The ancient Greeks believed that there were four elements that everything was made up of earth, water, air, and fire.
Of course, today we know that there are many more than that, in fact, there are 118 elements on the periodic table!
However, the idea that these four elements – earth, water, air, and fire – made up all matter was the cornerstone of philosophy, science, and medicine for two thousand years, and you and your kids can still have some cheap fun with them while learning something about our planet.
Three of them anyway – of course, no one is suggesting you have your kids play with fire! But here are some fun projects and activities with the other three!
Kids usually do not notice the earth around them, until they get a rock in their shoe, or get yelled out for tracking muddy footprints into the house!
But other than that, little ones usually just take Mother Earth for granted. Checking out the Earth with the family with an exploratory approach or some astounding easy science experiments is fun and can put a new lift in your steps and appreciation for the Earth around you.
When your locale is suitable and leaves on bushes and trees are around, gather a few different ones. Each one has its own special scent! The challenge is to crush a leaf in your hand and sniff. Can you describe the scent as musty, pretty, fresh, sharp or tangy? Make a game out of the challenge by trying to match the leaf to its tree or bush by recalling its special scent!
The volcano is certainly one of the earth’s identifiable powerhouses of fascination. Here’s how to create a family volcano experiment complete with simulated lava flow.
Line a box lid with foil or use a large metal pan with 2” sides. Fill with wet sand. Place an empty soup or vegetable can in the center pressing sand around and covering the can (not inside though!) to make your volcano mountain. Put the box on protected area with newspapers or plastic! Spoon ¼ cup baking soda into the can. To erupt: Pour some acting solution (1 cup water, ¾ cup vinegar, ½ cup dishwashing liquid, 10 drops red food coloring, 10 drops yellow food coloring) into the can, step back and watch.
And if you can trek, or can walk, in an area where there is wildlife, you might check out the holes animals dig. Did you notice them? And who and what dug them!
If you live in an area that gets fresh snow, trek out to check out some animal prints — what trod over the snow that made those prints and from what direction?
We breathe the air but it often passes by our noses with a cold or hot expression. Air is not only a gas or gasses — you can have a “gas” or fun exploring its properties with the family.
The air around us is pushy. Here’s a fun experiment to prove that it does push all around us even though we don’t see it.
Use a glass jar with metal screw lid, big enough to hold one large-sized marshmallow. Parents, make a small hole in the middle of the lid just to fit a straw through. Draw a face on both flat ends of a large marshmallow. Close the lid; push the straw in part way. (If there is space around the straw from the hole press play dough around to seal). Use a mirror for all to be able to see what will happen in the jar. Parent, suck the air out of the bottle and keep sucking to watch the marshmallow. Then, stop. When you suck you suck the air out of the bottle, and the marshmallow has room to expand. When you stop, the air rushes back in with pressure and pushes the marshmallow back to its original size!
Water is the necessity of life, but with bottles of it everywhere, sinks on every floor, it’s easy to take it for granted. Get some “liquid refreshment” with your family with some fun family experiments that prove some astounding but simple things about the properties of water.
See how water can expand itself!
You’ll need 3 balloons, freezer space, and a ruler. Fill the first balloon with a tiny bit of water and tie, leaving a little space. Double the amount of water in the second, and tie, and put 3 times as much in the 3rd and tie. Measure the sizes of each. Put them in the freezer overnight. The next day measure them again and see how they have grown larger because the water inside expanded as it froze!
Is Water Strong Enough to Break Rocks?
Try to obtain some different kinds of rocks such as granite, sandstone, and limestone. With the family, examine them and guess which looks the most solid and the strongest. Put the rocks in a plastic container with water to cover. Put in the freezer to freeze, and then thaw. Repeat 4 or 5 times. Finally, check the rocks. You will see that small particles have split off the rock from the power of the water. Rocks are not really solid but have tiny holes that absorb some water. When the water freezes, it expands and cracks the rock.
This is just a sample of some fun you can have with “The Elements,” for older kids, you can even include some fun and safe activities with the Fourth Element – Fire. A little research online or at your local library can turn up all sorts of books and info on air, fire, earth, and water.
And remember, if you want these experiments and activities to always have an “element” of fun, be excited and passionate about them. Kids of all ages can tell when someone is passionate about what they’re doing. The more genuinely excited you are about the demonstration you’re doing, the more excited your family will be. Your energy is contagious.