Tiny Salutations

Tiny Salutations


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A STEM Birthday Party! Complete with 9 Science Experiments to do at Home!

Blowing out birthday candles
Not too log ago, our son turned four years old. We didn't have a birthday party right away, since his birthday was only a few short days after his recent airway surgery. We wanted him to be able to have fun and feel top notch at his party. It was very difficult to find a good day, but we finally had a party! Our son is a science nerd, like his Mama (I have a Master's degree in Biology), and an engineer, like his Dad. So we had a party that celebrates those strengths... a STEM birthday party! 

Triple vegan strawberry-topped, strawberry-iced, wondrous strawberry cupcakes
Now for those of you that do not know, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (Art has recently been added too, changing it to STEAM). So we had friends and family over, opened presents, had triple vegan strawberry-topped, strawberry-iced, wondrous strawberry cupcakes, and did science!

Want to have a STEM birthday party? Or just want to have an awesome time doing science with friends? Or want to live vicariously through our STEM birthday party? Look no further!

Our son and his cousin using the dissecting microscope at his birthday party

Before explaining how to create the science experiments, I want to share other great STEM aspects that I included in the party. In general, I don't like the idea of party favors, unless the party favors are useful and purposeful. This time, I gave the children each a STEM-themed party favor that we use in our house a lot- a specimen collecting kit (purchased at the dollar store, which, by the way, often has great homeschool and science equipment). I also set out lots of other neat science equipment for exploring- binoculars, magnifying glasses, a dissection microscope, select rocks from our rock collection, and even a few robots that we built out of recycled materials.

"Happy Birthday" banner over the mantle, which is covered in science experiment supplies
Now, how did we do our awesome science experiments?! This was my favorite part of the party. I tried to choose science experiments that were visually striking so that it would capture the interest of the little ones. The experiments I chose were: three different methods of creating a lava lamp, an "explosion", color swirls, magic pepper, static, dyed daisies, and rockets. Read on to learn how to create each experiment, including photos and an explanation of the process behind each reaction! (Note: For the science experiments only, most of the photos were taken on a separate day after the party. The rest of the photos were taken at the party.)
Dyed daisies- about 2 hours after start (left) and about two days after start (middle and right)
Dyed Daisies:
(Concept: Capillary action and Plant anatomy)
These daisies started out, at the beginning of the party, white (we picked them ourselves!) and by the end of the party had become light blue and pink. The coloring getting into the flower petals is due to the anatomy of the flower called xylem (like veins), using capillary action, to pull water up the stem, which is normally used to feed the plant with water.
To try this, you will need test tubes (or another slim container that can support flowers), white flowers, water, and food coloring. Fill the test tubes with water about 3/4 full, then add food coloring to the water. Put the stems into the test tubes. Then, wait... quite a while. After about 2 hours, we could see some color (the left photo), but after two days they were quite bright (the middle and right photo).

Lava Lamps:
(Concept: Density)
We tried three different methods of creating lava lamps, each using a different method to start the bubbling movement. The most successful was the alka-seltzer method. The other two were mostly unsuccessful during the party, but I was able to get the salt method to work as well after the party. The oil and water only method didn't work well. The concept at work here is density. The water is heavier than the oil, which causes it to sink. In each example, the reactive agent causes movement across the layers; the bubbles move back to their original layer according to their density.
Alka-seltzer method lava lamp
Alka-Seltzer method: This one is the most active. You will need a container, alka-seltzer (or similar product- I used some other brand from the dollar store), vegetable oil, water, and food coloring. Fill the container about 1/3 with water and add food coloring. Fill the rest with oil. Let the water and oil separate (takes less than a minute). Add alka-seltzer.
Salt method lava lamp
Salt method: This one seems to make bigger, but less numerous, bubbles. You will need a container, salt, vegetable oil, water, and food coloring. Fill the container about 3/4 with water and add food coloring. Fill the rest with oil. Let the water and oil separate (takes less than a minute). Add salt. The mistake I made during the party was to add too little salt. You need to add at least a heaping spoonful.
Oil and Water Only method lava lamp (fail version)

Oil and Water Only method: This one was a total flop. I suspect though, if sealed, it would be pretty neat and easily reusable (I will explain). You will need a container, vegetable oil, water, and food coloring. Mix the water and food coloring together prior. Fill the container about 3/4 with oil. Add the colored water to fill the rest. This is the way we tried during the party, but honestly, it doesn't look like much when done this way. I suspect these changes would make it interesting (I have yet to try it though).... If you filled a bottle that had a cap about 1/4 with colored water, then fill with oil to the top, then close tightly with the cap. Then you could invert the bottle to make layers move back and forth. I wonder if that would be more effective...
"Explosion". Look at that excitement!
"Explosion" reacting and overflowing several times
(Concept: Acid-Base Chemical Reaction)
This was definitely the winner at the party. The kids were very excited about the resulting reaction. They asked for several repeats and claimed it was their favorite part. The cool part is that I use this to unclog our drains too! Rather than use the horrifying unclogging agents you can purchase in the store, I use this reaction to clear the drains when they get slow, and I get to do some science together at the same time! This is the same reaction that is used in the classic "volcano" science fair experiment. The that reaction happens is due to acid-base chemistry. Baking soda is a base, and vinegar is an acid. When an acid and base are combined, the solution undergoes a chemical reaction that attempts to balance out the acidity of the solution. During this reaction between baking soda and vinegar, carbon dioxide is formed, which is what causes all of the fizzing.
To create this at home, you will need baking soda, vinegar, a container, and a another mess-catching container (or do this outside, in the tub, wherever- it's pretty messy!). Add baking soda to the container, we used about 1/2 cup. Pour vinegar into the container. It will start reacting immediately. You can keep adding vinegar every time it starts to slow down to get the most out of it, until the baking soda has all reacted.
Static balloon experiment
I'm sure everyone has seen this one before. To do this, blow up a balloon, bigger the better. Rub the balloon on top of someone's head. Slowly remove the balloon from their hair and hover about two inches or so above their hair. Their hair should stand up. This phenomenon is caused by static electricity, which is caused by the two materials neutralizing an imbalance of charges.
Magic Pepper before soap reaction (top) and after (bottom)
Magic Pepper:
(Concept: Surface Tension)
This is a simple and pretty neat experiment. I think I convinced the kids I have magic. This is not magic, but rather surface tension. The water has surface tension (the water molecules basically stick tightly together), which keeps the pepper suspended on the top of the water. The dish soap disrupts the surface tension of the water, and as the surface tension "retreats" away from the soap, it brings the pepper with it.
To do this at home, you will need a bowl, water, black pepper, dish soap, and optionally a q-tip. Place the water in the bowl- it doesn't really matter how much. Scatter the black pepper lightly over the water surface so that there is just enough to see a thin layer. Place a dab of dish soap on the tip of your finger or the end of a q-tip. Lightly touch the surface of the water in the center of the bowl. This reaction happens quickly, so pay attention!
"Color swirls" experiment before soap reaction (top left), mid reaction (top right), and end (bottom)
"Color swirls" over time through carefully planned reactions (start upper left, down left side, then down right side)
Color swirls:
(Concept: Surface Tension)
This was my favorite experiment. The end product is pretty, and once you get a hang of it, you can make some pretty neat art out of it. The concept here is the same as noted above in "Magic Pepper". To do this at home, you will need milk (we used soy), a bowl, food coloring, a q-tip, and dish soap. Place the milk in the bowl- again, the amount doesn't really matter. Place several drops of food coloring around the surface of the bowl. Dab some dish soap onto the end of the q-tip. Lightly touch the surface of the milk on the center of each drop of food coloring. Each color will spread out and make beautiful patterns. You can start getting creative and experiment with how and where you put the drops of color and the dish soap.

Dad and son launching rockets. look at that excited surprised face on my little guy!
Dad launching rockets
Dad and son launching rockets
(Concept: Physics- Force and Work)
This rocket launcher can be used over and over. It launches rockets by using human power. The force from your hands pushes the air in the bottle to force the rocket off the end of the launcher.
To build the rocket launcher, you will need a clean and empty 2 liter bottle (upcycling!), a tube that can fit into the end of your bottle (honestly, I used a piece of a broken toy -more upcycling!- which was one of those tubes that when you invert it it makes a weird garbled noise, but a PVC pipe would work well too), and optionally duct tape. This is easy to build, you just place the tube tightly into the opening of the bottle. If it doesn't fit tightly, you could try putting tape around the connection to better seal it, but if it has slack it will not work and a better fitting pipe is a better solution.
To build the rockets, you will need printer paper, construction paper, and scotch tape. Wrap a sheet of printer paper around the tube of the launcher and tape the edge forming a cylinder shape that will fit over the tube. Wrap the construction paper tightly around the printer paper on the tube and tape the edge closed. Place tape over one end of the cylinder. Cut out a triangle shape to tape onto the other end as fins for the rocket. You should now have a finished paper rocket. Place your paper rocket onto the end of the tube. Press hard on the sides of the bottle, and your rocket should fly! It seemed easier for me to launch it by squeezing it underneath my arm.

We had fun getting into science. Hope you have fun experiencing some of these at home too! I'll leave you with some photos of his birthday party...

Opening birthday presents
Blowing out candles
Inter-generational celebrations and conversations. Our son with his great-grandmother.
My best friends's son at the party
 My son and my best friend's son playing (left) and my best friend with her son (right) at the party