup or butter-sugar mixture onto it. Wait 3 to 5 seconds for it to cool and It will harden like maple taffy. Roll it up and enjoy.

6.  Snowflake Fossils:

Materials needed: glass laboratory slides with cover slips, Krylon spray adhesive (available at art supply stores) OR super glue (the thin kind, not the gel), dark cloth or cardboard, and tiny paintbrush, outdoor temperature of 23 F or below

  • Cool the glass laboratory slides and their cover slips outdoors (sheltered from the snow) and allow them to reach the temperature outdoors.
  • Use a dark cloth or cardboard to “catch” snowflakes, and when you see a pretty one, use a tiny artist’s paintbrush to transfer it to a glass slide. Cover it with the spray fixative or a generous drop of superglue.
  • Allow it to dry outdoors in the cold, protected from snow, for up to a week.
  • Once it’s dry, you can bring your fossil inside; it will last indefinitely. You can photograph it and share with friends.

7. Oobleck Party:

Materials needed: 1 lb of cornstarch, measuring cup, water, green food coloring, zipper lock bags

  • Pour one pound of cornstarch into a large measuring cup.
  • Fill a separate measuring cup with two cups of water and a few drops of green food coloring.
  • Slowly add the green water to the cornstarch, mixing it by hand. Be careful not to add too much water, as the oobleck can go from a cake-like solid to a watery soup with a small amount of water.
  • Pour the fresh oobleck into zipper bags and share it with guests to create an Oobleck party.

8. Ice Paint:

Materials needed: Liquid tempera paint, ice cube tray, craft sticks, paper, plastic wrap (optional)

  • Pour different paint colors into an ice cube tray.
  • Place a craft stick into the middle of each paint cube. If the sticks don’t independently stand in the tray, cover the tray in plastic wrap and poke the sticks through the wrap for stability.
  • Put the ice cube tray in the freezer until the paint is frozen solid.
  • Once the paint cubes are frozen, simply pop a cube out of the tray and paint.
  • For a lesson on color mixing, freeze yellow and red paint cubes and demonstrate to children what happens when the two colors are mixed together to make orange.

9. Teeth Brushing Reminder:

Materials needed: 1 hard-boiled egg with white shell, a glass, a can of dark brown soda, toothpaste, toothbrush

  • Gently put the hard-boiled egg into an empty glass.
  • Pour the can of soda into the glass, ensuring that the egg is completely covered in the soda.
  • Leave the egg in the soda overnight. Ask the child what they think will happen to the white egg.
  • Remove the egg from the glass of soda and ask the child what is different about its appearance now.
  • Give the child a toothbrush and toothpaste, and brush the egg like they brush their teeth -- and watch the stains vanish.

10.  Lemon-Powered Clock:

Materials needed: 3 lemons, 3 galvanized or zinc nails, 3 pre-1982 pennies (which are mostly copper) soaked overnight in an electrolyte solution like Gatorade or lemon juice and salt (to clean), insulated wires with alligator clips, digital clock and knife

  • Squeeze or roll lemon vigorously to make an electrolyte solution.
  • Cut a small line in the lemon, and insert a penny to create the positive terminal.
  • Approximately an inch away, insert a galvanized nail into the other side of the lemon to create a negative terminal.
  • Connect an alligator clip to the penny and the other alligator clip to the nail.
  • Ask the child how many lemons they think they’ll need to power a clock that runs on one AAA battery (1.5 volts). Hint: One lemon produces 7/10 of a volt, so they’ll need at least 2 lemons.
  • Link lemons in a series by connecting alligator clips from the positive terminal (with the copper penny) to the negative terminal (zinc nail) in each adjacent lemon.
  • Remove the battery in the LED clock and connect the alligator clips to the positive and negative terminals in the clock.

11.  Cookie Mystery:

Materials needed (for each group): 6 small containers each labeled 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, flour, powdered sugar and baby powder, 3 small dropper bottles, water, vinegar, iodine solution, box of toothpicks, strips of wax paper, squares of aluminum foil, tweezers or tongs or clothes pins, small candle, matches, and safety goggles

  • Middle schoolers will investigate which of the three powder samples is best to use to make cookies.
  • Fill each container with one of the following white powders: baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, flour, powdered sugar or baby powder.
  • Create 3 different samples by mixing equal amounts of each powder listed below:
    • Sample 1: Flour, corn starch, and powdered sugar
    • Sample 2: Flour, baking soda and powdered sugar
    • Sample 3: Flour, baking soda and baby powder
  • For each sample:
    • Place 3 small samples (half the size of a dime) of the powder on a piece of wax paper. Put the wax paper on a paper towel to prevent messes.
    • Describe the powder samples and write observations in a chart.
    • Add 4-5 drops of water to the first sample and mix with a clean toothpick. Record observations in the chart
    • Add 4-5 drops of vinegar to the second sample and mix with a clean toothpick. Record observations in the chart (i.e. fizz or no reaction).
    • Add 4-5 drops of iodine to the third sample and mix with a clean toothpick. Record observations in the chart (black, brown or no reaction). NOTE: Iodine will stain anything it touches.
    • Place a small amount of powder on a clean square of aluminum foil. Bend the edges to create a “cup” and hold onto it using a pair of tongs or tweezers. Hold the sample over the candle flame for a few seconds. Record observations in the chart.
  • Expected results: Sample 2 (flour, baking soda and powdered sugar) is the correct mixture to make the special cookies. The sample will fizz in vinegar, turn black in iodine and melt/bubble when heated. The other two samples do not react the same way. Sample 1 does not fizz in vinegar, so it would not contain baking powder (or baking soda). Sample 3 has a distinctive odor (from the baby powder) and would not make appetizing cookies.
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