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Science on Ice: 5 Cool Experiments for a Hot Summer Day

Photo by Giorgio Magini / Stocksy United / 852833
Photo by Giorgio Magini / Stocksy United

Ice isn’t just for cooling off that tall glass of lemonade! Ice can also be a powerfully cool scientific tool for young children. Here are five fun experiments that will wow your kids and teach ‘em some real-world smarts using ice and other common household objects. (You might even learn a little yourself!)

1) The Volcano Experiment (Minus the Volcano)

Here’s an idea that takes the age-old volcano experiment to a whole new level (and doesn’t require you to handcraft a papier-mâché mountain—phew). Here’s how to get started: Mix a few drops of food coloring with some white vinegar and freeze in an ice-cube tray. Once your ice cubes are frozen, add a shallow layer of baking soda to the bottom of a pie tin or plastic tub. Next, pop out your vinegar cubes, and let your kiddo move them around in the bottom of the container and watch the magic commence. The science behind it all? As the ice melts, the vinegar (an acid) and baking soda (a base) react together to release carbon dioxide, a gas that produces all those tickly bubbles as well as a fizzy sound. If patience is in short supply, you can sprinkle a little liquid vinegar into the container to jump-start the reaction.

2) The Low-Brow Lava Lamp

Think of this experiment as a low-budget lava lamp for little hands. To prep, make some colored ice cubes by freezing water with food coloring or liquid watercolors. Next, fill a shallow tub or pan with vegetable oil, pop the cubes in as well, and let your child move them around the pan with her hands. As the ice melts, watch as...the oil and colored water don’t mix! Whoa! Encourage her scientific thinking by asking her what’s happening in the dish.

3) The Hot Day Monet

Ready to paint with ice? Fill each section of an ice-cube tray with water and a few drops of food coloring or liquid watercolor paint, and cover the tray with a layer of tin foil. Insert a Popsicle® stick (or half a stick) into each section through the foil (the layer of foil will keep the stick from falling over) and freeze them. Once frozen, set your child up with some colored ice cubes and a piece of paper outside on a hot day. As the ice melts, he can paint with the slippery, sliding cube. Monet in the making!

4) The Wooly Mammoth

Explore how warm water helps ice melt by freezing a small toy (like a dinosaur, plastic jewelry, or a toy car) in a dish of water overnight. (Parent Safety Reminder: Be sure to mind the small-parts age warnings on your toy packaging!) Surprise your child with the frozen toy and show her how she can set it free. Simply fill a small bowl with warm water and use a turkey baster, spray bottle, or eyedropper to drip warm water on the top of the ice. As the ice melts, the toy will get closer and closer to the surface until it’s liberated from its frozen prison. So cool.

5) The Laws of Attraction

Got a magnetic wand or large magnet at home? Have some fun by freezing smaller items like paper clips, washers, coins, marbles, and other objects in an ice-cube tray. Pop out the cubes and let your child explore which frozen objects will stick to the magnet. (It’s pretty awesome to “lead” an ice-cube around a table with a magnet as if by magic!) Some objects will stick right away, others will need to melt a bit before they’re attracted to the magnet, and others will never stick—because they aren’t made of the kind of metal that is attracted to magnets. Older children can practice forming hypotheses before this activity by making a list of objects they think will stick and others that won't—and then testing their predictions as things get wet!

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