Autumn is coming, and school is back in session for most Americans (cue collective sigh of relief from all parents). However, that means rainy afternoons, the winter chill is just around the corner, and the kids will be pinned up in the house and bored again. Keep them entertained and your sanity intact with a few of these spectacular science games for kids! Whether you’re a stay-at-home caretaker with preschool littles, a homeschooling parent, a teacher looking for classroom ideas, or an afterschool babysitter, these fun and educational games are a hit with the kids and a win for everyone involved.
Enjoying Rainy Days With Adventures From Scratch
Here at AFS, we’re all about quality relationships with family, friends, and partners. So, we’ve created a series of scratch-off challenge books that aim to entertain while strengthening your bond with your most important peeps! Not in the mood to prep these science games for kids? Then grab your copy of Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition. It’s filled with both indoor and outdoor spontaneous adventures that you can pull out in a boring moment. Just consult the key! Then scratch off an item, and start adventuring together.
Prepping for the Process
We know some of you are nervous already. When it comes to science games or “projects,” things tend to get messy very quickly. You’re likely envisioning volcanoes projecting red food dye all over your white subway tile or Mentos cola exploding all over the new carpet. When it comes to science, a mess is definitely possible, but with proper preparation, you can avoid an all-out catastrophe. We’ll even throw in a few cleaner options for those rare days when the house is actually tidy and you don’t want to tempt the fates.
The primary downfall of science games is that you do usually need some equipment. While we’ll try to keep the shopping list to a minimum, you may want to invest in some cheap plastic goggles for kids and adults, a few pairs of nitrile gloves, and some paint smocks or clothing covering of some kind. You can order these as a set from Amazon or pick them up individually at your local hardware store. Alright, now let’s do some science!
Interactive Science Games for Preschoolers
Science, like any education topic for preschoolers, should be heavily focused on play. They learn best in a hands-on environment where they can move, touch, smell, and think on the run. Don’t try to organize anything that requires them to sit for long. Their science games should be simple, fun, and quick.
1. Color Mixing
When I taught preschool, this was a favorite in my classroom, and it’s so simple. You probably have all the ingredients you need in the cupboard. You’ll need six plastic cups and a box of primary-colored food dye.
Start by allowing your child to add drops to the water and watch it change colors and intensity as more drops are added. Once you have your red, yellow, and blue water, begin mixing the colors in different intervals in the empty cups, and allow your kiddos to guess what color will emerge when you mix, say, yellow and red. It’s such a simple experiment, but it allows you to teach the color wheel and simple chemical reactions. Plus, they love it!
2. Sink or Float
Teach the concepts of buoyancy with an interactive experiment in the swimming pool, fish tank, or a bucket of water. Gather a few objects, like bouncy balls, cotton balls, rocks, feathers, etc., and take guesses about whether they will sink or float!
3. Dancing Raisins
Put a little boogie in your breakfast by dropping some raisins in regular water and then putting a few in carbonated water and watching the difference. The carbonation will cause the raisins to rise and fall, making them appear to dance. It’s another lesson is buoyancy that also tastes great!
4. Bug Collecting
Learn the basics of entomology and the life cycle by collecting live and dead bugs. You can do a DIY version if you have the knowledge. Just pop into the local library and grab a book on local bugs to help you identify what you find. You can always purchase a bug-collecting kit online, as well.
5. Flower or Herb Planting
Dip your feet into life science by growing your own plants. Littles get excited when their seeds sprout roots, and they explode when the first leaf rolls out. It’s a chance to get their hands dirty, help them learn about the plant growth cycle, and learn how to nurture a living creature. Plus, you get a pretty windowsill out of the deal! Check out this Grow & See Vegetable Garden from Fat Brain Toys.
6. Dino Terrarium
Fish tanks are cool, but they’re a lot of work for a little one. Try a plastic dino terrarium instead. Your little ones get to use their imagination and the dino facts you teach them to design an ecosystem their dino will love. While discussing the different animals, you can teach about the life cycle, habitat, predators, and prey and dip into earth science by talking about the meteor that most likely wiped out the dinos.
7. Coffee Filter Chromatography
Learn about the concept of mixtures and their components with this simple color game. You’ll need Mr. Sketch non-permanent markers, coffee filters, and some short glasses of water. Have your children make circles on just the flat part of the coffee filter where it meets the ripples. Then, use a pencil to write down the name of the color you used in the center of the filter.
Fold the coffee filter in half and then in half again to make a cone. The tip of the cone should be the white center of your marker circle. Arrange the coffee filter in a shallow glass of water so that only the tip is submerged. Don’t let the water actually touch your marker circle. Finally, fluff out the top of the filter.
Then, you can watch as the water travels up the coffee filter, separating the marker pigment into a myriad of colors. Each color will create a different array, and you can talk about the properties of mixtures. If you want an extra activity, let the coffee filters dry, and then use them to create butterflies, framed art, a decorative garland, or origami art.
8. Tea Bag Rockets
Did you know you can make a simple rocket with a tea bag? Start by cutting off the top of any tea bag. Empty the components, and puff up the bag so that it forms a cylinder. Set it on a glass plate or hard surface, and light the top on fire. The cylinder will fill with hot air and lift the “rocket” up. It will soon burn out and fall back to its place. You’ll likely have to repeat it many times. This is a great chance to teach thermodynamics in a very simple way!
9. Touch and Feel
Have your littles put on a blindfold, and place a variety of objects into their hands. Allow them to smell, touch, shake, or taste (if appropriate) the objects one by one, and let them guess what’s in their hand. For extra learning, have one fun science fact ready about each object! It’s also a great way to learn about solids and liquids.
10. Chain Reactions
There are many complicated craft stick projects out there to demonstrate chain reactions, but for small children, dominos do the trick. Set up a chain of dominos or legos (which helps them work on their fine motor skills). Make a fun design that appeals to their interest. Then, knock the first one over, and watch it fall. You can talk about cause and effect and the properties of momentum in simple terms.
11. DIY Race Cars
Use a small plastic basket, glue, and rubberbands to make your own self-propelled race car! There are many prepacked kits and DIY ways to make a rubberband car. YouTube videos abound, but we love this idea from Teach Beside Me, as it adds a little fairy tale whimsy to the process. This simple science experiment teaches the concept of tension, and it’s loads of fun!
12. Astronaut Glove Game
Work on your little’s motor skills and problem-solving abilities while learning space terminology! Fill a tote with bolts, hand tools, screws, and washers. Have them attempt to repair the broken space station while wearing heavy yellow kitchen gloves. If you’re short on tools, you can also fill the tote with normal toys, like blocks, stacking rings, etc. You’ll get the same effect. NASA has a ton of fun science games for kids of all ages on its website if your little is interested in outer space!
13. Archaeological Dig
Snag a bone kit online, and turn your sand and water table into an archaeological dig. Have your preschooler dig for a bone and run it to you. You’ll help them identify the bone and find where it goes on the human skeleton. It’s a fun and interactive way to learn body parts!
14. Homemade Bouncy Balls
Last Christmas, my toddler nephew got a plethora of new fancy toys, but per the usual, he spent the entire day belly-laughing at a simple stuffer from Big Brother’s stocking. Brother got a bouncy ball, and it was hilarious!
Produce immense joy and hours of fun while learning basic concepts of chemistry by making your own bouncy ball. Kids Activities has a great tutorial that uses household products!
15. Ivory Soap Monster
Ivory brand soap has a particularly high volume of air in its mixture. When superheated, like in a microwave, these air particles quicken and spread out, causing the soap to grow into a giant foaming monster in about a minute. Just plop a bar on a microwave-safe plate, pull the kids up to the microwave to watch, and hit start. In less than two minutes, your bar will expand to maximum size, and it’s intriguing to watch. You can talk about very basic elements of thermodynamics, like how hot air moves really fast and spreads out, while cold air stays put.
The Best Science Games for Elementary Kids
The elementary age group offers the widest array of science activities. Experiments in this group vary drastically by grade level, as children change quite a lot from kindergarten to fourth or fifth grade. Use your common sense and knowledge of your kiddo to choose appropriate science skills for their personal enjoyment. Here are a few educational science games that are typically a hit with grade school kids.
16. Making Potato Batteries
Making a battery from a potato is a simple way to teach kids how energy can be transferred from one type to another… in this case, chemical energy to electrical energy. You will need two potatoes, two galvanized nails, copper wiring, a small LED bulb, and two pennies.
Cut a slit at the end of both potatoes, wide and deep enough to shove a penny in. Wrap your two pennies with copper wire, three or four times around, and leave a couple of inches of wire hanging as extra. Now, insert the wrapped penny into the slit you made. Jab one galvanized nail in each potato on the opposite side of your penny slit. Nails must be “galvanized,” meaning they are zinc coated, for the experiment to work. Next, connect the excess copper wire from one potato to the zinc nail of the other potato. You now have a battery. Connect it to a voltmeter to check your results, or use alligator clamps to connect to a small LED light, and watch it light up.
The electrolyte solution in the potato acts as a conductor for the ions between the zinc nail and the copper penny. This small chemical reaction between the three substances produces energy that is converted to electricity! The more potatoes you link together, the more power you’ll get. Run some tests using clean or dirty pennies, and try soaking your potatoes in salt water first to see how much more power you can get.
17. Egg Drop
Challenge your kids to make an egg-drop carton with only printer paper, glue, toothpicks, and tape. After they’ve constructed their egg carrier, position your eggs inside, and pull out a ladder. The children will climb up, rung by rung, and drop their egg cartons to the ground. The goal is for the egg not to break. The child who makes it to the highest rung without their egg breaking is the winner!
18. Toothpick Bridges
Constructing toothpick bridges is a fantastic way to spark an interest in engineering and architecture. You’ll also help them gain an understanding of gravity, tension, compression, shearing, and torsion. Give each child a few boxes of toothpicks and some Elmer’s glue. They must use the materials to construct a bridge that is able to hold weight. After construction is done and the bridge is dry, you can use a paperclip and washers to see whose bridge can take the most weight without collapsing.
19. Tug of War
Learning science can be active, too! Tug of War is a fun way to learn about the concepts of momentum, action and reaction forces, and the simple concepts of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Draw a line in the sand, get a big rope, evenly divide your kids, and let the tugging begin.
20. Name That Rock
Despite the opinions of the physicists on the Big Bang Theory, geology is a real science and an important one when it comes to understanding our earth. National Geographic has produced a fun set of learning games revolving around an awesome set of 250 rocks and minerals. The set includes card games and board games like Rock Bingo, trivia and memory games, and Gem Tic-Tac-Toe!
21. Static Race
Static electricity is a mesmerizing force whether you’re a two-year-old or a grandma. There’s just something funny and stimulating about it. A fun way to experiment with static electricity is to have an aluminum can race. Wash out a few cans, blow up several regular balloons, and make a race course. Have the kids create static by rubbing the balloon on their shirts or hair, and then use the force created by the static to move the can along.
22. DIY Lava Lamp
Lava lamps have been a hit with kids since the ‘60s, but did you know you can make your own with just a few materials from the kitchen pantry? Grab a clear cylinder of your choice, and fill it mostly with water. Put in a few drops of your favorite shade of food coloring and a couple of teaspoons of whatever oil you have around. Now stir or shake the mixture, and watch the magic happen!
23. Grow Your Own Crystals
This is one of the simplest on the list, but it’s fun every time. Teach your kiddos about natural crystallization by dissolving Borax in hot water. Then, set the mixture aside, and watch as crystals begin to form! You can experiment with different types of salt solutions, as well, and add some food coloring to see what happens!
24. Virtual Games
Apps aren’t always bad, and if your kid is going to be yelling for your phone all day anyway, then you might as well have some education apps to attempt a shot at learning. PBS Kids produces a Play and Learn Science App that is full of age-appropriate games and quizzes. They also have a host of online games via their website. As mentioned, NASA has tons of great solar system and space simulation games on their site. ABCya also offers a large variety of free, web-based games and science experiments that require no extra materials!
25. Classic Games With a Scientific Twist
For older elementary kids, the Sourcebook for Teaching Science has printable science-based versions of familiar games like Taboo, Jeopardy, Pictionary, Baseball, and Bingo!
26. Science Trivia Challenge
Mindware Science Rehab offers a simple box game for kids called Science Trivia Challenge. Answer the questions correctly, and avoid the setbacks on the board to collect the most observation tokens and win the prize. Each card has a basic and advanced question on either side, so the game can be played by the whole family!
27. Squishy Human Body
The human body is one of the most important science topics, and too many of us overlook learning how our body actually functions! If you’re anything like most Americans, you remember the details of the water cycle being pounded in your head from kindergarten on, but what exactly does your pancreas do? Teach your kids the basics of the body with this anatomically correct and interactive Squishy Human Body game. It comes with a skeleton and 21 removable organs, along with an organ map to learn about their purpose and where they go!
Science is an integral part of a well-rounded education, but when there’s too much reading and not enough experimenting, kiddos can get bored and toss the whole thing out. These 27 science games for kids, and many more like them, can help you keep your kids interested while they learn. With a few hands-on projects that focus on critical thinking, you may be blown away by how much more they retain in a short amount of time. Give these science games a shot, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself training up the next Tesla.