Books, apps and classes help build our children’s knowledge, but developing a sense of wonder about the world is key. Try these wonder-full science activities for summer that take advantage of hot summer days and cool summer nights.
It’s Hot Enough to Fry an Egg on the Sidewalk
In the midst of a summer heat wave, someone inevitably invokes the old maxim about frying an egg on the sidewalk. It’s probably not going to work, but there’s little harm in trying. Besides, with a bit of innovation and science knowledge, not to mention a carton of eggs and a few simple supplies, your kids might be able to do it. Is an egg more likely to cook on blacktop vs. cement? Metal conducts heat, so maybe you’ll have better luck trying it on the hood of a car. Or maybe mirrors will do the trick? Before you know it, they’ll be begging to build a solar oven.
Bugs’ Life Movie Night
A prankish element makes this science night extra fun. Invite your child’s friends to an outdoor showing of “bugs’ life.” Hang a light-colored sheet on the side of your house or garage and shine a bright light (or several of them) on it after dark. After 10 or so minutes watch as the stars of your show flock to your screen—insects! See if the kids can identify any or collect a few in jars for up-close observation before they set them free. Let them loose and head inside for snacks and a real movie night without mosquitoes.
A Starry, Starry Night
Move beyond insect movie stars and check out the shining stars in the sky. The best time for observing stars is when there’s a new moon. During the new moon, the illuminated side of the moon faces away from Earth, so we don’t see it (or only see a very small slice) at night. This makes for great star gazing, an ideal time to learn about constellations, watch for shooting stars, or try to spot the International Space Station whizzing overhead. If you live near a major metropolitan area, consider skipping town so that your kids can see a sky full of stars. It will put astronomy and cosmology in a whole new perspective and will make for a memorable night. If their interest is piqued, sign up for one of the celestial citizen science projects at Zooniverse.
Even if light pollution prevents you from seeing a sky full of stars, you should be able to observe the moon. This science project will take 28 days, which allows for plenty of time to learn about Earth’s lunar friend. Your kids can learn the difference between waxing and waning and many other facts in between nightly observations. You can begin at any time in the cycle and end when you’re back to your starting phase. No worries if you miss a day or two. The United States Navy can fill you in on what you missed. Celebrate your new knowledge with a moon viewing party, featuring DIY moon phase cookies and mooncakes. If there’s a full moon, head outside late one night and play with your moon shadows.
Finally, at the risk of you throwing garden-fresh tomatoes at me:
Let Your Kids Get Bored
I know the temptation to turn on the nearest screen when your kids whine for the 178th time in a single day that they’re bored. Admittedly, I sometimes succumb, but when I stand my ground and insist that I’m not the entertainment committee, they come up with fantastic ideas of their own, like this. If you keep a well-stocked makerspace craft area, point your child in that direction and let them go. Even better, raid your makerspace for items like rubber bands and popsicle sticks and add in items from your kitchen such as vinegar, baking soda, cornstarch, and dish soap. Then, you and your kids can head to Science Buddies to find loads of sizzling science fun.
Have a wonder-filled summer!