Teaching Kids Science of Density at Home

Aug 26

With school a mere ten days away, I thought it an opportune time to get the boys back in the kitchen for some awesome science experiments. Because their days will soon be filled with desk-sitting, textbook-reading, don’t-raise-your-voice hours, I’d rather not pull out the curriculum-based workbooks to prep them for academics (just yet). I say let them have fun while they learn.. while they still can.

This first experiment called Liquid Layers (from the book Science Rocks!) is super easy. It helps kids understand the concept of liquid density and molecules.

You need: A tall clear glass, water, cooking oil, molasses, food colouring, and some a few different small object of varying weights (i.e. marble, strawberry, M&M)

Step 1: Pour water up to about one-third of the glass. Add food colouring. Then pour similar amounts each of molasses and cooking oil.

teach innovation

teach kids density

Step 2: Drop in the various solid objects and give it a good stir. (The kids love this part.)

science for kids

Step 3: Leave the glass for about half an hour, waiting until it settles into separate layers. Eventually three layers will appear, starting with the heaviest liquid (molasses) at the bottom, the water in the middle, and the oil on top. Notice where the objects sink. Lighter objects will float stop one of the higher layers, and heavy objects will sit at the bottom.

fun science for kids

Note to parents: This experiment left us with only two layers, which was slightly disappointing. The boys, however, had a blast pouring the liquids and still became familiar with the concept of density. I highly recommend this.

The second experiment we performed is called Float Your Boat (also in Science Rocks!) This also teaches density and is easy enough for a child as young as six to complete on his or her own (although it can get a bit frustrating for uncoordinated fingers.)

You need: marbles, bowl of water, modelling clay, and some patient encouragement for frustrated kiddos.

Step 1: Drop a marble into the bowl of water. Then drop the ball of clay. Notice that they both sink. (It gets better, I promise).

teach kids innovative thinking

Step 2: Remove the ball of modelling clay and press it out into the flat sheet. Then mold it into the shape of a small boat, making the sides high enough to prevent water leaking into them. (This is the part that can get quite frustrating for a child – namely a certain 12-year-old. You may need to help them, or show them how you do it on your own.)

science experiments for kids

Step 3: Put the newly constructed boat into the bowl of water. It should float. If it does not… back to the frustrating step 2 (which may need to be repeated several times if you have a stubborn child who refuses your help. Ah well) Once the boat is floating, place marbles one at a time into the boat.

kids science

Although this doesn’t sound particularly exciting, it is a lot of fun for kids to try to pile up the marbles before the boat sinks. By the end of the experiment, my kids had an understanding of how real boats are able to float, even though they are made of heavy materials.

Both experiments were virtually mess-free and required minimal supervision. Although they experienced frustration during the process, this is actually a good thing. It helps them recognize that a big part of experimentation is making mistakes… and having to start all over again.

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Teaching Kids Innovation Includes Teaching Failure

Jun 02

Nobody gets more frustrated than me when something doesn’t turn out the way it’s supposed to. And, believe me, I’ve had my share of such experiences (something called… parenthood). But the ability to overcome those feelings of failure is an essential part of anyone’s journey to success. As those who follow my blog know, I’ve started an Innovation Project that involves weekly (okay, I’m lazy – almost weekly) experiments and inventions to stir the imagination and brain cell configuration of my three boys. In other words, I don’t want them to turn into a Picketing Montrealer bitching about lack of jobs and a small tuition hike (they’ll be too busy forging their own paths to success).

When I’d started this innovation project (a lengthy few weeks ago…) I assumed every experiment would run smoothly. Duh. Our latest project completely, utterly sucked. We followed the rules to a tee. Read and re-read the directions. Tried various options. Still, the experiment had one outcome. FAILURE. Now, there’s no way I could post this crapola project on my blog. Who CARES about an experiment that fails?

Surely, nobody is going to be interested in the experiment, itself, but every parent and child might be interested in learning that they’re not the only ones who experience dismal failures against the backdrop of high hopes. And, although our vacuum missile device sucked (figuratively and literally), my boys did learn something: that not everything turns out the way you plan. So, here is the low down on my failed innovation experiment with the caveat: DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME.

This experiment is called Suck It To ‘Em. (Yeah, suck it to me. A waste of one hour of my life.)

I was drawn in by its relatively simple set up. All you need is duct tape, two long cardboard tubes from wrapping paper, old socks, vacuum cleaner, small square of cardboard, and scissors.

Step 1: Create a missile by squishing a sock or two together and wrap them snuggly with duct tape so that you create an oval shaped ball that fits inside one of the tubes, but isn’t so big that it gets stuck inside of it. (Good luck with that, by  the way!)

vacuum experiment for kids

Got one sock in there.

Step 2: Cut one cardboard tube to about 30 cm long and cut curves at one end to fit it neatly against the second tube. With the other tube, cut a hole about 10 cm from the end. The first tube will attach to that one, so make sure the hole is no bigger than the end of your first tube. Then attach them so they are perpendicular to one another using a load of duct tape. (I know this is utterly confusing, but here’s the thing: I don’t expect you to follow these instructions because the darn thing doesn’t work!) Check out the photo below for clarity should you wish to try it anyways.

Vacuum experiment for kids

Attach the two wrapping paper tubes.

Step 3: Insert the second tube into nozzle of the vacuum cleaner (you need a vacuum that has a tube attached to it). Seal it with more duct tape.


Innovation lessons for kids

Attaching the tube to the vacuum hose

Teaching innovation to kids

Ready to fire! Not.

Step 4: Turn on the vacuum and cover the back opening of your “launcher” with a square piece of cardboard. Then look out! At this point, it did not work.

Innovative projects for kids

Let it fly! Not.

This experiment is better called: Failure to Launch. After re-jigging the size of the missile, the timing of the vacuum, and various other possibilities, we gave up. Some plans just don’t work out. However, the boys still had fun putting it together (what kid doesn’t love using too much tape). This project, however, is not recommended.

teach kids innovation

Discarded launcher

The experiment was taken from the book: Science Rocks! by Ian Graham

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Experiment Lets the Kids Get Messy: Learning About Catalysts

May 08

This is week 2 of my journey into the world of kids’  innovation and science. We’re back in the kitchen making goop (my kids like getting messy.) This particular experiment helps kids understand propulsion through the use of . Rocket fuel, for instance, is created when a catalyst is added to concentrated hydrogen peroxide and is used in jet packs to propel humans through the air.

But don’t worry – no kids will be flying across your kitchen.

Today’s experiment is called Elephant’s Toothpaste (don’t ask why, ’cause I don’t know).

It is taken from the book Science Rocks! by Ian Graham. (I highly recommend this book.)

Ingredients: empty plastic bottle, hydrogen peroxide, dishwashing liquid, food colouring, dry yeast, hot water, funnel, baking tray.

First - Measure 4 oz of hydrogen peroxide and pour into the bottle (which should be set upon the tray to minimize the cleaning later!) Then add a few drops of food colouring and a few drops of dishwashing liquid.

Let the kids do the measuring.

My boys chose pink dye.

A few drops of dishwashing liquid will do

Second - Mix a teaspoon of yeast with two tablespoons of hot water in a cup or bowl, then pour it through the funnel into the bottle. My kids thought it’d be fun to add some figurines into the mix, too.

Third - STEP BACK!

This kind of experiment is just what the boys love

Time to get the hands into it

I highly recommend this science experiment. It’s a big step up from the old  baking soda and vinegar trick and not a whole lot more work. As long as parents keep the mess contained within a baking tray, the clean up is swift, too. And by the way, I’d encourage you to include clean-up as part of the kids’ experiment (especially when the dishwashing liquid is so handy.)

Related Posts:

The Science of Slime for Innovative Kids

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The Science of Slime for Innovative Kids

May 02

This is the first of my official “Innovating” posts where I will chronicle my children’s journey into the world of science and innovation. Not to mention, the powers of infinite parental patience.

For the next several months I will post a weekly experiment or activity that may be science, art, or entrepreneurial-related. As much as I would love to believe that my three boys are learning how to be innovative in the classroom, the reality is that they are not (at least not on a regular basis). Therefore, it’s up to me (the parent) to expose them hands-on learning opportunities that encourage them to take risks, love learning, and stretch their naturally inquiring brains. I explain this more fully on a previous post here.

I encourage families to try these same activities at home – you’ll get a good idea of how messy they are (to gauge your own tolerance for it), and whether they’re worth the effort based on my own experience.

Today’s Experiment is called SLIME TIME. That pretty much sums up what you can expect.

Kids Learn: the differences between liquid and solid, and the properties of plastics since both the slime and plastic are made of polymers. And an understanding of non-Newtonian fluids.

Ingredients: Cornstarch, water, food colouring

First – Toss some cornstarch into a bowl and slowly add water. Then stir.

innovative kids

Adding water


experiments for innovative kids

Forget the spoon. You need hands to stir this stuff!

The mixture should be smooth once it has been mixed thoroughly. Any chance to get his hands dirty, my son is really getting into this part of it.

SECOND: Add food colouring. The colour chosen today is blue.

Slime experiment for innovative kids

Add a little colour


Innovative kids

It's blue!

FINAL: Get slimy! Let your kids play with it. Note to the mama’s who hate messes – it is contained and minimal in my kitchen.

Innovative kids' science

Ooey Gooey Good!

Nothing like a pile of blue slime to get boys interested. Another son jumps in to help out with moulding this stuff. Now, it’s time to just let them have fun with it. Two of my boys spent fifteen minutes squishing, dropping, moulding, and laughing with this. Supervision by Mama or Papa is rather important during this segment of the experiment, lest you want to be wiping down globs of blue from your kitchen walls and cabinets.

The mini video below shows how the kids learn non-Newtonian properties (it doesn’t conform to the rules of how liquids behave, as set out by Newton).


I’d highly recommend this science experiment. It’s a lot of fun for the kids, ingredients are minimal, and does not require a lot of effort for parents (a great one to start with). However, keep in mind the fingers stay dyed for quite some time. My son was still scrubbing his nails three days later…

Science experiments for kids who like slime

Three days later, the nails are still blue

This experiment was taken from a wonderful book by Scholastic called Science Rocks!

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The One Thing Every Child Should Learn (But Is Not Taught in School)

Apr 28

We all want our children to succeed. For those of us with school-age children, a large part of their success right now is placed on their grades at school. When one of my sons bring home an ‘A’, I’m thrilled – throwing  accolades upon him for his achievement. When a ‘C’ shows up on a test or report card, my brow furrows with dismay as the questions pile up – did you not study enough? Is the teacher not doing her job? Are we going to see more of these rounded letters (’cause I prefer the one with the straight lines)?

It’s natural for a parent to panic when a child’s marks are below expectations. After all, just as a good university degree (or two) will increase a person’s career opportunities, so will good marks improve a student’s chances at obtaining that great university degree. Right? Well, maybe not. Unfortunately, a great university education cannot even guarantee professional success. Today, there is no shortage of unemployed twenty-somethings with a collection of hard-earned degrees.

So, if even stellar marks AND a great university education cannot guarantee a well-paying, fulfilling job, what hope is there for our kids who have yet to graduate to high school? The answer, I believe, comes down to one single word: Innovation.

Innovative thinking, unfortunately, is not taught in the classroom. In fact, except in the most progressive schools and under the most progressive teachers, today’s kids are fed their information in the decades-long drill and kill style of learning. I talk, you listen.

While there are many signs that this form of teaching is changing to incorporate a more hands-on approach to instruction, it could be another decade before we see major change. I think everyone can agree: sitting quietly at a desk all day does not encourage innovative thinking. While I do believe rote learning is necessary to teach kids much of the content of the curriculum (I have great faith in our many amazing teachers), I also recognize that kids need far more opportunities than they are getting to explore their imagination and seek answers to their own questions.

By encouraging our kids to innovate, we are preparing them for a future where there are no straight-cut paths to success and where the job market of today will look nothing like the one they will face in twenty years. Innovators aren’t afraid to ask the hard questions and then search for creative solutions, even in the face of possible failure.

Lucky for us, kids are born with innovative minds. It’s over-programmed adults, like us, that drain them of it. How many times during the day does your six-year-old ask you a question? How many times do you wave her off? Good luck getting a thirteen-year-old to ask anything other than ‘Can I have some money.’ Go figure.

So, what can a parent do to improve their child’s ability to innovate? Well, stop relying on schools, for one. The onus is on us to encourage kids to keep asking questions and to find their own answers… while still having fun. More work for them is not part of the equation.

You can join me as I embark on an innovation quest with my three boys through science experiments, cutting-edge software programs, improv, even LEGO building (love that stuff) and who knows what else. I can guarantee that things will get messy. Am I doing this in the hope that my kids will be the next great inventor of our age? No (although I’m not against the idea…) I simply want to ignite a lifelong spark of innovation that will help them become the best entrepreneur, inventor, musician, social activist – this list could get long – that they can be. I want them to know the sky’s the limit.


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TED’s Ads Worth Spreading Prove Commercials Can Inspire Goodness

Feb 28

TED just announced the 10 winners of the second Ads Worth Spreading challenge. The contest celebrates advertisements that “communicate ideas with consumers in the same way that TED wants to communicate with its audience.” In other words: Inspire positive change among individuals, communities, and eventually society. Based on these entries, the screen can, indeed, help make the world a better place for our kids and our families.

These two are among my favourites:

The first one is an ad for Chipotle. The message is rather Lorax-ish in nature. A pig farmer grows his business to industrial proportions only to realize he has made a grave mistake, and thankfully, mends his way by embracing a more ecological approach to living. Beautiful music and inspiring animation. This ad proves that a company can advertise effectively while still promoting a positive message for society.

This next ad, by Sharpie, is another favourite of mine. In our technologically-driven households and communities, this commercial celebrates the raw creative genius of one young man who illustrates beautiful works of art on coffee cups. I could have done without the focus on his plans to travel aimlessly across the world, but the ad’s ability to inspire us all to pursue our individuality through art is admirable.

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