Parenting

9 backyard science experiments to try with your kids

It's about to get messy.

Girls conducting a science experiment in their backyard Credit: Getty Images / AJ_Watt

Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

If stay-at-home orders have you scrambling for ways to engage your kids, it’s time to shake things up with science. We’ve all been playing parent, provider, and educator for months now and, let's face it, our kids are finding us less impressive than they used to. Let's get some STEM into your social distancing with nine of our favorite messy science experiments that are best done safely in the backyard.

1. Elephant’s toothpaste

foam
Credit: Getty Images / vm

A foam explosion will get any kid interested in science.

Good for ages: 3 and up
Lesson in: Chemistry and exothermic reactions

This overflowing tube of fun is way more exciting than your typical toothpaste—actually, it's not toothpaste at all (and, containing hydrogen peroxide, should stay away from real teeth and tusks). It got its name from the elephant-sized, foamy mess that looks like toothpaste squirting out of a tube thanks to a reaction that includes yeast and dish soap. Kids will enjoy a whole lot of messy fun as they learn about dynamic exothermic (heat-releasing) reactions.

2. Solar s’mores

smores
Credit: Getty Images / noblige

Create your own solar s'mores oven to combine science with tasty treats.

Good for ages: 6 and up
Lesson in: Solar energy and insolation

Fun, messy, and ooey-gooey, this is a lesson in solar energy and insolation, culminating in a tasty scientific conclusion. With a few items you probably have kicking around your kitchen, kids can make an eco-friendly solar oven perfect for melting chocolate and marshmallow. There are lots of tutorials for making a solar s’mores oven, but we like that this one from Camping World, which recommends pre-heating for 30 minutes, cutting cook time in half (very important when you are dealing with impatient sugar addicts).

3. Mentos and soda geyser

mentos
Credit: Getty Images / Alohalika

Kids will love watching what happens when you drop Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke.

Good for ages: 6 and up
Lesson in: Chemistry, constriction of pressure, and release of pressure

If you thought baking soda and vinegar volcanoes were fun, you haven’t seen anything yet. Just wait until your kids see what happens when you drop a Mentos into Diet Coke. Once you get past the initial WOW factor of shooting soda, there’s some pretty amazing science going on with this awe-inspiring experiment. Head on over to Steve Spangler to learn more about the hows and the whys of pulling this one off.

4. Baking soda rocket

Good for ages: 7 and up
Lesson in: Newton’s Third Law

If your kid has graduated from making baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, here is a new twist on the same chemical reaction. The downward force of the cork being forced out of the upside-down bottle creates an upward thrust, which makes the bottle shoot up into the air. Shoot on over to Science Sparks for instructions on how to build a space-worthy vessel, and the science behind the experiment.

5. Baking soda and vinegar "steam"-powered boat

pool
Credit: Getty Images / Yuki KONDO

All you need is a kiddie pool and a plastic bottle to start making a baking soda and vinegar-powered boat.

Good for ages: 4 and up
Lesson in: Chemical reactions

If the rocket science above is a bit too much for your preschooler, why not take a similar chemical reaction to the kiddie pool. We love that this baking soda and vinegar experiment that propels a boat across the water takes almost no prep or cleanup and can be conducted faster than a 4-year-old can say, “I’m bored!”

6. Exploding lunch bag

Good for ages: 6 and up
Lesson in: Chemistry and acid-based reactions

Learn about gas and expansion through this simple and fun activity from Science Bob. When the baking soda and vinegar reaction takes hold it creates expansion until “BOOM!” It's not great for kids who are shy around big noises, but kids who like an explosive lesson in science will love it.

7. Balloon zipline

balloons
Credit: Getty Images / Motortion

Inflate balloons with air, then race them along a zipline to learn about kinetic energy.

Good for ages: 6 and up
Lesson in: Kinetic energy

Harness the energy of the wind—or, let a balloon do the work. Wind is a form of kinetic energy, which is energy in motion. In this experiment by Clearway Community Solar kids will see the velocity harnessed from a balloon’s wind power. The scientific nuances of this experiment may be lost on the younger kids but they’ll sure have fun watching the backyard or patio turn into a balloon race across a zipline.

8. Human sundial

shadow
Credit: Getty Images / Mikki Kramer

Teach your child about astronomy by using their shadows and some chalk to make a human sundial.

Good for ages: 3 and up
Lesson in: Astronomy

Chronicle the passage of time with chalk outlines of your lab assistant, making for a human sundial to teach how the earth moves around the sun. If you don’t have the space to trace your little human, you can always create a smaller sundial using rocks as place holders, but this adds a little excitement to a daylong lesson and is a fun alternative to scientific note-taking.

9. Melting rates

ice
Credit: Getty Images / tyannar81

Measuring the rate that ice melts on different colored paper can teach kids about heat retention.

Good for ages: 4 and up
Lesson in: Solar science and absorption

Different colors absorb heat at different densities. In this experiment by Green Planet Solar Energy, kids learn about different heat-absorbing capacities of different colors. All this takes is a few ice cubes and a handful of different-colored sheets of paper. Kids will hone their observation skills as they observe how different colors absorb and reflect light, creating varying melting rates.

Related content

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest deals, product reviews, and more.

Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

Up next