How to set up a Magic Potion Lab (with 3 Simple Tips)

How to set up a magic potion lab

Science Week articles on No Time for Flashcards

When friends and readers talk to me about Tinkerlab, they almost always ask me about science projects. And with that, process-based experiments like the following magic potion lab inevitably come up. Today I’m over on one of my favorite blogs for childhood projects, No Time for Flash Cards, talking about one of my 3-year old’s most requested activities.

Won’t you pop over and pay us a visit? 

How to set up a magic potion lab

For more creative science experiments that encourage children to think for themselves and develop critical thinking skills, click on over here for all of our posts, and sign up for the Tinkerlab newsletter.

 

Vegetable-Dyed Easter Eggs

Dye for Easter Eggs

Have you ever thought about making vegetable dyed Easter eggs?

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets.

I’m trying to make a move away from synthetic food dyes and wanted to use natural, homemade dyes this year. Not only are these colors absolutely healthy for human consumption, but the process of making them is a wonderful lesson in creating art materials from scratch and can help children think critically about  how to achieve various colors colors.

As I was cutting the onions and beets I asked my daughter what colors she thought they’d make. I also asked questions like, “If I wanted to make blue dye, what might I make it with?”

She had fun making guesses based on what we had in our kitchen and garden, and also came up with her own wild suggestions such as, “let’s take the skins off the bananas to make yellow dye!”

How to Make Vegetable Dyed Easter Eggs

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets.

Supplies

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Skin from one onion, two beets, large handful of spinach, half head of red cabbage
  • Vinegar
  • Water
  • Bowls
  • Ice cream scooper
  • Rubber Bands
  • Stickers
  • Crayons
  • Parsley Sprigs
  • Cheesecloth

Make the dye

I set up four pots of dye:

Pot #1: Onion Skins

Pot #2: Beets

Pot #3: Spinach

Pot #4: Chopped Red Cabbage

Add about 3 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of vinegar to each pot. The vinegar helps the dye set onto the egg.

Cook the dyes for about 30 minutes and then strained the colored water into some bowls.

*Note, you could also experiment with hard-boiling your raw eggs in the dye itself. I’ve heard this works really well. 

Three Decorating Techniques

While the dye cooks and cools, this could be a good time to get your eggs ready for dipping.

How to dye Easter eggs with natural dyes like red cabbage, onion skins, and beets, and ideas on how to decorate them..

1. Wrap the Eggs with Rubberbands

We wrapped some eggs with rubber bands. Fine motor skill training for my almost 3-year old!

2. Cover Eggs with Stickers

We covered eggs with spring stickers and office stickers.

3. Color the Eggs with Crayons

And we drew on eggs with crayons. Nothing too crazy. The crayon will resist the dye. White crayon would make for more drama in the end, but my 2-year old had her heart set on blue.

How to Dye Easter Eggs

Some people like to use tongs or whisks to grab their eggs, but our ice cream scooper made for a good egg scooper.

Do you see that barely green water up there? That’s what transpired from cooking our spinach…for thirty minutes! Pale green water. As you can imagine, it didn’t do much to our eggs. Next time I think we’ll try using more spinach…or use green food coloring.

Have you had any success achieving a vibrant green color with natural dyes? I’ve heard that liquid chlorophyll is the best thing to use for green, but I haven’t tried it personally.

Pale Yellow from Onions

We unwrapped the eggs to reveal the hidden images!  This pale yellow color was made by the onion skins. We’ve also made yellow dye from ground turmeric (cooked the same as above), which it works really well.

Grey from Beets

It looks brown here, but the beets made a grey-ish color. Dye seeped into the openings of the bunny sticker, revealing a blotchy silhouette that’s still quite nice. A bunch of these all over an egg would be kind of cool, or a simpler sticker would look nice (scroll down for an example).

I’ve had success making a pale pink from beets, and I’m not quite sure what happened here.

Blue from Red Cabbage

But small stickers like this little butterfly left a clear impression. Lovely.

Brilliant blue came from the red cabbage! To make this egg, we wrapped cheesecloth around parsley sprigs and then dipped it in the cabbage dye. If you have pantyhose, that could work even better.

Hole Reinforcement Stickers on Easter Eggs

I found a new life for a stack of hole-punch reinforcement stickers! Don’t you love this? The grey color came from the beets (sad, because I was hoping for pink, but still beautiful), the egg in the back is a brown egg dipped in red cabbage dye, and the yellow egg is colored by onion skin.

Before tossing the cabbage leaves out, I wrapped them around an egg and popped it in the fridge overnight. Tie-dye egg!

This is part of a collaboration with my friend Melissa’s from The Chocolate Muffin Tree. For more natural egg dying ideas, visit Melissa at The Chocolate Muffin Tree.

More Egg Dying, Decorating, and Science Ideas

Three Easy Tricks for Blown Out Eggs

Egg Geodes Science Experiment

How to Make a Floating Egg

How to Walk on Raw Eggs. Really.

60 Egg Activities for Kids

Have you colored eggs with natural dye?

If you have, please share a tip, link, or photo!!

Easy String Art Experiments for Kids

Easy String Art Painting with Kids

“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”

– Jackson Pollack, American Painter

String Art

Creating string art is a fun mix of art, creative thinking, and experimentation all rolled into one open-ended package.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that when it comes to children’s projects, my focus lies on the experience of creating more than the product.

String Art

My 4-year old, who has been calling herself Leia for the past month (as in Princess Leia — and yes, she’s been wearing the Leia costume she got for Christmas for the past 24 hours!), adds string to everything she makes. And my 2-year old, who we like to call Rainbow on this blog (here’s the story of how that began), said that she wanted to paint. So this experience was the perfect marriage of their interests on this rainy morning.

To get started, you only need a few simple materials.

Materials

  • Washable tempera paint, poured into small bowls
  • Short pieces of string
  • Copy paper and/or cardstock
  • Spoons to help cover the string in paint
  • Table covering (optional)
  • Baby wipes or a damp towel to clean hands

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

Creative Invitation

Without giving my children too much direction, I like to set up our projects up as invitations to create. I might make a suggestion or give a brief prompt, but I trust that the materials speak volumes to children. The less that I interject, the more opportunity they’ll have to find their own voice and make independent decisions.

With this project, Leia and Rainbow spent some time dancing their painted strings across the paper. After this ran its course I folded a sheet of paper in half and offered a suggestion that they could try pulling the string through the shut paper.

More experiments

This resulted in a symmetrical mirror image painting, which inspired Leia to try pulling more than one string through the paper at once. She then tested the process of holding one paint-soaked string in each hand, and pulling them through at the same time. I obviously needed to step in an assist her on this one.

Easy String Art Painting Experiment with Kids

They struggled with gaining control over the string and occasionally complained about getting paint on their hands, but the complexity of working with this tricky combination of paint and string challenged them to work with familiar materials in a new way.

Experiment Ideas

String Art Painting

Would you try this combination in your home? Have you tried it already?

What other materials could you combine with paint to make it more interesting and less common?

A Scientific Experiment with Celery and Food Coloring

distinct color

How to set up a simple Scientific Experiment with Celery and Food Coloring :: Tinkerlab.comWhile I’m an art educator by trade, having small people pulling at my pants has turned me into a mini-alchemist who’s suddenly found herself reading books to her kids about Galileo (The Magic Schoolbus and the Science Fair Expedition) and brewing all sorts of concoctions in our kitchen (vinegar and baking soda, anyone?).

This project is easy to achieve with basic kitchen materials and it’s embedded with all sorts of opportunities for introducing the scientific method (in short: asking scientific questions, making predictions, and conducting an experiment).

 

science food coloring celery experiment

Materials

  • Celery with leafy tops
  • Clear glasses
  • Water
  • Food coloring

The Experiment

N poured water into three glasses. about 3/4 cup in each.

Then she added a few drops of food coloring — 5-8 drops, but who’s counting! — into the glasses and stirred with a piece of celery, which was left in the glass. And then we talked about what might happen if we left the celery in the colored water for a while.

science food coloring celery experiment

We oohed and ahhed over the lava-lamp effect of the food coloring as it hit the water.

We started off with red, yellow, and green, but N really wanted to mix colors and added blue and red to the green water (far right). We revisited our earlier discussion and made predictions about how the celery might change.

While waiting for something to happen, I chopped the celery heart off the bottom of the stalk and set up a printing activity.

N humored me by making a few prints and then asked if she could play with colored water. Totally!

While I only have one photo of this, it was probably the highlight of the afternoon.

capillary action

When we checked the celery a couple hours later, this is what it looked like. I put a leafy top next to it so you can see how subtle the change is. Hmmm. While I could see the change, I wasn’t sure it would make a big impact on my daughter. And then I realized that I should have just put the leafy parts in the water for a more dramatic result. Done!

A few hours later the blue/green had the most pronounced shift, but the red and yellow were visibly different too.

capillary action

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the red and blue-green died celery tops, about 16 hours after the stalks had been sitting in the water. N seemed to appreciate the difference, but wasn’t nearly as impressed as her dad and I were.

The science behind the art

Plants need water to survive and they draw water up from their roots through their capillaries. The capillaries are hollow and act a lot like a straw. Adding color to the water helps us visualize this usually invisible process.

What are your favorite science projects or experiments?

 

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Crushed Flower Experiment

Crushed Flower Experiment

Now that summer is coming to an end (sniff — I’m kind of in denial — you?), it’s a good time to harvest some of your last blooms for some flower-painting experiments.

Crushed flower experiment

We took a walk around the neighborhood and picked some weeds from wild roadside gardens, and also selected a handful of flowers and leaves from our own yard.

Materials

For this project you’ll need: assorted flowers and leaves and paper

The experiment lies in testing the flowers to see what colors actually emerge from them as they’re crushed and smeared onto paper. We were surprised by the blue hydrangea’s brownish-green hue, but also got some more predictable amazingly brilliant yellows and purples from our roses and dandelions.

Crushed Flower Experiment

More Artsy Science Experiments

If you’re interested in more experiments that lie at the intersection of art and science, you might also enjoy Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment and the Egg Geodes Science Experiment.

More Flower Projects

For more with flowers, you’ll have a lot of fun Pounding them into Flower Bookmarks or maybe you want to learn how to press flowers. Zina at Let’s Lasso the Moon has a lovely idea for turning a huge sunflower harvest into back-to-school teacher gifts. And, there are over SIXTY amazing ideas in the Tinkerlab Flower Creative Challenge that will keep you busy with all your harvested flowers.

And similarly, here are some ideas for making vegetable-based egg dyes.

What are your favorite ways to use, preserve, and harvest your end-of-summer flowers?

Scanner Art Experiments

scanned toys and acorns

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in February, 2011.

This low-mess project kept my preschooler busy for a whole morning. Lots of fun for curious kids!

scanner art experiments

Not too long ago we had a big print job in our home, which peaked my daughter’s interest in the printer. The noises, lights, and moving paper were all new and exciting, I’m sure. Every time I printed something, she volunteered to rescue it from the machine. So we set up a scanning project, just for her. For the first run, we helped her select some objects to scan. Once she got a hang of it, she was off on her own!

Setting up materials on the printer bed.

Soooooo exciting!!

She experimented with different materials: puzzle pieces, acorns, baker’s twine, and her own hands. And she experimented with different colors of paper.

While this quickly became HER project, I was lucky enough to be invited to join her.

If you don’t have a printer/scanner, you could easily do this in your local printshop (which we’ve done too!). N thought this was cool field trip. I think she liked the big machines, the whirling sound of copies as the come out of the printer, and the novelty of it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Cause and Effect: How placement of objects on scanner affects the image output
  • Exploring the functions of machines and how they can help us
  • Composition and Selection: Making choices about what objects to place, and in which location

You might also enjoy

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Your turn!

Have you tried scanning with your kids? If this inspires you to do some scanning, please come back with your stories with me.

This post was shared at We Play @ Childhood 101. Go ahead, give it a click for more play ideas.

Egg Geodes Experiment

clean membranes from eggs

Today we’re experimenting with egg geodes. This experiment is set up to engage children in the steps of the scientific method, which could easily make this a fun and successful science fair project. Not only is the process of making these beautiful geodes engaging for kids, but the end-result has a huge wow-factor. Give yourself at least two-three days to achieve the greatest results.

Egg Geodes Inspiration

I was inspired by these egg geodes that I spotted on Martha Stewart and then followed this recipe by Melissa Howard who blogs at Those Northern Skies. If you enjoy this post, do click over and see what these two sites have to offer. The pictures alone are worth looking at.

egg geodes

Set up the Egg Geodes Experiment

Supplies

  • Eggs
  • Rock Salt
  • Sea Salt
  • Borax*
  • Other substance that could be tested for crystallization such as sugar, epsom salts, cream of tartar, baking soda, or alum*
  • Mini-muffin pan
  • Food Coloring
* Borax and alum are not food products, and using these ingredients with small children should be closely monitored, as ingestion can be fatal. Please use common sense and close supervision with such substances. My children were watched at all times and did not come in direct contact with borax in the process of this experiment.

clean membranes from eggsI tapped a knife around the top of the eggs to remove a bit of shell, and then emptied the eggs and cleaned them with water. Using a finger, it’s important to gently rub around the inside of the egg to remove the membrane because the membrane can discolor crystals as the form.

If you happen to have a mini-cupcake pan, it’s like they were made for this job.

add salt to water for geodesWe heated a pot of water (not quite boiling) and then poured 1/2 cup into a mug. We added 1/4 cup of kosher salt into the first mug and mixed it until it dissolved.

The kosher salt was stubborn and wouldn’t dissolve, so Nutmeg handed the mug to me for some rigorous mixing. Sill no luck.

We moved on to the next mug: 1/2 cup hot water + 1/4 cup sea salt. The sea salt dissolved quickly and then we added a bit more. The idea is to saturate the solution without putting in too much of the dry ingredient.

And then the final mug: 1/2 cup hot water + 1/4 cup borax. Dissolved.

geode chartWe added a coup;le drops of food coloring to each mug and then made a chart so we wouldn’t lose track.

Then we poured the liquid into our eggs. Each solution made just enough to pour into two eggs. Perfect!

And then you wait. 5  days for the liquid to mostly evaporate.

We couldn’t that long, but after 1 day salt crystals evaporated through the egg shell, and after 2 days our eggs looked like this…

egg geodes

egg geodes

Kosher Salt 

Through the process of diffusion, the salt actually passed through the permeable shell. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

egg geodes

Sea Salt

egg geodes borax

Borax

With opposite results of the salt-solutions, borax created the most sparkly, crystal-looking egg with crystals inside the egg and nothing on the outside.

And of course, things like this are irresistible to little hands. My toddler wanted to pick all the crystals off the shells, and I had to pull them away because not only will she break them into a gazillion pieces, but substances like borax are safe for looking, not for touching.

So, if this strikes your fancy, have fun testing some of the different soluble solids mentioned in the list above.

egg week

This is Day #4 of Egg Week, which I’m co-hosting with my talented arts education friend Melissa who runs the popular children’s art blog, The Chocolate Muffin Tree. Take a minute to hop over to The Chocolate Muffin Tree and see the egg surprise she has in store for us today.

And if you’re just catching up with us, here’s a look at what we’ve covered this week so far:

 

How to…Invent a Recipe with Kids

invent a recipe with kids

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

My house smells like pancakes.

Which really means that it smells like cooking oil and caramelized sugar. Sort of a happy, greasy smell that has lingered for days.

Every afternoon, for the past three days, my 3 year old turns into a kitchen alchemist as she gathers ingredients and invents her own recipes.

She is in heaven. And it gets even better once we cook the cakes up and proudly serve them up to hungry family members.

Do you ever give your kids free reign over your kitchen?

Experiments like this set children up with a real-life science experiment that fosters creativity, inventiveness, and problem-solving skills. It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be okay with a bit of a mess, but I think the trouble is well worth it for the amount of creative confidence it builds in children.

So, after three straight days of wild pancake combinations, I present five lessons learned on how to invent recipes with kids…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #1…Get Familiar with the Kitchen.

If your child doesn’t know where things are, give him a little tour. And start with a simple cooking project that introduces him to some key ingredients and tools for a favorite recipe (such as a mixing bowl, mixing spoon, measuring spoon/cup, flour, and oil).

We spend a lot of time cooking together and my oldest (N) knows her way around the kitchen. She can find the biggest mixing bowl in the house, all the baking ingredients are at kid-level (this will no doubt pose a problem once her little sister figures this out), and we have amazing little foldable step stools like these that give her access to the fridge (unless she wants the butter…but we do have a taller stool for that).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #2…Come up with a General Plan.

In our case, N has been making pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes. We tend to make a lot of pancakes in our house anyway (they’re not just for the weekends), so she’s super-familiar with the key ingredients and general direction of what might taste good together. For example, she didn’t pour ketchup into the batter (although if she did, I probably would have let it happen).

Do you have a favorite family recipe that you could riff off of? 

To start, she collected a few ingredients (white flour, wheat flour, flax seeds, and blueberries), and added them to the bowl. I tried to step back and allow her to make decisions about quantities, but every now and then I’d throw out a suggestion to help guide the journey.

As you can imagine, her pancake recipe has WAY more than the usual tablespoon of sugar (see the next picture), but it turns out that sugary pancakes are absolutely delicious.

invent a recipe with kids

Lesson #3…Green Light all Ingredients.

Of course you want to be safe about this, as things like raw meat and raw eggs need special handling, but try to keep an open mind as your child selects her ingredients. One of N’s batters had chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, mango juice, dried cranberries and walnuts in it. It was amazing.

The most recent batch contained raspberries, strawberry cream cheese, diced apples, and goat cheese. It was a bit chunky, and I’m not so sure about the goat cheese, but we drafted a recipe in case they end up being the best one yet.

Which bring me to the next lesson…

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #4…Write the Recipe Down.

This is validating and makes the whole game so much more fun. As N added ingredients, I tried my best to write them down. Some things were carefully measured and others weren’t, but it didn’t really matter. I’m thrilled to have documentation of her first recipes and I’m sure she’ll treasure them as she gets older.

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

Lesson #5…Embrace a Good Experiment.

As we cooked, I repeated multiple times that this is a grand experiment and that we’d be surprised one way or the other. We chatted about how it’s possible that not one person has ever made this exact recipe, and that chefs go through a similar process when they invent something new. Like scientists, they hypothesize (what ingredients might taste good together?), they experiment (let’s make this batter with yogurt and the next with sour cream), and they test (how does it taste? which batch do we like better? why?).

How to Invent a Recipe with Kids | TinkerLab

After one of our cooking sessions, my husband took the kids off on a run in the stroller. These two hot cakes were eaten before they left the driveway, which I suppose speaks to how delicious they came out.

How do you involve your kids in the kitchen? Have you tried letting them loose with ingredients? How did it go?

Magical Plastic Bag Experiment

leak proof plastic bag experiment

leak proof plastic bag experiment

Here’s a fun experiment that won’t take a lot of time, and it’s more than likely that you have all the “ingredients” around the house. I did this with my three and a half year old, and it would be relevant for preschoolers and elementary-age children.

The idea that we’re testing here is what will happen if we poke a sharp pencil through a plastic bag of water. Will the water leak through the holes? Will the water spill out? Or will the bag reseal around the pencils, keeping the water inside?

When my 3-year old daughter (N) and I tried this out, we worked with the question, “what will happen if we poke pencils into a bag full of water?” That seemed more age-appropriate and tangible for her.

leak proof plastic bag experiment

 Materials

  • Zip-up Bag
  • Water
  • Sharpened Pencils

We filled a zip-up bag about half-way with water and sealed it up. I held the bag high over a sink and N poked the pencils straight through the bag, from one side to the other. This is where my fancy photography skills come into play, holding the bag with one hand and snapping a photo with the other. Are you impressed?

Make sure that the pencil doesn’t keep traveling through the bag or you’ll have water leaks.

leak proof plastic bag experiment

Keep adding pencils until you’ve had enough. Before removing the pencils, take a moment to talk about what you see. When the pencil goes into the bag, the bag seems to magically seal itself around the pencil.

leak proof plastic bag experiment

When you’re done, remove the pencils over a sink.

The Science Behind the Experiment

Plastic bags are made out of polymers, chains of molecules that are flexible and give the bag its stretchiness. When the sharp pencil pokes through the bag, the stretchy plastic hugs around the pencil, creating a watertight seal around the pencil…and the bag doesn’t leak.

More Polymer Fun

Now I’m really excited for us to try poking skewers through balloons without popping them (QuestaCon Science Squad) and make our own kazoos from toilet paper rolls and plastic bags (Kazoologist). Steve Spangler Science is also an amazing place to go for projects like this, and you’ll find endless polymer-related ideas over there.

You could also make your own polymer by mixing up a batch of fun and flubbery Gak (a mixture of water, white glue, and borax). We’ve done this multiple times, and my kids can’t get enough of it.

Is this your first time here? Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter here.

Is it Magnetic? Testing Objects for Magnetism.

magnets and water

How was your weekend? We took a mini-vacation to play in the snow and I enjoyed a little computer break along the way. I thought I could get online with my phone, but it turned out that the reception was horrible and I’ve been completely out-of-touch! It was probably a good thing, as I could really focus on my family and be as rested as possible when my one-year old woke up, inconsolable, for 2 hours in the middle of the night! I also want to formally thank my good friend Melissa from The Chocolate Muffin Tree who checked in to make sure I was okay! How lucky am I?

I’ve been on a science kick lately. Maybe because my 3-year old is completely self-serve in the art department or maybe because I’ve checked every science for kids book out of our local library? If you’re in the market for a great book of kids science experiments for ages 8 and up, I checked out The Science Explorer Out and about: Fantastic Science Experiments Your Family Can Do Anywhere (Science Explorer Out & about)and it’s phenomenal. It was written in 1997 and looks a little bit dated, but the concepts are solid and it stands the test of time. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco’s Exploratorium or if you’re familiar with their publications, you’ll feel connected to this book.

magnet and water experiment materials

Today’s experiment is similar to one we’ve done before with paper clips +magnets (Traveling Magnets), and this takes it up a notch with a few more magnet surprises and discoveries. Here’s what you’ll need…

Materials

  • Glass or vase of water. Thin glass works better than thick.
  • Pipe cleaners and/or paper clips
  • Strong magnets
  • Scissors
  • Small magnetic and non-magnetic objects

pipe cleaners in water experiment

Cut the pipe cleaners up and add them to the vase of water and mix them up so the pipe cleaners sink. Three-year old N loved doing this step herself.

Using your magnet/s try to pull the pipe cleaners up the side of the vase. Once they reach the top, you can retrieve them or drop them back in.

It’s like fishing!

testing magnets experiment kids

This opened up a conversation about what would stick to the magnets, so I pulled out a handful of small metal and non-metal objects for us to test.

Meanwhile, my 1-year old enjoyed stirring the water and fishing pipe cleaners out with her hands.

testing magnets experiment kids

N understood that the magnet would only stick to metal and quickly ruled out rubber bands and post-it notes from the “Is it magnetic?” list, but we also learned that the magnet wouldn’t stick to ALL metals.

And that was a surprise!

magnets on hardwood floor nails

One of the funnest surprises, however, was when a magnet fell onto the floor and stuck to a hidden nail! We dropped the rest of our magnets onto the floor and flicked them from nail to nail, watching them dance from floorboard to floorboard.

One more thought — I kept a close eye on my 17 month old throughout because our magnets are so tiny — just a thought that you might want to do the same or find some big magnets for the under 3 y.o. crowd.

What did your weekend look like? Have you been able to take a technology break? And have you had any fun magnet discoveries?

 

 

Yeast and Sugar Experiment

yeast experiment

yeast experimentI’ve been baking bread just about every day for the past three weeks (nothing too crazy since it’s all done in the bread maker), but last week my 3.5 year old and I got into a discussion about the properties of yeast.

We like to tinker and  experiment – big surprise, I know — and decided to see what would happen if we mixed yeast with warm water. N took this job very seriously, poured the water into a bowl, added a couple teaspoons of yeast, and waited a few patient minutes before she said, “it makes a brownish color.” True, and to make it bubble like it does in bread, we needed to activate it with sugar.

So we took about fifteen minutes to clear some space and set up what would become the Yeast + Sugar Experiment.

What’s so great about an experiment like this is that it’s easy to do with household materials, and it’s ripe for authentic child-generated questions and observations. When I asked what she thought would happen if we added sugar to the yeast she said, “I don’t know! Let’s mix them and find out!.” And when we finally attached the balloon to the bottle she wondered, “will it fill up all the way and blow off the bottle?”

yeast experimentWhat you’ll need

  • Sugar, 2 tablespoons
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 packet or 2 1/4 tablespoons
  • Balloon
  • Warm water (105-115 degrees F, 40.5-46 degrees C)
  • Mixing bowl + funnel (we used a cocktail shaker instead)
  • Bottle that you can fit a balloon over

yeast and sugar experimentMix the yeast and sugar into the warm water and stir. I noticed that N was sniffing the concoction and asked her what it smelled like. She said “poop.” I could see what she was saying. Consider yourself warned.

Once it all dissolves, pour the mixture into the bottle and cover the bottle with the balloon.

yeast experimentAfter a few minutes you’ll be amazed by something like this!

yeast experimentN wanted to feel it as it filled with air. She noticed the balloon was getting bigger and wanted to know how big it would get.

yeast experimentMy handy-dandy ship captain sister (no joke — that’s her job!) was visiting, and put herself right to work as chief measurer.

yeast and sugar experimentOnce the bottle filled up completely, we moved the whole operation to the sink. The bubbles were slow-moving, and there was nothing to worry ourselves with, but N enjoyed pulling the balloon off and watching the foam slowly pour over the bottle’s top.

As we went through the process, I thought of a few fun extensions for older kids or those who want to take this further. You could play around with food coloring/liquid watercolors, have a few bottles going at once and compare the results of different sugar:yeast ratios, or compare the results of different water temperatures.

I found my recipe at The Exploratorium’s Science of Cooking series, where we also learned that as the yeast eats the sugar it makes carbon dioxide, which is essentially the same process that yeast goes through in our bread dough.

Mmmmm. I’m off to eat some whole wheat cranberry walnut oat bread. Toasted. With butter and Maldon salt. How do you like your bread? And have you played around with yeast concoctions?

This is shared on It’s Playtime

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Incredible Growing Gummy Bears

growing gummy bear.001

Here’s a fun experiment that hardly takes up any room, isn’t messy, and your kids will love it!

Here’s how we landed on this experiment: We stopped at the drug store for baby wipes, and 3.5 year old N bombarded me with five minutes of this… “Mom, stop! You have to see this. Mom, can you get me this light up candy cane/cup shaped like a fairy/snow globe. Wait!!! I really want it!” I normally adore her enthusiasm, but I have a short wick for the begging and pleading for random odds and ends. Pair that with a toddler who insists on standing in the shopping cart and you get the picture of me yearning for a hot cup of coffee and a copy of US Weekly! If you ever wondered if I’m actually raising independent thinkers, the answer is most definitely “yes!” So, on our way to the check-out, we walked down the candy aisle. Dumb move, I know, and N quickly managed to pull a bag of gumdrops off the display with a request to make gumdrop sculptures. 

Ack. She knows my weak spot for creative projects! Um, yes, we can buy the gumdrops for the sake of your growing mind. And with that, she also pulled down a pack of gummy bears. I remembered reading about a gummy bear experiment, and that’s how we ended up bringing these little jelly woodland creatures home with us.

The experiment is easy. We each had to eat one, of course, and then N chose a couple to add to the water. I asked her what she thought might happen to them after being submerged, and she said she didn’t know. After a couple hours we checked on them, and found them covered in tiny bubbles. We compared them to one of the dry originals, and the wet bears were a bit plumper!

I left N in the kitchen while I put her baby sister down for a nap, and returned to find her nibbling on one of the plump bears!! She had this to say, “I know I wasn’t supposed to eat the bear, but I had to also compare the way they taste to see if they tasted the same.” How could I be upset with that?

In all, we let the bears sit in water for three days, and you can see the size difference in this image. The gummies kept expanding and then finally seemed to fall apart. If you try this at home, and want to do a taste comparison, be sure to refrigerate your gummy bears so they don’t grow bacteria. Yikes!

The Science behind the Experiment

Gummy bears are made up of water, sugar, and gelatin. Like a sponge, gummy bears will absorb water but the gelatin keeps the bears from dissolving in the water.