"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."

"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Summer Learning and Fun, week 2: All Things That Glow, Zip or Pop

In honor of the 4th of July, I thought I would get together a group of educational  fun activities that all glow, zip or make pop.

Tea Bag Rocket

Take an unused teabag. Carefully remove the staple, empty its contents and 
stand the empty teabag on a non-flammable surface like a tall cylinder. If you have any holes in the teabag, this demonstration will not work. If you have trouble removing the staple without making the staple hole any bigger, than trim off the end of the teabag that has the staple with scissors. If you do this, however, it needs to be a straight cut so that the tea bag can stand up on the surface you are using and you don't want to cut off too much because you want a long cylinder. 
Light the top of it on fire with a match or lighter
It will burn down quite a bit and you will begin to think that it is just going to burn up and nothing will happen. Another failed experiment? 
And then, suddenly, whooosh....it takes off!

It's a fun demonstration that they will want to see again and again, but what is the science behind it?
"As the flame burns down the bag of tea, it heats the air that is contained within the cylinder. The heat excites individual air molecules and causes them to move more quickly and spread out within the cylinder. The excited air molecules inside the cylinder are farther apart than those on the outside of the cylinder, making the air inside the cylinder less dense than the air outside the cylinder. This warmer, less dense air rises above the cooler, more dense air. This creates a thermal, or convection, current. The space created by the less dense air inside the cylinder allows the dense air outside to push upwards from the bottom. That movement or current of air is referred to as a convection current. Since the ash is so lightweight, the force of the rising hot air is strong enough to lift the ash into the air. Hot air balloons use a similar method to your rocket that you created with a bag of tea. Hot air balloons use a burner to heat the inside of the balloon, creating the same air density change that you made with your rocket. However, there is no mass change like when your paper turned to ash. Instead, the air inside the balloon is heated much hotter than the air outside, creating an envelope of air much less dense than the air outside. As a result, the balloon lifts off the ground."-Steve Spangler Science

Light a Light Bulb in the Microwave

For this demonstration, fill a microwave-safe cup or glass half full with water...
place a lightbulb, socket-end down, into the glass.
If your microwave has a rotating tray, take it out. Put the glass with the lightbulb in it as close to the center of the microwave as you can and close the door. Set the timer for 45 seconds. (Any longer is a safety hazard.)
Before removing the glass and lightbulb from the microwave, allow them to cool.

The Science Behind It?
The microwaves work the same as electrical current and excites the tungsten filaments inside the bulb.
The glass of water protects the lightbulb from the full effects of the microwaves, however, so the bulb does not explode.

Glowing Beverage

The secret to glowing food is tonic water which has quinine.
It is supposed to glow so much that you can make other drinks, such as Country Time Lemonade with just some tonic water in it (half and half, or even less tonic) and it will still glow. This will cut down on the bitter taste. Some people have even made jello jigglers with them.
We just had fun with it straight.
So, if you would like some simple fun, just turn down the lights, flip on a black light, and grab a bottle of tonic water.
And the science behind it?
There are a lot of everyday materials that fluoresce, or glow, when placed under a black light. A black light gives off highly energetic ultraviolet light. You can't see this part of the spectrum. Fluorescent substances absorb the ultraviolet light and then re-emit it almost instantaneously. Some energy gets lost in the process, so the emitted light has a longer wavelength than the absorbed radiation, which makes this light visible and causes the material to appear to 'glow'.

Fizzy Explosion Bags

Over the years we have had much fun with the chemical reaction that occurs between baking soda and vinegar. When they were young, they just played/experiment with the two, often with a package of liquid food coloring, pretending to be a scientist or a magician. As they each got a little older, they learned why this reaction occurs. Playing with this reaction never ceases to be fun, though, even if you know why.
When I saw this variation of this theme on Superheroes and Princesses, in which the goal is to make a sandwich bag pop with the power of baking soda and vinegar, I knew my boys would enjoy this as a summer activity.
You can see the already made packets on the left.

Tear a paper towel into a square that measures about 5 inches by 5 inches. Put 1 1/2 tablespoons of baking soda in the center of the square, then fold the sides of the square in toward the middle, and then the opposite sides in toward the middle, with the baking soda inside. This is your "time-release packet."

Pour into your plastic bag, 1/2 cup of vinegar and 1/4 cup of warm water.

Now here's the tricky part. You need to drop the time-release packet into the vinegar and zip the bag closed before the fizzing gets out of control. You can zip the bag halfway closed, then stuff the packet in and zip the bag closed the rest of the way in a hurry, or you can put the time-release packet into the mouth of the bag and hold it up out of the vinegar by pinching the sides of the bag. Zip the bag closed and then let the packet drop into the vinegar. One way or another, get the packet in the vinegar and zip the bag closed.

Shake the bag a little, put it in the sink or on the ground, and stand back! The bag will puff up dramatically and then give a satisfying pop sound.

Be prepared to do this several times.

Balloon Rocket

The Balloon Rocket is a simple, fun toy for indoor or outdoor toy that can be made from materials you probably have around the house. (You can teach some science concepts, too, if you would like.)
You will need:

Plastic drinking straw
10-25 ft. of fishing line or string
Long, tube-shaped balloon (all we had on hand this time were round balloons and it worked, although not as well as the long balloons)

Blow up a balloon. While keeping the end of the balloon pinched shut with your fingers, tape a straw to the balloon. I found that having someone help you with this makes it a lot easier. Then put some string through the straw, making sure that the open end of the balloon is facing backward from the way you want the balloon to go. Tie one end of the string to something like a chair.

Then let the balloon go. It will zip along the string like a rocket. You can do it over and over again by just leaving the balloon attached and blow it up while it is still attached.

"Elephant Toothpaste"
BEWARE: This next one is messy.
Pour into an empty water bottle 4 oz of hydrogen peroxide and 2oz of liquid dish soap... and a few drops of food coloring.
In a separate container, mix one packet of active yeast with some warm water, and let sit for 5 minutes.
When you are ready, pour the yeast mixture into the soda bottle through a funnel and watch the reaction!
It is more fun than the baking soda and vinegar reaction!
What is the Science Behind It?
The hydrogen peroxide has in it, among other things, oxygen molecules (hence the oxide part). When you add yeast to the hydrogen peroxide, it acts as a catalyst. A catalyst speeds up the reaction rate by lowering the energy level needed for the reaction. In this case, the yeast, acting as a catalyst, sped up the otherwise slow decomposition of the hydrogen peroxide, so that the peroxide molecule released its oxygen atoms faster that it otherwise would.
The dish soap is added so that the bubbles of released oxygen hold together into a foam.

For More Fun...
Here are some more fun things to do that I have found through Pinterest.
If you feel highly motivated, you might want to make your own Black Snakes fireworks. All Spark Fireworks Blog tells you how you can make black snakes from common ingredients found in your kitchen, primarily baking soda and sugar plus alcohol, lighter fuel or other fuel.

Train Up a Child tells how to make "Glow Water" from highlighters, which she has used in many different ways...added to water beads, oobleck, paint, ice, water balloons and bath water to make them glow!

Using the same concept of Glowing Beverage, Food Snots shows how to mix tonic water, gelatin and neon food color to make glowing cupcakes (under a black light).

And, while I am on the subject of glowing beverages, this video which claims that a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and Mountain Dew will produce a brilliant glow, is making quite an showing in the Pinterest world. It is a hoax, so don't bother getting the ingredients! If you have pinned it, you might want to edit the pin to say it is a hoax, so it will stop being distributed.

Also, please keep safe. Steve Spangler in
The Dangers of Glow Sticks – Do Not Open Up Sealed Glow Stickstells why we should open glow sticks and add the solution to things kids would then play with.

If you want to know the rules for this linky, click here.


  1. I think we have actually done more science experiments from your site than anywhere else. We did the light bulb the other day and Keilee is still telling people about it. Love this!!

  2. LOVE THIS! I can't wait to go buy a black light and try the tonic water. What great ideas. I know what we are doing on the 4th now!
    Blessings, Dawn

  3. I love those experiments. I can't wait to try them with my kids. It's funny, but I think I have as much if not more fun with these kinds of things. lol

  4. These are terrific! Thanks for the great ideas.

  5. marvelous! We now have something to do this weekend. Of course she is only 3, but I just want to be clear on this: i am doing this so that my child can learn science stuff, not in any way because it might be fun making stuff explode, light up or burn into flight. :)

  6. Oh, man! We have GOT to try some of these. Thanks for sharing!!

  7. You always do the coolest stuff! :D

  8. Great experiments. We are definitely going to have to try a few of these.

  9. Looks like an awesome fun time! I know I need to stay away from the lightbulb microwave experiment though. Me and the mircrowave have a poor relationship even on a non-science day! ;) Can't wait to try these ideas!

  10. Once again you prove you guys know how to have fun with science! I think I should bring my kiddos for summer science camp at your place. ;)

  11. You have so many fun ideas here that I don't know which one to try first. I like the rocket ~ that is very cool.

    I noticed your comment on Little Wonders Blog and I thought that I would stop by and say Hi to a fellow Marylander. I live in Baltimore.. but would much rather live on the shore. We love the water!

    Happy 4th of July!!!

  12. This is such a great round up of easy and super fun science experiments. We've done a few of them, but my kids would really love most of them. We'll have to give some of them a go.

  13. Oh my goodness! These activities look like a blast! :)

  14. These are amazingly clever...my daughters will love them!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It means so much.