My kids are fascinated by things that fly, and today I’m sharing the flying tea bag hot air balloon, a fun hands-on flying activity as part of a new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) series. More on that in a second…
Flying Tea Bag Experiment
This is a quick activity that only requires a fire-safe area and a few supplies you most likely have at home. My husband laughed after he saw the video of this activity (below) because he thought our space was most definitely NOT fire-proof. I disagree, of course, but I will leave it to you to find a safe space for this!
Because there’s some trial and error involved in this activity, it can encourage children to test theories and think like a scientist. See the Next Steps section below for ideas on how to extend this activity.
Flying Tea Bag Supplies
- Tea bag (traditional style)
- Dish: Glass or Ceramic
- Matches or Lighter
A Note on Safety
- Be sure that children are supervised by adults.
- Conduct this activity in a fire-safe area. We don’t want anyone setting their house on fire!
Flying Tea Bag Steps
- Cut the tea bag open.
- Pour the contents into a cup and save for later.
- Open the tea bag up and form it into a cylinder.
- Stand the teabag up on the dish.
Activate the Flying Tea Bag
- Light the top of the cylinder
- Step back and watch it fly!
Watch our Video to see it in action:
Be sure to follow my YouTube channel to be the first to see more videos like this.
As you probably know, heat rises! Hot air balloons work at lifting a balloon off the ground by making the air inside the balloon hotter, and ultimately less dense, than the air outside. Similarly, this tea bag flying machine lifts off once the fire burns the tea bag into lightweight ash. The rising hot air current lifts what’s left of the bag and blows it into the air.
Next Steps: Full STEAM Ahead
- Ask: What do you think will happen if we light the tea bag on fire?
- Ask: What could have caused the tea bag to lift off the plate?
- Ask: What is it about the tea bag that makes it lift off the ground?
- If it doesn’t work the first time, ask, “what could we try differently?” We initially tested this with a similar technique where we twisted the top of the tea bag. It didn’t work! And my 4-year old found it hilarious.
- Ask: Do you think this would work with a different kind of paper?
- Gather a collection of paper, form them into cylinders, and see if you can make them fly. Some ideas: Newspaper, copy paper, toilet paper. You’ll probably realize that lighter weight paper works best. Why is that?
More Flying Activities
Exploding Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment
DIY Spin Art Machine (we used the flying mechanism from Snap Circuits for this spin art activity)
Activate Learning with STEAM
If you’ve been a loyal TinkerLab fan (thank you! you mean the world to me.) you’ll know that I’m happiest sharing projects that live at the intersection of disciplines. Too often we’re quick to separate science from writing or math from art, but when we seek out ways to make interdisciplinary connections, learning can be more meaningful and novel discoveries can be made.
In that vein, over the next few weeks I’m joining a creative group of engineers, scientists, educators, and artists to launch a new series called STEAM Power, which celebrates interdisciplinary learning with projects that circle around STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) ideas. This week’s theme is FLY, and you can see the other fly-related ideas here:
Dancing Balloons | Babble Dabble Do
Parachutes | Meri Cherry
Whirly Twirly Flying Birds | Left Brain Craft Brain
Indoor Boomerang | What Do We Do All Day?
Paper airplane | All For The Boys
Rockets | Lemon Lime Adventures
M&M’s Tube Rockets | Frugal Fun for Boys
STEAM on Pinterest
You might also enjoy following my STEAM + STEM Activities board on Pinterest for more ideas like this.
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[…] Rememeber way back when, we did a post on rocket science… well Tinker Lab clocked the flying teabag!!! […]
[…] DANCING BALLOONS / WHIRLY TWIRLY FLYING BIRDS / INDOOR BOOMERANG / ROCKETS / M&M TUBE ROCKETS / ZIP LINE / HOT AIR BALLOON […]
[…] Flying Tea Bag Hot Air Balloon // TinkerLab […]
I love the expression on your daughter’s face.
I do too, Erica! It was a fun moment for both of us. Thanks for taking time to comment here.
How did you figure this out??! So cool Rachelle! Love the vid.
This trick has been around for ages, and I needed a good excuse to try it out, Meri 🙂
Love this! Your daughter’s face says it all!
Doesn’t it, Ana? We tested it 3 different ways before it worked, and we were both in awe.
[…] A great little hot air balloon science experiment. […]
Love this! My dad used to do this with 4-ply napkins if we ate out – I’d die with embarassment but be amazed and love it all at the same time! He called it Tibetan Fire!
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