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Get Festive with Our 4 Favorite Holiday-Themed At-Home Experiments!

Get Festive with Our 4 Favorite Holiday-Themed At-Home Experiments!

The holiday season is upon us! Give the gifts of science and experience by sharing these holiday-themed, science-based experiments with your younger loved ones. And don't forget to check out hBARSCI's unique collection of science gifts for all ages!

Give the Grinch the Gift of a Bigger Heart

How the Grinch Stole Christmas touches all viewers’ hearts in the scene featuring the Grinch as he strains to hold the sleigh as it balances precariously on a mountaintop. He hears singing and then POP! POP! POP!—his heart fills with joy, growing three sizes. Capitalize on this holiday classic by incorporating some science in this activity in which kids make the Grinch’s heart grow while learning about not only basic chemistry but the anatomy of the heart as well.

Supplies: green balloon, red permanent marker (any color will do, though), empty water bottle, white vinegar, funnel, baking soda

Steps:

  1. To make the Grinch’s small heart, take a green balloon and use the permanent marker to draw a simple heart on the balloon. Let the ink dry.

  2. Add an ounce or two of vinegar to the empty water bottle.

  3. Attach your balloon to the bottom of your funnel. Fill the balloon with about two to three spoonfuls of baking soda. Tap the funnel and the balloon to get the baking soda in the balloon if needed.

  4. Remove the balloon from the funnel.

  5. Carefully, without letting any baking soda fall into your bottle, attach the balloon to the top of the water bottle.

  6. Lift the balloon up and shake the baking soda into the bottle. Your balloon will start inflating immediately.

Why did the Grinch’s heart grow? The combination of baking soda and vinegar forms a gas—carbon dioxide—which fills the balloon.

Suggestion for more science: Is there a different combination of amounts of baking soda and vinegar that produces a stronger or weaker reaction? Experiment with varying amounts of each!

How Pinecones Work: A Science Experiment

Everyone loves collecting pine cones on a chilly winter walk! Now that you know all about evergreen trees, after you’ve collected some pine cones, learn more about what makes them open and close. Before you get started, ask yourself: Why do you think the pinecones open? 

Supplies: 3 jars, 3 pine cones of the same size, warm water, cold water, ruler, timer

Steps: 

  1. First, measure and sketch your pine cones so you know what they look like before you subject them to different elements (or, take a picture!). 

  2. Place one pinecone in each jar.

  3. Label each jar and fill the jars with water to the top, one with warm water and one with cold water. As a control, leave the third jar empty (i.e., only filled with air) to use as a comparison. Begin timing the experiment once you have finished filling the jars with the water.

How quickly do you see a reaction start? How might you make the reaction occur more quickly? Why do you think pine cones react this way to these elements?

A Racing Reindeer Game

Set up your own reindeer game—and learn a bit about momentum and other aspects of basic physics—with this simple holiday-themed race.

Supplies: anchor points, such as chairs; straight (not bendy) straws; string or twine thin enough to slide easily through the straws; balloons; decorating supplies for your reindeer, such as red pompoms, construction paper, googly eyes, glue or tape, etc.; tape; clips or clamps to keep the air in the balloon

Steps:

  1. Set up your race track by tying one end of the string to one anchor (e.g., chair), thread your straw onto the string, then tie off the other end on the other anchor. Pull the anchors apart until the string is taut. Make sure the string is parallel to the ground. Note: These balloons will go really fast, so make your track as long as you have space.

  2. Decorate your reindeer balloons! First, blow air into the balloon and use the clamp to keep the air inside. Try attaching or drawing eyes, adding construction paper antlers—your imagination is your limit!

  3. Race your reindeer by attaching the top of the balloon to the straw on the string with some tape. Carefully remove the clip or clamp, keeping the end pinched between your fingers.

  4. Let go of the balloons and watch as the reindeer race to the end!

This simple action-reaction experiment teaches young kids basic properties of how air pressure affects objects. When you blow up the balloon, you fill it with air that is under pressure. When the air escapes from the balloon, the air exerts thrust or force on the balloon, propelling it forward.

Grow Crystal Candy Cane Tree Ornaments

Grow some (non-edible!) crystal candy canes you can use as ornaments for a tree or give as beautiful, science-based gifts!

Supplies: borax (found in the laundry detergent aisle), water, mason jars (wide mouth is preferable), pan, spoon, measuring cup, tablespoon, pipe cleaners (festive colors recommended!), popsicle sticks, ribbon to turn candy canes into ornaments

Steps:

  1. Cut the pipe cleaners in half. Try twisting different combinations of green, white, and red pipe cleaners together to make the candy canes.

  2. Loop ribbon around the candy cane and the popsicle stick, setting the stick across the mouth of the jar so the candy cane is suspended in the jar. Tip: don’t let the candy cane touch the sides or bottom of the jar.

  3. With an adult's help, boil the water, turn off the heat, add borax, and stir to mix (note: to fill three small mason jars, you’ll need 6 cups of water and 18 tablespoons of borax). Pour the solution into jars and place in an area where they won’t be disturbed.

  4. Wait! In a few hours you will see crystals beginning to grow, and by the next day (18–24 hours), your candy canes will be covered in crystals!

  5. Before hanging, let the crystals dry.

When you mix together the water and borax, a saturated solution is created. The borax powder is suspended throughout the solution and remains that way while the liquid is hot. As the solution cools, the particles settle out of the saturated mixture, and the crystals are formed.

Please note: This is not real candy and should not be eaten.

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