10 Science and Nature Experiments to do While at Home
Finding Science Around Your Home
As I write I'm stuck inside, because of COVID 19, much like children and adults everywhere. Home schooling has become the norm, but mostly on the computer. As an outdoor educator I'm struggling to find nature myself (while limiting outside time), and also missing teaching students and visitors. So I decided to write about science and nature experiments that you can do at home.
What exactly is an experiment?
I love etymology, so let's look at the word "experiment". It comes from the Latin "experimentum", from "experiri" which means to try. When scientists get a hold of the word it becomes, "A scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery, test a hypothesis, or demonstrate a known fact." That sounds dry and so unfun that you almost want to choke. When you're at home and working with kids, I like the words "try" or "discovery" best. However, for older students especially it's a good practice to make educated guesses. I think too much emphasis is put on younger students doing "real" science and not just exploring and understanding the foundations of their world first. But that's my soap box....
Let's get to the meat of science experiments of kids. Here is a list of experiments for today's blog:
- MICRO WORLD-Using clip-on lenses and smart phones to magnify nature
- KITCHEN SCIENCE-Using clip-on lenses and smart phones for kitchen science exploration
- NATURE OBSERVATION- Nature scavenger hunt walk & photo Journey
- SOUNDS- Soundscaping your home
- BOTANY- Seed sock walk
- BIRD SOUNDS-Bird sound identification (inside and out)
- ANIMAL BEHAVIOR- Studying ants & making ants (or termites) march in a circle
- ANATOMY- Human or animal anatomy chalk drawing
- BALANCE- Make a nature mobile from found objects
- SINKING AND FLOATING- Build a twig boat
1. USING CLIP-ON LENSES AND SMART PHONES TO MAGNIFY NATURE
I love looking at things up close, and most of us have the tools right in our pockets. Smart phones are a great way to look at nature up close and personal. You can also enhance this with the one tool that I think is indispensable for kids doing science and nature experiments at home, clip-on phone lenses.
I'm super fond of the Amir clip-on lenses because they are great for larger phones and an entire set is literally $10 online. There are a couple of caveats to phone lenses though. The first is that they work on all smart phones with one lens (sometimes two), but if you have a phone with 3 lenses then you're better off just using the phone's magnification. You also want the MACRO LENS specifically; 10x is ok, but 15x is ideal.
A few quick tips for phone lenses:
- Take off your outer case, it may make the lens too far away to work
- You have to get closer than you think
- Turn your phone sideways and use your two hands to stabilize the phone, to get out the "shakes"
- Natural light works best
You can start your journey with a simple nature walk. If you have time and a safe space you can do all your macro photography outside. However, if time is limited or you're avoiding social contact, then simply bring your specimens inside to a well lit room. The experiment part comes in when you begin to do some comparatively biology of leaves, flowers, mosses, and their parts. You can make hypotheses about structures and their function, then look up the answers.
You will be amazed at the things you find. Here's an example, you can find the reproductive structures of moss, called gametophytes (gam-ee-toe-phi-tes):
Every day objects become amazing, like this simple violet from my yard. Here you can see how the clip-on lens helps magnify the male reproductive structures, or anthers.
2. USING CLIP-ON LENSES AND SMART PHONES FOR KITCHEN SCIENCE EXPLORATION
You can also do science and nature experiments inside your kitchen or outside in the garden. The macro-world of the spice cabinet and pantry is amazing, as are vegetables and common foods from your fridge. Here's an example of what sea salt and pepper look like magnified.
A common pretzel and the salt on it.
Goldfish and a closeup of a goldfish smile with seasoning.
If you have plants in your garden, such as herbs, they also offer a rich opportunity. Here is some simple pineapple sage magnified. You'd never know that the leaves are hairy! Can you hypothesize why?
3. NATURE SCAVENGER HUNT WALK & PHOTO JOURNEY
Learning how to "see" nature begins with slowing down and truly looking at your backyard or in your community. Here are some ideas:
- COMPARE ECOSYSTEMS- You can use your smart phone to document what you see, and make comparisons of the plants and animals you find in different ecosystems.
- PHOTO SCAVENGER HUNT- Have an adult take pictures of different natural objects (flowers, trees, rocks, etc.) and then have the kid's look for them on their scavenger hunt walk.
- BINGO SCAVENGER HUNT- Have kids take a blank bingo card outside and fill it in with things they see (draw or write), then you, as the adult, can go outside with them to try to find the objects. You can also reverse this activity.
- HUMAN AFFECTS ON LANDSCAPE- You can have kids hypothesize and/or document how humans change and affect the land.
- PICTURE PHENOLOGY- You could also do a bit of phenology (Fee-nol-ogy) or documenting the changing of a landscape over time, such as in spring when seeds go from seed to seedling to plant to flower etc.
- PHOTO A DAY JOURNAL-Do a photo journal every day, take one picture of a location in your yard or neighborhood and document how it changes. There is an app called "One Second A Day" which you can download and record one second of every day and make a montage.
4. SOUNDSCAPING YOUR HOME
Begin by thinking about the different sounds you expect to hear outside. Ask kids what they have heard at different times of day and night. Have them take a lapboard and marker or pieces of paper and pencils and go sit outside. They should draw themselves in the middle of the picture sitting down. Next they should close their eyes and just listen to the sounds or "soundscape" around them.
Have them draw what they hear in a radius around, in as much detail as they possibly can. They can just write words or draw pictures. They can also use arrows to denote how far things are away. You can do this several times a day to listen for different sounds (just be sure to label your pictures). Kids also like to compare what they hear, or compete to see who hears the most.
Next, go on a scavenger hunt to see if you can find the objects that made those sounds, be it birds, cars, clanging flag poles, squeaky doors. Have the kids hypothesize how those objects and animals make sound, and then do a bit of research online or trial and error, trying to reproduce those sounds with the objects.
5. SEED SOCK WALK
This is just what it sounds like, and gives kids permission to do something they probably try to do anyway and get yelled at for. The idea of this activity is to survey the seeds and plants of your area using a dragging method. Scientists use sheets and pull them through fields, but socks works just as well. You can choose an old pair of white socks for this, and then have the kids put them on. Next have them walk through a side yard or field (fields are especially nice) that is safe from poison ivy (or dog poo). The kids should drag their feet and shuffle then come back.
You can use your phone, or macro hand lens to take pictures of what you find. You will most likely see seeds, flowers, leaves, and much more. You can try to match the seeds and flowers to the plants around you. Here are some pictures of what I found. The bottom pictures are a dandelion seed and tuft.
6. BIRD SOUND IDENTIFICATION QUIZ (INSIDE AND OUT)
Experiments for kids wouldn't be complete without sounds. If you did the soundscaping experiment with the kids, then they may have heard the sounds of birds. There's nothing like learning what types of bids you're hearing though. I usually start with making my own mnemonics (new-mon-icks). This is simply hearing a sound and giving it words. For example, I think Eastern rufus-sided towhees say, "Drink-your-tee, I'm-happy-ee." Adding phrases to the sound helps learn the songs. Red-eye vireos sound like, "Over here, here I am, where are you?" There's a whole page of nothing but mnemonics for birds here.
There are a lots of ways to identify bird sounds. You can start outside and record the sounds, (remember the mnemonics), or you can start inside and learn some sounds of common birds and go outside to listen for them.
Bird identification apps, like the Cornell Ornithology Lab's "Merlin Bird ID App" are great free resources. Another great one, that is free BirdNET. You can record songs right on your phone, figure out which part of the clip of the sound is bird song, and then the app IDs the bird for you. There's also the Audubon app called "Song Sleuth" that can help you identify songs without knowing the bird (it's $10).
7. STUDYING ANTS & MAKING ANTS (or termites) MARCH IN A CIRCLE
While we're on the topic of micro things, let's look at ants. Most of the time people are trying to avoid them in the house or at a picnic, but ants provide an awesome opportunity to learn and watch insect behavior. You can start by finding an ant hill and getting down close, just be sure they aren't red ants or stinging ants. You can use your phone's magnification to see the ants up close. Watch and record their behavior. What are they doing? How do they communicate, what do they do? What happens if you add a tiny crumb of food?
Now if you really want to impress the kids, you can show them how you can magically get ants (termites work too) to follow a race track or walk in a circle. All you need is good sturdy paper (white is best) and specifically a BIC pen. It has to be BIC. The blue works but black is best. Draw a medium sized circle on the piece of paper. Carefully scoop some ants or termites up (you can use a tube or paper) and put them onto the paper in the center of the circle. The ink in a BIC pen has a similar pheromones to that used by ants for finding their way, or leaving trails for others, they will begin to walk in a circle around the ink.
Be sure to let the ants/termites go when you're done, all science and nature experiments should be kind to nature and animals.
8. HUMAN OR ANIMAL ANATOMY CHALK DRAWING
This activity requires sidewalk chalk, and the internet or good human/animal anatomy pictures. Let's start with humans. Have your child lay down on the sidewalk and then trace their outline using chalk. You can do the same for yourself. Use a smart phone or picture and have the child draw the interior anatomy in the right places on the silhouette. You can do the same for an animal, but by drawing the outline of a cat or dog (Rover probably won't sit still for the outline). This is a great way to get kids engaged with art and anatomy, or comparative anatomy. You can also use found-objects to create internal organs, eyes, nose, etc. too.
9. MAKING A NATURE MOBILE FROM FOUND OBJECTS
I love creating art using nature, and this is a great way to do it, while having students practice their skills regarding balance and knot tying. You'll need twine or string for this activity. Take a nature hike or visit your back yard. Find and collect sticks, twigs, pretty stones, or any other non-living objects that catch your eye. I usually like to keep them no larger than the span of a child's hand, from palm to finger tip. You will also need to find at least one larger stick that is one foot or more in size, and sturdy enough to hold the other objects. If you have old drift wood, beach glass (smooth of course), shells, or beads then you can add those too.
You will want to start by tying up the larger stick, with loops on both ends, and an upside down "V" so that you can hang it. Have the kids begin tying the different objects they found with pieces of string of varying lengths (4-6"). Hang the main base at a height where the kids can reach it, and then help them practice tying on the objects and balancing them. For older children you can add additional sticks hanging down, with objects hanging from them too. To elevate the science and nature experiment aspect, you can weigh the objects on a kitchen scale and/or use field guides to identify the objects you're using.
10. BUILD A TWIG BOAT
All kids love to build and create, add that to water and you've got a winning combination. for this activity you'll need some twine and twigs, along with a tub, bin, or container deep enough to test your boats. You can approach this in a variety of ways. You can give the kid the challenge of just making a boat that floats, creating a boat with a sail that can move with a fan, or add weight to the boat(s) and compete to see whose holds the most.
I personally like to add action figures or dinosaurs to the mix just to make things more fun and challenging. This is a great way to help kids learn about the properties of sinking and floating.
No matter what you do, take time to enjoy this period of being in/outdoors with family. Science and nature experiments are a great way to interact with all members of your family. It's a time to be creative, reflect, and slowdown a bit. I hope you've enjoyed these activities. If you have any other favorites, then feel free to e-mail me Greathornedowl76@gmail.com.