Children are inquisitive by nature, absorbing new information with wonder. The lessons children learn through experimentation and observation make learning ‘real’ and relevant. We encourage you to introduce your children to the joys of science with these six amazing backyard experiments for the school holidays.
1. Moss art
You can create artworks using moss as ‘paint’. Forage around your house or neighbourhood looking for some growing moss – you’ll usually find it in dark, damp areas or under trees – grab a couple of handfuls. Choose a wall for your ‘art’ that is out of direct sunlight – a south-facing, wood, concrete or brick wall is ideal, but ensure it is not painted as the moss will remove the paint.
Using a pencil draw an outline of the design you would like to ‘grow’ in moss. Next head inside to the kitchen and put 60ml of buttermilk, 350ml of water, the two clumps of moss, and two teaspoons of water retention crystals into a blender. You can get water retention crystals from your local nursery, or by cutting open an unused disposable nappy and scooping out the powder from inside. Blend until the mix is smooth and thick.
Paint a thick layer of the moss mix onto your wall following the outlines that you’ve marked. You will need to spray the wall with a fine mist of water two or three times a day to ensure it doesn’t dry out. The moss should start to grow within a few weeks.
Mosses are tiny plants that are made of small stems which contain one leaf that is often only one cell thick. They are usually bright green in colour and can feel velvety. Unlike most other plants, mosses do not have vascular tissue (a special kind of plant tissue that is used to transport water and nutrients through the plant). Because of that, mosses lack root, stem and flowers. The buttermilk is acidic and assists the moss to grow.
Interesting fact about moss: it was used as bandages during the First World War to prevent blood loss!
2. Mini worm farm
While a slow-paced experiment, this does bring biology to life. Start by filling a clear plastic container with layers of soil and sand. A clear plastic jug would work well. Add a little water, then top it with dry leaves.
Find some earthworms in the garden, being careful not to hurt or damange them and add them to the container.
Wrap some dark fabric around the sides of the container and tape in place. This will create a worm-friendly dark environment.
Add a trickle of water every day to keep the farm damp.
After two or three weeks, take the fabric off. You should see how the worms have mixed up the layers of sand and soil and created tunnels.
At this point the worms and soil mix can be returned to the garden. To take the experiment even further, you could purchase a composting worm farm that enables you to collect the waste product which acts as fertiliser for your garden, and uses up your kitchen organic waste scraps.
3. Do-it-yourself microscope
This is a great experiment for younger children. Take a plastic cup and cut a small opening in the side to allow you to place and remove specimens inside that you’d like to see. Next, stretch a sheet of cling film loosely over the top, securing with a rubber band. Place a specimen inside – a leaf, flower or small bug is ideal. Finally, pour a small amount of water onto the top of the film – it will act as a lens, magnifying anything you have inside the cup.
4. Milk paper
It’s a good idea to do this experiment outside as it can get messy. It combines chemistry with creative art and provides a fantastic learning opportunity for your child. Start with some watercolour paper and find a container big enough to easily house the pieces of watercolour paper. Keep the paper aside for now. Now, to the bottom of your tray add a thin layer of milk (cow, almond or soy will do), ensuring the bottom of the tray is covered by about three millimetres of milk. Now gently add a few drops of different coloured food colouring in the tray (liquid food colouring works best).
Now for the fun part – dip a toothpick or cotton bud into some dishwashing liquid then carefully touch the spots of colour and see what happens. Kids will love the chemical reaction. Add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to the tray then use a clean cotton bud or toothpick to swirl the colours around.
Next, working quickly, carefully lay a piece of the watercolour paper on the surface of the milk mixture and tap down gently before removing it to dry. Repeat with other sheets of paper working gently so that the colours don’t mix too much. You will have an amazing colourful collection of art.
How does the reaction work? The molecules in the dishwashing liquid are attracted to the fat molecules in the milk. When the dishwashing liquid is added to the milk/colour mixture the molecules move around making the colour look like its erupting.
5. Sand volcano
This is a great experiment for the beach or your home sand pit. Young children will love it. Mix a cup of white vinegar with a few drops of food colouring (leave out the food colouring if you’re planning on doing this at the beach) and a small squirt of dishwashing detergent and pour into a bottle.
Next head to the beach or sand pit and place an empty beach bucket upright on the sand. Add sand to the bucket until it is three quarters full, then build the sand up around the bucket until the outside of it is fully covered and the mound resembles a volcano shape. A tall thin beach bucket will work best.
Add a cup of bicarb of soda into the mouth of your volcano. Then when you’re ready for the eruption, carefully and slowly pour the vinegar solution into the mouth of the volcano and watch it erupt.
Vinegar (an acid) and bicarbonate of soda (an alkali) react by releasing carbon dioxide, which are the bubbles you see – the dishwashing liquid will enhance the bubbles during eruption.
6. Eggshell geode crystals
This experiment is for older children and may require the assistance of an adult. Start by preparing your eggshells. Crack the tops off as close to the pointy end as possible and pour out the egg yolk and white. Rest the emptied shells upright in an egg carton or egg container lined with pieces of baking paper to prevent them sticking, then fill them with hot water and stand for a few minutes until the water is cool enough to handle. Pour the water out of the eggshells and peel away the inside membrane. This will prevent the crystals from growing mould.
Pour one cup of boiling water into a jug and add half a cup of ONE of the following: baking soda, cream of tartar, sugar, table, sea or rock salt, borax, or Epsom salts. Stir well until all of the dry ingredient has dissolved completely. Keep adding small amounts of the dry ingredient half a teaspoon at a time and mixing it until it is dissolved. You can stop adding the dry ingredient when it will no longer dissolve – this means the water is super-saturated. Now add some food colouring. (You can divide the mix into three or four containers before adding food colouring if you’d like more than one colour geode).
Now carefully fill your eggshells with the water solution, being careful that the eggs don’t tip. Put them in a protected position outside and wait for the water to evaporate. As the water evaporates, you’ll notice crystals have formed on the inside of the eggshells. This one is a practice in patience!
The water loses its energy as it cools, and the crystals are forced from the solution to become solid again. As this and evaporation happens slowly, the crystals grow larger than they were before they were mixed into the water. Natural geodes in rock are formed in a similar way, when water seeps into the air pockets in rock.
For more free and fun science experiments, visit Fizzics Education.
Trinity’s Field Studies Centre is located in the Jervis Bay region of NSW. The Field Studies Centre provides an ideal setting for Trinity boys to be nurtured and challenged, enabling them to develop soft skills (emotional, social, psychological, communication, empathy, self-concept) and hard skills (technical, safety, environmental), and encouraging growth in mind, body and spirit.
Trinity’s Field Studies programmes incorporate adventure activities, academic study, community service and reflection on the Christian values of the School. It affords our boys the life-forming opportunities of living in a community, and learning about oneself and others from the experience, in a setting where they are nurtured and challenged. It supports our efforts to help each boy reach his full potential, develop his passions and importantly, discover the emerging purpose in his life’s journey.
To learn more about the Trinity difference and our Field Studies programme, download the Trinity Field Studies Centre ebook.