Tag: Scientific Method

How to make a Borax crystal snowman ornament – cute winter or Christmas ‘science craft’ idea for kids.

Crystal Snowman Square

Yes, another crystal ornament post! My kids keep asking to make more, and I’m happy to oblige…

I know I’m mentioned this before, but I’ve found that repeating activities, with slight variations, is really worthwhile. If the kids are continuing to show an interest in something, that’s a sure sign there’s still more learning to be had!

So when my daughter Bumble Bee begged to make a crystal snowman, so she could hang one on our Christmas tree….

Make your own sparkly crystal snowman - fun crystal science craft for kids

Suitable for

Generally I’d recommend this activity for primary (elementary) aged kids (7-9 year olds). Younger kids (5-6 year olds) may like to try it too, with assistance.

You’ll see in the pictures below that I did this activity with my 4 year old daughter, BUT she had a lot of help from me. Bee’s also watched her big sister do this activity several times before, and so understood the steps involved and the need to follow instructions for safety.

How to make a Borax crystal snowman

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We used:

Ingredients to make crystal snowmen

What to do:

1. Twist a white pipe cleaner into two connected circles, making a snowman shape. Add a black pipe cleaner hat, trimming as necessary.

2. Tie a loop of invisible nylon thread to the middle of the snowman’s hat. (Nylon thread is tricky to tie for little hands. You can also use dental floss – which doesn’t look as good, but is much easier to tie on). Check that the snowman can easily dangle inside the glass without touching the bottom or sides.

Making a Borax crystal snowman

These next steps require adult supervision. (See safety notes below.)

3. Put on safety glasses. Fill a glass with boiling water. (Careful – the glass will become very hot!) Add Borax powder to the water, and stir. (Note: Borax is not taste-safe.)

Creating a Borax super-saturated solution

The actual quantity of Borax required will depend on the volume of your glass – allow for about 3-4 tablespoons per 250ml of water.

You’ll see the water become cloudy, but keep adding and stirring until it’s super-saturated and you can’t stir in any more without Borax powder collecting on the bottom.

Stirring Borax into hot water

4. Thread the nylon loop through a chopstick (or pencil) and lower the snowman into the Borax suspension, balancing the chopstick on top. Double check that it isn’t touching the sides or bottom off the glass. Set aside for 24 hours (or longer). Notice that the solution in the glass goes from cloudy, to relatively clear, to encrusted with crystals!

Three stages of making Borax crystal snowmen

5. When the crystals have stopped growing, remove the snowman from the glass, rinse and let dry. Now you have a new crystal snowman ornament to hang (up high) on your Christmas tree!

How to make a crystal snowman - fun chemistry for kids

I love studying the crystals afterwards. Every crystal formation is unique. So pretty!

Crystals

And they sparkle like crazy in the sunshine!

Borax crystal snowman

Fun Science

Borax (also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate or disodium tetraborate) is a naturally occurring mineral and salt, that is mined from seasonal lakes. Borax has numerous industrial uses. It is often dissolved in water to form an alkaline antiseptic solution that is used as a disinfectant, detergent, and water softener (which is why you can often find it in the laundry aisle. Or you can also find it online).

When you stir Borax into very hot water, you can see that the water becomes very cloudy. This is because the Borax molecules become suspended in the water. As the water cools to room temperature, the solution becomes super saturated, and Borax separates from the water molecules and attaches to whatever it can, including the sides of the jar, and the pipe cleaner decoration dangling inside, forming beautiful translucent crystals.

Borax crystals are generally well formed and quite large, although you won’t typically find them in jewellery or in museum displays. This is because the crystals won’t hold their structure over long periods of time, like other crystals would. Because they are a salt, they go through a process called efflorescence. Dehydration causes the translucent crystals to become opaque, and eventually crumble into a white powder. (This is just starting to happen to the Borax crystal flowers we made almost 1.5 years ago, with a dusting of powder starting to appearing on the surface of the now opaque crystals).

How to make a crystal snowman ornament - cute science craft for kids

Safety notes…

Be careful with boiling water around young kids. Have kids place the glass on a surface before adding boiling water – glass with boiling water inside will become too hot to handle almost instantly.

Borax is a commonly used natural ingredient in grade school science experiments, and is safe for older kids to handle when used responsibly. It is not edible however, and will irritate if put directly into eyes. It is also a mild skin irritant for people with sensitive skin. I recommend using safety glasses and washing hands afterwards.

With Borax being inedible, please make sure that your crystal creations are stored out of reach of babies, toddlers or pets (or hung high up, well out of reach, on your Christmas tree.)

All kids’ activities on this blog require attentive adult supervision. Parents and carers will need to judge whether a particular activity is appropriate their child’s age and skill level. Click here for more information.

Crystal snowman

For more DIY crystal ideas, we have a bunch listed on our Crystals page, including:

You might also be interested in our Go Science Kids and Crystal Science boards on Pinterest.

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My girls have started watching a TV show called Ready Jet Go! (which, incidentally, is an awesome show for learning about outer space), and they’ve caught on to one of the catchy tunes from the show that teaches the scientific method. (Here’s the official version, although I prefer this informal one…)

My kids now think the scientific method is cool, and they’ve been singing the song to each other, trying to remember all the steps. Awesome!

But perhaps you’re asking, “What is this whole ‘scientific method’ thing anyway?

I’ve touched on the subject here on Go Science Kids before, but I hadn’t really introduced it properly. And it really deserves a proper introduction, don’t you think?

what is the scientific method

What is the Scientific Method?

The scientific method is the process that modern scientists use to work out what is true about something. It’s a method that reduces bias, and follows a series of logical steps.

The 6 steps of the scientific method

Step One: Ask a question

Kids are the best at asking questions, they ask them all the time! If they are asking really deep complicated questions, try breaking them up into a series of smaller ones that you can test one at a time.

Step Two: Form a hypothesis

A hypothesis is an educated guess about what will happen if you combine two variables. It’s a “guess you can test”. It’s written as a statement, rather than a question. It can sometimes be a “if, then” statement, such as:

“If I increase the slope of the ramp, the toy car will travel further”.

This hypothesis has two variables: the slope of the ramp, and the distance that the car travels. You can change the slope of the ramp, and then measure how this change affects the distance.

Think about what you can measure, with the tools that you have available.

Step Three: Experiment!

See if your hypothesis can pass the test. Remember to do a ‘fair test’ by using a control and testing variables one at a time. If you try an experiment and it doesn’t work, it’s a great opportunity to ask why not? What could you change?

Step Four: Observe and record

What can you measure, document, record? Remember that scientists don’t just record numbers – they often draw pictures to record observations too.

Step Five: Draw conclusions based on your observations

If you didn’t prove your hypothesis correct, it doesn’t mean the experiment failed. Quite the opposite! Ruling out a possibility is just as important as proving one correct in science.

Modify your hypothesis based on your findings and test again.

When your hypothesis consistently lines up with observations, then you have formed a theory.

Step Six: Share your findings

Publication and peer review are important parts of the scientific method. Kids can share their findings too!

Before a theory is accepted by the scientific community, experiments are rigorously tested. But even if a theory is currently accepted as true, doesn’t mean it can’t be proven false if new information becomes available. The body of scientific knowledge is constantly shifting based on the most current information.

It’s a cycle

Scientific Method Cycle

The scientific method is not supposed to be viewed as steps done strictly in order 1-2-3-4-5-6. More likely it may be 1-2-3-4-3-4-3-4-5-2-3-4-5-6, or something like that! You can also skip a few steps if you’re reproducing an experiment at that someone has already done before, more like 2-3-4-5. Reproducing experiments is often called a ‘science demonstration’.

Science Demonstrations vs Science Experiments

Teaching Science at Home - demonstrations vs experiments

The first time we do a science activity, we’re often reproducing an experiment that we’ve read about elsewhere. My kids’ learning curve seems to be more about the exposure to new materials, new concepts, new vocabulary. They want to follow the instructions, and see an activity through to the (often cool) result at the end.

By the second and third time we do an activity, my kids’ confidence starts to grow. They know how the experiment works, and start to take ownership of the process, teaching the steps back to me. They can predict the outcome based on prior experience, and can then do the experiment to prove it (or go back and see what they did wrong if their experiment didn’t work.)

By the time we’ve done a project a few times, the kids often start asking deeper questions. “What happens if we change this one aspect?” This is when an activity morphs beyond ‘just’ a demonstration, into a experiment. This is the opportunity for kids to formulate their own hypothesis, test it, document results, make conclusions and (most likely) revisit their hypothesis again. All important steps in learning the scientific method!

This is why I cringe whenever I hear people calling kids’ science activities as ‘just’ science demonstrations. In our experience, doing science demonstrations is a first (and very important) step towards encouraging confidence and a love of science in young kids!

Sensory play meets explorative science with this nature-based backyard science experiment.

What lives in dirt - outdoor explorative science for preschoolers

Science experiments don’t have to be complicated! Sometimes the simplest things can enthrall young kids. My 3.5 year old daughter Bumble Bee loved this backyard dirt observation activity so much that we’ve done it several times now, and it’s been interesting to notice how the results have varied each time.

My daughter’s interest in the scientific method has been recently kindled by the book 11 Science Experiments That Failed, and so we followed the scientific method for this backyard dirt experiment too, which of course, makes it feel extra science-y. 🙂

Playing in the dirt - a science experiment

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Question:
What lives in the dirt in our backyard?

Hypothesis:
Worms live in dirt.

What You Need:

Invitation to investigate what lives in dirt

What To Do:
1. Dig dirt with spade.
2. Put dirt on sheet.
3. Sort through dirt to see if there are any living creatures. Study them with magnifying glass.
4. Record (or ask an adult to record) findings.
5. Dig more dirt and repeat.
5. Tally results at end of the dirt play experiment. Compare with previous results.

What happened:
When soil was moist, many (dozens and dozens) of worms and one slater (aka woodlice, roly poly or pill bug) were found. When soil was dry, few worms were found, and no other insects.

Digging up and investigating dirt

What lives in dirt

Honestly, I can’t emphasis enough how much Bumble Bee loved this activity. “What lives in dirt?” might seem like an obvious question to us, but Bumble Bee loved being able to verify her hypothesis (that worms live in dirt) for herself. She did sometimes ask for help with the digging part (perhaps our spade was a little big for her), but she really loved sorting methodically through the dirt to see if there were any worms in that particular load. When our sheet was too full of dirt, we emptied the ‘old’ dirt back into the same patch of garden and started digging again.

What lives in dirt - explorative backyard science for preschoolers

Finding a worm

finding a worm

We found many, many worms. We talked about what sort of things worms would need in their habitat. We talked about how worms need food, water, and shelter (dirt and leaf litter) to protect them from the birds. We talked about how they wouldn’t be able to live outside of the dirt for long. We decided to rehome a few into our worm farm, and carrying worms back and forth from the garden to the worm farm became part of the play.

Investigating dirt

We also found one slater (which, depending on where you live in the world, are also called roly polys, pill bugs, woodlice or potato bugs). Bee wasn’t expecting to find anything other than worms, and so she was pleasantly surprised. (I, on the other hand, was surprised at the lack of insect diversity in our soil!) We duly recorded it, and then put it (all rolled up) into her specimen tray, along with a few of the smaller worms. Every time Bee turned around, one of her specimens escaped. One of the challenges of field science!

Slater or roly poly insect

Using a magnifying glass

We repeated this experiment again several weeks later, after a particularly dry spell, and that time we hardly found any worms at all. We hypothesised that this may be because the habitat in our backyard top soil no longer catered to what worms need, and that all the worms had moved to a wetter part of the soil that was better suited to their requirements.

Preschool science - what lives in dirt

This would make a great Earth Day science experiment. In fact, we actually did it just before Earth Day, and then used the same soil to make our Planet Earth craft, except I hadn’t a chance to write it up until now… (Sorry – been busy and all that!)

What lives in dirt - explorative backyard science experiment for preschoolers

For more nature-based science ideas, you might also like:

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a 'go science kids' book review of 11 Experiments That Failed, by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter

Product Reviewed: 11 Experiments That Failed, by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter

Age Range: 5-8 year olds

Star Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

The Good: A humorous story that introduces kids to the scientific method in a fun and whimsical way.

The Bad: Slightly US-centric. May encourage kids to try a few experiments you wished they wouldn’t!

The Verdict: Would make a lovely gift for 5-7 year old girls.

Learning about the scientific process via a series of increasingly outrageous experiments (that fail)

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11 Experiments That Failed

This delightful story book features a young female protagonist who, armed with safety goggles, a lab coat, and a curious mind, proceeds through a series of 11 increasingly outrageous science experiments, each of which fail spectacularly.

The illustrations and layout are just delightful. They are quirky, with a mixed media feel, and add as much to the storyline as the words.

Each experiment follows the scientific method, listing the question, hypothesis, materials list, step-by-step instructions, and results. Some of the experiments you could try at home (if you dare). Others are perhaps best left to the imagination.

Whilst each experiment fails to confirm the original hypothesis, the results are still documented factually. This method helps kids to understand that, in science, we can learn from all experiments, even those that don’t work out how we’d planned.

As a mother of two science-loving young girls, I love that this book features a young girl who clearly loves dressing up like a scientist, doing science experiments and using scientific materials (beakers, test tubes, pipettes, etc). Whilst her mother may be bewildered by it all, this young girl clearly thinks that science is awesome, leaping from experiment to (failed) experiment with enthusiasm. She’s infectious!

Question, hypothesis, ingredients, method, results - learning the scentific process via this charming story book 11 Experiments That Failed

 

Pros and Cons

Positives

  • This book does a great job of making science look cool.
  • More importantly, it does a great job of making science look cool for girls.
  • It encourages girls to invent their own experiments, using items from around the house.
  • It teaches kids how to structure an experiment using the scientific method, and helps to familiarise them scientific words (such as hypothesis), and scientific equipment (lab coats, safety googles, beakers, pipettes, etc).
  • It opens up discussions about how experiments can fail, and may help perfectionist kids to understand that an experiment that doesn’t confirm the original hypothesis can still provide useful results.
  • Humorous for kids and adults alike.

Review of science picture book 11 experiments that failed that introduces kids to the scientific process

 

Negatives

  • As Australians, we found some of the words to be US-centric. In Australia, we say tomato sauce instead of ketchup, for example. And I’d never heard of bologna before (which I think is similar to what we call it devon).
  • Young kids may take the story more literally than it’s intended, so the humour may need some explaining.

 

What does my daughter think?

My almost 6 year old daughter Jewel views this book a bit like slapstick comedy. The experiments that the protagonist undertakes are so outlandish and exaggerated that Jewel finds it hilarious, but I don’t think she could actually tell you why.

Jewel said that she thought she was a lot smarter than the girl, because she already knew these experiments wouldn’t work! I asked Jewel how she knew, if she hadn’t tried them? At which point, with a twinkle in her eye, Jewel suggested attempting to grow mould in one of her sister’s old shoes. Then we started brainstorming good mould growing locations around our house: apparently under the stairs looks promising….

 

Other Key Features {that might be handy to know}

  • Published by Schwartz & Wade books (Random House), 2011.
  • We have the hardcover version, which measures 29cm x 24.5cm x 1cm, with dust jacket.
  • The end papers are quite lovely too.

Eleven Experiments That Failed end papers

 

Where to Buy

We bought our copy of 11 Experiments That Failed online from The Book Depository. You can also find it on Amazon.com (for the US) and Amazon.co.uk (for the UK). It might also (hopefully) be on-shelf at your local book-store. I understand it’s been in high demand, so fingers crossed it’s in stock for you!

 

Check out our other book reviews:

Review of the book 11 Experiments That Failed, which introduces the scientific method and encourages girls to love science

 

Disclaimer: I wasn’t paid for this review. All opinions are my (or my kids’) own. This post does, at my own discretion, contain affiliate links. An affiliate link means I may earn referral / advertising fees if you make a purchase through my link, without any extra cost to you. Referral / advertising fees from various sources help keep this little project afloat. Thank you for your support and understanding, I really appreciate it.