I am a big fan of messy science. I do it in my classroom with 3rd and 4th graders, and I do it at home with my own boys. In my mind, the messier the science, the more learning that happens! Emerson is 5 years old and Alexander is 2 years old, and anytime they can get wet/dirty/paint or chalk covered, the better!
One of my very favorite outside messy science projects is simple! You probably have the ingredients on hand in your kitchen! We love doing baking soda volcanoes. My boys ask to do them often! Using a small mason jar, give your kids some modeling clay (if they’re old enough) to create their own volcano mold around the jar. You can even use some plastic dinosaurs or green Army men if you want to add “decoration” to it! If you put cardboard around the mason jar, you can easily pull the jar out and reuse it later! Have your kiddos predict before the experiment – does changing the amount of baking soda also change the reaction? What about the vinegar? What happens if you use exactly the same amounts of both? (For the record – there is no real amount for this. Use however much you want to try!) Adding food coloring to the vinegar creates a pretty cool “explosion.”
Another one that we love to do is chalk painting. This obviously only works if you have a sidewalk or driveway that you can use sidewalk chalk on. First, the kids can color whatever kind of design they like with the sidewalk chalk. Sometimes creating a cool pattern is fun, but even just a simple flower or happy face will do too! We have found that the Crayola sidewalk chalk works the best for this. Then, give them an inexpensive paint brush. We have used all sizes, from the skinny art brushes all the way up to the wider paintbrushes used for wall painting. Dip the brush in a bucket of water and apply it to the chalk on the ground for a super cool effect! This can motivate talks about what colors mix together to create other colors. It can also make your regular old sidewalk chalk look like beautiful watercolor paintings!
The last one is our favorite – and probably the messiest! Paint balloon art is the absolute best outdoor science project! If you’re able to find different sizes of balloons – ones that will blow up round and ones that will blow up oblong do create different splats – that’s great. If not, trust me, this project will not flop. Fill the balloons with washable tempera paint – because it’s going to get everywhere, you want it washable! Hang a large piece of white butcher paper with painter’s tape. It’s better to double the paper and make it bigger than you want it, because of the splatter. (Make sure this is done on a surface that you don’t mind washing tempera paint off of!) Once the paper is ready and the balloons are filled, ask your kids to predict if they think that the force of their throw will affect the size of the splatter. Ask them to think (again) about the colors running together. Question if they think they’ll see any recognizable shapes from the splats. For a new angle, put the paper on the ground and see if the direction the paint balloon is thrown will make a difference in the splat! (You can also pop balloons with feet this way!)
There’s no reason for kiddos to stop using their brains over the summer – but there’s also no reason for them to be completely bored doing a workbook or something similar. (Those have their place too, of course, but that’s torture for a kid on a beautiful summer day!) Get them outside, get them thinking, and get them messy!