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17 Fun Science and Art Activities to Keep Kids Busy

VirginiaLynne is a mother of five. She writes about parenting, crafts, and games for children, family fun, and Christian ministry ideas.

Crazy Fun Using What You Have

Exploding Marshmallow Heads? Kool-Aid paint? Mystery substances? I have five kids that I have to keep busy during the summer. Over the years, I've collected lots of great ideas and come up with a few of my own. Believe me, all of these are kid-tested not only with my five but with their friends and with lots of other moms I've shared these ideas with.

Some of these ideas are not new, but with a little creative twist, like calling an experiment "exploding kitchen," you can get the interest of even your bored ten-year-old male child.

How do I use these? I stock up on the ingredients (most of which are probably already in your kitchen) and then when I can sense boredom setting in, or too much video time happening, I pull one of them out and get the crowd involved in squishing scented playdough (the older kids can have fun making it with you, too), or drawing faces on marshmallows and putting them in the microwave to watch what happens.

If finger-painting with pudding is too messy for you, then have the kids finger-paint the bathtub or do it outside. When mine were toddlers, I just kept them in the high chair for messy activities. In fact, I used a lot of these when I was cooking dinner to keep them busy. Enjoy and have fun! We certainly did when we pulled out all of these ideas to use again this summer.

1. Marshmallow Exploding Heads!

My 12-year-old was making these today! Marshmallow Heads are fun to make (and eat!). When friends come over, it is a quick and easy way to get everyone having fun.

  1. Use non-toxic markers or food coloring (with toothpicks or brushes) to draw faces on large marshmallows.
  2. Put them on a paper plate and microwave a few seconds--we usually do about 10-15 seconds at a time. You will have to adjust this according to what works in your microwave.
  3. Set the time, start the microwave, and watch your marshmallow heads get bigger and bigger!
  4. Usually, they expand to 3 or 4 times their original size. If you use food coloring, the kids can eat their exploding heads afterward.
  5. Sometimes, we make these into S'mores with graham crackers and chocolate.

Exploding Peeps in a Basket!

2. Kool-Aid Scented Playdough

As a preschool teacher and mom, I've tried lots of playdough recipes and this one is the best. My kids love to work with it. When I worked with the church 2-year-old Sunday School class, I would and make this every month. It is very soft and scented. Kids love it. They can roll it easily with a rolling pin and cut it out with cookie cutters. If they want, they can air-dry their creations although this dough is more for playing than making something to keep.

Mix in a bowl:

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 2 pkg. Kool-Aid
  • 1 TB cream of tartar or alum

Heat in microwave for 3 minutes:

  • 1 ½ cups water

Add water to flour mixture along with:

  • 3 TBS. oil

Mix, knead well and store in a plastic bag or plastic container with a tight lid. If your playdough is too sticky, you probably didn't heat the water enough. Don't worry! Just put the playdough in the microwave for 1 minute at a time. Then knead it when it comes out. Eventually, it will pull from the bowl and be great play dough. The alum or cream of tartar keeps this playdough from spoiling or getting too sticky (like bread dough, playdough will if you don't add it). However, if we aren't going to use it again right away, I sometimes keep it in the refrigerator.

Step by Step Kool-Aid Playdough

3. Kool-Aid Paint

One of my favorite activities, when friends come over, is painting with Kool-Aid or other dry drink mixes. Kool-Aid makes wonderful paint that is scented even when it is dry. Use Flavor-Aid for easier clean up (they do not have as much dye in them).

  1. Use Styrofoam egg cartons and put in each well a small amount of unsweetened Kool-Aid.
  2. Add a few drops of water and mix with a Q-tip or paintbrush. Be careful not to add too much water. If you put just a few drops, the paint will be very vivid and smell great.
  3. Let kids paint with Q-tips on paper or cardstock.
  4. Often, I have the kids paint on card stock that I cut into four pieces (about 4 by 5). Then I take their paintings and paste them on folded cards. These are wonderful cards for writing to Grandma or using for a birthday gift!

Art Lesson on Crayon Resist

4. Crayon Resist Watercolors

Crayon Resist paintings are absolutely my very favorite child's art project because they always look terrific. If you have a group of kids that need to do a project for a contest or for a gift, this is the one to do. It is very simple.

  1. Have children draw a picture or shapes with crayons or oil pastels. Oil pastels are also called Craypas and they are like crayons and chalk mixed together. They are softer than crayons and have vivid colors. They always make fabulous pictures and are even better for a crayon resist.
  2. Have kids use the crayons or Craypas to draw a picture of themselves, a holiday scene, a scene from nature (like flowers, fish, or butterflies).
  3. Make sure they use the whole paper and make the colors strong.
  4. Next, have them use watercolors or Kool-Aid paint and a brush to paint on top of the crayon/craypa drawing. The crayon/craypa "resists" the water paint, so it shows through beautifully.
  5. Often, I just have the kids use one color to paint over. For example, using blue works for both a garden and an underwater scene. However, they can use other colors too. For a great 4th of July picture, have kids draw fireworks and paint over with black.
  6. You can use crayon resist with tempera and acrylic paint too, but you usually need to water the paint down a little bit so it doesn't cover the crayon.

5. Mod Podge Collage

Use a Mod Podge Collage to make a special treasure box or purse. Kids can do lots of Mod Podge using leftover scrapbook or wrapping paper or old magazines and glue.

  1. Have kids tear papers.
  2. Mix your own Mod Podge by using 2 parts glue and one part water.
  3. Have kids use a large brush to put Mod Podge on the box or other object (some might prefer to put Mod Podge on paper first).
  4. Then have them put papers on top of Mod Podge, overlapping until the whole object is covered.
  5. Put the object on foil and then have the child use a brush to cover the whole thing with Mod Podge. Parents can smooth out any wrinkles.

Ideas of What You Can Make

1. Paper, then cut up to use as cards.

2. Use cereal boxes to make a purse (cut off top flaps, cut out oval handles and score sides to make it fold up).

3. Use a tin can for making a pencil holder.

4. Use on old frames or wooden trays to make a nice gift.

5. Use on the inexpensive photo book cover.

Collage Art Lesson

6. Collage Art

This very simple activity uses recycled materials to create artwork. My youngest daughter has collage art birds on her wall that were made by her oldest sister when she was in high school. Using special words, pictures or shapes, this simple activity can be a meaningful way to make a card or gift.

  1. Give kids scraps of paper or magazines, scissors, glue sticks, and a white piece of paper.
  2. You can also give those bits of foil, string, and pasta.
  3. Let them cut up paper and then use a glue stick to paste it on card stock or a cereal box or other cardboard or wood object.
  4. You can draw a simple shape ahead of time or else cut the collage into a shape afterward if you want (heart, animal, circle or silhouette).
  5. If you cut these collage artworks into 4” rectangles and put on folded card stock, they can be cards.

I Spy Bottle

I Spy Bottle

I Spy Bottle

7. I SPY Bottle

  1. Take an empty water bottle.
  2. Go around the house and find things that you can put in it. Ideas for filling your bottle: dice, small toys, crayon, eraser, paper clip, etc.
  3. Make a list of what you put in the bottle.
  4. When done, fill the bottle ½ full with rice, sand or beans.
  5. Poke a hole in your list and tie it to the top of the bottle.
  6. Play I SPY with your bottle.
  7. Challenge a friend to find as many things as you can in 30 seconds.

8. Crayon Rubbings

  1. Take paper and crayons with the paper off them.
  2. Go around the house, outside, or the park, and look for flat things with textures.
  3. Put the paper on them and rub the crayon around to make a rubbing mark.
  4. Play a game trying to guess what each rubbing is made from.

Acids and Bases Kid's Science

Checking out what fizzes in the kitchen.

Checking out what fizzes in the kitchen.

9. Acids and Bases "Exploding" Science Experiment

  1. Take out some baking soda and some small cups.
  2. Go to the kitchen and put a little of different liquids in your cups.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to each one and stir.
  4. Which ones explode in bubbles? Why? Those are the ones with acids in them.
  5. Taste to see if you can tell an acid liquid by taste (good liquids to include are anything with lemon or other citrus and vinegar).

Can Your Boat Float?

Making Foil Boats

Making Foil Boats

10. Can Your Boat Float? Science Experiment

You can do this inside in a sink or outside.

  1. Make boats out of foil.
  2. Make different shaped ones.
  3. See how many pennies you can float on your boat before it sinks.
  4. Try using other kinds of paper (regular white paper, cardstock, wrapping paper, wax paper) or modeling clay (the non-water-soluble kind).
  5. What shape holds the most pennies?
  6. What type of paper holds the most pennies?

11. Jell-O Building Blocks

  1. Make Jell-O according to directions but use ½ the amount of water.
  2. Pour liquid into an 8 X 8-inch pan and refrigerate until solid.
  3. Dip bottom of the pan in hot water in the sink briefly to make it easy to unmold.
  4. Cut Jell-O blocks with a knife. Kids can build wobbly towers.

12. Frozen Jell-O Treats

One of my favorite summertime activities is to have the kids help me make all sorts of frozen treats. One of the best is frozen Jell-O.

  1. Make Jell-O jigglers recipe.
  2. Put about 1/3 a cup of the Jell-O into snack size zip-lock bags.
  3. Add some of those gummy creatures.
  4. Zip them up tightly and put zip side up in a plastic container in the freezer (just in case they leak).
  5. Freeze them and then have the kids eat them outside!

13. Homemade Finger Paints

Just about anything that can be smeared on paper can become a finger paint. You can try shaving cream or whipped cream or try two of my other favorites:

Homemade Cooked Finger Paint

In a saucepan, stir together and whisk over low heat for 5 minutes until thick and clear:

  • 1 cup of cold water
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Whisk in and let cool:

  • 1 TB light corn syrup

Divide mixture into bowls and squirt into each one: washable, nontoxic tempera paint (or Jell-O or unflavored Kool-Aid or food coloring). When the paint is cool, scoop onto finger-paint paper and commence smearing!

Pudding Finger Paint

  1. Mix a package of pudding according to directions but add a little less milk so it is thicker.
  2. Let set.
  3. Give a glop to kids on a piece of paper. Let them squish it and swirl it around.

This is a great way for them to start learning how to draw letters and numbers as well as just dots, lines, and squiggles. You can also do this with whipped cream. We used this technique for teaching special ed kids different concepts like shapes, letters and numbers.

14. T-Shirt Repeat Painting

Take plain white T-shirts and paint on them with watercolor dot paints or watercolors. Wear—then wash! The color comes out and you can decorate again!

15. Mystery Slime!

Mystery Substance 1

Mix together:

  • 1 cup white glue
  • ¾ cup room temperature water
  • A few drops of Food coloring (optional)

In a separate container mix these together:

  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 ½ tea. Borax powder (find in the detergent aisle of the supermarket)

Slowly pour the dissolved borax into the glue and water mixture, stirring constantly. This makes a slime-like substance that is endlessly fascinating to kids. It is really fun to see the glue mixture change. Keep this in a zip-lock bag and it lasts a long time.

Mystery Substance 2

Cornstarch and water

Fill a small bowl with cornstarch, slowly add water and mix until you have a thick paste. Play with it and notice what happens when you just put some on your hand and let it “melt” vs. when you touch it. This was something I learned to do when I was a kid. I just loved playing with this stuff. This is totally non-toxic, so you can let kids try eating it too (although it doesn't taste good!)

16. Bread Creatures

  1. Make some white bread dough or buy some frozen bread dough at the store. You can also do this with canned biscuit dough, crescent roll dough, or pie crusts.
  2. Give kids the dough to shape and play with. They can roll and cut with cookie cutters or make animal shapes.
  3. Let rise for 30 minutes (if using bread dough, otherwise you can bake right away).
  4. Cook what they make at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.
  5. Brush with butter and sprinkle with salt or cinnamon sugar.

Note: We also sometimes put raisins or dried cranberries in it before baking. Or we call them "donuts" and let the kids dip in chocolate syrup, powdered sugar, or caramel syrup.

17. Homemade Pretzels

Use frozen white bread dough to make any shape you want. To make it into a pretzel, cook this way:

  1. Follow the package directions to defrost and let rise.
  2. After the dough rises, parents can help kids boil 4 cups of water in a saucepan and add 5 teaspoons of baking soda (no aluminum pans).
  3. With parent help, lower the dough into the water using a spoon or spatula and cook 1 minute.
  4. Take out with a spatula or tongs and place them on the baking sheet.
  5. Cook at preheated 475-degree oven about 10-12 minutes.

You can brush with butter and sprinkle with salt or cinnamon sugar or put on canned frosting. These are really fabulous right out of the oven and taste a lot like the pretzels you buy in the mall.

Comments

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on July 06, 2013:

Thanks Kathryn--I love doing these crafts too! My brother found some really huge marshmallows at Walmart and those make really amazing melt-downs!

Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on July 06, 2013:

I don't have kids yet, but these are awesome ideas! The homemade slime, finger paints and play dough are great! Thanks for sharing with us.

Voted up and sharing.

Have a wonderful weekend!

~ Kathryn

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on September 12, 2012:

So glad teachable moments. What a sweet baby picture! I'm always needing to go back to these ideas myself! I know they have helped me to spend more productive time with my kids.

TeachableMoments from California on September 11, 2012:

Love your ideas!!!! Voted up, all the way across. Great pics!! You have inspired me to go a little "crazy" with my girl. Thanks for the great hub.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on September 09, 2012:

Terrific Jennilee--my kids love these too!

Jennilee Pirtle from Waco, TX on September 09, 2012:

how cute is this!! i would have loved to do this as a child! i'll have to tell my mom about this for my 7 year old sister..she will ADORE this! they're so creative and fun!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on June 17, 2011:

Waaah! Scented homemade play-doh? Pudding finger paint??? ALL OF THESE THINGS ROCK!!! Heck, I'm 23, and I'm totally going to try a couple of these things out ;)