Wintertime is the perfect time for science! Here are 10 winter activities and themed science experiments for you to try out.
Each of these activities requires adult supervision. Some items, in particular, should only be conducted by an adult (cutting, boiling, etc.)
- Snowcano: Volcano science experiments are always a big hit, so a snow volcano? You can’t miss! Start with a big plastic bottle and add 1 tbsp of dish soap. Fill the bottle halfway with baking soda and mix in ¼ cup of warm water. If you want it to more closely resemble lava, you can add a few drops of red food coloring to the mix. After your bottle is prepared, place it in the snow and build your snow volcano around it – packing the snow tightly all the way up to the top of the bottle, but leaving enough of a hole for the lava to erupt. Once your volcano is made, you can pour in the vinegar and watch the mixture bubble up out of the top and run down the side.
- What it teaches: This experiment teaches when you mix two or more materials, you can get a new substance. In this case, the baking soda and the vinegar mix to make carbon dioxide.
- Birdseed Ornament: There are many ways to make birdseed ornaments. The easiest is to tie a string to a pinecone, lather the pinecone in peanut butter and roll it in birdseed. If you’re looking for a more aesthetic birdseed ornament, you can use gelatin. Begin by placing lightly greased cookie cutters on a wax-paper-covered baking sheet. Combine a packet of unflavored gelatin with ¼ cup of boiling water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until the gelatin is dissolved. Remove the pan from heat and let it cool for one minute. Stir in ¾ cup of birdseed until all the liquid is absorbed. Fill each cookie cutter halfway with your mixture. Next, place a piece of twine down the length of the ornament and fill the cookie cutter to the top. Allow your ornaments to dry overnight. Once dry, you can pop them out of the cookie cutters and hang them on a tree branch as a nice treat for the birds.
- What it teaches: This craft teaches about the chemistry of gelatin. Gelatin is semi-solid, a long string of amino acids that loosen and slide alongside each other in a liquid state when heated. When cooled, the bond between the atoms in the water and gelatin strengthens and creates a semi-solid.
- Saltflakes: You’ve heard of snowflakes, but what about saltflakes? On a piece of cardstock paper, draw a snowflake with glue (you can use a stencil if you want to be super precise). Coat your glue snowflake in salt, pouring the excess salt off once your whole drawing is covered. Let the glue and salt dry. Once it is dry, mix a few tablespoons of water with blue food coloring. Then, use a pipette to slowly drip the water onto the snowflake – just enough to let it soak into the salted glue. Watch how the water is absorbed and moves.
- What it teaches: This activity teaches that salt is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs both liquid water and water vapor in the air.
- A Jarring Snowstorm: Why be stuck in a real snowstorm when you could make your own snowstorm in a jar?! For this activity, you will need a mason jar, baby oil, glitter (or other small decorations to add to your storm), white acrylic paint, and Alka Seltzer. First, fill your mason jar 2/3 full with baby oil. Add a small squirt of paint to ¼ cup water and stir. Pour your paint-water mix into the oil jar and throw in some of that glitter (iridescent will work best). Then, break up your seltzer tablet into small pieces and drop a few into the jar. The water will bubble up in the baby oil and you’ll have your own snowstorm.
- What it teaches: This activity teaches that water is denser than oil, so it sinks to the bottom. The Alka Seltzer has sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and citric acid in it. When it mixes with the water, bubbles of carbon dioxide form and rise through the oil.
- BLUBBER: I start to shiver when the temperature hits 40 °Fahrenheit so how do whales, penguins, and polar bears stay warm in frigid arctic temperatures? They have blubber. For this experiment, you’ll need a large bowl filled with ice and cold water, four Ziploc bags, vegetable shortening, and a spatula. Turn one of the bags inside out and use the spatula to cover it in shortening. Place that bag (still inside out) inside of another bag and seal it up. Take a clean Ziploc bag, turn it inside out, place it inside another bag, and seal it. Place one hand in each bag and put your hands in the cold water. Which hand gets cold faster?
- What it teaches: This experiment teaches that the fat molecules in the shortening act like an insulator. Insulation slows the transfer of heat, which is why the hand in the shortening got cold slower, and why blubber keeps these animals warm.
- Crystal Snowflakes: Crystals for Christmas? For this craft, you’ll need borax, water, glass jars or vases, popsicle sticks or pencils, string, and pipe cleaners. The first step is to make your snowflake. Cut your pipe cleaner into thirds, lay them together, then twist the center and pull the six sides to form a snowflake. Use more pipe cleaner to twist each arm of the snowflake. Tie your string to the center of the snowflake and wrap the other end around a pencil. Setting your snowflake to the side, dissolve 3 tbsp of borax powder for each cup of boiling water. Fill your jar with this borax solution, and fully submerge your snowflake inside the jar, laying your pencil horizontally across the top. Leave your snowflake in the jar for about 24 hours, and then you can take out your crystal ornament, dry it off, and hang it on your tree.
- What it teaches: When you boil water, the molecules in the water move away from one another, and when you freeze water they move closer together. The boiling water in this experiment allows for more borax powder to dissolve for a more saturated solution, full of borax particles. As the water cools, it is not able to hold as many borax particles so the particles cling to the pipe cleaner and form crystals.
- Frozen Bubbles: Like a Powerpuff ice cream pop, let’s freeze some bubbles. For this experiment to work, the temperature outside must be below freezing with no wind. In a cup or jar, mix together 1 cup of water, 2.5 tbsp of corn syrup, 2 tbsp of sugar, and 2.5 tbsp of dish soap. Cover your mixture and put it in the freezer or outside for about 30 minutes to *chill* your mixture. Once that is chilled, dip a straw into the mix (or if you have a bubble wand, even better) and go outside to begin blowing bubbles. Then, you wait and watch the bubbles form an ice shell.
- What it teaches: This activity teaches how bubbles form. A bubble is a super thin layer of soapy water filled with air. That thin layer has three layers – a layer of water sandwiched between two layers of soapy molecules. The polar heads of these molecules face the water, while its hydrophobic (cannot dissolve in water) hydrocarbon tail faces away from the water. This formation causes the bubble to shape itself into a sphere because spheres have the least surface area and require the least amount o energy to achieve.
- Happy Feet’s Waxy Feathers: We know their blubber keeps them warm, but how do penguins stay dry? Begin by using crayons to draw and color a penguin on white cardstock paper – make sure the penguin is completely colored, and use a white crayon for the penguin’s belly. Next, fill a spray bottle with water. You can add food coloring to the water to make it show up better if you would like. Spray a few squirts of the water onto the colored penguins and you will see how the wax keeps the water from absorbing into the penguin.
- What it teaches: This activity teaches about the oil-producing gland that makes penguin feathers waxy. The wax from the crayons keeps the water from absorbing into the paper. The wax on their feathers repels the cold water and helps keep penguins dry.
- Instant Ice: Waiting for ice to freeze is sooooo last year. Try Instant Ice. For this experiment, you’ll need bottled water, a glass or ceramic bowl, a tray or cookie sheet, and ice cubes. First, place your water bottle in the freezer for two hours (that is not an inconsequential time frame, you need to remove the water bottle from the freezer before they freeze). Once the two hours are up and you have removed your water bottle, place your bowl upside down on your tray or sheet. Place an ice cube on top of your bowl. Slowly pour the water from the bottle and you’ll see ice instantly form. To see the same cool trick, you can simply leave the bottle in the freezer for two hours, take it out before it is frozen, and hit it against a counter or hard surface.
- What it teaches: This process teaches about ice crystals and nucleation. Nucleation occurs when an imperfection (particle of dust, or scratch) encourages the molecules in a liquid to form a crystal-like nucleus and others form on top of it. When ice freezes, the water forms small ice crystals that spread. Because this experiment catches the cold water but it freezes, you can still pour out the water and it will freeze as you pour. Pouring it over ice (ice crystals that have already formed) makes the crystals form faster than normal.
- Snow Ice Cream: Craving some ice cream but you’re too snowed in to drive to the store? No worries! With just 8-12 cups of clean snow, 1 tsp of vanilla extract, and 10 oz of sweetened condensed milk, you can make 10 cups of vanilla ice cream! Just scoop the snow into a large bowl, add the vanilla, drizzle the condensed milk over it, and mix it all together.
- What it teaches: This activity is mostly just delicious – they can’t all be great science lessons.
There is nothing more fun than science in the snow, but make sure you’re staying warm out there, and of course, staying curious.