The following is an excerpt from ‘How to Raise Outdoor Kids’ by Australian author, Linda Drummond and published by Australian Geographic.

I’ve spoken with a lot of scientists and all of them pretty much started off as a kid with questions. The good news is that the answers to many questions are at your fingertips, so in this chapter, I’m sharing a few simple science experiments that will dazzle and delight you.

Messy is Better

Dr Renee Goreham from the University of Newcastle in NSW is a physicist who works with nanoparticles (teeny tiny particles thinner than a cross section of hair). She’s also Mum to Evan (6) and Ella (9). Renee does science outreach, sharing science experiments through schools, and she says the best experiments involve a couple of different senses. “You want something kids can see, hear, touch, smell or taste.”

Whether it’s an experiment with a big bang, a surprising twist, or something sweet, science experiments can be done indoors or out, and are a great way to stimulate a kid’s curiosity.

Linda Drummond, author of How to Raise Outdoor Kids is a nationally-published science journalist specialising in health, science, family, lifestyle and wellbeing articles.

Renee says that video conferencing that allowed her to deliver her science outreach programs during the pandemic saw more parents getting involved, and she could see that they were excited by the experiments also.

The important message is that not every experiment will work. “Half the fun of experimenting is finding out what works and doesn’t work and then working out what you need to change to make something happen,” Renee says.

“With my family, as soon as they showed an interest, I started showing them science experiments,” Renee says. “Sometimes I’ll just say, ‘Hey, this is really cool, come here and see this’, and they’ll either love it or hate it. Whatever they find exciting, we’ll do again.”

Dr Michelle Wong-Brown, also from the University of Newcastle, is an ovarian cancer researcher and mum to Will (7), and Johnny (5). She also leads a Super Science Girls program where girls are introduced to the wonders of science through extracting the DNA of strawberries and touring the science labs where Michelle works. Michelle and her fellow researchers also go to schools and pre-schools where they share science experiments with kids.

“The more hands-on and messier the experiments the better,” Michelle says. “But kids can also learn about science at other times. When I’m cleaning the sink with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar, I’ll explain how it’s a chemical reaction; that when you mix an acid with an alkali it causes big bubbles to occur.”

How good is science! Especially when it’s so sweet!

Instant ice-cream

Who doesn’t love a soft-serve ice cream on a summer’s day? You could buy some, or have fun making your own icy treat. It’s not difficult and only takes a few minutes.

What You Need

  • 1 cup double cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • ½ vanilla pod or 1tsp of vanilla extract
  • One cup of ice cubes
  • ½ cup of sea salt
  • A balloon whisk
  • Two reusable ziplock bags – a sandwich bag and a large 4.5l bag

Mix together your cream and milk, then add in vanilla and brown sugar. Whisk until combined. Once you get good at this, use any flavour you like – milkshake flavourings work really well as they’re easy to combine!

When the mix is creamy, place it into a sandwich bag and squeeze out the excess air. When sealing, seal it tightly!
In the large bag place the ice and sea salt. Add the small bag to the large bag and shake, shake, shake and shake some more.

The main thing you’re trying to do is to keep the mixture in contact with the ice – this is where the magic happens.

Before you know it, the mixture will start hardening – but it can take around 10 – 15 minutes of good, solid shaking. Maybe tag-team with other family members or friends?

When it’s ready, pop it into a bowl, it’ll be just like soft-serve ice cream but extra delish because you made it yourself.

How good is science! Especially when it’s so sweet!

Kids will love this tornado in a bottle!

Tornado in a bottle

What you need:

  • Two plastic 1.25 litre drink bottles
  • Electrical or Gaffer Tape
  • Metal washer
  • Water
  • Glitter

Fill a bottle ¾ with water. Add food colouring or glitter. Put a metal washer over the opening, then place the other bottle on top so both mouths are together. Tape the bottles together with the tape to ensure it doesn’t leak.

Turn the bottle upside down, so the empty bottle is under the filled bottle, and spin the bottle in a circular motion like you’re stirring a saucepan.

What’s happening with the water? What’s happening with the glitter?

Is it coming down into the second bottle? What’s it look like? What direction is it spinning; clockwise or anti-clockwise?

You can also do this with one bottle, just making sure you put on the lid. Try moving the bottle in different directions to see how the water responds.

Stun your family and friends with your super-cool unusually-coloured flowers.

Cool Coloured Flowers

What you need:

  • White carnation or dahlia flowers
  • Cups or jars
  • A range of food colourings

Trim the stems so the flowers are just peeping above the top of the cup.

Half fill the cup with water, then add around 10 – 15 drops of food colouring to each cup (with a different colour in each cup).

Add a flower to each cup and then check on it every hour or so. You’ll start to notice it slowly changing colours after a few hours so it’s best to start the experiment in the morning so you can watch it develop.

What are you noticing? Are the colours developing evenly or on the edges? How long until the flowers become completely coloured?

This experiment shows how plants drink water from the ground up – so from their roots, to their tips. It’s not quick, which is why you’ll notice on really hot days some plants will become limp and wilted and it takes quite a while for them to properly recover after they are given water.

What else could you try? Maybe you could split part of the stem and have half in one cup of coloured dye and the other half in a different colour. What will happen? Will the dye travel neatly up the stem and dye half the flower? Or will it move around? You’ll only know if you try.

Try using different colours like blue or green which are rarer in plants – or how about black? Have you ever seen a black flower? Will it work? That’s what science is all about – having a question and just trying something out so see how it works.

Stun your family and friends with your super-cool unusually-coloured flowers.

“The more hands-on and messier the experiments the better!”

There are so many awesome science experiments on the web – these are just a few to get your kids inspired. If you have a local museum or library you may find they host science groups during school holidays. Or ask your child’s school if a scientist like Renee or Michelle could come share their work with their class.

For more science experiments and fun activities to do with the kids, visit www.australiangeographic.com.au to purchase the ultimate family guide – How To Raise Outdoor Kids.