My daughters often ask to do a science experiment. So I turn to Pinterest and hunt for something with few (and free!) materials. The water experiment from Coffee Cups and Crayons fit the bill. Just fill two glasses with water and drop some food coloring in. Place a third empty cup between them. Fold two paper towels lengthwise and put one end in the food coloring and one end in the empty cup. Watch the water saturate the paper towel and flow into the empty cup. My kids were amazed at how quickly the water moved up the paper towel. It is a great way to see how colors mix. It only takes a few minutes to see the new color, but the longer you wait the deeper the hue.
- food coloring
- three clear cups
- two paper towels
I’m always happy to find a way to use our plethora of stuffed friends. We’ve made a stuffed animal zoo, and now we are using them to learn letters. This game helps with phonics and letter recognition. All you need are animals and letters. We used a foam alphabet mat, but you could easily write letters on index cards or use letter flashcards instead.
For each stuffed animal ask:
- What animal is this?
- What letter does it start with? (If they need some help offer other words that start with the same letter)
- Can you find the letter and place the animal on top of it? (Again, depending on ability level you might need to give some clues about what the letter looks like or its place in the alphabet)
Then read an animal ABC book and see if you had the same animals!
I tried my hand at homemade playdough for the first time. I am no cook. But since the end product is not supposed to be edible, how can I mess it up? I used this recipe from Domestic Super Hero. Don’t worry. You don’t need to be super hero at all. I made three batches: red, yellow, and blue.
Then the fun part: mixing colors! I divided each of my colors of playdough into two equal halves and then set one of the halves off to the side. The remaining half should be divided in half again. (Perfect time to talk about how fractions are equal parts of a whole.) Now you have two equal fourths of each color. Time to mix! Take 1/4 of the red and smoosh it together with 1/4 of the blue. It takes awhile, so you might have to help if your kiddo wears out on the mixing. See if your kid can guess the color that you are making…then see if it actually turns out. Our purple was a little on the gray side. But you can always add a pinch more red or blue to tweak the color.
Our last step was to put our colors on a color wheel. There are tons of free blank color wheels out there. I used the secondary color wheel from Mr. Printables. I liked how the color words were labeled so my daughters could match them up. If you don’t have a reader yet, give them clues like “Red has three letters. Can you find the word blue? It starts with the letter B. Orange is red and yellow mixed together so it should be in between them.”
And if you are still in the mood to play, here are 15 more ways you can learn with playdough!
How do I keep the kids entertained while I mow the lawn? Water painting. All you need is a bucket of water, paintbrushes, and a fence. It’s free and it’s fun and it doesn’t make a mess. Plus kids can practice all kinds of things:
- patterns- use the fence pickets
- math problems
- sight words or spelling words
- and my daughters’ favorite: splattering
It isn’t the same as practicing handwriting with a pencil and paper, but that’s the point. Sometimes kids need a break from the routine. Novelty makes learning fun. Who wouldn’t want to practice their spelling words outside with a paintbrush in the sunshine instead of at the kitchen table?
We tried out the milk and dish soap experiment I saw floating around the interwebs. It is pretty cool! My kids were definitely entertained and wanted to do it again and again.
- milk (whole or 2%)
- dish soap
- food coloring
- dinner plate or bowl
Fill the plate or bowl with enough milk to cover the bottom. Then drop in some food coloring.
Dip a Q-tip in the food coloring to see what happens (nothing). Then dip the Q-tip in dish soap and touch it to the food coloring. Wow! No need to stir, the colors will explode and mix on their own.
So you’ve got a little kitchen set for your kiddo. Here are some ways to learn with all that plastic food (you know, instead of just tripping over it)….
- See if your child can name all the pieces of food.
- Select food and have a pretend picnic.
- Set up a pretend restaurant. Take turns being the customer and waiter/waitress and cook.
- Arrange food in rows and go shopping with a basket. Pretend to check-out and use real money.
- Sort food by color.
- Sort food by food group.
- Pick out two or more foods that start with the same letter.
- Look for shapes. Which foods are spheres? Are any flat like a circle? What about a cylinder?
- Find and count certain foods. How many eggs are there? How many oranges?
- Compare quantities. Are there more yellow foods or green foods? How many more lemons than tomatoes?
- Use food to represent addition or subtraction problems. I have four apples, then I give two to you. How many do I have now?
- Play “I’m thinking of a food.” Use adjectives to describe a piece of food to each other and take turns guessing.
- Play a memory game. Place a few foods in front of your child. Then have her close her eyes and take a food away. Ask which one was removed.
- Put a food in a sack and see if you can guess what it is just by touch.
- Go on a food scavenger hunt. Write down a list of foods to find (something to eat for breakfast, a vegetable, a food that starts with the letter B, etc.) and then see if your child can find them all!
I love ridiculously easy science experiments. I don’t want to create a shopping list just to do something with my kids. I know, sometimes it is worth. But most times I just want to grab a few things around the kitchen and be done.
- glass or bowl
This is a great activity to do after “sink or float.” Hypothesize if an egg will float in water. Test the hypothesis. Then add salt and try it again. Hint- you have to add LOTS of salt! How does it work? A raw egg has more density than tap water. Adding salt increases the density of water until at some point it is greater than the egg. Then the egg floats. Try the experiment with other materials. Talk about swimming in saltwater vs. freshwater.
How easy is to make your own binoculars? Just wrap some duct tape around two toilet paper tubes and add some string. I had the patterned duct tape to really make it fancy. Ha. They just take a minute to make and then you can have all kinds of fun.
Use them to…
- spot flowers, nuts, or leaves on a nature hunt
- look for letters in the grocery store
- go on a color hunt around your house
- get a good look at animals at the zoo
- act out a story about an explorer
- 2 toilet paper tubes
- string or yarn
- duct tape
If you can learn with cans, why not boxes? We collected empty cardboard boxes for a few weeks to make “box blocks.” For boxes that didn’t close on their own, I taped them shut. The kids really got excited about adding to our box collection. And we were able to see just how many boxes our family uses…and have a talk about the importance of recycling! That is a learning experience in itself, but here are some other things you can teach with boxes…
Common Core Standards appear in italics. They correlate with specific standards in different grade levels. These standards are used in almost every school in the country. Click the Common Core tab above to learn more.)
- Colors- Talk about the different colors on the boxes, then divide them into groups or make a rainbow.
- Size- Compare sizes of boxes. Put them in order from smallest to biggest.
- Counting– How many boxes in all? Count how many you can stack in a tower.
- Addition and Subtraction– How many cereal boxes plus fruit snack boxes do we have? (first grade- Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction)
- Geometry- Talk about 2D vs 3D. Use the word rectangular prism. How many rectangles make up a box? (kindergarten- Identify shapes as two-dimensional or three-dimensional)
- Measurement- Use a ruler to measure boxes length, width, and depth. (second grade- Measure and estimate lengths in standard units)
- Classification- Sort the boxes into groups based on color, size, or type of food. (kindergarten- Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count)
- Reading– Beginning readers might be able to read some of the labels using the picture as a clue. If they know it is a pizza box, see if they can pick out the word “pizza.”
- Letters- Try to make letters or even words out of the small boxes.
- Creative building– Design your own sculpture with box blocks!
Or combine all the above into a scavenger hunt. Scatter the boxes around the room and then shout out things to find. “Find a green box and bring it to me. Which box would we use to eat breakfast? Find the largest box. Can you find the letter T on a box?” This is great way to get kids moving and learning at the same time.
1. Spraygrounds- Called spraygrounds or splash parks, these free fountains are always a kid favorite. Who doesn’t want to play in the water on a hot day? I was especially grateful for spraygrounds when I had a baby and a toddler. Take them both to the swimming pool by myself? A nightmare. But watch my oldest run through the fountains while my baby sits and splashes? Very doable.
2. Bowling Alley– Kids can get two free games of bowling every day, all summer long! Check out kidsbowlfree.com to see if a bowling alley in your area participates. We did this last year and loved it!
3. Concerts– Lots of shopping centers, communities, parks, and churches do free summer concerts in the evenings. What better way to spend a summer night? Just do a search for “free summer concert (your city name here)” and see what you can find.
4. Art Fairs- Hands down my favorite activity. We have already been to two this summer! Although taking toddlers to a place with large groups of people and very expensive objects is not for a the faint of heart. Wearable babies or older kids make the best art viewers (in my experience).
5. Public School Playgrounds- The schools are out and the playgrounds are open! Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon “at recess.” Just make sure to check the signage to make sure it is open to the public.