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Michelle Moody
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Slides are for Playgrounds:
Summer Activities to Keep Learning Alive

ust the other day, I was discussing the concept of the “summer slide” with a friend. We both agreed it was a real thing for us when we took the entire summer off from homeschooling. Our kids seemed to forget as much as they remembered!

Our family settled on a summer schedule where we continued with reading, math worksheets and games, and science. But our science turned out to be science projects that were kept on the patio, in the garden, or at one end of our long kitchen table.

Each summer, we always had at least two batches of butterfly larvae. We also have been known to raise crickets from the yard in a shoebox and to feed the lizards and skinks that lived between the cracks of the driveway and house. Summer brings some unique science opportunities!

Whether you homeschool year-round, do an abbreviated course of study, or take a break altogether, you can beat that summer slide with fun science ideas!

Explore the Summer Sun with
UV Color-Changing Beads
Ultraviolet (UV) light is a type of electromagnetic radiation that has a wavelength shorter than visible light.

UV color-changing beads are an engaging way to talk about ultraviolet light and why it’s important to protect our skin in summer from UV rays. They can be used in a variety of applications—such as jewelry, toys, and scientific experiments—to demonstrate the effects of UV light and provide a visual representation of its presence.

This past March, I returned to a school in Bangladesh where I taught in 2019. I brought packs of these beads and chenille sticks with me. Everyone, even the adults, had a great time with these fun beads. Thankfully, the sun was strong enough there in March to get an excellent color contrast.

String UV beads on chenille sticks or any type of string or yarn to make bracelets or necklaces. One of the kids in Bangladesh made a cross!
Then, ask questions like:

What will happen if we cover the beads with black paper?
A heavy book?

What will happen if we take them into the shade of the screened porch or garage?

What happens if we put them on the car dashboard in the sun?
Or move them to the floor of the car out of the sun?

Then, test their hypotheses.

Have your children wear them around for a day and see where the UV light is strong, weak, and in-between. Encourage them to record what they see!
What Happened?
The beads are made from a special type of plastic that contains a photochromic dye. When the UV light hits the photochromic dye in the beads, it causes the dye molecules to rearrange themselves and absorb some of the UV light energy. This absorption of energy causes the dye molecules to become excited and change their molecular structure, which leads to a change in the color of the beads.

When the beads are removed from the UV light source, they gradually return to their original color as the photochromic dye molecules revert back to their original structure.

water bottle
Explore the Properties of Water with Instant Ice
The properties of water are amazing! You may have done water experiments before to test how water likes to cling to itself and other objects, how adding salt can change its freezing point, or how to create the three states of water—liquid, solid, and gas.

For water to change from its liquid state to its solid state, ice, the water needs to be at or below 32°F. But did you know that sometimes water can be supercooled below this temperature and still not freeze?

This next activity is perfect for those days when even the pool water is too hot! (Can you tell our family lives in the South?) Those hot days are perfect for playing with ice and making instant ice.

In this experiment, we will take supercooled, purified water and use it to make instant ice. You will need just a few supplies:

  • 4 or 5 bottles of purified water
    (double-check the label on the bottle)
  • ice cubes
  • a bowl

Place your bottles of water in the freezer for two hours and fifteen minutes. After the time is up, carefully examine the bottles. They should still be liquid but now have a few ice crystals floating around in the bottle. If your bottles do not have the ice crystals, put them back for fifteen more minutes and check again every fifteen minutes until the water is cold enough.

When the water bottles are ready, very carefully remove them from the freezer. Do not shake them, and place them very gently on a flat surface.

Place a handful of ice cubes in the bowl. Carefully, pour the supercooled water over the ice cubes. The water should form slushy ice formations on top of the ice cubes. If your water doesn’t, it isn’t cold enough. Place it back into the freezer for fifteen minutes and try again.

This experiment may not work with the first water bottle. That is why four or five bottles are recommended. There are lots of variables in play, such as the temperature of the freezer, the water quality, and how the supercooled water is handled.

close up of bubbles
What Happened?
When water is cooled to 32°F, it starts to form ice crystals and freezes. For these ice crystals to form, the water needs to contain some sort of impurity, such as a dust particle or a mineral, to serve as a starting point for the crystals to start forming. If there are no impurities in the water, as in purified water, water can be cooled below the normal freezing point of water (32°F). This is called supercooling.

The supercooled water didn’t change into ice because it had no point to start the formation of ice crystals. When it was poured onto the ice, the ice became that point and ice began to form.

Here are some other quick science activities you can enjoy this summer that can be done with simple household materials:

Salt Crystals
We grow crystals of various types throughout the year. It never gets old. Fill a glass jar 2/3 full of boiling water. Add table salt, 1 teaspoon at a time, stirring continuously until no more will dissolve into the solution. Tie a string onto a pencil and lay the pencil across the mouth of the jar allowing the string to dangle into the salt solution. Be careful not to let the string touch the bottom or sides of the jar.

Set the jar in an area where it won’t be disturbed. Check the string daily. Note the changes. Let the jar set for a couple weeks or until the water evaporates. Observe your crystals with a hand lens. What shape are they? Are they the same shape as the salt you started with? Try this again and add a bit of food coloring.

Density Columns
The mixing of foods and ingredients that shouldn’t go together is exciting for kids, and my children LOVE this activity! Fill 1/3 of a glass jar with vegetable oil. Fill the next 1/3 with water and the last 1/3 will maple syrup. Note what happens to the three liquids. They should form three distinct layers. The syrup is the densest of the three and should form the bottom layer. The oil is the lightest and should be the top layer.

Next, carefully drop a cork into the glass. What happens to the cork? Repeat with a grape and a rock. What happened when you dropped them into the glass? Did they float? Sink? What did your experiment tell you about the density of the objects?

Milk Plastic
Heat one cup of milk in a pan until almost boiling. Add four teaspoons of vinegar and stir for sixty seconds or until solids start to form in the milk. Pour the milk into a strainer lined with cheesecloth to collect the solids that have formed. Rinse the solids and press them together into whatever shape you want. Leave it to dry, and it will harden in a day or two.

What happened? The acidic vinegar reacted with the milk proteins and formed long-chained molecules, similar to the polymers that form plastic, which collected as a solid.

Invisible Ink
Squeeze the juice of a lemon or two into a glass. Use a paintbrush or Q-tip to draw or write a message on a piece of white paper using lemon juice as the ink. Let the paper dry completely. Place the paper on a cookie sheet and put it in a warm oven for a few minutes, until the picture of the message appears.

What happened? The initial lemon juice is invisible on the paper. However, when heated, the acid in the lemon juice oxidizes and turns brown.

Stop the summer slide by keeping science fun this summer. Your kids won’t even know they are “doing school” when they explore and discover the world of science.

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Michelle Moody

ichelle Moody, is a veteran homeschooling mom and owner of Thehomeschoolscientist.com. After earning a masters degree in child development and education, God’s plan took her into a 12 year biotechnology career. She came home to homeschool. Now, she has returned to her first love of helping children explore and discover the world God has gifted us. Besides homeschooling her own children, Michelle has taught in the traditional classroom, in co-ops, and on the mission field in Bangladesh.