Family Science Night

Planning science night for 500 kids on a $150 budget.

Every year my son’s elementary school has a Family Fun Night hosted by the PTA. This year’s theme was science! Many of the area STEM camps and science companies had displays and activities for the kids. The PTA asked if any parents had ideas for experiments, and I volunteered. There are so many things you can do to teach science to young children! 

Picture this: Hundreds of families milling about on the soccer field. Music is playing. Food trucks are lined up with concessions. There are inflatable bounce houses and obstacle courses. Drones are flying overhead. Companies have booths set up with information and activities. Now throw in a laboratory. This can be quite challenging.

My first thought was: science and food do not mix. You never eat in a lab. It’s not safe.

My second thought was: kids are literally going to be running around everywhere. Who is going to pay attention long enough to do a science experiment?

Now throw in a few more challenges:

  1. Only three weeks to prepare.
  2. Budget of $150 for up to 500 kids of all ages, mostly grades K-5.
  3. No electricity available in the middle of a soccer field. No flames. No dangerous chemicals. No dry ice.

I really wanted to do experiments that were different than the classic baking soda and vinegar reaction that most kids have seen. Isolating DNA from bananas or strawberries would be cool,  but that would take too long. Making plastic milk would be interesting, but that reaction requires heat if you want to do it quickly. Making bath bombs or perfume or lip gloss would be interesting for the girls, but it would break the budget. The goal was to get a bunch of experiments together, allowing about 500 kids to participate in each activity.

Two experiments were requested by the PTA members: Mentos Geyser and Slime. Slime for 500 kids can get expensive. A gallon of glue costs $15 in the craft stores, and they don’t allow coupons. There goes a third of the budget just for slime!

I spent a few days thinking about appropriate experiments and here’s what I came up with. Clicking on each experiment will take you to a website that describes how do it. 

Mentos Geyser Add a few Mentos to a bottle of Diet Coke and watch it explode.

Slime Add Borax to Elmer’s Glue to make slime.

Can you fit through an index card? Fit your body through one index card using only scissors.

Tie Dye Milk: Drop some food coloring in milk, add a drop of dish soap and watch the colors run.

Dancing Raisins: Add raisins to a jar of carbonated water and watch them dance.

Toothpick Race: Float toothpicks in water, add dish soap and watch them race.

Stained Glass Glue: Drop some food coloring onto glue, add a drop of dish soap and watch the colors spread.

Magic Mud: Add water to cornstarch- is it a solid or is it a liquid?

Water Beads- Add water to polymer beads and watch them grow.

Rain Cloud: Add a layer of shaving cream to a jar of water, drop some food coloring on top, and watch it rain.

Dissolving Candy: Place several M&M’s on a plate with a layer of water. The colors will dissolve, but will not mix.

Salt Volcano: Add oil and water to a jar, then add a teaspoon of salt. The salt will pull the oil into the water, then it will dissolve and the oil will float back to the surface.

Bubbling Blob:  Add oil and water to a jar, then add an Alka Seltzer tablet for a lava lamp effect.

I’m happy to say I came in $20 under budget. I was lucky to find glue on sale on Amazon. The experiments were not as well rounded as I would have liked, but they were colorful and entertaining and the kids had a great time. My favorite experiment was the Stained Glass Glue. I had never done that experiment before, and I enjoyed the designs the colors made. Here’s a picture of the experiment we did at home:

Stained Glass Glue

Have you ever done science experiments with a large group of people? What experiments did you try?