Bust Summer Boredom: Explore STEM!

By Scott Vukoder


Summer can be a time of relaxed schedules, less rigor and more physical activity for our kids. Those freewheeling days of running through the neighborhood and playing with friends are what great childhoods are made of! But we all know, some days the friends just aren’t around, or the weather isn’t cooperating. On a rainy day, kids can easily get stuck in front of a screen all day or drain us with the constant sing-songy complaint of “I’m bored!”

An easy and educational way to bust boredom in the summertime is for the kids explore STEM with a hands-on project! With STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities, kids imagine, explore and create, all while learning super cool skills that will help them in school and in life.

One exciting – and pretty easy – way to start exploring is with chemistry. In short, Chemists are scientists who combine substances to see how they react. Here are two ways to help get a conversation about chemistry started:

1. Ask your child, what types of things around the house are made by chemists?

He or she may come up with ideas like shampoo, toothpaste, cleaning products, medicines or even the plastics that we use.

2. Next, ask your child to think of things we do around the house where chemistry is involved.

One great example is baking – combining substances and changing their make-up when heated.

Create a “Captain Air Head”

So, with a few things you’ll likely already have around the house, here’s a fun chemistry experiment that will help your child discover what happens when he or she combines a solid and a liquid. Hint: it’s a gas reaction!

Materials You’ll Need for the Experiment:

  • Plastic water bottles (empty)
  • Balloons
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Markers
  • Construction paper/felt/decorating materials
  • A funnel

Kids can make a superhero (or any other character) with a balloon face and a water bottle body. They’ll see the head get bigger and bigger from the chemical reaction they make in the bottle!

Steps to Make Captain Air Head

1. Use a marker to draw and decorate a face on the deflated balloon – the neck of the balloon is the neck of the character.

2. Explain to your child that he or she will be adding a face to the balloon and turning the bottle into a character, then inflating the character’s head. They can call it Captain Air Head (or rename the character anything they’d like!)

3. Decorate the water bottle like the body of your character. Add arms, make clothes, or a superhero cape. However they’d like their character to look.

4. Prepare the elements:

  • Use a funnel (or create one out by rolling up a sheet of paper, into a cone shape) to insert 1 teaspoon of baking soda into the empty balloon.

  • Pour 1/4 cup of vinegar into the empty water bottle.
  • Pinch off the balloon to hold the baking soda inside, but stretch the mouth of the balloon securely over the mouth of the bottle.

  • Hold the bottle then lift and shake the balloon so that the baking soda falls into the bottle to mix with the vinegar.
  • Watch the reaction create your character!

The reaction creates a gas when the solid (baking soda) is dissolved into the liquid (vinegar). Once the balloon “head” is filled, they can then remove it and tie it up, repeating the activity with more balloons so they have a collection of faces for their character!

Learning from the experiment

Some questions and further experiments to make this extend the learning:

1. Why did your balloon fill up when you added the baking soda to the bottle?

The baking soda mixed with the vinegar and that released a gas that filled the balloon.

2. How are the balloons you blew up in this activity different from the ones you might see at a birthday party with helium in them?

Helium balloons float in the air, but these do not. They fall to the ground when kids let them go.

3. What happens if you add more vinegar and less baking soda?

A greater amount of vinegar creates more gas (Careful: too much vinegar may burst the balloon!)

4. What happens when you double the amount of baking soda put into the vinegar?

A greater amount of baking soda will create less gas.

5. How can I tell the difference between the foam that forms in the bottle and the gas that releases into the balloon?

Add food coloring to the vinegar so the foam is colored, which will show where the liquid ends and gas begins.

6. Which is faster, filling a balloon with a chemical reaction, or blowing it up with your own breath?

Have a race to see which method is fastest! Try three trials so the results can be duplicated.

Ready for More STEM Fun?

We hope you and your child enjoy this STEM boredom buster! And, if you’re looking for more fun STEM activities, check out your local Sylvan Learning center. Our STEM camps and classes are a great way to expose your child to important 21st century skills. Plus, your child will have a blast!