Sensory play has been a boon to me with a three year age difference between my kids. It’s something they can both have fun with and play in their own way, but they are playing together in the same space, which makes my life immensely easier. I also love for them to experience different sensations, especially my youngest. We play with slimy, messy, gritty, powdery, crunchy, you name it, and I’m always looking for more things to introduce them to and to hold their interest.
I was just about to empty out the liquid in a can of chickpeas (called aquafaba), and I thought about this vegan meringue recipe I wanted to make for my aunt last time she was over, but then it hit me. We could use the chickpea foam for a sensory base! So here is the recipe, which has taken the sensory world by storm!
Liquid from a can of chickpeas
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
Whip it at high speed with a hand mixer or stand mixer for 5-7 minutes until stiff peaks.
That’s it! It couldn’t be easier and I love that it uses something you would normally throw away. I’ve seen some beautiful, messy play with this after I shared it on Instagram, and I’m so excited to share it with you all here! Let me know how it goes!
If you don’t have cream of tartar, you can try a splash of vinegar or lemon. I haven’t tried the foam without it, but it serves to form and stabilize the foam through its acidity.
A blender will not get the thick, stable foam like a hand or stand mixer, but if it’s the only thing you have, give it a shot!
This activity takes raised salt painting to a whole new level! In this twist, we use some secret ingredients that will make the special paint change color once it hits the salt!
The above picture was made entirely by my almost four year old. And even though this was the fourth picture she had made, the process was still as magical to her as the first time.
The secret to the color change is in the special paint. Instead of a true watercolor, we are using red cabbage juice! Red cabbage juice contains molecules called anthocyanins that change color when exposed to different pH levels. For more of the science involved, check out this post. The painting surface, which is usually just glue and salt in the classic activity, is actually different mixes of glue, salt, and safe household acids or bases in our version. You can create the picture beforehand for your child (like I did above in the mermaid video), or they can plan and create their own science art all by themselves (like the snowman further up).
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Containers to hold the salt mixes, with labels and spoons
Making Red Cabbage Juice
There are several ways to get juice from a red cabbage. All of these methods make quite a bit of juice. We freeze leftover juice in an ice cube tray, then save the cubes to melt for future projects.
Just juice some in a juicer (if you have one).
Add about a quarter of the cabbage to a blender and blend with about a cup of water (adding more or less depending on how much cabbage you have). Then strain the liquid.
Bring ~2 cups of water with chopped red cabbage to a boil, turn off heat and let sit till it’s cool. Strain the liquid.
Making the Salt Mixes
You can safely access three colors of the red cabbage juice with household solid chemicals: blue-green, purple, and pink. Prepare the mixes in a bowls or cups. Don’t forget to label them. Make as much as you need, or save some for later. The amount you make will depend on how much glue you need to cover, but the mermaids above took about 2 tbs of each.
Acidic Mix (Pink): 1 part citric acid to 6 parts table salt
Alkaline Mix (Blue green): 1 part baking soda to 3 parts table salt
Neutral Mix (Purple): All table salt
Making Your Art
Draw your design on the paper with a pencil.
Decide which parts will be blue, pink, or purple.
Using the glue, trace the drawing on just the lines that will be pink.
Sprinkle the Acidic Mix onto the glue (with fingers or a spoon), then shake off the excess.
Using the glue, trace the parts of the drawing that will be blue-green.
Sprinkle the Alkaline Mix over the new glue, then shake off the excess.
Using the glue, trace the parts of the drawing that will be purple.
Sprinkle the Neutral Mix over the newest glue then shake off the excess.
Let dry for about 30 min (This is optional. It will still work when the glue is wet, but you just have to be careful to not smoosh it with the paintbrush otherwise acid or base crystals that get stuck to the brush may change the color of your paint stock when you double dip.)
Load a brush with red cabbage juice and touch it to the salt/glue lines. Keep dabbing until your whole painting changes color before your eyes!
If you try this, be sure to share your creations with us! Find us on Instagram and Twitter @cara_florance. Use the hashtag #IBravedTheElements and we might feature you!
Cut squares from a paper towel (four from a large sheet or two from a select-a-size sheet).
Find the center of sheet and using different color Sharpies, heavily color in dots around the center point. Make sure the dots have a lot of ink in them, but don’t puncture the paper towel.
Using the eye dropper, drop isopropanol onto the center of the paper towel and watch as the ink radiates out from the center. Keep slowly adding isopropanol to grow your chromatograph.
Use your science art to make new crafts or hang it up to display!
Extra Experiments and Questions
Try doing this with water instead of isopropanol. Does it work? What’s happening?
Try doing this with washable markers (like Crayola). Which works better- water or isopropanol?
Do you think this would work with crayons?
How does this relate to stain removal? Why can’t you wash Sharpie out of your clothes with water?
Try putting less ink on the dots and see if you can separate some of the colors within the ink. The success of this will vary on the markers/colors you use, but its worth a shot!
Chromatography is used frequently in labs to separate compounds in a mixture. There are many types of chromatography but they are all based on a similar concept: a mobile phase carries your molecules of interest through a stationary phase, and based on the different interactions with the mobile and stationary phase, the different compounds can be separated. This experiment illustrates how a solvent (the isopropanol) can carry soluble molecules (the ink) through a stationary phase (the paper towel). After kids grasp this concept, you can move on to more delicate examples of chromatography like separating the components of fall leaves or a bouquet of flowers. See below for some key definitions to go over.
Chromatography: A way to separate parts of a mixture by moving the mixture and a solvent (mobile phase) along a surface (stationary phase). Because the different parts of the mixture will “prefer” to be on the stationary phase or mobile phase differently, they travel at differing rates, causing the parts to separate.
Solubility: A demonstration really helps to explain this to kids. They first must know that everything is made up of smaller parts, like molecules, ions, or atoms. Mix sugar or salt into warm water and show them that it seemingly disappears into the water. Explain that the smaller parts are being broken off from the larger crystal and surrounded by water molecules, which keeps them suspended in the liquid. They are still there, we just can’t see them. Then try doing this with chalk or something else that is not soluble in water. They will be able to see the bulk either floating or sinking to the bottom. Explain that these things are insoluble. The sugar or salt have properties that make them want to associate with water, kind of like magnets sticking to each other, while the chalk molecules do not.
In this experiment, the ink from Sharpies is soluble in isopropanol but not in water. The isopropanol is called a solvent, and the ink molecules are called the solute.
MobilePhase: In this experiment, the mobile phase is the isopropanol. It carries the ink molecules along the paper towel through capillary action.
StationaryPhase: In this experiment, the stationary phase is the paper towel. If solute molecules interact strongly with the stationary phase, they will stick to it earlier than molecules with less attraction to it.
Share the art you create with this project on Instagram and join our community! Tag us and use the hashtag #IBravedTheElements for a chance to be featured!
This is a fun, silly, and educational activity that any kid who likes to make noise will love. Using oobleck (a mix of cornstarch and water) and common household items, you will be able to visualize the sound waves made when you yell!
What we perceive as sound is a wave of pressure transmitted through air. When you yell, your vocal chords vibrate. The energy is transmitted by air molecules smacking into each other, until they they smack into your ear. There, you have cells that can convert the vibrations into electrical signals which are transmitted to and deciphered by your brain. In this activity, you will yell into a device that will transmit your sound waves from air into oobleck so you can see the waves!
SOUND: Kids will probably know what sound is, but not scientifically. Sound is vibrations that travel through a medium (usually air) which are eventually heard by ears. Kids will need to understand that air, even though we can’t see it, is all around us and can be moved similarly to the way balls move, like billiards. Try waving your hand quickly so they can feel the wind it creates. You can tell them air molecules can move to carry the energy from your hand to their skin so they can feel it. Sound also travels through air in a similar way, but sounds are made when something is wiggling the air much fast than your hand can move it. Roll a ball into another ball and talk about how the energy is transferred when the first ball hits, and use this analogy for air transmitting sound.
VIBRATION: To young kids, I like to explain this as fast wiggles. Since you know your kid the best, to define this word, you can draw on experiences you know they have had like the vibration of an old car going down the highway. You can also put their hands on one end of a table and have them feel the vibration of you knocking at the other end of the table. They probably have experienced vibration, but just need to connect the word with the phenomenon.
empty paper towel or toilet paper tubes
thin flexible material like plastic wrap, latex, thin rubber sheet, nitrile (I cut a square from nitrile gloves)
Cut the paper towel roll twice diagonally, as seen in the picture.
Flip the two end pieces up to form a U shape, then tape them together. (Or make into whatever shape you want. You basically want to be able to simultaneously yell into it and see the flexible membrane. The one below is what my daughter made from toilet paper rolls.).
Cut your thin flexible material into a square that will fit over the end of the paper towel tube.
Secure the square to the tube with a rubber band, making sure the membrane is taut like a drum.
To make the oobleck, mix about 2:1 cornstarch to water together (you can make a lot to play with it later, but for this activity, you only need about a teaspoon). You will know it’s the right consistency when you can smack the oobleck and it acts like a solid, but you can also slowly pour it as if it was a viscous liquid. Just add a little more cornstarch or water to get this consistency.
Put about an eighth teaspoon of oobleck onto the drum end.
Make all sorts of sounds into the open end of the paper towel roll and watch the oobleck dance about! Constant, steady low or high sounds work the best, but experiment to see what you can make!
When you scream into your device, kinetic energy is being transferred from your vocal chords, through the air molecules in the tube, to the membrane, to the oobleck. Note how the oobleck is formed into different shapes depending on the pitch of your noise.
You can use this experiment to talk to your kids about eardrums (aka tympanic membrane) by comparing them to the membrane on the device. Just as the screaming-device-membrane transmits sound from air in the tube to the liquid oobleck on top, your eardrum essentially transmits sound from the air in the ear to liquid in the cochlea.
This project can also be done by wrapping a speaker in Saran Wrap, putting some oobleck on it, and playing your kids’ favorite songs. It’s a great visual introduction to rhythm, beat, and volume and will give them a whole new musical experience.
One of my goals is to create simple science projects and demos that parents, caregivers, and teachers can easily perform using everyday supplies. I love this color changing lava lamp because it does exactly that. It illustrates so many concepts of chemistry, has ingredients you might already have (or can easily grab from the grocery store), and it is quite frankly AWESOME. So pour yourself some red cabbage juice, oil, and Alka-Seltzer and watch the science happen!
Did you know extracting your DNA so you can see it with your own eyes is one of the easiest science projects you will ever do? Take a look at the video below and try it out for yourself! We’ve also included some cartoons from The Baby Biochemist: DNA to illustrate what is happening during each step!
If you ask most kids what bones are made of, they would quickly answer “calcium!” Though it’s not incorrect, years of us telling them to drink their milk for strong bones has hidden an amazing feature of nature, biomineralization by proteins. Calcium is only half the story of bones. Though the semi-crystalline mineral that contains calcium, oxygen, hydrogen, and phosphorus, called hydroxyapatite, provides strength and rigidity, our bones also need to be elastic to help absorb shock. This is where proteins come in. Your bones are made of living tissue that spew out networks of protein that trap and crystallize the calcium in your body. Together they form the strong, resilient biomaterial we know as bones.
You can feel the flexibility of the protein network for yourself by reacting and dissolving the hydroxyapatite from the bones in vinegar. What’s left are entertaining, wiggly bones the kids will love to play with (except my daughter, who was too grossed out and didn’t want to touch them which is why all these pictures are of my hands ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).