Science and Engineering Activities for the Winter Break (Or Any Time!)
As you prepare for winter break and lots of indoor time with your kids, consider scheduling some time for family science. We have suggestions for fun hands-on science and engineering activities you can do with your kids that might feel a lot like playing or crafting even though there is plenty of science at hand!
By this point in the year, you have hopefully nailed down any upcoming gift-giving moments and are ready to kick back with your kids, friends, and family and enjoy the final days of the calendar year. There are those who procrastinate, of course, and there are those who are still looking because they strive to find the most different, most educational, or most unexpected gift. To help those last-minute and discerning gift-givers, our staff has made lists in year's past of gifts they would like to receive from the Science Buddies Store and great "to do" gift ideas that are fun as a hands-on activity and as a science project. From tie-dye to a little light-sensitive grasshopper robot, there are all kinds of great science project materials and kits that you can feel good about giving.
Many of the kits in the Science Buddies Store would make an awesome gift for a young scientist or engineer!
Planning "To Do" Time
Last-minute gift buying and wrapping aside, many families are done with the flurry of holiday preparations and are looking ahead at the pending school break. There are a number of days to fill, and in many areas, cold weather may force everyone indoors for large chunks of time. What can you do to stave off kid cabin fever, keep everyone entertained, and have fun exploring something hands-on with your kids?
Winter break is a great time for family science and engineering. With the right projects and activities, you and your family can have a great time building, experimenting, and testing science questions together!
Consider these science- and engineering-based suggestions:
- Ping Pong Catapult
The catapult is a favorite not only because of the undeniable allure of being able to launch things through the living room in the name of science but also because the catapult kit can be used for a bunch of different science projects. From ping pong balls to little foam footballs, there is a lot of math, physics, and sports science to explore with a ping pong catapult on hand! What else will you and your kids find to do (or play) with your rubber-band powered catapult? The catapult might prove to be an instant family classic!
- Squishy Circuits
You can't really go wrong with a play dough-based activity, and this one spices things up by letting students rig their dough creations with lights. We had a great time trying out the Squishy Circuits kit and making Halloween-themed LED sculptures. It is nice that the kit elements are reusable, too, so you can mix up a batch of dough in different colors on different days and make something completely new. This kit works with a trio of electronics projects, beginning with "Electric Play Dough Project 1: Make Your Play Dough Light Up, Buzz, & Move!"
- Light-Tracking Robots
There is no kit available for the Build a Light-Tracking Robot Critter project, and it takes a bit of piecemeal ordering to get all the parts, but the components for this robotics engineering project would be an awesome way to usher in the New Year—or to lead it in with your smartphone's flashlight app (or any flashlight tool)! Check out our family testing notes and photos. These bots are super cool. You and your kids have a great time putting them together and proudly showing off and playing with your bots in the end.
- Bristlebot Robots
Again, there is no off-the-shelf kit for the introductory Racing BristleBots: On Your Mark. Get Set. Go! robotics project, but you only need a few items to let your kids create their own toothbrush-head robots. The bots are quick to assemble, and then the kids can race and enjoy their bots as they shuffle around, bump into things, readjust, and keep moving. Can these bots navigate a simple maze? What variables may help increase the chances of a BristleBot making it through a simple maze from start to finish? See our family testing notes and tips and tricks for working with these simple bots.
- LEGO® Mindstorms
If LEGO® Mindstorms is unwrapped or dragged out of a closet this holiday season, keep in mind that there are many Mindstorms-based projects at Science Buddies to help extend the fun. Our projects were written pre-EV3, but our team has verified that the projects work with the new EV3 set as well. If your Mindstorms-savvy students are antsy during the long break, challenge them to tackle one of these great robotics engineering projects: Climb Every Mountain with Your Own LEGO® Cable Car *, Take a Hike: Train Your Robot Dog to Walk with a Virtual Leash, Use the Force! Push & Pull Robots With an Invisible Force, Stair Master: Build an All-Terrain Robot, or X Marks the Spot: Build a Robot to Protect Your Treasures. Looking for a creative challenge that will send your builders off in a new direction? See "Blow: From Marshmallows to Microbes." What kind of launcher or LEGO-based catapult might you and your students construct?
- Bullet Train
The bullet train kit from the Science Buddies Store lets students assemble, design, and paint a wooden bullet train and then experiment with magnetic levitation using their wooden train! Following the directions in the "The Amazing Floating Train: How Much Weight Can A Maglev Train Hold?" science project, students experiment to see how magnetic levitation works and what happens when too much weight is loaded on a train that relies on magnetic forces to operate properly. This is a fun hands-on project that is part craft and part physics.
Passing Family Time with Simple Experiments that Use Everyday Materials
For easy-to-prepare and family-ready science experiments you can do with items around the house, consider these fun and creative options from our weekly family science activity spotlight:
- Flip-book Animation
- Taste Bud Science
- Camouflage Science
- Probability and Playing Cards
- Fruit and Gelatin Science
- Family Tree Science
- Circus Science
- M&M Color Statistics
- Flower Pigment Science (Got poinsettias or amaryllis?)
Buying for a Specialist?
One of our staff scientists compiled a list of gift suggestions for biology enthusiasts. Check out her bio-inspired gift ideas in her "What to Buy the Burgeoning Biologist?" post on the Biology Bytes website.