Gas is one of the main four states of matter, but it is the one that is the most difficult for a child to see. Therefore it is easy to think that there is nothing around us. It is also a thing that is very easy to take for granted when in fact it is the root cause for some very interesting phenomena. So this is also a topic I wanted to introduce my child, and other children, to.
Wind and the moving air: We started experimenting with moving air. I blew on her hand and face so she could get a sensory experience with moving air and we talked about the fact that she could feel the air move and that in fact wind is just that. Wind is moving air. Next we waved our hands up and down as fast as we could so we could feel the air – the sensory experience of the air molecules resisting. At that time I did not go into molecules yet. That is yet to come.
Air animals: The next air experiment was the air animal. For this one needs only a plastic bag. It is a bonus if you have some arts and crafts supplies, but they are not necessary. One makes an air animal by opening up the plastic bag and either whirling around as fast as possible with the bag open and by that way gathering up as much air as possible. The next step is to clap the bag as fast as possible and maintaining as much air inside as possible and tying it up so that the air stays inside. Basically making the bag into a balloon. An adult may also just move the bag a little bit to get the air in, but kids I’ve taught this to (at a Mannheim league for child welfare group for kids) love the whirling around. After the bag of air is finished, if the kid(s) and adult so want, it is possible to decorate the bag with all sorts of arts and crafts supplies and make it into an air animal or just a bag with lots of stickers. Stickers work really well for this. Also whiteboard markers work well on plastic. If you want to avoid using a new plastic bag for this, recycling an old one works just as well just as long it has no holes in it.
Then comes the playing with the bag. The child can then tap the bag of air simultaneously on both sides to test that there is something there even though nothing can be seen. One fun activity is also to throw it and try to keep it in the air as long as possible and just basically playing with it. My daughter really liked this and also just last week picked up a plastic bag and tried to get as much air in as possible all on her own, so the experiment had remained in her memory for months as we did these air animals last spring.
Balloon rocket: This experiment is also a whole lot of fun. In this experiment one needs a balloon, a straw, few meters of string that fits inside the straw and some sticky tape. Basically 1) the string goes through the straw. The easiest method of getting this done is to slowly thread some of the string inside the straw and then sucking on the other end of the straw to get the string the whole way through. It is slightly uncomfortable as one does end up with a mouthful of string, but it does work; 2) the balloon is filled with air; 3) the filled balloon is taped onto the straw so that the end bit where the air comes out is in parallel with the straw creating the rocket; 4) the rocket is placed at one end of the string (and you need more than you’d think for this). The last step is letting the rocket fly. I recommend a count down from 3 or 5 to give the child the possibility to prepare for lift-off. It can be very exciting to see the rocket fly towards (if the child is at the receiving end of the string) or even seeing it go (if the child lets the air out of the balloon. The kids at Mannheim league of child welfare loved this as much as mine did. I found the directions for this here. There are the instructions and a one minute film about it. The rocket was designed by Arvind Gupta, who has created tens or hundreds of experiments with simple items often found around in the home and put them on his website here fo anyone to build and learn from. His TED talk can be found here.
We haven’t discussed about air pressure, molecules etc. yet, but when we do and I find good ways to demonstrate them (at the Gupta website or elsewhere) I will write about them as well. So have fun with air. And if you like these tips and experiments, please follow, like and share.
Copyright text and images: Satu Korhonen. You are free to try these experiments out, use them in your teaching. But instead of copying the text or images, link back to this page.