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Put the Beach in a Bottle: A Cool Project for Your Little Cousteau

beach bottle finished

No beach outside your door? No problem! Try your hand at the classic “ocean in a bottle” project. Oil and water combine—or rather, don’t combine—to create a colorful and mesmerizing wave effect. Older kids love creating an ocean that fits in a backpack, and even the youngest babes find these gentle, tilting waves enchanting to watch.

This at-home activity was inspired by our Oceanography summer program for school-agers. Find out more about the great summer adventures we offer here.

Begin your crafting session by reminiscing about past trips to the ocean, checking out aquatic photos, or learning more about the why of waves. Then gather your supplies and make a little maritime magic!

materials for beach in bottle

Materials

  • Clear plastic bottles with caps
  • Vegetable or mineral oil, in a measuring cup with spout
  • Duct tape or a hot glue gun
  • Blue or green food coloring
  • Funnel
  • Water
  • A towel for spills
  • Optional: Pitcher
  • Optional: Glitter, sand, pebbles, small shells, tiny plastic sea critters, toy boats, etc.

Process

  1. Start by having your child fill his plastic bottle 2/3 full of water, either at a sink faucet or using a pitcher and a funnel.
  2. He can then add several drops of blue or green food coloring to the bottle and gently swish it around to mix in the color. Fun science fact: Sea water is actually clear, but can appear blue or green because of the way light is either absorbed or reflected by the ocean’s surface.
  3. If he is interested, your kiddo can add glitter, sea creatures, pebbles, or other items to the water in the bottle. After he’s decorated his ocean scene, he can use the funnel to pour oil into his bottle until the remaining space is filled.
  4. Help him screw the cap back on the bottle and then secure it with duct tape. Alternately, apply a little hot glue inside the clean, dry cap—then screw it on tightly and apply a thin layer of glue around the outer edge of the cap. The goal is to make a leak-proof bottle.
  5. Invite your child to place the bottle on its side and experiment with rocking it to create “waves.” Fun science fact: Oil and water won’t combine, so when you add them together in the bottle, the oil sits on top of the water and rolls across it when the bottle is in motion—the result looks like a surging sea!

Bonus: These portable seascapes are great entertainment during long summer road trips—perhaps to the beach?

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