Kids After School Activity: The Science of Water Tension

By Rachel Miller


Questions.  Roadblocks.  What do you do when you reach them?  What about your kids?  The skills to look at a problem and figure out a solution are a learned behavior, and STEM activities are the perfect way to help your child develop these skills.  They are a way to learn hands-on the emerging concepts from the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields. Sylvan Learning recently launched their Sylvan EDGE program, a series of activities that are great at helping kids develop critical thinking skills while having a ton of fun!

We took critical thinking skills that are being taught in Sylvan EDGE classes and applied them to solve a problem: Make water travel UP instead of down, with gravity.

Not only did our kids have a blast getting a bit wet, but they also learned concepts like water & atmospheric pressure, vacuum and surface tension.  We made a water siphon.  Not only is this handy in learning how to empty a kiddie pool, it’s also a great conversation starter into learning about how trees drink water even in the highest branches.

Supplies Needed:

  • Plastic Tubing (or an old hose)
  • Two Jugs
  • Food Dye (optional)

Kids Activity in post1

Science Project Instructions:

Fill one jug completely full of water.  Your other jug you will want to leave empty.  We added food dye to our water so it would be easier to see the liquid as it went through the tubing.  Next, insert your tube or hose into the water.  Try to make sure that there are no air bubbles in the hose as you push it into the water.  Once the hose is completely submerged, create a seal over the end of the hose.  You can use your hand or finger.  If you are struggling to make a seal you can also try using a lump of modeling clay.  Lift the filled hose out of the water.  If your tubing is clear (like ours) you should see water defy gravity as it rises out of the jug.

Keep the seal tight and transfer just the end of the hose into your empty jug of water and once the hose is pointing into the jug, remove your hand, the seal.  Water should continue to “move” up from your filled jug, down into your empty jug, filling it up.  When does the water stop filling your empty jug?  Any guesses?

Kids Activity in post2

Critical Thinking Skills.

One of the best things you can do for your kids while they are doing projects is to ask them to predict what is going to happen and see if you can help them understand cause-and-effect principles.  With the water siphon we asked our daughter what she thought would happen if she didn’t seal the tubing properly.  She experienced the failure a few times before figuring out the importance of a completely air tight seal to form the necessary vacuum.

When your kids experience failure at their projects ask them what they think caused the problem and what steps they could take to fix it with their next try.