Kids love learning about the world around them. Science can be taught in fun, hands-on ways that children understanding. These fireworks in a jar, is always a favourite with every group I work with. We also make sure to do the experiment at home several times a year.
I love how simple, but exciting this science experiment is. It is easy science for kids to do at home, or school! All you need is water, clear cups, oil and food colouring!
Children have a natural curiosity about the world around them. They also love to ask questions. Sometimes the answers are tricky for young kids to understand. This experiment helps kids understand science in a hands-on simple way.
I initially did this experiment because my daughter had noticed some oil and vinegar dressing and wondered why there were two separate layers of liquids in it. She tried to mix it by shaking, but noticed that it then separated right away. So we did this experiment so that she could clearly see the two different liquids and explore the fact that oil does not mix with water, or vinegar, no matter how hard you try to make it mix.
There is so much learning that happens with this experiment, from learning about how oil and water interact to colour mixing and density. There was a lot of excitement in the room as we did the experiment.
The first time I tired this experiment, I did it at home with my kids. They loved it! I then wanted to show it to my young students at school. Sometimes I present to the whole class and they will watch me do the experiment. However, I really wanted to find a way for every child to get their hands on the materials and experiment on their own.
Since I see over 100 kids everyday, I needed a simple, fast and organized way to have my materials ready. I was able to give everyone their own small cup of oil (Any kind of oil works. Baby oil is nice because it is clear, however, vegetable oil works well because it is inexpensive and the yellow colour makes it easy to see.)
There was roughly 2 table spoons of oil in each small cup. Everyone also received a cup of water. I initially did this experiment with over 100 children. Many of them commented, as they did their experiment that it reminded them of fireworks. Many of them also said that they preferred these fireworks because they were quiet.
Start by filling a clear cup 2/3 full with water. The colder the water the better! (The water temperature makes a difference for how the food colouring reacts. Click here for an experiment to explain why the temperature matters.
Then add a layer of oil. I used vegetable oil, but any oil will work. Encourage children to watch what happens as the oil is poured in. Does it fall to the bottom? Does it mix with the water? Does it float to the top?
Kids are excited to notice that the oil sits on top of the water. Although, water and oil are both liquids, they behave in different ways and have different properties.
Next, add a few drops of food colouring to the oil. You will immediately notice that the colouring remains separate from the oil. It does not mix into the oil at all.
When I did this in the classroom, I put a few small containers with the different food colourings in them. Everyone then got an eye dropper and choose which colours they wanted to use. We had used eye droppers many times so my students were able to successfully pick up and slowly drop in a drop or two at a time – just like a ‘real scientist’.
You can use one or many different colours. If you use two colours, children will love watching as their two colours meet, such as red and blue, and begin to change the colour of the water to purple. This is easy science for kids that they can do largely independently.
If you have a set of eye droppers, allowing children to add the drops of colour to the oil themselves is a great way for them to complete the experiment on their own.
A large part of science is observation. This experiment is filled with opportunities for children to observe changes and reactions. It is mesmerizing to watch the colour as it settles to the bottom – even for adults! I loved how quiet my classroom became as children sat with their head on their hands at their tables inches away from their ‘fireworks’ and watching the food colouring fall, and explode within their cups.
When I did this in the classroom, it was interesting to see how different each cup looked as the food colouring fell. Children loved watching the colour slowly drop and then the next drop falling beside it. I love how beautiful all of the cups looked as we did this easy science for kids!
My students loved their ‘fireworks’ they created. Many children said that one of their favourite things was the fact that they were much quieter than regular fireworks.
I used this experiment simply for a fun hands-on activity, however, these ‘fireworks’ are also fun to create for a party or celebration. They are safe, and easy for kids of all ages to create.
When I did this easy experiment for kids, the children watched with magnifying glasses, as the food colouring slowly ‘popped’ down into the water. (The food colouring is heavier/denser than the oil so it sinks.) It was so much fun!
As an extension activity, I filled a clear container with oil (no water). Baby oil is best because it is clear, but any oil will work. I then added a variety of colours of food colouring and stirred them around. They won’t mix with the oil, but they do separate into lots of little blobs.
Next, I added an antacid tablet. The result was awesome! It created what looked like a lava lamp. The colours never mix into the oil so they simply bounce up and back down, over and over again.
It is a rainbow of colour that moves through the oil and lasted for several minutes.
For more fun science experiments to do at home, try out a “Rocket Science” experiment. (It’s one of my kid’s favorites!)
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