Space might have been the last frontier for Captain Kirk and his crew but it certainly could be one of your child’s first! From building rockets using recycled materials to exploring the universe, there’s plenty to keep your curious child occupied.
Before you start on any of these projects, it might be a good idea to head to the library for some reading and research. Look for books that include an element of science as some of the concepts in the projects below might require more detailed explanation. Concepts that you might want to read about in advance include gravity, orbits, planets, rockets, jet propulsion and diffusion.
This simple experiment is so much fun that your pre-schooler will be begging you to do it over and over again! All you need is an empty plastic bottle (a 1 litre soft drink bottle is ideal), some cardboard, a cork, a bicycle pump with a needle adaptor, water, tape and a pair of scissors.
1. Cut out four triangles from a piece of cardboard; these will form the fins of the rocket.
2. To make the nose of the rocket, you need to make a cardboard cone. First cut out a circle about 10cm in diameter, then cut out a wedge from the circle so that you can roll the resulting shape into a cone.
3. Pierce the cork with the needle adaptor of the pump. It needs to go all the way through. Trim the cork if necessary.
4. Fill the bottle about one-quarter full of water (if you are using a 1 litre bottle, add 250ml of water). Cork the bottle.
5. Tape the nose and fins on to the bottle, with the cardboard nose going over the bottom of the bottle and the fins at the corked end.
6. Decorate the bottle using stickers, markers or paint. The bottle rocket is now ready to launch!
Launch the rocket outdoors as the bottle will shoot a fair distance upwards and outwards. Make sure the rocket isn’t aimed at anything breakable (sprinklers, lights, other people, windows, cars) and that all children in the area stand clear of the launch site.
Connect the pump and pump air vigorously into the bottle. After a few seconds, you should experience a lift off! What happens is that as you pump, the air pressure within the bottle builds up until it can force the cork out of the end of the bottle. As the water rushes out, the bottle pushes back in the opposite direction, which results in the bottle shooting upwards.
Explain to your child that space rockets work in very much the same way, but because they are so much heavier and have a much greater distance to travel, space rockets burn fuel to create a very powerful jet of hot gas. To extend your child’s learning further, try varying the amount of water in the rocket or the shape of the rocket’s nose. What happens if you remove the nose and fins? Remember adult supervision is needed at all times.
DIY Planet Earth
This is a crafty project that will appeal to your child’s artistic side. At the end of it, he’ll have a beautiful poster of the planet Earth in all its glory. Here's what you will need:
1. Make the background by using the toothbrush to flick white paint onto the black construction paper. This creates the appearance of many stars in a dark sky. Vary the size and spacing of the white dots for a natural effect. Let the background dry.
2. To create Earth, first flatten out a coffee filter onto a plate or tray.
3. Colour/ scribble blue and green patches on the coffee filter - you don't need solid blocks of colour, just a light scribble will do.
4. Lightly spritz the centre of the filter with a squirt of water. Don't overdo this - it's best to spray once and wait a minute before spraying again. The blue and green inks will spread through the filter, creating a beautiful image of our planet.
5. When you are satisfied with the appearance of your Earth, glue it to the black background.
Orbits and How Gravity Works
For the science-minded, here’s a really quick and fun demonstration you can do with just a marble and a pie tin. If you don’t have a pie tin, anything round with a flat base will do – think plate, saucepan, laundry basin, casserole dish etc. If you like, you can glue or draw an image of the sun in the centre of the plate.
Set the marble in motion and let it spin around the edges of the pie tin. Explain that the path of the marble is the same path the Earth takes as it orbits the sun. The edge of the pie tin is what keeps the marble on its circular rotation. Likewise, the gravitational force exerted by the sun is what keeps the Earth revolving around the sun.